MCC Celebrates Historic and Modern African American LGBTQ Persons During 2015 Black History Month
IF WE DON’T TELL THEM, THE WORLD WILL NEVER KNOW.
Alice Walker (1944 -)
“I am bisexual. I just live my life. I don’t think I have to phone in and tell everybody.”
Alice Walker is an internationally celebrated author, poet and activist whose books include seven novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s books, and volumes of essays and poetry. She’s best known for The Color Purple, the 1983 novel for which she won the Pulitzer Prize—the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, though (in her opinion) not the first African American woman to deserve it —and the National Book Award. The award-winning novel was adapted for Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film and later for the stage, opening at New York City’s Broadway Theatre in 2005, winning a Tony Award for best leading actress in a musical in 2006.
James Baldwin (1924-1987)
“I’m both black and gay. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve hit the jackpot.” –James Baldwin
James Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924. The oldest of nine children, he grew up in poverty, developing a troubled relationship with his strict, religious father. After writing a number of pieces that were published in various magazines, Baldwin went to Switzerland to finish his first novel. Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953, was an autobiographical work about growing up in Harlem. The passion and depth with which he described the struggles of black Americans was unlike anything that had been written. Though not instantly recognized as such, Go Tell It on the Mountain has long been considered an American classic.
Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992)
“We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.”
Born in New York City of West Indian parents, Lorde was educated at Hunter College and Columbia University. On completing a master’s degree in library studies in 1961 at Columbia University. Audre Lorde names herself as “a black feminist lesbian mother poet” and her writings from poetry to novels and what Lorde refers to as “biomythography”. Many of her poems are available online and in volumes spanning four decades. Political activism as a black feminist appears in her 1984 volume, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches explores the fear and hatred existing between African American men and women, feminists, or lesbians and the challenge between African American women and white women to find common ground.
https://www.glbtq.com/literature/lorde_a.html and https://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lorde/lorde.htm
Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)
“We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”
James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. He published his first poem in 1921. He attended Columbia University, but left after one year to travel. His poetry was later promoted by Vachel Lindsay, and Hughes published his first book in 1926. He went on to write countless works of poetry, prose and plays, as well as a popular column for the Chicago Defender. He died on May 22, 1967.
Angelina Weld Grimke (1880-1958)
“…Oh Mamie, if you only knew how my heart beats when I think of you, and it yearns and pants to gaze– if only for one second– upon your lovely face.”
Grimké was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 27, 1880. Her mother, Sarah E. Stanley, was white and worked as a scholar and a homemaker. Grimké’s father, Archibald Henry Grimké, was a highly regarded attorney, diplomat, and scholar. Her parents had a turbulent and difficult relationship, in part due to the pressures of being a mixed-race couple, and they separated in 1883. Grimké’s mother moved to San Diego, California, and made a career as a lecturer on occult subjects, but had very little contact with her daughter after leaving Boston. Raised by her father in an environment that ranked education and social grace above all else, Grimké excelled academically and in public, but was privately haunted by the intense pressure she felt to succeed in his eyes.
Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
Author and the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. Lorraine Hansberry’s parents were activists and won a long legal battle against housing segregation in Chicago after they moved into a predominantly white neighborhood. It was these events that inspired Hansberry to write “A Raisin in the Sun.” It was during this activism that she met her husband, Robert Nemiroff. The two were together romantically only briefly, but their relationship remained close—they didn’t divorce until the end of her life—and, for decades, historians viewed Hansberry’s personal life through that lens. But throughout her short life—Hansberry died of cancer at 34—she engaged both a personal and a political search for sexual freedom and articulated a still-urgent understanding of its relationship to gender equality. It’s unclear whether Hansberry would have called herself a “lesbian,” primarily because she and others were still in the process of developing the concept of such a clearly defined sexual identity. But she dated women and, more strikingly, joined the country’s first-ever lesbian political organization, the now-defunct Daughters of Bilitis, at a time when doing so made you a target of federal law enforcement.
