Carolina LGBTQ African-Americans who inspire us with Pride
February is African-American History Month. Granted, black history should be learned all year long, but this month offers us a time once each year when we can all pull together to add a little extra education and awareness to the powerful, change-making leadership of those who’ve come before us — and even those leading us now.
But even in Black History Month, some folks get left out — especially African-American people who identify as LGBTQ. That’s one of the reasons why our local sibling Pride organization, Charlotte Black Gay Pride, is hosting their special event, “Blacked Out: A Celebration of Visionaries and Voices,” on Feb. 22. We hope you’ll join CBGP at the special concert, where guest soloists will pay homage to visionary leaders often overlooked by history. For more information on the event, visit their Facebook event page and be sure to RSVP.
Here at the Charlotte Pride, we’re commemorating Black History Month, too. Below, we’ve profiled three African-American LGBTQ leaders with unique connections to the state we all call home. Is there anyone you’d never had the chance to learn about before? What’s your reaction and your thoughts to their life stories? Tell us about your thoughts in the comment sections! And, if you want to learn more about other LGBTQ African-American leaders in history, see a listing at LGBTHistoryMonth.com.
Considered by many to be Martin Luther King, Jr.’s right-hand man, Bayard Rustin was openly gay in a tumultuous time when being so was not only illegal and considered insane, but also of potential political damage to the blossoming Civil Rights Movement. In fact, Rustin was the victim of anti-gay laws and served 60 days in prison in 1953 after being arrested for sexual activity with two men in a parked car. Rustin would become one of the leading figures of the Civil Rights Movement, serving as a deputy organizer for the 1963 March on Washington. He’s got a North Carolina connection, too — in 1947, during a Freedom Ride to challenge segregated transportation facilities, Rustin was arrested in Chapel Hill. He served 22 days on a brutal chain gang. Rustin, who was a Quaker, is honored for his LGBTQ and civil rights work right here in the Old North State. Guilford College, founded by the Quakers, named its LGBTQ student center after Rustin; it’s called the Bayard Rustin Center for LGBTQA Activism, Awareness and Reconciliation.
The life story of Pauli Murray, who grew up in Durham, was recently told at the Levine Museum of the New South, during their historic suite of exhibits, “LGBTQ Perspectives on Equality.” In case you missed it, here’s a summary of an oft-overlooked historical figure — Murray, born in 1910, never personally identified as a lesbian, but, according to LGBTHistoryMonth.com, “her longest lasting relationships were with women.” The site adds, “Refusing to accept her homosexuality due to its association at the time with mental illness, she ultimately self-identified as a heterosexual man.” Murray would grow up to work first with the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression and later became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, beginning a campaign to enter as a black student at the then all-white University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She later enrolled at Howard University to earn a law degree and went on to write the iconic book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, published in 1951. In 1977, Murray became the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. She celebrated her first communion as a priest that year at Chapel Hill’s Chapel of the Cross, where her grandmother, a slave, had been baptized in 1854. Murray has been remembered as an iconic black civil rights activist, feminist, author and poet. Learn more and read a longer biography at the Pauli Murray Project.
Born in Albany, N.Y., Mandy Carter has made North Carolina her home — and, wow, aren’t we lucky?! Carter, who lives in Durham, has made waves of progress for LGBTQ people of color and North Carolinians. She’s one of six co-founders and a former executive director of Southerners on New Ground. The group was founded in 1993 at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change Conference, hosted in Durham — yes, because Carter helped bring the conference there. Carter also led political campaigns helping to challenge anti-LGBTQ politician Jesse Helms, who represented North Carolina in the U.S. Senate for decades. She was the campaign manager for voter education and mobilization campaigns, some of them directly targeting LGBTQ voters in the in the 1990s. Carter is also a co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, an African-American LGBTQ advocacy organization, and she also served as one of five national co-chairs of Obama LGBT Pride, the president’s 2008 campaign initiative for LGBTQ voters. Carter’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2005, she was nominated, though she ultimately didn’t win, the Nobel Peace Prize. Carter began her advocacy work in 1968, when she worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Poor People’s Campaign.
Bonus: LGBTQ Leaders of Color in Charlotte
Lest you begin to think LGBTQ African-American leaders are topics for dusty history books, there are other folks just like Mandy Carter making change and leading today — and right here in the Queen City.
Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield: Elected in 2011, Mayfield was Charlotte’s first openly LGBTQ elected official. She was re-elected to her District 3 seat in 2013. Mayfield rode in a place of honor in Charlotte Pride’s parade in 2013 and served as a co-grand marshal in the 2014 parade.
Charlotte City Councilmember Al Austin: Elected in 2013, Austin is the city’s first openly gay male to win popular election to — and the second to serve on — City Council. Austin represents District 2.
Student Andraya Williams: With great amount of courage, Williams stood up against unjust anti-transgender discrimination as a student at Central Piedmont Community College in 2014. Her outspokenness led Charlotte Pride to name her a 2014 Champion of Pride and award her our Young Catalyst Award.
Bishop Tonyia Rawls: Long active in Charlotte’s LGBTQ and religious communities, Rawls has been a foremost figure in civil rights and interfaith discussions in Charlotte and across the state. She served as a co-grand marshal of our 2013 parade, the first held in Charlotte in nearly two decades.