Extending Our Recognition of Black Leaders Who Shaped History

Scot Rogers 축소판
Scot Rogers
Published February 25, 2021

As we approach the close of another Black History Month here in the U.S., I want to honor individuals who have contributed to the great diversity of our culture and our nation’s evolution but who are oftentimes overlooked in discussions of Black history.

When we talk about Black history, we often recognize amazing figures such as Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Maya Angelou, and George Washington Carver—who broke barriers and fought for equality, all the while contributing to science, the arts, sports, and the national discourse. For all of them, it wasn’t just enough to be an amazing scientist, artist, athlete, or orator; they achieved these things while fighting the prejudices that haunt our society to this very day based on the color of their skin.

Now imagine achieving greatness not only when you are judged by the color of your skin, but also when you are an open member of the LGBTQ+ community. There are many remarkable Black Americans who also broke barriers as proud members of the LGBTQ+ community. Here is just a short list of those who should be a part of our history lessons:

Gladys Bentley – You have probably heard of the Harlem Renaissance, but you may not have heard of Bentley. The New York Times published a much overdue obituary for Bentley in its series, “Overlooked,” describing Bentley as a “gender-bending blues performer” and “1920s Harlem royalty.” Bentley performed in a top hat and tuxedo, becoming openly recognized as a trans performer who also tackled such issues as male entitlement and sexual abuse in her songs.

Marsha P. Johnson – Another trans performer, Johnson was a transgender rights and AIDS activist. Johnson also helped form Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization that provided housing and other forms of support to homeless queer youth and sex workers in Manhattan.

Stormé DeLarverie – A biracial lesbian performer who embraced and inspired “butch” fashion while performing in what was considered traditional men’s attire, DeLarverie’s performance career started as a teenager riding jumping horses in the Ringling Brothers Circus. DeLarverie was also an outspoken gay rights activist in New York City, and stories differ around how DeLarverie and Johnson helped inspired the Stonewall uprising through an altercation with police.

Bayard Rustin – A civil rights leader and key advisor to Martin Luther King, Rustin helped to organize the 1963 march on Washington, D.C. He traveled to India to study Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, which helped inform the non-violent protests spearheaded by Martin Luther King.

OK, the next two are probably a bit of a cheat as many of you will already be familiar with them. However, they do deserve a mention:

James Baldwin – An American expatriate writer in France, Baldwin wrote extensively about racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western society. Dynamics of homosexual and bisexual characters seeking acceptance are prominent themes in his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room. He is also well known for his collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son.

Alvin Ailey – Ailey was a renowned choreographer who in 1958 founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of the world’s most prominent dance companies.

And finally, I wanted to recognize a person I had the pleasure of hearing speak live—Alphonso David—the first person of color to head the Human Rights Campaign. David is a truly charismatic and powerful speaker, and I expect we will hear much more about him going forward.

This is just an abbreviated list, and there are so many more artists, activists, writers, and brilliant minds that could be recognized here. I encourage you to explore and learn more about this diverse set of historical icons who have broken down barriers as Black American members of the LGBTQ+ community—and who have inspired others, including myself, to reexamine the prejudices that shape our society. By learning from their examples, we can begin to bridge the divide and bring about greater inclusion for everyone.


Scot Rogers is Executive Vice President and General Counsel at F5, and is also the executive sponsor of the F5 Pride employee inclusion group.