Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender women represent a vibrant and visible portion of the LGBTQ community. In addition to the legends of the Harlem Renaissance and the decades of groundbreaking activism spearheaded by women like Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith and Angela Davis, many of the most prominent coming out stories of the past two years have been black women like Brittney Griner, Raven-Symonè, Diana King and Robin Roberts. Meanwhile, Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have become the most visible transgender women in media.
So, in honor of Black History Month, below you’ll find over 100 lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer and transgender women you should know about. If she was still alive, the oldest person in this list would be 189 years old. The youngest person on this list is a mere 21 years of age. Like all our lists of this sort, this post aims to contain a wide variety of humans of all ages and backgrounds, from reality TV show stars (despite its numerous failings, Reality TV has been a major mainstream source of LGBTQ visibility dating back to the early ’90s) to State Representatives to actresses to game-changing activists.
Keep in mind, there are so many more prominent black LGBT women than are represented below. This list isn’t representative or comprehensive, but I did aim to include the “big names” and beyond that, present a broad and diverse range of visible women. The hardest part of making this list was that it was originally twice as long! So please feel free to share some of your heroes in the comments and we’ll have more lists like this in the future!
If any of these pictures have been attributed incorrectly or lack proper attribution or contain misinformation, please email bren [at] autostraddle [dot] com and she will fix (or remove it) for you.
Frances E.W. Harper (1825-1911), Abolitionist / Poet / Author
Harper published her first book of poetry at age 20 and her first novel at the age of 67. She chaired the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad, and spoke all over the country with the American Anti-Slavery Society. She helped found the National Association of Colored Women in 1894 and published in so many periodicals that she became known as the “mother of African-American journalism.” She is listed in Lesbian Lists as an “early Black Lesbian and Bisexual Writer.”
Edmonia “Wildfire” Lewis (1844-1907), Sculptor
This African-Haitian-Ojibwe Native American sculptor was born in New York and began studying art at Oberlin in Ohio, one of the first universities to accept women and non-white people, and later began sculpting in Boston. She showed her work internationally and spent most of her career in Rome. The National Gay History Project notes that “she is considered one of a few African-American artists to develop a fan base that crossed racial, ethnic and national boundaries — and the first to develop a reputation as an acclaimed sculptor, which would later give her access to circles that generally excluded people of color and women.”
Alice Dunbar Nelson (1875-1935), Poet / Journalist / Activist
Nelson, who allegedly separated from her first husband, poet Paul Dunbar, in 1902 because he was “disturbed” by her lesbian affairs, was an influential writer and journalist active in efforts to promote African-American and women’s rights. She was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958), Journalist / Teacher / Poet / Playwright
Harlem Renaissance writer Grimké, who was biracial (her father was the second African-American to graduate from Harvard Law), was one of the first African-American women to have a play performed publicly. Of that play, The NAACP said, “This is the first attempt to use the stage for race propaganda in order to enlighten the American people relating to the lamentable condition of ten millions of Colored citizens in this free republic.” At 16, she wrote a letter to her female friend Mamie Burrile in which she declared, “I know you are too young now to become my wife, but I hope, darling, that in a few years you will come to me and be my love, my wife!” Modern literary critics who have analyzed Grimké’s work have found “strong evidence” that she was lesbian or bisexual.
Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966), Poet / Playwright
Another prominent figure in the flourishing Harlem Renaissance, Johnson grew up in Atlanta, the daughter of an African and Native American mother and an African-American and English father. In addition to writing poems and plays, she was an anti-lynching activist and hosted weekly Salons with other friends associated with the Harlem Renaissance, like Lanston Hughes and Angelina Weld Grimke. The book Lesbian Lists notes that “although her letters reveal love relationships with women, she is best known in the heterosexual world for her affair with W.E.B. DuBois.”
Ma Rainey (1886-1939), Blues Singer
The legendary “Mother of the Blues” was one of the first blues singers to record. She toured extensively all over the country for mixed audiences and released over 94 records. Her 1928 song “Prove it On Me Blues” declared They said I do it, ain’t nobody caught me. Sure got to prove it on me. Went out last night with a crowd of my friends. They must’ve been women, cause I don’t like no men.
Gladys Bentley (1907-1960), Blues Singer
Bentley is a legend known for her piano-playing, raunchy lyrics and her signature top hat and tuxedo, headlning gay speakeasies and Harlem’s Ubangi Club and later in Southern California. Bentley was an out lesbian from the get-go and once, dressed in “men’s clothing,” tried to marry a woman in Atlantic City. But during the McCarthy era Bentley took a turn — she married a man and wrote an article for Ebony magazine entitled “I am woman again,” about how she was “cured” of homosexuality by religion and female hormones.
Alberta Hunter (1895-1984), Blues Singer / Songwriter / Nurse
This critically acclaimed jazz and blues recording artist started out at the prestigious Dreamland ballroom in Chicago, toured Europe, appeared in musicals in London and New York, recorded prolifically and eventually took up nursing in the ’50s and ’60s, only to return to her singing career in the ’70s, eventually touring South America and Europe, writing for film soundtracks and making television appearances. Throughout her career, Hunter kept her lesbian relationships a secret.
Lucille Bogan (1897-1948), Blues Singer
Another early Blues Singer, music critic Ernest Borneman declared Bogan, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith “the big three of the blues.” She’s also cited as a “dirty blues musician” for her songs about prostitution, sex and alcohol.
Josephine Baker (1906-1975), Dancer / Singer / Actress
This American-born French performer and civil rights activist, one of the more famous people on this list, is cited as the first African-American woman to become a world-famous entertainer and the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture.
