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Trailblazing and Inspirational Black and Brown Members of the LGBTQI Community



As Pride Month 2023 comes to a close, Network Connect would like to feature seven inspirational writers, performers, and leaders of the BIPOC and LGBTQI communities. We hope that their stories of bravery and their acts of intersectional activism will remind us all that the fight for equality extends beyond the 30 days of June. This has been a month to celebrate progress, connect with each other, and highlight the need for further change, and we hope this carries on throughout the rest of the year.


Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin is perhaps best known for his role as an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and his influence on the civil rights movement cannot be overstated. He helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, served as chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and was a leading figure in the civil rights movement for over a decade. Bayard Rustin was also a gay man and LGBTQI activist and was arrested in connection with his sexuality in 1953. He dedicated his life and career to advocating for people in need, and his impact on civil rights continues to be felt today.


James Baldwin

Image Courtesy of AP Press

James Baldwin is among America’s greatest writers, full stop. His works, such as “Giovanni’s Room,” “The Fire Next Time,” and “Notes of a Native Son,” are regarded by many as literary masterpieces. What makes his success even more impressive is that his accomplishments as a Black gay man were set against the backdrop of 1950s and 60s America. Through his writing and real-life activism, Baldwin educated people about queer and Black experiences.


Gladys Bentley

Gladys Bentley was one of the most well-known Black performers in the United States in the 1930s. She was a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance and unapologetically tested gender stereotypes by wearing tuxedos and top hats during her performances. Although she died in 1960, an obituary for Bentley was posted in 2019 and called her Harlem’s most famous lesbian. Her contribution to music, the Harlem Renaissance, and the LGBTQI community can only grow as more people learn about this fearless rulebreaker.


Barbara Cameron


Photo by Robert Giard

Barbara Cameron, a Hunkpapa Lakota, was a lesbian and Two-Spirit leader in San Francisco. She was a key figure in introducing and raising awareness of the term Two-Spirit, which is a Native American term for people who have both male and female spirits. Cameron co-founded Gay American Indians, which paved the way for future organizations to represent the Native American LGBTQI community.


José Sarria

Photo Courtesy of PBS

José Sarria was the first openly gay person to run for public office in the United States. A drag queen and LGBTQI activist, Sarria ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. He lost the election but garnered 6,000 votes, proving how vital the LGBTQI community is in the political landscape.



Urooj Arshad

Photo Courtesy of Freedom House

Urooj Arshad emigrated to the United States from Pakistan and has been a powerful voice for the Muslim and South Asian LGBTQI community. Her long list of accomplishments includes serving as a panelist at the White House’s LGBT Pride and Heritage Event in 2011, acting as a US delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2015, and being a keynote speaker at the Intersections of Islamophobia and LGBTIQ+ Phobia Conference in Norway in 2016. Arshad also co-founded the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity.


DeShanna Neal


Delaware’s own DeShanna Neal is a pioneering social justice reformer and elected official. Neal is the first non-binary elected official in Delaware and represents the 13th district. They spearheaded the establishment of Nemours pediatric gender clinic and created several area LGBTQI events, such as the state’s first Drag Queen Story Hour. Neal is also the founder of the nonprofit organization Pride Foundation.


Sharice Davids


Photo Courtesy of Outsports


As a member of the Ho-Chunk nation and the first ever LGBTQI Native American elected to Congress, Sharice Davids is undeniably making history. After serving over 20 years in the Army and graduating from Cornell Law School, Davids was elected for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District. Holding this position allows her to not only fight for meaningful change but also serve as a highly-visible leader for her communities.


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