Rainbow Rant: Black queer and trans brilliance

Joy Ellison
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy (left) at the 2018 Pride Festival

For whatever liberation we enjoy as queer and transgender people today, we owe a debt of gratitude to black queer and transgender people.

Black History Month is the perfect time to learn more about the resistance and resilience of black queer and transgender activists and artists. Test your knowledge by matching the quotations below with the historical figure who said them:

“When the dust settles, I want my trans girls and guys to stand up and say, ‘I'm still fucking here!'”

A.Marsha P. Johnson, founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries

B.Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Stonewall veteran

C.Janet Mock, writer and activist

Answer: B. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy not only participated in the Stonewall Riots, but also survived Attica Correctional Facility. Today, Mama Major supports incarcerated transgender people, especially black transgender women.

“Hope is a song in a weary throat.”

A.Pauli Murray, lawyer, minister and civil rights activist

B.Alice Walker, poet and novelist

C.James Baldwin, writer and activist

Answer: A. Pauli Murray was one of the most important thinkers and activists of the 20th century. Murray created the term “Jane Crow” to describe the specific impacts of segregation on black women.

“We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. … We reject pedestals, queenhood and walking 10 paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.”

A.Black Lives Matter

B.The Combahee River Collective, 1970s feminist organization

C.Alexis Pauline Gumbs, poet and scholar

Answer: B. The Combahee River Collective was a group of socialist queer black women who have had a tremendous impact on contemporary feminist thought. They coined the term “identity politics,” which they used to describe how their analysis arose from their collective experiences as black queer women.

“Prisons don't keep us safe. We keep each other safe.”

A.Laverne Cox, actress and advocate

B.Angela Davis, professor and revolutionary

C.CeCe McDonald, survivor and prison abolitionist

Answer: C. CeCe McDonald is a black trans woman who survived a racist, transphobic attack in 2011. McDonald was not allowed to claim self-defense and was jailed in a men's prison. Today, she organizes against prisons and for the liberation of black trans women.

“Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. … And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had.”

A.Bayard Rustin, civil rights activist

B.Langston Hughes, poet and Harlem Renaissance leader

C.Audre Lorde, poet and feminist thinker

Answer: C. Audre Lorde was a key part of the women's movement, challenging the racism of white feminists and calling for the inclusion of lesbians within black and feminist circles. Her writing continues to inspire black women to give voice to their experiences today.