Bessie Smith (1894-1937), Blues Singer
“The Empress of the Blues” was one of the best-known blues singers of her time and a hugely influential jazz vocalist.
Carmen Mercedes McRae (1920-1994), Jazz Vocalist / Actress
Another enormously influential jazz vocalist, she is remembered for her “iconic interpretations of song lyrics” and “behind-the-beat phrasing.” She was friends with and influenced by Billie Holiday, was nominated for multiple Grammy Awards, appeared in movies and on television, and all told spent fifty years touring the world and recording albums. She believed sexuality was fluid, and was often seen in public with “female companions,” having had experiences with both men and women but resisting any official label.
Ethel Waters (1896-1977), Vocalist / Actress
Lesbian legend Ethel Waters was the second African-American to be nominated for an Academy award and the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Emmy Award. She’s also well-known for her music — the vocalist started out singing the blues and would go on to perform on Broadway and even do pop music. Despite the stigma against the behavior, Ethel Waters even lived with her girlfriend Ethel Williams at some point, which according to Ms. Magazine, “Waters managed to keep out of all 20th century biographies about her.”
Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), Playwright
The inspiration for Nina Simone’s song, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun” made her the first black woman to have their play performed on Broadway. She also worked as an activist, writing for the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom and later joining the lesbian feminist organization The Daughters of Bilitis, publishing two letters in The Ladder under her initials.
Ruby Dandridge (1900-1987), Actress
In addition to being the mother of the legendary actress Dorothy Dandridge, bisexual actress Ruby Dandridge was a prominent radio actress, best known for her role on Amos ‘n Andy. Her “companion” Geneva Williams lived with The Dandridges after Ruby and her husband Cyril divorced.
Angela Davis, Activist / Author / Educator
Angela Davis is one of the most important people of all time. Starting with her work in the counterculture activist movement in the 1960s, with ties to the Communist and the Black Panther Party, Angela emerged as a leading feminist voice deeply passionate about abolishing the prison-industrial complex. She’s run for office, taught and spoken at Universities all over the country and is the author of numerous books including Women, Race & Class and If They Come In the Morning: Voices of Resistance. In 1997 she came out in Out magazine as a lesbian.
Read Carmen’s Idol Worship on Angela Davis here.
Moms Mabley (1894-1975), Comedian
Moms Mabley, billed as ‘The Funniest Woman in the World” was a game-changer for comedy, enjoying a long career that started on the “Chitlin’ circut” and eventually lead her to making a record amounts of money and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. She was out as a lesbian from the age of 27 and recorded over 20 comedy albums, including early “lesbian stand-up” routines. Although she initially performed in androgynous clothing, she changed her stage persona as she got older and more famous, but maintained her more subversive style (and her girlfriends) offstage.
Ruth Ellis (1899-2000), Activist
Before her death in 2000, Ruth Ellis was considered the world’s oldest surviving out lesbian. In 1937, living in Detroit with her partner Babe Franklin, Ellis became the first woman to own a printing business in the city. Her house eventually became a congregating spot for African-American gays and lesbians, and now The Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit is one of four U.S. agencies dedicated to homeless LGBT youth and teenagers.
Alice Walker, Author / Activist
Prolific poet, author and former Ms editor Alice Walker‘s best-known book, The Color Purple, is also one of the best-known books ever, winning the National Book Award and becoming a movie and, later, a musical. She published collections of short stories and poetry, has earned every award under the sun and is very involved in anti-war, pro-Palestine and Civil Rights activism. Walker’s website declares that “She is one of the world’s most prolific writers, yet tirelessly continues to travel the world to literally stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed. She also stands, however, on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation of the world.” You can read more about The Color Purple on our list of 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About LGBQ Black Women.
Read our posts on Alice Walker here.
Audre Lorde (1934-1992), Writer / Activist
This Carribean-American writer and civil rights activists is one of the best-known black lesbian writers of all time with books including Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and Sister Outsider. She was a prolific poet and theorist and was politically active in civil rights, anti-war and feminist movements. You can read more about Zami on our list of 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About LGBQ Black Women.
Read our posts on Audre Lorde here.
Mabel Hampton (1902-1989), Activist / Dancer / Philanthropist
Hampton first came onto the national stage as a dancer for Harlem Renaissance “noteables,” which is how she got to know the major players of the time. Eventually she quit and started cleaning houses (eventually working for the parents of Lesbian Herstory Archives founder Joan Nestle.) She was in a relationship with Lillian Foster from 1932 until Foster died in 1978. At the 1984 New York City Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade, Hampton announced, “I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for 82 years, and I am proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my black people.”
Marsha P Johnson (1944-1992), Activist / Artist
Marsha P. Johnson co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R) with Sylvia Rivera, where she was known as the house “mother,” and was one of the leaders in clashes with police at the Stonewall Riots.
Nell Carter (1946-2003), Singer / Actress
This actress won a Tony award for her role in the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ and starred in the NBC Sitcom Gimme a Break!, for which she was nominated for two Emmys and two Golden Globes. Later in life, starred as Miss Hannigan in a Broadway revival of Annie and did guest spots on TV shows like Ally McBeal and Reba.
Pat Parker (1944-1989), Poet / Activist
Parker’s activism included involvement with the Black Panther Movement, contributing to the Women’s Press Collective and serving as medical coordinator for the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center. Cheryl Clarke has said of Pat that she articulates “a black lesbian-feminist perspective of love between women and the circumstances that prevent our intimacy and liberation.” She toured with Varied Voices of Black Women, published multiple volumes of poetry, and, in 1980, founded the Black Woman’s Revolutionary Council.
