October is Black History Month in Britain – a wonderful celebration of the huge, important and valuable contribution that black people have made to humanity and to popular culture.
It is also worth celebrating that many leading black icons have been lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), most notably the US black liberation hero Malcolm X. Other prominent black LGBTs include jazz singer Billie Holiday, author and civil rights activist James Baldwin, soul singer-songwriter Luther Vandross, blues singer Bessie Smith, poet and short story writer Langston Hughes, singer Johnny Mathis, novelist Alice Walker, civil rights activist and organiser of the 1963 March on Washington Bayard Rustin, blues singer Ma Rainey, dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey, actress, singer and dancer Josephine Baker, Olympic diving gold medallist Greg Louganis, singer and songwriter Little Richard, political activist and philosopher Angela Davis, singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman and drag performer and singer RuPaul.
Few of these prominent black LGBT achievers are listed on the most comprehensive UK Black History Month website, which hosts biographies of notable black men and women. In the section on people, only Davis is mentioned and her lesbianism is not acknowledged. The website fails to identify the vast majority of black public and historical figures who are LGBT. The Official Guide to Black History Month UK is equally remiss. Why these omissions? Black people are not one homogenous heterosexual mass. Where is the recognition of sexual diversity within the black communities and black history?
In contrast, LGBT History Month, which takes place in the UK in February, devotes a whole section of its website to the lives of leading black LGBT people and links to the websites for Black History Month. Disappointingly, this solidarity is not reciprocated. On the Black History Month websites I could not find a LGBT section or a LGBT History Month link.
Perhaps it is unintentional but Black History Month sometimes feels like Straight Black History Month. Famous black LGBT people are not acknowledged and celebrated. Either their contribution to black history and culture is ignored or their sexuality is airbrushed out of their biographies.