As Black History Month comes to a close, we look to 11 African-American leaders of the LGBT community, including writers, speakers, musicians, thought-leaders and change-makers. These QPOC activists are the Marsha P. Johnsons and Bayard Rustins of today.
Each of them are rewriting our entire community’s future with activism, art and empowering stories of their queer and black identities. We’re following them and the important work they’re doing on a daily basis. Are you?
This Black History Month, make sure you’re following these 11 QPOC activists:
1. Rakeem Cunningham
Rakeem Cunningham is a visual artist and videographer based out of Los Angeles, California. His work explores themes of self-identity, queer politics, identity politics, self-acceptance and the navigation of body politics under the gay landscape. His work has been featured in FADER, Cakeboy Magazine and the Tenth Zine, among others. Follow Rakeem Cunningham on Instagram.
2. Ashlee Marie Preston
Ashlee Marie Preston is a force to be reckoned with. An activist, writer and media personality, she’s known for calling out Caitlyn Jenner’s support for Donald Trump and radio personality Charlamagne The God’s transphobic radio show conversations.
She hosts Shook with Ashlee Marie Preston, a weekly podcast on iTunes, Revry and SoundCloud, and was named one of The Root 100’s Most Influential African-Americans of 2017. Follow Ashlee Marie Preston on Twitter.
3. Tiq Milan
Tiq Milan has been a human rights advocate for over a decade, penning articles in publications like Rolling Stone, The New York Times and The Source, to name a few. He travels extensively, speaking at colleges and universities about important issues dealing with gender identity.
Milan uses his work to engage in challenging conversations involving the intersectionality of his queer and black identities. “If we discuss the value of black lives but we are really only concerned with heterosexual black men and how they’re treated, then our black love needs work,” he recently wrote. “If we’re not centering the voices of black women or at least creating ample space for their experiences and honoring the contributions they make to our communities, then our politics are misaligned. If our politics aren’t queer or trans-inclusive, then how can we say we love blackness?”
Milan is also a father. He and his wife Kim Katrin Milan welcomed a baby girl on Jan. 17, 2018. Follow Tiq Milan on Twitter.
4. Raquel Willis
Raquel Willis is a writer, journalist and activist based in Oakland, California. She’s also National Organizer at the Transgender Law Center. “Today I stand here as a queer Black transgender woman from Augusta, Georgia,” she said at last year’s Women’s March in Washington, D.C. “But I am more than these labels. I am also a daughter, a sister, an Auntie, a friend, a lover, a human, a feminist. And although I’m glad to be here now, it’s disheartening that women like me were an afterthought in the initial planning of this march.” Follow Raquel Willis on Twitter.
5. Max Konnor
Max Konnor is making a name for himself in the porn industry. With almost 50,000 followers on Twitter, this gay adult film star is using Only Fans as his vehicle for porn success, and featuring hot previews on his Twitter that would make any gay boy weak in the knees. But he’s not just using his Twitter for self-promotion. He’s also using it as a platform for important conversations that are difficult for members in our community to have — like on use the term “BBC” (“big black cock”) when discussing sex with black men.
Konnor tweeted, “Honesty moment: I hate when guys refer to my dick as BBC or anything along those lines. You don’t specify the color of a white dick. … I am not a fetish. I am a human being.” Follow Max Konnor on Twitter.
6. Tarik Carroll
This Brooklyn-based photographer developed the “EveryMAN” project to empower and inspire other queer, black and plus-size people.
“This project is geared towards creating a safe space that I hope will serve to liberate men worldwide from self-hate,” Carroll explains. “I want to challenge society’s obsession with hyper masculinity and perfection by capturing men/male identifying from all backgrounds, orientations, gender identifications, personal classifications, races and colors.This is a call to all. This is a visual conversation about inclusion and diversity which I intend to translate into an actual conversation about the positivity that begins within.” Follow Tarik Carroll on Instagram.
7. Boy Radio
Brooklyn-based experimental R&B artist Boy Radio released his debut album Neon Romance earlier this year. The 10-track LP is aesthetically innovative. Out described his music as a blend of “’80s pop and lo-fi bedroom R&B” that transcends traditional rhythm and blues.
“Active visibility is an act of rebellion, yes. But it’s not just entertainers and people with a following that matter,” he tells us. “There are babes out there who don’t have a community to feel secure in, who live their life authentically, wearing what they want, talking how they talk … who don’t have the safety net of New York City to comfort their queerness. They’re out there being 100% visible, and I am inspired by their rebellion.” Follow Boy Radio on Instagram.
8. Jaboukie Young-White
Jaboukie Young-White has been on our radar for some time now. The 23-year-old queer comedian has amassed tens of thousands of followers on social media with his wit, humor and meme-crafting skills, which usually deal with very complicated issues of race and sexuality.
Young-White made his TV stand-up debut in December on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and he delivered. He began: “I’ve been traveling a lot recently, which is fun but It’s weird. Like, I’ve noticed that my race changes city to city. When I’m in Chicago, people just think that I’m half-black, half-white. When I’m in New York people think that I’m Puerto Rican. But when I’m in CVS everyone just thinks I’m stealing. Which you know is really frustrating, because I am, and I don’t want them to catch me.” Follow Jaboukie Young-White on Twitter.
9. DeRay Mckessen
Activist DeRay Mckesson has been a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement since its beginning. A former school administrator, Mckesson first rose to national prominence in 2014 when he used social media to document the unrest in Ferguson.
Mckesson will release his first book this year. Viking will publish On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope on Sept. 4, the publisher said in a news release.
10. Starchild (Bryndon Cook)
Bryndon Cook, who records as Starchild & the New Romantic, has been backing up Solange as band leader and musical director for the tour of her 2016 album A Seat at the Table. But he’s finally stepping out on his own with the release of today’s full-length debut album, Language.
“I want this to be a declaration of what black boys can be,” he says. “What we can sound like, what influences we can draw from, and how serious we can take ourselves or not.” Follow Starchild on Instagram.
11. Zeke Thomas
Thank you @dujourmedia for the great write up on LGBT culture and my new single with @djjohnnyi shade box. “Out of a mountain of despair a stone of hope!” #mensfashion #music #dujourmagazine #clothing #style #dj #newmusic #gaymale #lgbt #artist #mensfashion #rock #la #urbanjungle #love #beard #shave #fashion #streetwear STYLISTS: Name: Krysti K + D’Shaunte IG: @keneeanddshaunte Photographer: Name: Sam McKnight IG: @sammcknightfilms
Last year, Zeke Thomas, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, opened up about being raped, becoming a face of sexual violence against gay men that is rarely spoken about. “No one ever talks about this,” he told New York Magazine. “Especially men — gay men. It’s like, is it real, did it happen, is it believable?”
Since sharing his story with the world last April — and raising awareness of male rape within the gay community — Thomas has earned himself a nomination at the 2018 GLAAD Media Awards in the Outstanding TV Journalism Segment. Follow Zeke Thomas on Instagram.