As we pass the halfway point during this month designated to celebrate the journey and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, we wanted to take a moment to recognize some of the most important faces throughout the course of this movement.
These historic black LGBT icons, while often invisible or erased from queer history, have been at the heart of our struggle for rights and inclusion.
Returning to what many refer to as our movement's beginning, the historic night of rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, the police backlash was predominately instigated by queer and trans youth of color. History itself often seems to forget the role that LGBT activists of color have played in the path to bring us to our current juncture of political and social progress.
In celebration of LGBT History Month and the journey and struggle of the past 40 years, check out the slideshow below of 21 influential black LGBT icons.
Patrik Ian Polk
Patrik Ian Polk is an openly gay film director who is known for his films on the African American LGBT experience and relationships. Polk's 2008 film 'Noah's Ark: Jumping The Broom' won a GLAAD Award for Best Feature Film and was nominated for three NAACP awards.
Keith Boykin was an editor of The Daily Voice and a White House aide to President Bill Clinton. After Clinton's election, Boykin became a director of specialty media. He became the highest-ranking openly gay person in the Clinton White House and helped organize the nation's first meeting between gay and lesbian leaders and a U.S. President. Since his time in the White House Boykin has written a number of books on gay issues.
Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman is not only known for her Grammy Award winning music. Although very quiet about her private life she dated writer Alice Walker in the mid 1990s. Chapman is also a social activist and has performed at Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute ,which raised money for South Africa's Anti-Apartheid Movement, and AIDSLifeCycle event. In 2004, Chapman received an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts by her alma mater, Tufts University, was recognizing her commitment to social activism.
Bruce Nugent was a writer and painter of the Harlem Renaissance. His short story, Smoke, Lilies, and Jade, has been regarded by many as the first publican by an African American which discussed homosexuality openly.
Emmy award winning comedian Wanda Sykes is actively involved in the LGBT community. She came out at a same sex marriage rally in Las Vegas for Proposition 8 in 2006. A month earlier she married her partner Alex. She was also the first African American woman and openly LGBT featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in 2009.
Three time MVP Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to be signed to the WNBA when it was created. Not only was she a star on the court she was one of the first high profile athletes to come out publicly.
Writer Langston Hughes' innovative poetry and stories lead him to became an icon of the Harlem Renaissance. Although he was known for her his strong political views he remained closeted throughout his life.
Kye Allums is the <a href="http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2011/10/lgbt-history-month-kye-allums-first-openly-transgender-athlete/" target="_hplink">first openly transgender athlete to play NCAA Division I</a> college basketball. He was a shooting guard on the George Washington University women's basketball team until this year when he decided to no longer play. Allums is now busy speaking about his life around the country.
Carribean American writer Audre Lorde was actively involved in the gay culture of Greenwich Village. She was also an activist for civil rights and feminist movements. Her poetry focuses on the female experience, race, and sexuality.
RuPaul had everyone on the dance floor with his hit song and music video 'Supermodel (You Better Work).' His bold outfits and personality earned him his own show, 'RuPaul's Drag Race' on Logo.
Legendary writer James Baldwin pushed boundaries with his novel 'Giovanni's Room', which focused on an American man living in Paris and his relationships with various men. Baldwin lived most of his life as an expatriate in Paris where he attempted to escape American prejudice towards blacks and gay individuals.
Black civil rights activist Bayard Rustin was an adamant supporter of gay rights. He was also Martin Luther King Jr.'s advisor and personal secretary. Rustin helped organize the 1963 March on Washington.
Choreographer Alvin Ailey revolutionized modern dance and formed the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York in 1958. Ailey was known for his multi-racial company at a time when many talented black dancers were excluded from performances. In 1992, three years after his death, Ailey was inducted into the C.V. Whitney Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance.
King was the first (and, thus far, only) <a href="https://www.facebook.com/isisking" target="_hplink">trans model to be featured</a> on the reality fashion competition "America's Next Top Model." She was seen on both the 11th and 17th "cycles" of the show and recently became <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/american-apparel-isis-king-glaad-ad_n_1581251.html" target="_hplink">American Apparel's first transgender model.</a>
CNN Journalist Don Lemon came out publicly in 2011 with the release of his memoir 'Transparent.' In his book Lemon discusses his battle with homophobia, racism, and the sexual abuse he suffered as a child.
Writer Alice Walker earned a Pulitzer Prize for her novel 'The Color Purple' which was later adapted into film. As a civil rights activist she walked in the 1963 March on Washington and volunteered to register black voters in Georgia and Mississippi.
After retiring from the NBA in 2007 John Amaechi became the first NBA player to come out publicly. In his memoir 'Man in The Middle' he discusses his career and life as a closeted athlete.
Film director Dee Rees is behind the movie 'Pariah', which follows a 17 year old African American teenager struggling with her sexuality. The film was a hit at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Felicia Pearson is best known for her role as "Snoop" on The Wire. Pearson is a co founder of a youth drama organization named Moving Mountains which aims to stop youth violence, teach performing arts. and help kids who stay off the streets out of trouble. In her memoir 'Grace After Midnight' Pearson opens up about coming out and her experience on the streets of Baltimore.
E. Lynn Harris
E. Lynn Harris was best known for his writing which explored African American men who were closeted or on the down-low. After quitting his job as a computer salesmen Harris discovered his passion for writing. He sold his first self published novel, Invisible Life, out of the trunk of his car. 10 of his 11 novels made The New York Times Best Seller list.
No mainstream black male hip-hop artist had ever come out until <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/07/arts/music/frank-ocean-draws-praise-for-declaring-his-homosexuality.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0">Frank Ocean did in July 2012</a>, just before he debuted his first solo album, "Channel Orange." The singer-songwriter posted a Tumblr post which read, in part, "4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide.” After that, Ocean received support from fellow hip-hop artists Jay-Z (and wife, Beyoncé), 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and more. Daryl Hannah, director of media and community partnerships for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said, "[The support for Frank is] an extension of the overall kind of support we’re seeing across the country for LGBT people, and not just in a broad sense, but specifically from iconic members of the black community.”