Barbara Jordan (1936-1996), Politician
Barbara Jordan was the first African-American woman to deliver a keynote at the Democratic National Convention, the first African-American member of the Texas Senate post-Reconstruction, the first black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and, when she died, was the first African-American woman buried in the Texas State Cemetery. Jordan suffered from multiple sclerosis. Her partner of over 30 years was an educational psychologist named Nancy Earl, but Jordan remained very private about her personal life.
Tracy Africa Norman, Model
During the peak of Norman’s modeling career in the ’70s-’80s, she was photographed for Italian Vogue by the legendary Irving Penn, worked for the third-largest modeling agency in New York, walked many runaways, did five ESSENCE Magazine shoots and earned contracts with Avon Cosmetics, Clairol and Ultra Sheen. Her American career hopes were dashed when someone revealed her trans status to ESSENCE editor Susan L. Taylor, so she went abroad, To Paris, where she did runway modeling until returning to New York, at which point she became an iconic figure in the ballroom community. (info via transgriot.)
Danitra Vance (1954-1994), Actress/ Comedian and the first Black woman to join the cast of Saturday Night Live
Vance was the first African-American woman to join the cast of Saturday Night Live when she came on as a repertory player in 1985. She was the first cast member with a learning disability, the first lesbian cast member (Kate McKinnon is actually just the first openly lesbian cast member) and the show’s only black lesbian cast member ever. Vance eventually tired of the stereotypical roles she was given to play and left the show in 1986. She went on to a formidable career in theater and film and won an Obie Award and a NAACP Image Award for her performance in Spunk, a theatrical adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston short stories. When she died at the age of 40 from breast cancer, her obituary revealed that she’d been living with her “companion,” Mary Jones Miller.
Margaret Sloan-Hunter (1947-2004), Writer / Activist
Sloan-Hunter joined the Congress of Racial Equality at the age of 14, jumpstarting a life of civil rights activism that would lead her to work with Martin Luther King Jr and found the National Black Feminist Organization, The Feminist School for Girls and the Berkeley Women’s Center. She was one of the early editors of Ms. Magazine, toured worldwide with Gloria Steinem and also was an advocate for disability rights.
Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006), Author
Butler was one of the best known and most acclaimed science-fiction writers ever, receiving both the Hugo and Nebula awards, becoming the first sci-fi writer to win a MacArthur Fellowship. She described herself as “comfortably asocial—a hermit in the middle of Seattle—a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”
Barbara Smith, Writer / Activist
A hugely influential voice in black feminism and black lesbian feminism, Smith has published extensively, taught at universities all over the country, and seen her work appear in every major publication ever. Turned off by the sexism she encountered as a young adult in male-dominated Black Nationalist groups, Smith was inspired by Margaret Sloan to launch a Boston chapter of the National Black Feminist Organization, a group which eventually evolved into the groundbreaking Combahee River Collective. She founded the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1980, which published important works like Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology and This Bridge Called My Back with writers like Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa. She continues to lecture, speak and write and also has served on the New York City Council.
Jewelle Gomez and Cheryl Clarke, Writers / Activists
Jewelle Gomez is a novelist and the author of The Gilda Stories and seven other books, having worked in public television, theatre and philanthropy. She was on the founding board of GLAAD and early boards of the Astrea Lesbian Foundation and the Open Meadows Foundation. With her partner Diane Sabin, Gomez was among the litigants suing California for the right to marry, and she continues writing about gay rights and working as Director of Grants and Community Initiatives for the Horizons Foundation. You can read more about The Gilda Stories on our list of 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About LGBQ Black Women.
Read our interview with Jewelle Gomez here.
Cheryl Clarke is a poet, having published four collections and appeared in numerous anthologies. She retired from her post on the graduate faculty of Rutgers University Department of Women and Gender Studies in 2013. She co-owns an independent bookstore, was part of the Combahee River Collective and served as an editor of lesbian feminist literary journal Conditions. Feminist Wire wrote of Clarke, “Cheryl Clarke’s life and work offer an enduring rejection of straightness and a constant reorientation to alternative space…. there may not be any pieces of a movement for liberation that we can participate in without somehow finding ourselves in the legacy of Cheryl Clarke. ”
Born Ramona Lofton, Sapphire is an author and performance poet who was very involved in New York’s burgeoing Slam Poetry scene at its peak. Her first novel, Push, was made into the movie Precious in 2009.
Dionne Brand, Poet / Novelist / Essayist / Documentarian
Critically acclaimed activist/poet Dionne Brand was named Toronto’s third Poet Laureate in September 2009. She has contributed to anthologies and writing opposing violence against black people and the inequality of Canadian’s Aboriginal women. She is widely published and anthologized and has served numerous prestigious academic positions throughout the U.S. and Canada. She is truly an amazing human being.
Gaye Adegbalola, Blues Singer / Activist / Teacher
Born into a family of activists and artists, Adegbalola was involved in the Black Power movement from 1966-1970 and went on to make her mark as an educator, director, musician and actor. She has been a full-time blues musician since the late ’80s.
MeShell Ndegeocello, Musician
Meshell Ndegeocello is a bisexual musician credited with sparking the “neo-soul movement” and boasts an extensive roster of hits, ten albums, and ten Grammy award nominations. Her music has appeared in films like How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Lost & Delirious, Love & Basketball, Higher Learning, Batman & Robin and Love Jones. She’s done projects with John Mellencamp and Herbie Hancock and Madonna, appeared on recordings by Basement Jaxx, Alanis Morisette, ZapMama the Indigo Girls and The Rolling Stones. Her biggest solo hit was “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” in 1994.