Keith Boykin (1965 – present)
Boykin, a twentieth/twenty-first century Black gay man, writes poignantly about the experiences of being both Black and gay in the United States and about the intersections between the two. Here he reminds us that prejudice comes from the same root source, regardless of how it manifests itself over the centuries. Because of this, it is critical that we, as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered people and our allies of all colors, explore Black history and honor ourselves and others who are on this path to freedom.
Bessie Smith (1894-1937)
In the age of the Harlem Renaissance, her voice personifies an era of blues and jazz. “Empress of the Blues” is the regal title rightly bestowed upon Bessie Smith, whose history has been filled with persistent, colorful legends. Gifted with a powerful voice and sophisticated musical artistry, she conducted her life by her own set of rules and had affairs with both men and women. Bessie’s relationships included a volatile, near-fatal affair in 1926 with chorus girl Lillian Simpson.
Other noted bisexual African American singers of the early 20th century include: Ma Rainey, Josephine Baker and Ethel Waters.
Francis Warren Nicholls, Jr., a/k/a Frankie Knuckles (1955 – 2014)
Knuckles was born January 18, 1955 in The Bronx, New York; he later moved to Chicago. He played an important role in developing and popularizing house music in Chicago during the 1980s, when the genre was in its infancy. Due to his importance in the development of the genre, Knuckles was often known as “The Godfather of House Music.” Chicago named a stretch of street and a day after Knuckles in 2004 for this role. His accomplishments earned him a Grammy Award in 1997. Knuckles was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005 as recognition for his achievements.
Knuckles was so popular that the Warehouse, initially a members-only club for largely black gay men, began attracting straighter, whiter crowds, leading its owner, Robert Williams, to eschew membership. He continued DJing at the Warehouse until November 1982, when he started his own club in Chicago, The Power Plant.
Alberta Hunter (1895 – 1984)
Alberta ran away from home in Memphis to Chicago at 12 years old to become a blues singer. She landed in the Bronzeville neighborhood as popular singer, began a relationship with Lottie Taylor and worked at a club on S. State Street in Bronzeville with gay piano player Tony Jackson. She performed in Chicago’s queer Bronzeville until 1921 when the piano player was murdered during a show. After that she relocated to New York and continued her rise to stardom.
Tony Jackson (1884 – 1921)
Originally from New Orleans, he arrived in Chicago as a southern style Ragtime and Jazz pianist. In Chicago he could be openly gay, write songs and play piano in the Bronzeville clubs. He died from complications due to alcoholism in 1921.
RuPaul Andre Charles (1960 – present)
“With hair, heels, and attitude, honey, I am through the roof.”
Born Rupaul Andre Charles on November 17 1960, he grew up in San Diego, learning fashion tips from his mother and three sisters. After some time living in Atlanta doing odd jobs such as a used-car salesman, RuPaul moved to New York by the early ’90s. He had begun performing in local Manhattan clubs and became a popular attraction through his various flamboyant acts on stage. After battling drug addiction and living in poverty Rupaul was given a record contract by the famous duo Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, with the hip-hop label Tommy Boy Records. His debut album, “Supermodel of the World”, was released in 1993, but it failed on the Billboard Charts until the following year, when the success of the single “Supermodel (You Better Work)” a tribute to the divas of the fashion world placed in the top 30 on the Pop Charts. The music video for “Supermodel” was nominated for Best Dance Video at the 1994 MTV video music awards. In 1992 he met Mathu his make-up artist and Zaldy his costume designer, the two studied every inch of his body and went on to create some of Rupaul’s most famous costumes and build what he calls the “Glamazon Look”. The success of “Supermodel” had Rupaul performing at a Gay rights rally in Washington D.C., on the same spot Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Joan Armatrading (1950 – present)
Born in 1950 on the island of St. Kitts, British singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading was her country’s — as well as Britain’s — first woman to make commercial inroads into her chosen genre, spicing her take on folk with elements of rock, blues, and jazz, and has had a remarkably long, consistent career. Armatrading immigrated to England in 1958 and began writing songs six years later. In 1970, she met lyricist Pam Nestor at a touring production of Hair, and the two began collaborating on material later featured on Armatrading’s 1972 debut, Whatever’s for Us. The two ended their partnership afterward, and Armatrading resurfaced in 1975 with Back to the Night. Featuring former members of Fairport Convention, 1976’s Joan Armatrading catapulted the singer into the U.K. Top 20 and produced her only Top Ten single, “Love and Affection.” Armatrading’s subsequent albums sold well in the U.K. to her newly established fan base but only respectably in the U.S., where it took her until 1980 to have a real hit (the all-electric Me Myself I). The Key also did quite well, but Armatrading remained largely a cult artist with a small but devoted following in America, never quite achieving the stardom she had in Britain. Armatrading has been successful enough to tour and record regularly into the new millennium. She released Lovers Speak (Denon, 2003), Live: All the Way from America (Savoy, 2004), and her first all-blues project, Into the Blues (429, 2007), which debuted at number one on Billboard’s Blues Albums chart — a first for a U.K. female artist. The rollicking This Charming Life (also 429) arrived early in 2010, followed by Starlight in 2013.
