Black LGBT Pioneers You Should Know

As Black History Month comes to a close, here are a few people whose groundbreaking work should be celebrated all year.

BY Michelle Garcia

February 28 2013 8:00 AM ET

Audre Lorde
Essayist and poet Audre Lorde not only wrote passionately, but she also gave the gift of words to others as a librarian in New York public schools during the 1960s. In her published work, Lorde eventually fully embraced her lesbianism, even with her marriage to attorney Edward Rollins from 1962-1970. Her first volume of poems was published in 1968 at Tougaloo College, where she met long-term partner Frances Clayton. Her 1976 work The Black Unicorn was a masterful summation of her life, so far, "as a black woman, a mother, a daughter, a lesbian, a feminist, a visionary," as contemporary Adrienne Rich said.

Later in the literary journal Callaloo, Lorde responded to critics, specifically antigay North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms: "My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds... Jesse Helms's objection to my work is not about obscenity... or even about sex. It is about revolution and change... Helms knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for." Lorde later chronicled her journey with cancer after she was diagnosed in The Cancer Journals. In her last year of life, 1991-1992, Lorde was the poet laureate of New York. She died in 1992 of breast cancer, but her legacy lives on in the Audre Lorde Project, an LGBT organization in New York focused on social and economic justice.

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