Read our posts on MeShell here.
Octavia St.Laurent (1964-2009), Musician
Octavia was a transgender singer and a performer you may recognize from her appearance in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning.
Tracy Chapman, Musician
Tracy Chapman is a shy genius. Her 1988 debut album went multi-platinum and Chapman is credited with ushering in “a new era of singer/songwriters that lasted well into the ’90s” with “liberal politics [that] proved enormously influential on American college campuses in the late ’90s.” The album garnered four Grammys, including Best New Artist, and snagged Chapman a huge gig: performing at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday party. Her next big success happened in 1996 with her album New Beginning and its hit single “Give Me One Reason.”
Donna Kate Rushin, Poet
Staceyann Chin, Writer / Activist / Performing Artist
Staceyann Chin is as legendary for her prose — like her memoir The Other Side of Paradise and work published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and her pregnancy blog on The Huffington Post — as she is for her activism and her legacy as a spoken-word poet. She was a major voice at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and on Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam and also appeared in her own off-Broadway one-woman shows and taught workshops worldwide. You can read more about The Other Side of Paradise on our list of 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About LGBQ Black Women.
Read our posts on Staceyann Chin here.
Alexis Hornbuckle, WNBA Basketball Player
Basketball player Alexis Kay’ree Hornbuckle was named a WBCA All-American in high school and awarded Most Valuable Player for the 2004 WBCA High School All-America Game. She went on to graduate from the University of Tennessee, where she had played for two NCAA Championship teams, to be drafted by the Detroit Shock in 2008. She set a WNBA franchise record with seven steals in 19 minutes in her first game, and helped bring the Shock to the 2008 WNBA championships. She’s since played for The Tulsa Shock and the Minnesota Lynx and currently plays for the Phoenix Mercury.
Aneesa Ferreira, The Real World: Chicago and Real World/Road Rules Challenges (MTV)
Ferreira was the first out lesbian woman of color on The Real World when she was cast in its 2002 season. The daughter of a Caucasian Jewish mother and an African-American Muslim father, many viewers related all-too-familiarly to Ferreira’s conflicts with her mother, who didn’t accept Ferreira’s sexuality. She also hosted an Autostraddle Pride Party with Road Rules Alum Rachel Robinson.
AZ Marie Livingston, Model
Born in Louisiana, Ashley Marie Livingston grew up in Minneapolis with her mother and her gay father, who were divorced but “best friends.” Growing up, Livingston was teased for being a tomboy. On a trip to Los Angeles with her Dad at age nine, she got interested in modeling, and would eventually drop out after three semesters at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to move to Los Angeles and pursue her dreams. From 2009 to 2011, she worked as a runway model in LA and New York, appearing on BET’s Rip the Runway and in London Fashion Week. She appeared in the film Precious and The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty. But it’s likely you know AZMarie from her 2012 stint on America’s Next Top Model: British Invasion, and her subsequent role on the homolicious teevee show DTLA.
Read our posts on AZ Marie here.
Cheryl Dunye, Filmmaker
Cheryl Dunye is “the lesbian Spike Lee,” according to Newsday, and she’s also “a big fucking deal” according to anybody who knows anything about queer cinema. She’s had an extensive career as a filmmaker and within academia. She’s taught at UCLA, Pomona, The New School, California Institute of the Arts and Temple. She’s also the woman behind the groundbreaking lesbian film The Watermelon Woman, which snagged best feature at film festivals including L.A’s Outfest. She’s released four feature films, won numerous awards and prestigious grants, and seen her work screened at festivals internationally. She’s directed 13 films, including the 2012 epic queer porn flick Mommy is Coming and a story in 2013′s Valencia: The Movie, based on the book by Michelle Tea.
Darlene Garner, Clergyperson / Activist
The co-founder of the National Black Coalition of Lesbians & Gays, Garner speaks nationally on LGBT religious issues and was ordained as Metropolitan Community Church clergy in 1988. She and her partner Candy Holmes were married in the Human Rights Campaign building in Washington DC in 2010.
Coral Smith, The Real World: Back to New York & RW/RR Challenges (MTV)
After her appearance on The Real World, during which she and housemate Malik Cooper engaged in really challenging dialogue with her ignorant racist roommate ‘The Miz,” Coral went to work at a rape crisis center. She appeared in a number of Road Rules/Real World Challenges over the next several years, as well as Battle of the Network Reality Stars and Camp Reality. Smith was not out while on The Real World, but in a 2007 interview with OUTlook magazine, she said she was “venturing toward my lesbian qualities. It’s been a long time coming.” In 2013 she had a daughter, Charlie Beatrice. According to Coral’s Twitter, she is “down with gay Pride, Animal Activism, Reality TV and The Truth.” She tumbles at thatcoral.tumblr.com.
E. Denise Simmons, Politician & Activist
In 2008, E. Denise Simmons became the first openly lesbian African-American mayor in the United States when she took the helm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is currently serving her seventh two-year term on the Cambridge City Council.
Ebony Haith, Model
Haith appeared in the first season of America’s Next Top Model, becoming that show’s first openly gay contestant. She has continued modeling since her appearance on the show. In 2007, she showed up in Esquire Magazine as “Hostess of the Year” while working at Los Dados in New York. In 2012, she told Mz Mahogany Chic, “Once I saw myself on the show, I knew I was present. It was no longer that no one could see me. There’s no way you can’t see this 5 foot 10 bald black girl walking down the street. I no longer had to fight to be seen. It didn’t matter what my opinions were of Tyra or the show, I felt so proud that I was chosen as a black woman to represent New York on the show.”
Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, Actress / Author / Rapper
Felicia “Snoop” Pearson is best known for her role as Felicia “Snoop” Pearson in The Wire. She’s the author of a memoir, Grace After Midnight, and was featured on the song “It’s a Stick Up” with Tony Yayo and Mazardi Fox.
Fiona Zedde, Writer
Zedde is a Jamaican-born writer nominated for a 2005 Lambda Award for her debut novel, Bliss.
Gloria Bigelow, Comedian
As described on globigelow.com, “Gloria Bigelow is a refreshing new comic who doses out humor in bite sized chunks—easy for the listener to swallow but realness nonetheless.” Furthermore, “With issues of sexuality, race, and gender at the forefront of her work she has become a favorite and a “one to watch” on the national comedy scene.” She has performed her stand-up worldwide, all over the television, was recently featured in Wanda Sykes’ HERLARIOUS and was a cast member of AfterEllen’s “Cherry Bomb.”
Gloria was in Autostraddle’s It Gets Better Video!
Linda Villarosa, Journalist / Author
Villarosa has worked as a health reporter and the executive editor for Essence magazine. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Root, O Magazine, Glamour, Health, Vibe and Woman’s Day. She has written books about women’s health and her first novel, Passing for Black, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2008.
Marvita Washington, Model
Marvita appeared on the 10th season of America’s Next Top Model and is now signed with Ikon Model Management.
Melange Lavonne, Hip-Hop Musician
Lavonne, who addresses themes of sexuality in her work, released her first album in 2008. Her songs cover topics including Gay Parenting, Domestic Abuse, AIDS, the Presidential campaigns, discrimination, Global Warming, and hip hop hypocrisy.
Nalo Hopkinson, Author
Hopkinson is a Jamaican-Canadian science fiction and fantasy writer whose books include Brown Girl in the Ring, The Salt Roads and Skin Folk. You can read more about The Salt Roads on our list of 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About LGBQ Black Women.
Nirvana Savoury, Musician
Nirvana started out in the Canadian girl group X-Quisite in the early ’00s and you might recognize her 2009 single, “Lipstick Lover.”
Nona Hendryx, Musician / Author / Activist
Hendryx is an accomplished solo artist but is also known for being a part of Labelle, a trio who hit it big with “Lady Marmalade.” Hendryx works in many genres including soul, funk, dance, R&B, hard rock, alt rock and world music. She’s Jimi Hendrix’s cousin!
Pamela Sneed, Poet / Actress / Activist / Performance Artist
Sneed has authored two collections of poetry, Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery and KONG And Other Works, and has performed at venues including P.S. 122, The Studio Museum and The CCA in Glasgow, Scotland.
Robin Roberts, News Anchor
Roberts has been the anchor of Good Morning America since 2005, following a 15 year stint as a sportscaster for ESPN.
Read the Robin Roberts coming out post here.
Sasha Mallory, Dancer
Sasha Mallory, a runner up in the eighth-season of So You Think You Can Dance, has toured with Adam Lambert’s Glamnation tour and Madonna’s MNDA tour and has appeared in music videos for Madonna, Adam Lambert, Uh Huh Her, Wayne Brady and Yanbo.
Staci Michelle Yandle, Attorney
Yandle was nominated by President Obama to serve as United States District Judge for the Southern District of Illinois. Her nomination is currently pending — if appointed, she’ll be the first African-American judge to sit on the federal bench for her district and the first openly gay judge of the 7th circuit.
Jacqueline Woodson, Author
Jacqueline Woodson is a children’s and young adult author whose works include the Coretta Scott King Award winning Miracle’s Boys and the lesbian YA novel The House You Pass Along the Way, which you can read more about on our list of 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About LGBQ Black Women.
Sassy, The Black Ink Crew
via vH1: “Sassy is sweet, sexy, and fun. She has a tattoo of an AK47 on her back, but the AK47 has no trigger. Sassy keeps the guys in line and keeps the shop from burning down. Whether it is taking appointments, being the peacemaker at the shop, or planning an event at the shop, Sassy keeps things running smoothly. She has a strange obsession with being clean and takes more than one bath a day. She is best friends with Puma, and believes in girl power all the way…and is about to take the Black Ink world by storm!”
Skyler Cooper, Actress
Skyler Cooper appeared on a very special “Lesbians Gone Wild” episode of RuPaul’s Drag U with Julie Goldman in 2011 and has also been featured in movies including The Owls, Insomniacs and Elena Undone. She recently wrote, directed and produced the short film Hero Mars, which she also stars in, about the “limitations of gender conformity and gender stereotypes from my experience as an androgynous person in the arts.”
Wanda Sykes, Comedian / Actress
One of the most famous women on this list, Wanda Sykes’ career has been long and prolific. She won an Emmy in ’99 for her writing on The Chris Rock Show, has appeared in multiple films and television shows including her own short-lived late-night talk show, appeared in numerous comedy specials, corresponded for HBO’s Inside the NFL, voiced Gladys on Crank Yankers and wrote a book called Yeah, I Said It. She married her wife, Alex, in 2008, and they have two children.
Read our many posts on Wanda Sykes here.
Zanele Muholi, Photographer
Muholi is a major South African photographer whose “work represents the black female body in a frank yet intimate way that challenges the history of the portrayal of black women’s bodies in documentary photography.”