Bayard Rustin (1912 – 1987)
Born in 1912, he grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he excelled as a student, athlete and musician. As a Quaker committed to non-violence, a master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Martin Luther King, Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence. Despite these achievements, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions, largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era. The recent film Brother Outsider depicts his incredible life-long pursuit of justice and peace making.
Barbara Jordon (1936 – 1996)
“When do any of us do enough?”
Born on February 21, 1936, in Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan was a lawyer and educator who was a congresswoman from 1972 to 1978—the first African-American congresswoman to come from the deep South and the first woman ever elected to the Texas Senate (1966). She captured the attention of President Lyndon Johnson, who invited her to the White House for a preview of his 1967 civil rights message.
Clarence H. Thomas (1919 – 2009)
During World War II, Clarence served as an intelligence officer for the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which later became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He achieved the rank of Captain and was honorably discharged in 1946. He served the Chicago Public School system for more than 27 years as a teacher and assistant principal, spending most of those years at the Ray School in Hyde Park, where he retired in 1987. Clarence was known by all who knew him as a classicist, enjoying classical music and frequently attending the theater, opera, and the symphony. Clarence was a member of AChurch4Me MCC.
Vernita Gray (1949 – 2014)
Vernita Gray, was one of Chicago’s longest and most prolific activists for LGBT rights. She organized a gay and lesbian hotline in 1969 and hosted support groups in her home. She has published extensively in literary and poetry magazines and was an early leader in the Chicago gay liberation movement. She died March 19, 2014. She and her wife, Pat Ewert, were the first same-gender first couple legally married in Illinois, authorized by a special petition due to her terminal illness.
Kenneth Reeves (1951 – present)
Kenneth E. Reeves was born and brought up in Detroit, Michigan. He attended the legendary Cass Technical High School, and graduated a year after Detroit’s turbulent 1967 riots. He attended Harvard College and graduated cum laude at 1972. Reeves served as the mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, from 1992 to 1995 and again from 2006 to 2007. He is the first openly gay African-American man to have served as mayor of any city in the United States.
Reeves was succeeded as mayor in 2008 by E. Denise Simmons, who became the first openly lesbian African-American mayor in the United States.
Lois Bates (1970 – 2011)
There were few in Chicago’s transgender community who did not know — or at least know of — Lois Bates. A fixture at Chicago’s Howard Brown Health Center, a health care and research center that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Ms. Bates created support groups for trans youth and adults and worked tirelessly on HIV prevention. Besides being and outspoken HIV activist, she was also a former member of the Navy, a cosmetologist, a postal worker, security guard, minister and a member of the Pillar of Love Fellowship United Church of Christ. Of all these achievements, she is remembered for her trans-advocacy work. Bates passed away on Nov 17, 2011 at 41 years old.
