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Combating the Erasure of LGBTQ+ Community in Black History


[My approach to Black history is deeply rooted in spirituality, similar to the ideology of Che Guevara. I am motivated to uncover how our ancestors expressed self-love and love for one another, acts of resistance in a world that sought to erase them. By understanding their experiences, I can navigate the world as my most authentic self. However, my thirst for knowledge goes beyond what has been taught to me in school; I yearn to explore the intentionally omitted parts of our history. Even during my history classes, I felt that there were missing pieces. The stories of Black historical figures were often simplified and lacked depth. Thankfully, my parents and grandparents, who lived through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights eras, filled in these gaps for me. Additionally, I was fortunate to encounter works of fiction, such as Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” which offered a powerful depiction of Black women’s lives in the face of racism and showcased the complexities of Blackness, including their gender and sexuality.

Walker’s literary prose provided me with a more nuanced understanding of Black history. However, it is disheartening to learn about her recent transphobic comments, as they highlight how our understanding of ourselves can be negatively influenced by incomplete and violent historical texts and beliefs. “The Color Purple” made me realize that Black history is far more intricate and multidimensional than the shallow portrayals I encountered in school. These narratives were often diluted, erasing crucial aspects of their identities to conform to a more acceptable narrative. I know there are many others like me who crave honest stories about Black life, love, joy, and struggle. It is disheartening to learn that two out of three Americans feel that their Black history education fell short.

Recently, I have taken it upon myself to conduct my own research, seeking out content creators like Erika Hart, who dedicate their platforms to honoring Queer Blackness in the past and present. Unfortunately, conservative politicians and education officials, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have waged war against critical race theory, attempting to erase queer Black history and replace it with topics like “Black conservatism.” Their actions reflect a deliberate attempt to hinder African descendants from progressing culturally, socially, and spiritually. It is clear that these tactics aim to perpetuate division and maintain the status quo.

The belief in a binary gender construct not only creates division within our communities but also contradicts important parts of our history. Many of our African ancestors did not conform to the gender binary before colonialism, and experts argue that this construct aligns more closely with Eurocentric perspectives of gender expression. Amber J. Phillips, also known as Amber Abundance on social media, is a queer storyteller who has shed light on the hidden queer identities of Black culture-makers and leaders. Phillips highlights the violence of erasure, which unfortunately persists even within Black social circles and institutions. She cites an example from the 2022 BET awards, where Jack Harlow was nominated for an award while Lil Nas X, who is queer, was not even invited. This erasure of queer individuals, particularly Black trans people, contributes to the perpetuation of anti-Blackness within our own community.

It is evident that we fail collectively when we fail to acknowledge the queer aspects of Black history. Recognizing the gender identity and sexual expression of Black queer individuals is essential, not only to honor their experiences but also to challenge the shame and stigma that still exists within the Black community. By honoring Black queer people, we can create better systems of community care and mutual aid, dismantling internalized anti-Blackness. The answers lie within the minds and work ethic of Black queer people.

Watufani Poe, an interdisciplinary social scientist and educator, also seeks to shift the conversation surrounding Black history to include the contributions of individuals who do not conform to the gender binary. His upbringing in a pan-Africanist home exposed him to the limitations of existing Black history teachings, which often reinforce heteronormative gender constructs. Poe acknowledges the importance of reclaiming a unified image of Afrocentricity but recognizes that there is still much work to be done.

As a postdoctoral fellow at Amherst College, Poe co-created a course called “Black, Here and Now,” which delved into the struggles and contributions of Black queer communities throughout history. Despite the challenges of accessing primary and secondary sources before the ’60s, due to censorship and eurocentrism, Poe incorporated the works of queer thinkers, scholars, and storytellers to expose students to the historical presence of Black queer individuals. He highlights the need to be mindful of the violence of colonialism when referencing documents that were essentially tools of oppression. Poe finds hope in our ability to reclaim stories of our humanity and the preservation of our ancestors’ stories. He emphasizes the importance of works like Alice Walker’s recuperation of Zora Neale Hurston’s legacy and the Afro-Brazilian religious traditions that pass down the histories of Black communities in Brazil.

As I continue on my journey, I am realizing that Black queer history does exist, but it requires active seeking to uncover these stories. By doing so, we can challenge the erasure and create an inclusive and accurate narrative of our shared history.


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