Read our many posts on Zanele Muholi here.
Mel B, Musician
Scary Spice has totally gotten with her friends, you guys.
Marla Glen, Singer
Glen wrote her first song at the age of 11 — a title which has since won three gold records and one platinum. Her father was a blues guitarist, her Mom was a gospel singer, and her mother was friends with BB King. She has been performing all over the world and releasing records since the early 90’s. She currently lives in Germany.
Chagmion Antoine, Broadcast Journalist
Antoine was the first bisexual newscaster to appear on a major news program when she was hired by CBS News in 2005.
Kathy Harris, Actress / Model / Poet. College Hill: Interns (BET)
Kathy Harris came out in the second episode of the popular BET show, a decision she’s since said she doesn’t regret because of the positive response she got from fans. Prior to the show’s 2007 season, Kathy Harris had been doing theatre for about seven years and in 2008, Kathy Harris told Rolling Out that she was planning on continuing to pursue a modeling and acting career. She was included in the National Black Justice Coalition’s “The Power of Us” Campaign, which promoted visibility amongst LGBTQ black people.
Phaidra Knight, Athlete
Phaidra Knight is a professional athlete, sports media talent, motivational speaker and business entrepreneur. She’s made three appearances in the Rugby World Cup, has appeared on television including The Today Show and MTV’s MADE Rugby Episode and served as a Nike Brand Ambassadors. She is also a speaker on topics including leadership, anti-bullying and diversity.
Read our photoshoot and interview with Phaidra here.
Monica Roberts, Journalist / Activist
Monica Roberts is the woman behind the acclaimed blog Transgriot, self-described as “a writer, award-winning activist, lecturer, speaker, native Houstonian and Texan who transitioned in 1994 and absolutely loves her semi-boring life now.”
Sajdah Golde, Activist/Student, The Real L Word Season Two (SHOWTIME)
Sajdah was the first black woman featured in The Real L Word franchise. After starring on The Real L Word, Sajdah began producing music videos and also launched BlackOUT Magazine, which she hoped would become “a positive outlet for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of African descent.”
Sharon Bridgforth, Playwright
Sharon Bridgforth worked as the founder, writer and artistic director of the root wy’mn theater company from 1993 to 1998, and as anchor artist for the Austin Project from 2002-2009. Her scripts and books have earned numerous awards including Lambda Literary Awards and an American Library Association for “Best Gay/Lesbian Book.” Her theater pieces include dyke/warrior-Prayers, no mo blues and The love conjure/blues text installation.
Azealia Banks, Rapper / Singer / Songwriter
The bisexual rapper dropped out of the prestigious LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, where she was studying musical theater, and was quickly signed to XL Recordings at the age of 17. Now signed with Interscope and Polydor Records, she has been releasing music since 2011 and her first big album should debut this year. She gets in a lot of fights with a lot of people.
Mia McKenzie, Writer
Mia McKenzie is the brilliant mind behind Black Girl Dangerous and the author of 2013 Lambda Award winning novel, The Summer We Got Free. She speaks about race, queerness, gender, class, and the intersections of all of these at universities across the country.
Read Autostraddle’s review of The Summer We Got Free here.
Angel Haze, Rapper
Detroit native Raykeea Angel Wilson, who is of African and Native American ancestry, was raised in what she now refers to as a “cult” — the Greater Apostolic Faith. At 15, after a pastor threatened Angel’s mother, they moved to Brooklyn, at which point Angel was finally allowed to listen to secular music and got interested in becoming a rapper herself. Her first EP, Reservation, was released for free online in 2012, the same year that she took part in the BET Hip-Hop Award’s Cipher, released a mix-tape Classick, was nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2013 Poll, and was featured on Dizzy Wright’s smokeOut Conversations mix-tapes.
Read our many posts on Angel Haze here.
Angela Robinson, Filmmaker
Ari Fitz, Model / Filmmaker/ Reality TV Personality
Ari Fitz is the only member of The Real World: Ex-Plosion cast we’d like to spend more than 15 minutes with. She went to Berkeley to study Physics and left wanting to make horror films.
Brandi Ahzionae, Activist
Ahzionae, who started D.C’s DMV Trans Circulator and worked with the DC Trans Coalition, wrote an article for JET Magazine last year about her experience as a transgender woman.
Brittani Nichols, Comedian
Brittani Nichols is a ridiculously important human being. She’s the creator of the webseries Words With Girls, the rapper behind the world-smashing track “Tandem Ride” and The Comedy Editor and The Sports Editor and a Contributing Editor for the greatest website ever, Autostraddle.com. Brittani has given herself the title of “Saddest Black Person,” but that doesn’t mean she’s not HILARIOUS. For example, she has a witty twitter feed, co-hosts the Travel Size Comedy Stand-Up Show and the Sunday Best Improv with her team Charm School.
Brittney Griner, WNBA Basketball Player
You know Brittney, dontcha? This current Phoneix Mercury superstar was named the nation’s #1 high school women’s basketball player in 2009, went on to become the first basketball player ever to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots at Baylor University, was named AP Player of the year, and came out as a lesbian in her first interview after being the #1 WNBA draft pick in 2013.
Read our many Brittney Griner posts here.
Celisse Henderson, Musician
via almost famous: “Celisse Henderson is a queer Californian-born, New York-based singer/songwriter and actress who makes those of us who play less than five instruments look bad. Her decade-long career spans from television to concert halls and all the way to the Broadway stage. And with that voice it’s not at all surprising that she’s in such high demand. Celisse’s brand-new album, Celisse LIVE @ Rockwood Music Hall is now available on iTunes for your listening pleasure.”
