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Keller Rohrback Celebrates Pride

This Pride, in recognition that the gains of the LGBTQIA community are largely due to the efforts of community members of color,
we have been exclusively highlighting Black LGBTQIA activists, artists, and politicians who have bravely pushed our country forward.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Audre Lorde was a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” who dedicated her life to addressing racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Her writing predominantly discusses civil rights, feminism, lesbianism, illness and disability, and the exploration of Black female identity. Lorde was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. Interested in poetry from a young age, Lorde published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while still in high school.

She earned her BA from Hunter College and a Master of Library Science (MLS) from Columbia University, after which she worked as a librarian in the New York public schools during the 1960s. Having begun teaching in 1972 as a poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College, Lorde’s experiences as a Black queer woman in predominantly white academia greatly influenced her work. One famous example of that is the essay “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.” In the 1980s, Lorde co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, an activist feminist press that worked closely with the National Black Feminist Organization. Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978, which eventually led to her passing in 1992. She spent her last year as the New York State Poet Laureate. In 1994, an organization was founded in her name–The Audre Lorde Project. The organization is focused on community organizing and radical nonviolent action around issues relating to LGBTQ communities, AIDS and HIV activism, pro-immigrant activism, prison reform, and organizing among youth of color. To learn more and donate, go here. You can also learn more about Audre Lorde’s life and work here.

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

Bayard Rustin was an openly gay organizer and activist who was at the forefront of nearly every progressive movement of the 20th century. Perhaps best known for his work in the 1950s and 60s as an adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rustin was involved in pacifist groups and civil rights protests as early as the 1930s. During World War II, he fought against racial discrimination in war-related hiring. His pacifism during the war led to Rustin being jailed for two years for refusing to register for the draft. He was arrested again in 1947, when he took part in protests against the segregated public transit system. He was subsequently sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks. In 1953, Rustin was jailed for 60 days for publicly engaging in homosexual activity, but continued to live openly as a gay man. In 1955, Rustin began working with Dr. King, teaching about non-violent resistance and civil disobedience tactics. He assisted Dr. King in the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956, and was also a key figure in organizing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, at which Dr. King delivered his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1965, Rustin co-founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor organization for Black trade union members.

Throughout his career, Rustin received numerous awards and honorary degrees, and his writing about civil rights was published in Down the Line and Strategies for Freedom. He continued to speak about the importance of economic equality within the civil rights movement, and also advocated for the social rights of the LGBTQ community until his death in 1987. In 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Bayard Rustin, and in 2015, the Rustin Fund for Global Equality was created in Rustin’s honor. To learn more and donate, go here. Read more about Bayard Rustin here.

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)

Marsha P. Johnson was a gay liberation activist, performer, self-identified drag queen, and one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall Uprising of June 1969 (“Stonewall”). Following Stonewall, Johnson and other LGBTQ activists formed an activist organized called the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). On the one-year anniversary of Stonewall, GLF held the first Christopher Street Liberation Pride rally. In 1972, Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera established the STAR House, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. Johnson was considered the “drag mother” of STAR House, as she provided food, clothing, and familial support. In the 1980s, Johnson joined ACT UP, a grassroots political group seeking to improve the lives of people with AIDS through direct action, medical research, treatment, and advocacy. 

Marsha P. Johnson died in 1992 of undetermined causes. Following the 1992 pride parade, her body was discovered in the Hudson River. While police initially ruled the death a suicide, Johnson’s friends disputed that ruling. In 2012, activist Mariah Lopez got the NYPD to reopen the case as a possible homicide, after which the police reclassified Johnson’s cause of death as “undetermined.” In 2016, Victoria Cruz of the Anti-Violence Project tried again to get Johnson’s case reopened, gaining access to previously-unreleased documents and witness statements. In 2019, Johnson was one of the fifty inaugural Americans inducted into the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument.  An institute dedicated to protecting the human rights of Black transgender people was founded in Johnson’s name. To learn more and donate to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, go here.

Andrea Jenkins (born 1961)

Andrea Jenkins is the first Black openly transgender woman elected to public office in the United States, as well as a policy aide, writer, performance artist, and activist. Jenkins grew up in a working class community in Chicago and was raised by a single mother. In 1979, she moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota for her bachelors, which she eventually completed at Metropolitan State University. Following her bachelors, Jenkins earned an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University and an MS in community economic development from Southern New Hampshire University. While attending SNHU, Jenkins began working as a vocational counselor for the Hennepin County government, where she stayed for ten years.

In 2001, Jenkins was invited to be part of Robert Lilligren’s campaign for Minneapolis City Council, and she joined his staff as an aide once he was elected. In 2005, Minneapolis City Council member Elizabeth Glidden hired Jenkins as an aide. During that time, Jenkins earned a fellowship dedicated to transgender issues, which helped to establish the Transgender Issues Work Group. In 2014, Jenkins organized the City Council’s Trans Equity Summit, which highlighted the issues trans people face in Minnesota. After 12 years as a policy aide, Jenkins began curating the Tretter Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota, which seeks to expand trans narratives through oral histories. In 2016, Jenkins announced that she would run for Minneapolis City Council. The following year, Jenkins co-founded the Trans United Fund, a PAC that aids transgender candidates. She also won the election with over 70% of the vote and was elected Vice President of the City Council shortly thereafter. In addition, Jenkins chairs the Race Equity Subcommittee and helped to create a Racial Equity Community Advisory Committee. This year, Queerty named Jenkins one of fifty heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people.” Read more about Andrea Jenkins here.

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