Black History Month: Andrea Jenkins

Born May 10, 1961

Andrea Jenkins is an American politician, writer and poet who made US history by being the first openly Black trans woman to be elected to public office in 2018. Andrea was born in 1961, in Chicago and spent her childhood living in lower-income working class communities with her single mother. From a young age, Andrea was heavily involved in arts, often writing and creating poems and other spoken word pieces.

Andrea came out as gay in her 20s, and began to transition in her 30s. She returned to college attending Metropolitan State University, to finish her bachelor’s degree. Following that, she earned two masters degrees, one in Creative Writing and one in Community Based Economic Development. Her political career started shortly after, when she worked as a vocational counselor for the Hennepin County Government.

In 2005, Jenkins worked as a political aide to Elizabeth Glidden, and earned a fellowship focusing on trans issues. She successfully established the Transgender Issues Group in 2014, and organized a council summit to highlight the struggles and issues trans folks face in Minnesota. In 2016, after Elizabeth Glidden decided not to run for re-election, Andrea Jenkins announced her campaign, with the slogan “Leadership. Access. Equity.” The following year, she successfully won with over 70% of the votes.

In her other endeavours, Andrea has participated in the Trans Lives Matter movement, and was the grand marshal of Twin Cities Pride Parade. In 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first Pride parade, she was named one of 50 heroes leading the nation towards equality, acceptance, and dignity.

Currently, Jenkins is a performance artist and poet, and lives with her partner of eight years. Her contributions and representation as a trans woman in politics have paved the way for many other folks to become more involved in the political landscape.

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Black History Month: Miss Major

Born in Chicago in the 1940s, Miss Major is a trans activist and icon well known for her outspoken activism towards trans rights and freedoms. As a young child, Miss Major often explored her gender expression, trying on her mothers’ clothes while no one was home, and befriending older drag queens who allowed her to experiment with makeup and dressing in drag. When Miss Major came out as trans to her family, they struggled accepting her transition and gender identity. At the age of 16, Miss Major graduated from high school and moved into a post-secondary dorm room.

Although she had been out to her close family and friends, she still presented in a traditionally masculine way, resulting in her being placed in a men’s dorm. During this time, Miss Major was outed when one of her roommates found dresses and makeup in her room, leading to her expulsion from the college.

After her expulsion, Miss Major moved to New York in 1962 and began working as a sex worker. While in New York, Miss Major became involved with drag shows, and performed as a showgirl. Within the community, Miss Major was accepted for who she was, and began to feel a sense of belonging. During the Stonewall Riot in 1969, Miss Major played a role in protecting queer community members against the brutality by the police. As an activist, Miss Major has said that although Stonewall was a turning point in the 2LSBGTQ+ rights movement, transgender and queer women of colour had long since been advocating and organizing for the rights and freedoms of the community. 

In 1988, Miss Major and her partner moved to San Diego California. She continued working as a drag performer, and started mentoring younger drag performers and trans women, earning her the nickname Mama Major. During the AIDS crisis in the 80s, Miss Major became involved in AIDS activism after losing her partner. Moving to San Francisco in 1995, Miss Major continued her work in HIV/AIDS activism, becoming a health promoter and educator for Tenderloin AIDS Research Center. She developed a mobile outreach centre, where she went into the streets to meet with unhoused folks who needed assistance. 

Currently, Miss Major lives in Arkansas with her partner, and has continued her work in activism and advocacy.

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Black History Month: Stormé DeLarverie

B. December 24, 1920 – D. May 24, 2014

Stormé DeLarverie was a long-time gay rights activist and drag king, known as one of the founding figures in the drag community and pioneers of gender-fluidity. DeLarverie was born in New Orleans in 1920 and spent many years of her life performing and hosting at venues such as the Apollo Theater, and Radio City Music Hall.

An important aspect of DeLarverie’s history is the role she played in the Stonewall Rebellion. Stormé confirmed and often spoke about throwing the first punch at The Stonewall Inn. During a police raid in the early morning on June 28th, 1969, a woman (often thought to be Stormé) was the victim of police brutality while being handcuffed. As tensions rose, and police violence increased, a larger scuffle ensued, causing what is now known as the Stonewall Rebellion. 

In the aftermath of the events that took place at Stonewall, Stormé DeLarverie continued to be a fierce activist and key player in the Gay Liberation movement in New York. She was an active member of the Stonewall Veterans’ Association, and was a regular in Pride parade and celebrations for many years after. She also spent many years as a volunteer street patrol worker, guarding and keeping an eye on queer folks in The Village. On top of her work with the Gay Liberation Movement, Stormé also organized and planned benefits and fundraisers for victims and children of domestic violence.  

Often credited as a force to be reckoned with, Stormé DeLarverie lived her life in service of the queer community, advocating and fighting for equitable treatment and freedoms for all. In 2019 on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, she was honored as one of the inaugural fifty American Pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes inducted onto the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument. 

Stormé DeLarverie passed away peacefully in her sleep on May 24, 2014 after a dementia diagnosis. Her contributions to the 2SLGBTQIA+ liberation movement, and passion for justice and protecting the next generation of queer folks will never be forgotten.

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Black History Month: Bayard Rustin

B. March 17, 1912 – D. August 24, 1987

Bayard Rustin was born March 17, 1912 in West Chester Pennsylvania. Raised by his maternal grandparents, who were members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), Bayard quickly found his passion in civil rights advocacy and activism. As a youth, Bayard spent time working with W.E.B Du Bois, and James Weldon, and campaigned against the racially discriminatory Jim Crow Laws.

Rustin played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement in America, serving as an advisor on non-physical conflict resolution to Martin Luther King Jr. and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. As a Black gay man, Bayard Rustin faced many challenges in his career. As a teen and young adult, he maintained his privacy surrounding his sexual orientation, not allowing it to become a part of activism work until later years. Unfortunately, as with many influential queer men, Bayard was the target of homophobic laws and policies, contributing to his arrest for “vagrancy and lewd conduct”. He pleaded down to a lesser charge, however was still sentenced to 50 days in jail. This arrest served as the first time Rustin publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation and as a result of this, he moved to a more behind the scenes role, resigning from his role as Race Relations Secretary at the Fellowship of Reconciliation. 

Following his public arrest and outing, Bayard continued his advocacy work within the Civil Right Movement, but started engaging in LGBTQ+ advocacy and activism in the 1980s. A key part of his activism was a speech he gave in 1986, in which he compared the Gay Rights Liberation to the Civil Rights Movement in the sense that “gay people are the new barometer for social change, the question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people”. This speech, while controversial, raised many crucial points about cross marginalization and the key concepts behind intersectionality. How our many different identities impact the ways in which we go through life, and how we face systemic oppression based on these identities. 

Bayard Rustin was a successful activist, and heavily contributed to the advancement of Civil Rights in America. His story is one of oppression, systemic racism and homophobia, and how one queer Black man can create social change and betterment. Although he passed away in 1987, he will always be remembered as one of the first openly gay Black Civil Rights leaders. 

A new 2023 film starring Colman Domingo as Rustin is now available on Netflix.

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