Black History Month: Reflecting on the gay black feminist movement

By: Jason Lydon/TRT Columnist–

February is Black History Month, a reminder to the dominant culture to lift up the stories and lives of black people. As LGBTQ folks, regardless of whether we experience oppression by racism or if we gain white privilege, February offers a fantastic opportunity to ignite or reignite our flaming selves to know our history and have our history inform the work of our present. Some say that knowledge itself is power, and it certainly can make us feel powerful, but I hope that knowledge can lead us all to action that can really help us shift the borders of power away from those who violently clench onto it.

First, let me share a little history from here in Boston. Have you ever heard of the Combahee River Collective? They were a black lesbian feminist organization that started in 1974. Well before the esteemed Kimberlé Crenshaw popularized the organizing model and theory of intersectionality, the women of the Combahee River Collective were expanding the borders of queer, black and feminist movements with ideas of simultaneity; a movement building tool that recognized the interlocking experience of oppression for many, including black lesbian feminists. The Combahee River Collective released a statement of their politics in 1977; it has now become standard reading in women’s studies and critical race-theory classes, though I must say I prefer reading it out loud with friends and lovers. The statement can easily be found online, their explicitly detailed writing is a call to both black and white feminists, straight and queer people, and to people of all genders. It closes with a clear declaration, “As black feminists and lesbians, we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.” This is black history. If you don’t know it, this is a great time to start learning some of it.

As we take time to learn some of the history of our movements, we are also given great opportunities to critically engage today. Attention is being given to the recently released film, “Pariah.” Blogs, weekly newspapers, and even the mainstream press are all talking about this film that tells the coming-out story and personal annunciation of a gender-nonconforming black young person. Yet the film is more than a simple coming-out flick. In a guest contribution to, Spectra writes, “This is what sets ‘Pariah’apart from (white) singular-narrative LGBT films; it debunks the myth that life begins and ends between the point of self-acceptance, and a wedding.” I was recently speaking with a white gay film critic who said the film was boring, formulaic, and done before a million times. He noted, “the only difference is that it focuses on a genderqueer black kid.”

I will agree with this white critic on one thing: the film did seem to be quite formulaic to me. However, it is exactly this reality that proves one of the key points of this film: queer culture is not only white culture. Because white supremacy and white dominance are so prevalent in mass movie production, this story has not been told on the big screen before. Yes, those of us who are white have seen our coming-out story portrayed over and over again, to the point that while such movies may have entertaining moments, I simply don’t think I can watch another one. This is not the reality for many people in our community. “Pariah” shows that queerness expands beyond the limits of “The L Word” or “Kissing Jessica Stein.” History is being made all the time; go see “Pariah”and participate.Also, while movie going is one of my favorite things to do, there is more action to be taken during Black History Month. Do you know the black queer organizations around you? If you are not already, familiarize yourself with the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition, Queer Women of Color and Friends, the Multicultural AIDS Coalition, or any other black queer community organizations.

Black History Month started as Black History Week and it was never intended to last forever. It was supposed to be a stepping-stone toward the incorporation of black history/education/life at every level of society and learning. However, 86 years after Carter Woodson started Black History Week, racism still permeates all levels of society and learning.
As the Combahee River Collective wrote, “we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.”

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