Dalia Ali Rajah, Actress / Writer / Producer / LGBT Activist / Life Coach
Dalila Ali Rajah, who you might recognize from the AfterEllen and SheWired webseries Cherry Bomb, where she talked about sex with other lesbians on the internet! Rajah has been performing since she was a kid, attended Spelman College and then an MFA in acting from California Institute of the Arts. She’s also a spoken word and published poet and a professional Faerie Card reader.
Gloria was in Autostraddle’s It Gets Better Video.
De’Borah Garner, The Voice
De’Borah‘s mother and father were both preachers, and she grew up in the gospel church community — but eventually her appearance and clothing became “too much” for churches who’d hired her to sing. The Voice was a huge step for De’Borah, as she told AfterEllen: “We literally sit around and sing all day and all night. I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned different kinds of music…. I came from gospel so I’m catching up! I’ve learned different styles, I’ve learned different genres, I’ve learned placement. I’ve learned how to control my voice. It’s like being in Berklee. Everyone is so amazing.” She’s since been performing at Prides all over the country and releasing new music.
Mélissa Laveaux, Musician
Haitian-Canadian songwriter and guitarist Mélissa Laveaux just released her new EP Memory Is A Strange Bell, which cites influences ranging from Billie Holliday to Emily Dickinson. She plays music described as “a mix of roots, folk and blues using her signature percussive finger-style guitar and soulful vocal stylings.” She’s opened for artists including Meshell Ndegeocello, Feist and Lura.
Read our Almost Famous on Melissa here.
Dee Rees, Filmmaker
Read our interviews with the people behind Pariah here.
Diana King, Musician
Diana King is a “reggae fusion singer-songwriter who specifically performed a mixture and fusion of R&B, reggae and dancehall.” She also appeared on The Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 song “Respect,” covered “I Say a Little Prayer” for My Best Friend’s Wedding, appeared on Soul Train and The Rupaul Show, and in June 2012 came out to her fans on Facebook, declaring “Yes I am a lesbian.”
Frenchie Davis, Musician/American Idol Contestant
Frenchie competed on the second season of American Idol, after which time she was a cast member in the Broadway production of RENT for four years, and later competed on The Voice, when she was eliminated during semi-finals. Frenchie toured with other Voice contestants in the summer of 2011 and has since devoted herself to her solo career.
Read our Frenchie Davis coming out post here.
Genesis Tramaine, Artist
via genesistramaine: “Genesis Tramaine a Brooklyn based spirited, Black American woman painter who has exhibited paintings throughout New York City including Salt Space. Her work was recently seen in Brooklyn, New York’s Bedvyne Gallery. She has participated in regional residencies and an international group show, Gender: An Exhibition (Toronto, Canada) as the feature artist. Genesis also teaches art to students with severe emotional disturbances and learning disabilities, ages 7-13 at P140 elementary school.”
Jade Ellis, Musician/The X-Factor UK
Jade Ellis totally called out The X-Factor UK judges for kicking her off the show despite her awesomeness: “I don’t think the decision on Sunday was based entirely on the sing-off. The judges were thinking about their own acts. I believe I sang that song to a really high standard. The vote could’ve been tactical.” In September 2012 she told the press that she’d been raising her six-year-old daughter with her partner of six years, Heba Elgam.
Janet Mock, Author/Activist
Janet Mock, the former Staff Editor of People Magazine with publication credits including Marie Claire, xoJane and The Huffington Post recently released her memoir, Redefining Realness. She’s appeared on MSNBC, The Colbert Show, and HLN’s Showbiz Tonight, founded the hashtag #girlslikeus, and was honored by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in 2012.
Jasika Nicole, Actress / Illustrator
She’s best known for paying Astrid Farnsworth on Fringe, but she’s also got a website she’s kept up since before she got famous and is a really awesome illustrator. We just love her and everything about her pretty much.
K Michelle, R&B Musician
K Michelle appeared on the VH1 series Love and Hip-Hop, securing a contract with Atlantic Records soon afterwards and eventually debuted at number one on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Keisha Sean Waites, Politician
Keisha Sean Waites is a member of the Georgia House of Representatives for the 60th district. Formerly, she was a chief-of-staff to State Rep. Sheila Jones and served on the board of the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board, the boards of the Atlanta Commission on Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus-Atlanta Chapter, Georgia Stonewall Democrats, Fulton County Democratic Party Executive Board, and NAACP-Atlanta chapter.
Kim Crosby, Writer
Kim Crosby‘s an award-winning activist with awards including the 2009 Youthline Award for “Outstanding Contribution to Community Empowerment” and one of 2011′s City of Toronto’s Cultural Champions. She’s appeared on panels and conferences including Queering Black History Month, written for places like The Toronto Star, The Huffington Post and Autostraddle, and sits on the boards of Shadeism and the Toronto Arts Council Community Arts Council. She’s an owner of The Glad Day Bookshop, the coordinator for radical healing retreats Brave New Girls and the co-founder of The People Project, a “movement of queer and trans folks of color and our allies, committed to individual and community empowerment through alternative education, activism and collaboration.”
KOKUMO, Musician / Writer / Entrepreneur
KOKUMỌ is the CEO of KOKUMỌMEDIA, a production company that uses film, music and literature to create and generate realistic depictions of transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people of color.
