Although Black History Month has passed, it’s important to continue to highlight the contributions of people of color, celebrities and everyday individuals alike. In the context of this article, a non-extensive list will outline some of activists and influencers of today and of recent history.
Special collaboration: Alex Simon is an American-born and Montreal-based student interested in LGBTQ+ and trans realities. They themselves being non-binary, they proposed the idea to GrS Montreal of writing articles on their blog TransAvenue.
Don Lemon is CNN News anchor and journalist. He came out as gay in his 2011 memoir Transparent, becoming a role model for gay black men getting into the journalism industry.
Raven-Symoné is an actress and singer known for her roles in the shows The Cosby Show and That’s So Raven as well as movies like The Cheetah Girls. She came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in the mid 2010’s but states she does not subscribe to particular labels.
Frank Ocean is a singer, songwriter, and rapper known for an alternative R&B style. He published a letter on his Tumblr blog in 2012 expressing his feelings towards another man. He published an essay in 2016 following the Pulse Nightclub shooting, showing his frustration and explaining how in many cases hate perpetuated towards others is passed on from generation to generation.
Angel Haze is an agender and pansexual rapper. She uses he and she pronouns, and in a Buzzfeed interview in 2015, he stated “I don’t consider myself of any sex. I consider myself an experience.” He often writes and sings about diverse topics including homophobia, racism and mental health.
Audre Lorde was an author, feminist and civil rights activist. She is known for her writings with an intersectional lens. Her poetry often related to civil rights movements, disability, her lesbian identity and her identity as a Black woman. She also addressed topics like toxic black male masculinity and socio-economic status. Her writings contributed to what is known as the third-wave feminist discourse.
Tracy Chapman is an American singer known for hits like Fast Car and Baby Can I Hold You. She has won four Grammy awards and her discography spans over two decades. She rarely speaks of her sexual orientation but was in a relationship with her former partner Alice Walker during the 1990’s. Active on the social and political stages, she often performs at charity events.
James Baldwin was an author, playwright, poet and civil rights activist. His literary career spanned from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. His social and political activism was omnipresent not only in his day to day life, but in the form of topics featured in his works and their respective protagonists. Two of his manuscripts, Remember This House and If Beale Street Could Talk were transformed into documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016) and film If Beale Street Could Talk (2018).
Janet Mock is a writer, TV host and transgender rights activist. After obtaining her Masters degree in journalism, she worked several years at People magazine as staff editor. She came out as a trans woman in 2011 in Marie Claire magazine, then becoming a media advocate. She has written several memoirs, and has become the first trans woman of color to obtain a production deal with a major content company, in her case Netflix.
Laverne Cox is an actress and LGBTQ+ advocate. She rose to stardom in her role on Netflix series Orange is the New Black, subsequently becoming the first transgender woman to be nominated for an Emmy for her role. She also starred and was the executive producer of the documentary Disclosure, which addresses the representation and depiction of trans and nonbinary individuals in American culture and media.
Janelle Monáe is a singer-songwriter and actress. She released three studio albums in 2010, 2013 and 2018, and ventured into acting in 2016 in the hit movie Hidden Figures. She identifies simultaneously as bisexual and pansexual, and came out as nonbinary in 2020.
Amandla Stenberg is an actress and singer. Her breakout role in film was in the movie Hunger Games, and has had numerous appearances in cinema, TV and music videos. They use both she/her and they/them pronouns, and identifies as gay and nonbinary.
Lil Nas X is a rapper, singer, and songwriter. He was catapulted into the spotlight with his country rap hit Old Town Road. He came out as gay following the release of the song, and became the first Black LGBTQ+ artist to win a Country Music Association Award.
Angela Davis is a political activist and academic. She is a part of the grassroots movement against the “prison-industrial complex”, a prison abolition movement. For over five decades she has supported numerous social justice movements such as gay rights, Black liberation and Palestinian solidarity and against racism and sexism. Alongside activist Kimberlé Crenshaw, she founded the African American Alliance 2000, a group of Black feminists. She identifies as lesbian and lives with her life partner.
Marsha P. Johnson was a gay liberation activist and Stonewall Riot veteran. Alongside Sylvia Rivera, she founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) organization and was an AIDS activist. She was unfortunately found dead in 1992, her cause of death unofficially considered a homicide.
Backxwash is a Zambian-Canadian rapper based in Montreal. She came out as transgender in 2018 after the release of her debut EP F.R.E.A.K.S. Her 2020 album God Has Nothing to Do with This Leave Him Out of It won the 2020 Polaris Music Prize.
Munroe Bergdorf is a British model and activist. Coming out as transgender at the age of 24, she began her modelling career with the motivation of bringing diversity to the industry. She frequently makes guest appearances as commentator on British talk shows, and is vocal about numerous causes including racism, transphobia and misogyny.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is an activist and community leader. She advocates notably for incarcerated trans women of color, serving as the original executive director of the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project. Other community efforts she was and continues to be involved in include helping those suffering from addiction and homelessness, sex workers, those with HIV/AIDS, low-income individuals and victims of police brutality.
Elle Hearns is a transgender rights activist who co-founded the Black Lives Matter Global Network. Her interest in the civil rights movement and activists like Malcolm X led her to become a youth organizer. She helped organize the three-day conference The Movement for Black Lives in 2015, and founded the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
Indya Moore is an actor and model known for their role in the series Pose. They started their modeling career at the age of 15 with gigs including Dior and Gucci. They are nonbinary, and are the first trans person to be featured on the cover of the US edition of Elle magazine.
Monica Roberts was a writer and trans rights advocate. She was the founder and main editor of blog TransGriot, which brought attention to issues pertaining to trans women. She also brought news coverage of transgender homicide victims in the US to a wider audience.
Angelica Ross is a businesswoman, actress, and transgender rights activist. She is the CEO and founder of tech company TransTech Social Enterprises, and stars in the shows Pose and American Horror Story.
Travis Alabanza is a British transfeminine performance artist. They have given lectures and presented at panels on topics from racism, sexual orientation and gender identity. They advocate for the inclusion of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in mainstream feminism.
Willow Smith is a singer and actress with several albums under her belt. Her single Whip My Hair hit platinum in 2009 and has won several awards for her musical pursuits. She came out as bisexual and polyamorous in 2019.
Kehlani is a R&B and hip-hop singer. She supported Halsey and Demi Lovato on their tours, released two albums and was nominated for Grammy awards on several occasions. She came out as queer and pansexual on social media.
Billy Porter is a Broadway performer, actor and musician. He starred in the play Kinky Boots on Broadway both in 2013 and 2017, and plays a recurring role in the serie Pose. He also graces the cover of magazines and fashion articles with his colorful red carpet ensembles.