Sheryl Swoops (1971 – present)
Basketball star Sheryl Swoopes has been a champion in college, Olympic, and professional competition. Swoopes became an Olympian in 1996 and was a key player on the United States women’s basketball team that won the gold medal at the Atlanta games. Swoopes married Eric Jackson, her high school sweetheart, in 1995. When the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) formed in 1997, Swoopes was the first player drafted. Her marriage began disintegrating in 1998. Swoopes found a sympathetic ear in newly-arrived Houston Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott, with whom she soon fell in love. In 2005 she publicly came out as a lesbian and acknowledged her committed relationship with another woman.
Michael Sam (1970 – present)
Born on January 7, 1990, in Hitchcock, Texas, Michael Sam overcame a difficult childhood to become a promising football player. After revealing his homosexuality to teammates at the University of Missouri, he was named the conference co-defensive player of the year as a senior. Sam announced his orientation to the public in early 2014, and in May he became the first openly gay player to be selected by the NFL. Later during the year he dealt with professional challenges, being cut from two team rosters, yet was still named as one of GQ Magazine’s Men of the Year.
Voices from the Church
Rev. Elder Darlene Garner ( 1948 – present)
From Columbus, Ohio USA, Darlene Garner is a lesbian Christian woman of African, Cherokee, and Irish descent with a National Baptist and Episcopal spiritual heritage. She came out as a lesbian in 1973 and joined Metropolitan Community Churches in 1976. As a lay person, she served as a Church Treasurer, Lay Delegate, and Assistant District Coordinator. Garner was ordained to the professional ministry in 1988 and has served as Associate Pastor of MCC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pastor of MCC in Baltimore, Maryland; Senior Pastor of MCC of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, Virginia; and Interim Pastor of Good Hope MCC in Cape Town, South Africa. Since 1998, she has been the convener of the MCC Conference for People of African Descent, Our Friends, and Allies. On the MCC Council of Elders since 1993, Darlene Garner served as Clerk of the denomination for ten years and Vice-Moderator for three years. She currently supports the Networks of churches and leaders in Australia/New Zealand, Latin America/Caribbean, Western Europe/United Kingdom, and Southern California/Nevada. In addition, she is the Director of the Office of Emerging Ministries, which provides oversight of and support for new church starts, affiliations, diversity and inclusivity, special projects, and missiology. Garner has attended Ohio State University, Samaritan College, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. She is the mother of four adult children, has seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Garner and Rev. Candy Holmes were married in March 2010 and live with their canine son, Joey in Bowie, Maryland USA.
James Cleveland (1932-1991)
James Cleveland was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 5, 1931 to Rosie Lee and Benjamin Cleveland during the height of the greatest depression. James’ grandmother attended Pilgrim Baptist Church, where she was a member of the choir. James had no choice but to attend these rehearsals with his grandmother and found himself sitting through these choir rehearsals – bored stiff!! Eventually James decided he would conquer the boredom through attempting to sing along with the choir. It was in one of these rehearsal that James’ singing was noticed and he was made choir mascot. The choir director, Thomas A. Dorsey wrote a song for him which launched the career of what was to be a long line of performances. Through Dorsey’s teaching and directing young James was influenced in a great way. Cleveland wrote more than 400 songs, recorded more than 100 albums, and won four Grammys. He founded the Gospel Music Workshop of America and mentored a young Aretha Franklin, and inspired an entire generation of musicians and singers. He remained closeted, though after his death in 1991 from AIDS, many began to speak about their relationships and experiences with Cleveland.
B. Slade a/k/a Ton3x a/k/a Tonex (1975 – present)
Anthony Charles Williams II of San Diego, California, better known by his stage name B. Slade, formerly known under the gospel moniker Tonéx, is an American singer, songwriter, actor, multi-instrumentalist, rapper, dancer, producer, and activist from San Diego, CA. He has gone by various names and aliases, but his primary stage name of choice had for years been “Tonéx”. In 2010, he began using the stage name B.Slade in order to repackage himself. Williams has released several hundred songs on dozens of albums over the span of his career, while producing several others for both gospel and secular artists. He has won six Stellar Awards, a GMA Award, and received 2 Grammy nominations: one for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album for his 2004 gold album, Out The Box and another in 2009 for Best Urban/Soul Alternative Performance for his single, “Blend”, from his 2009 mainstream (albeit theoretically Gospel) album, Unspoken. Known more for his gospel recordings, his musical efforts have been known to blend a smorgasbord of styles, including pop, r&b, jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, rock, latin, electro, punk and trance. His primary influences include Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Prince, Michael Jackson, Walter Hawkins, David Bowie, and Janet Jackson. His distinct sound and eclectic style of music led him to give his music its own genre per se, calling it “Nureau”.
