Leyla FarahAuthor, 'Black, Gifted and Gay'
During Black History Month in the U.S., we dedicate the month of February to reviewing, dissecting, and analyzing African-American history. From slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to today's African-American experience, we make a concerted effort to understand how those who came before us impact our day-to-day lives.
For those of us who claim both the African-American community and the LGBT community, it can seem that precious little of Black History Month embraces our unique experience. Black, LGBT icons like Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and others are often either overlooked entirely or stripped of their sexuality when they're included in the canon of mainstream African-American history. Similarly, when today's leaders in the African-American community are acknowledged, the LGBT community is rarely represented.
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie speaks eloquently about the danger of failing to tell a community's stories fully. When we limit ourselves to a single story about any group of people, we risk critical misunderstandings. The African-American community is a tapestry of richly varied stories -- many of which incorporate the experiences of LGBT people. The LGBT community in turn is made richer by the complexity of the African-American experience.
We all benefit when we fully -- and proudly -- tell the stories of those in both communities who are leading the way for us all. In that spirit, I offer this brief look at 11 living, LGBT, African-American icons who have enriched our world. Do you have your own names to add to this list? Be sure to add them in the comments below.
Openly gay producer/director Lee Daniels is probably best known as the director of the Academy-Award-winning film Precious (2009) and the producer of the Academy-Award-winning film Monster's Ball (2001). Daniels was honored at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2010 for his work on Precious and for his lifetime of achievements as a gay, black director in film.
Daniels has two adopted children and currently resides in New York City. His next feature film is based on the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson. It is slated to release in 2011 and is called Selma.
An out lesbian since 1997, Angela Davis currently resides in New York City and is a distinguished visiting professor in the Women's and Gender Studies Department at Syracuse University.
She is probably best known for being tried and acquitted for the 1970 abduction and murder of Judge Harold Haley in Marin County, Calif. Two songs were written about her ordeal -- one was called "Angela," written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and the other was called "Sweet Black Angel" by the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger.
A tireless political and feminist activist, Davis ran for Vice President on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984, won the Lenin Peace Prize from East Germany for her civil rights activism, helped to create the grassroots organization Critical Resistance, and formed the African American Agenda 2000 in support of black feminists.
Paris Barclay is a Harvard graduate, an openly gay man, and the first African-American officer in the history of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), where he is currently serving his third term as Vice President.
A multiple Emmy-Award-winning director and producer, Paris Barclay has worked on some of the world's finest television shows, including NYPD Blue, ER, The West Wing, CSI, Lost, Weeds, and Glee.
Barclay has also won the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image award for Best Drama Series as co-creator, writer, and director of City of Angels, and another for directing Cold Case, and his MTV film Pedro was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award as well as a Humanitas Prize.
Alice Walker, a 2006 California Hall of Fame inductee, is best known for her book The Color Purple. The 1982 classic novel, based on her own life story, won the civil rights activist and essayist both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National book Award in 1983. Walker was the first black woman to ever win either award.
The Color Purple would eventually become both a film (in 1985, directed by Steven Spielberg) and a Broadway stage production (in 2005, produced by Oprah Winfrey, Scott Sanders, and Quincy Jones). Overall, The Color Purple would receive 11 Tony Award nominations, five Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, three Drama League Award nominations, three Theatre World Award wins, one Grammy Award nomination, 12 NAACP Theatre Award nominations, 11 Academy Award nominations, five Golden Globe nominations, and numerous other accolades. Steven Spielberg would win his first Directors Guild of America Award for Best Motion Picture Director for The Color Purple.
Named one of OUT magazine's 100 Most Influential Gay People in 2002, Emil Wilbekin is perhaps best known for his 10-year tenure at Quincy Jones' Vibe magazine, where he served as Editor-in-Chief and won a National Magazine Award. His flair for fashion, style, music, and pop culture propelled Wilbekin into the limelight and into the hearts of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people the world over.
Since making his mark at Vibe, Wilbekin has served as the the Vice President of Brand Development for Marc Ecko Enterprises and the Editor-in-Chief of GIANT magazine, and he is currently the Managing Editor of Essence.com.