Laverne Cox, Actress / Activist
Laverne Cox was the first African-American transgender woman to produce and star in her own TV show, VH1′s TRANSForm Me, which won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program, and the first African-American transgender woman to appear on a reality television program when she was a contestant on VH1′s I Want to Work For Diddy in 2008. She currently stars in Orange is the New Black.
Monifah Carter, R&B Divas (TV One)
Monifah has been recording since 1996, when her debut album Moods Moments was released. She appeared on the TV One show R&B Divas in 2012, and she came out publicly as a lesbian while on the show.
Po & Dice, La-La’s Full Court Life (VH1)
La-La’s best friends, out lesbians Po Johnson and Dice Dixon, are a highlight of the VH1 program. Both ladies work with youth in New York City on issues around bullying and foster care.
Read our article about Po & Dice here.
Raven- Symoné, Actress & Singer
Raven got her start in 1989 when she was cast as Olivia Kendall in The Cosby Show. This was followed by a role in Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. She released her first album in 1993 and her second in 1999. Her Disney Channel series, That’s So Raven, aired from 2003-2007. Her albums released during this time, like The Cheetah Girls and That’s So Raven sold millions of copies and went gold or platinum. She continues acting on film and television and recording, when she’s not canoodling with her girlfriend AZ Marie.
Read the Raven-Symone coming out post here.
Roxane Gay, Writer
Roxane Gay‘s writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, West Branch, Virginia Quarterly Review, NOON, The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Time, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Rumpus, Salon, The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy culture blog, and many others. She is the co-editor of PANK and essays editor for The Rumpus. She teaches writing at Eastern Illinois University. Her novel, An Untamed State, will be published by Grove Atlantic and her essay collection, Bad Feminist, will be published by Harper Perennial, both in 2014. She is at work on both fiction and nonfiction projects. (via)
Ruthie Foster, Musician
Ruthie Foster is a blues/folk singer-songwriter who grew up in a family of gospel singers in Texas. She released her debut album in 1997, toured worldwide, and in 2009 her album The Truth According to Ruthie Foster snagged a Grammy award nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Her 2012 album Let it Burn was nominated for Best Blues Album Grammy. She also won Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year in the May 2010 Blues Music Awards and Best Female Vocalist at the 2013 Austin Music Awards, among other honors.
Ryann Holmes, Co-Founder of Bklyn Boihood
Ryann has called Brooklyn home for nearly the last decade. In 2009, Ryann founded the bklyn boihood collective and is currently the Director of Community Programming at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), in Brooklyn. Ryann completed undergrad at George Mason University, and graduated from Baruch College’s MBA Entrepreneurship program in 2011. Ryann has been featured in numerous publications, was named one of Go Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Women We Love’, and ranked as Velvet Park’s ‘Top 25 Significant Queer Women of the Year’.
Read our interview with Ryann here.
Bernice, Schoolteacher and Star of South Beach Tow (Tru TV)
Bernice (real name Lakatriona Brunson) is the Assistant Manager of Miami’s Tremont Towing, the focus of a popular TruTV Reality series. When the cameras aren’t rolling, Brunson is a schoolteacher in South Florida — and she used to play defensive end for the Miami Fury of the Independent Women’s Football League. (info via)
Samantha Irby, Writer
Seimone Augustus, WNBA Basketball Player
Seimone appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, dubbed “the next Michael Jordan.” She went on to Louisiana State University and then was the #1 overall pick in the 2006 WNBA draft, going to the Minnesota Lynx. She quickly set the Lynx team record for points in a single season, was named 2006 WBA Rookie of The Year — setting the tone for a WNBA career full of awards and record-breaking. She also established a Scholarship fund, teamed with Feed The Children and volunteers at the Gus Young Center in Baton Rouge.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Activist
Miss Major has over 40 years of experience as an activist for the transgender community, going back to Stonewall until today, when she serves as the Executive Director of the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, working tirelessly for trans and gender variant people within and outside of the prison system. Miss Major became politicized while incarcerated at Attica and was an original member of the first all-transgender gospel choir. She is the subject of the documentary MAJOR! , produced by Annalise Ophelian and StormMiguel Florez.
Shine Louise Houston, Filmmaker
Shine Louise Houston is the main director and producer for Pink & White Productions, a pornography company devoted to female and queer sexuality, like your favorite website, The Crash Pad Series.
Syd tha Kyd, Singer / Producer / DJ
Sydney Loren Benner, known as Syd tha Kyd, is a main producer of Odd Future, producer and mixer for trip-hop group The Internet and the main producer for Mike G of Odd Future.
THEE Satisfaction, Musicians
THEE Satisfaction is a hip-hop duo comprised of rapper Stasia “Stas” Iron and singer Catherine “Cat” Harris-White.
Toni Newman, Author
Toni Newman is a law student who previously worked as a professional mistress and along with a female mistress and male master, were known as THE EROTIC PROFESSIONALS. Toni and her business partner wrote a book about their experiences as escorts, which included celebrity clients. Her memoir I Rise was published in 2013.
Vicki Randle, Musician
Randle is best known for being the first (and only) female member of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show Band, starting in 1992. She’s toured with artists including Aretha Franklin, Kenny Loggings, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis and Celene Dion.
Layshia Clarendon, WNBA Basketball Player
After leading her UC-Berkeley team to place second in the NCAA Tournament, Clarendon was part of the Gold Medal US Team at the U19 World’s Championship and was selected 9th overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft, picked up by the Indiana Fever. Layshia is also an out and proud LGBT Activist.
Jasmine Jordan, Michael Jordan’s daughter
Jasmine Jordan is 21 years old, making her the youngest person on this list.