Rev. Peter Gomes (1942 – 2011)
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942, the Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes was an American Baptist minister ordained to the Christian Ministry by the First Baptist Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Since 1970 he served in The Memorial Church, Harvard University; and since 1974 was Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church. Gomes, was a nationally influential Baptist minister and advocate for tolerance who died in 2011 at 68 years old. As an openly gay black man respected for his academic work in the American Religious Academy and churches, he published 11 volumes of sermons, as well as books, including 1996′s “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” in which he analyzed the Bible’s use in marginalizing Jews, blacks, women, and gays. He condemned those who used the Bible to justify racism, oppression and homophobia, but also steadfastly defended the text’s message. Peter was a friend of MCC and gay Christians across America.
Bishop Yvette Flunder ( – present)
Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder is founder and Senior Pastor of the City of Refuge UCC and Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship, a multi-denominational fellowship of 56 primarily African American Christian churches. A native San Franciscan, Flunder was raised a devout Pentecostal. As a young adult, she returned to San Francisco where she graduated from the College of San Mateo and began a career in social justice ministry that continues in her ministerial work today. In 1984, she began performing and recording with “Walter Hawkins and the Family” and the Love Center Choir. She remained with Love Center until 1991 when she felt called to plant a church which became City of Refuge. Seeking to respond to the needs of the AIDS epidemic, the church also opened Ark of Refuge, Inc., a non-profit agency that provides housing, direct services, education, and training for persons affected with HIV/AIDS in the San Francisco Bay area, throughout the United States, and in three countries in Africa. Bishop Flunder is also an ordained Minister of the United Church of Christ and Metropolitan Community Churches and a graduate of the Ministry Studies and Master of Arts programs at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California. She received a Doctor of Ministry degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California. Personally, she enjoys her familial relationships with her wife, brother, daughters, and grandsons.
Delores Berry ( – present)
The Rev. Delores Berry answered her call to ministry at the age of 19. She is a former Christian Methodist Episcopal Minister (CME). She began her ministry at the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1975, and transferred her credentials from the CME church in 1976. Rev. Berry was ordained in the UFMCC in 1983. One of her first official positions with UFMCC was as a member of the Fellowship’s Evangelistic Team. In 1978, Rev. Berry was one of the co-founders of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. She assisted in organizing the first Gay and Lesbian March on Washington in D.C. and assisted in organizing the first People of Color Gay and Lesbian White House Conference. Rev. Berry has served as District Coordinator of the Mid-Atlantic District and assistant pastor of MCC Baltimore, Maryland. Berry simultaneously pastored Good Samaritan MCC (Norfolk) and MCC Peninsula (Newport News). During this time, she facilitated the merger of these churches to become New Life MCC, Norfolk, Virginia, and continued as pastor of New Life after the merger. Rev. Berry’s last pastorate was with MCC Portland, Oregon.Rev. Berry has been working as a full-time Evangelist in UFMCC since 1987.
Rev. Cedric Harmon ( – present)
Co-Director of Many Voices and an ordained pastor affiliated with the National Baptist and Missionary Baptist Churches, Cedric served as religious organizer for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. For 13 years, he recruited and trained clergy from around the country to provide legislative testimony about issues of religion and government. He’s also known for his writing and television appearances—again on human rights and social justice—and serves on several boards having to do with sexuality and religion. Notably, in the heat of the debate over marriage equality in the District of Columbia, Cedric quietly invited pastors and ministers who had spoken on other justice issues to publicly support marriage equality. His skill in helping them make the connection, and then filling in the gaps so they felt prepared to go public with their new understanding, enabled the DC Council to pass marriage equality with the support of African American clergy.