Also focused on humanitarian work, Wilbekin serves on the board of directors for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME), the Design Industries Fighting AIDS (DIFFA), the Brotherhood SisterSol, and 24 Hours for Life, and he is a member of the Black AIDS Institute.
Multiple Emmy-Award-winning actress, writer, and comedienne Wanda Sykes was the first-ever African American and openly gay entertainer invited to attend the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in 2009.
Always quick with a quip or two, Sykes came barreling out of the proverbial closet in 2008 while speaking at an LGBT conference in support of marriage equality in Las Vegas. She surprised the attendees at the rally by boisterously sharing, "I'm proud to be a woman. I'm proud to be a black woman, and I'm proud to be gay."
Throwing herself into the tenacious fight for equality, Sykes joined musician Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour as a performer in 2008 and, in that same year, offered her face and likeness to a television ad for the group GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network).
Sykes is married to longtime partner Alex, and the two women share the same legal last name. Their twins, named Olivia Lou and Lucas Claude, were born on April 27, 2009.
John Amaechi became the first undrafted free agent to start the opening game of an NBA season and the first NBA player to out himself as a gay man. The retired Cleveland Cavaliers NBA decorated player admitted that he was gay via his controversially revealing memoir Man in the Middle.
No other NBA player -- regardless of color -- had ever publicly come out as gay. Originally met with disbelief and, in some cases, unbridled wrath by his former teammates and acquaintances, Amaechi's very public coming-out was later recognized within both the LGBT and black communities as a very important step toward equality in America and around the world.
With his NBA career now behind him, Amaechi owns and runs Animus Consulting, which provides motivational speakers, and is back in school to get his Ph. D. in psychology.
Editor, author, journalist, and public speaker Linda Villarosa came out of the closet in the early 1990s in Essence magazine, where she served as the Executive Editor -- twice. She has contributed her time and talent to national magazines throughout her career including the very popular publications Glamour, Health, Latina, The New York Times Book Review, Essence, Science Times, O, Vibe, and Woman's Day.
Her first novel, Passing for Black (2008), earned Villarosa a Lambda Literary Award nomination. In an interview with SheWrites, the author shared, "I wanted to write a book about passing, but didn't want it to be historical fiction. I think of it as a coming out story with the larger theme of passing."
Villarosa writes a column on the lesbian website AfterEllen called Outside the Lines, and she is a regular contributor to The Root, a daily online magazine for black audiences.
Don Lemon is the weekend anchor for CNN Newsroom in prime-time, and he also serves as a correspondent in the network's U.S. programming. In his memoir Transparent, released in May 2011, Lemon came out as a gay man and openly discussed a range of controversial topics from racism to homophobia to the sexual abuse that he suffered as a child.
Lemon serves as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, has won an Edward R. Murrow award, an Emmy award, and has been named to Ebony Magazine's "Ebony Power 150: The Most Influential Blacks in America."
A protégé of Spike Lee, Dee Rees is both the writer and director of the new lesbian coming-of-age feature film Pariah -- a story inspired by her own coming-out experience.
A sensation at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Pariah tells a powerful story of a teenager learning to be herself as she struggles with her sexuality and its impact on those around her. The "microbudget" drama was acquired by Focus Features and opened commercially in late December of 2011, to critical acclaim. Since its release Pariah has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award.
Rees is now working on a television series for HBO starring Viola Davis and recently finished the script for a movie called BOLO -- police slang for "be on the lookout" -- also backed by Focus Features.
Rees earned a Master's Degree in Business Administration from Florida A&M University, is an alumna of New York University's graduate film program, and is a 2008 Sundance Screenwriting & Directing Lab Fellow.
Perhaps one of the most visible sports journalists in the nation, LZ Granderson is African-American, openly gay, Christian, and one of ESPN's most popular columnists. The one-time Detroit gang member is now a sought-after commentator on pivotal topics such as race, gender, and politics, in addition to sports.
Now a force to be reckoned with at ESPN.com's Page 2 and ESPN magazine, Granderson sparked controversy with a July 16, 2009 CNN column titled "Gay Is Not the New Black."
In 2008 Granderson received the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; in 2009 he received an award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) for his contributions to online journalism; and in 2011 he was named the recipient of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association's Journalist of the Year Award.