Our leader's opinions and values are important so this year we tell our stories.
Renay Grace Rodriguez
We celebrate our Black LGBTQIA+ siblings at Stonewall Democratic Club this Black History Month. The complex tapestry of identities that have shaped my family has done nothing less than enrich my life—learning about and appreciating the experience and Black joy of my family members, of origin and chosen alike, has expanded how I perceive and understand Black History Month. The month of February serves not as a celebration for others but to bring us together in recognition of the things that make us different, which also make us unique.
I grew up adopted into a Mexican Catholic family. As an adult, I reconnected with my birth mother, getting to know my Black half-siblings, growing closer with time, and was grateful for the opportunity to integrate with my family. The experience has formed and remade cornerstones of my own identity and unveiled layers in the most unexpected ways. Our times together highlighted a powerful truth: although our skin was different, our kinship was undeniable.
This experience also came with a very real, eye-opening pain that every Black person in America encounters. While our grandma was the most loving person ever with each of us, she could not protect my siblings from the hostility and harshness of a racist community. This profoundly heartwrenching experience imprinted a deep desire in me to make a difference in the Black community.
During Black History Month, I am presented with a poignant reminder of my commitment to my sisters and to the community that surrounds me; continue fighting to undo the disparities that my Black siblings everywhere experience every day and to honor and remember the legacy of Black leaders and the contributions of this community that so enriches my life, and all of ours each day.
While I may never fully understand the challenges and pain that my sisters endure, witnessing their strength and resilience has been a testament to the spirit that Black History Month celebrates.
A leader in the LGBTQ+ Community and in recognition of my own blended heritage I stand in solidarity with the Black community this month and every month to do the work of combatting anti-blackness, advocating for equity, understanding, and unity.
Black History Month is a clarion call for all of us to remember to continue this work within ourselves and in our communities. Together we can create a more just and equal world, where racism, colorism, and oppression are long forgotten. One way to get involved is by joining the work of A.W.A.R.E (Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere) LA challenging our own understanding of biases and dismantling the shackles of white supremacy that oppress us all. Queer people know about the dignity and freedom in living authentically, and there exists great joy and liberty in celebrating our shared Black heritage.
For many around the world, the struggles of the Black community against systemic racism and discrimination resonate deeply. The narratives of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks inspire people to stand against injustice and advocate for their rights. The Civil Rights Movement serves as a universal beacon of hope, showcasing the power of unity in the face of adversity.
Black history fosters a sense of solidarity and mutual understanding across diverse communities. It emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and addressing historical injustices, fostering a global perspective on social justice. The fight for civil rights becomes a symbol of humanity's shared pursuit of freedom and equality.
In celebrating Black history, people globally honor the contributions of Black individuals to arts, culture, science, and society. Icons like Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, and Barack Obama serve as inspirations, breaking barriers and proving that excellence knows no racial bounds.
In essence, Black history resonates universally as a shared legacy of resilience, activism, and the ongoing struggle for a world where everyone is treated with dignity and equality, regardless of race or background.
"The system is broken..." This statement is repeated often among deeply frustrated US citizens and residents. Each time I hear this statement said out loud, my instinct is to respond immediately... "The system is not broken. It is working perfectly as it was designed to." I usually receive a frozen look of confusion as if what I just said is unimaginable."
On February 7, 1926, Carter G. Woodson initiated the first celebration of Negro History Week which led to Black History Month. Since 1976, every US president has officially designated February as Black History Month. In two years, the US will have reached one hundred years since Mr. Woodson initiated the first celebration. Taking time to reflect on the progress achieved in those years is worthy of honor.
The annual designation of Black History Month has historically celebrated mostly exceptional black cis hetero men and women such as Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Dorothy Height, Rosa Parks, Michelle Alexander, etc.
Only within the last ten years have we begun to see the diaspora of leaders, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, uplifted in mainstream media, specifically on streaming platforms. Black LGBTQ+ leaders such as Bayard Rustin, Angela Davis, Pauli Murray, Audre Lorde, Ernestine Eckstein, Marsha P. Johnson, Phil Wilson, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, etc. have been an enormous part of black progress.
It is crucial to uplift all intersections of Black Americans, not just those who had their story documented, for they all have an essential story to tell that connects to our current oppressive systems. Only recently have I seen Black LGBTQ+ trailblazers living with disabilities such as Aaron Philip and Syrus Marcus Ware advocate for an often-invisible intersection of the black community.
But as we continue to honor these powerful leaders, a white supremacist system is being perpetuated in the background, specifically the U.S. education system. Generation after generation is being taught a history that erases any inclination that race was invented and systematically implemented by false science and religious manipulation. It has been strategically woven into the fabric of America for the sole purpose of exploitation and power.
To acknowledge the depth of Black History, we must reconcile with the anti-blackness associated with it. We cannot admit anti-blackness without owning the very moment when the system of whiteness was purposefully constructed.
Mackenzie Hussman is Stonewall's former Chair of Social Media and Website, who served two terms with Stonewall before continuing her global travels. When she is asked about American politics while abroad, she usually illustrates her point with this perspective, "You can't walk more than half a block in most cities in Germany without seeing a placard of where a Jewish family used to live or a holocaust memorial publicly displayed for all to see. These reminders are everywhere. The Germans are living their history. They're not trying to forget it, and in that way, they are less likely to repeat it. Now, with America, we just opened The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2018, dedicated specifically to the memory of the victims of lynching. Although this is a worthy museum, 2018 is yesterday. America still has a long way to go in owning our past."
Each day I sit in immense gratitude for the sacrifices and fortitude of the Black LGBTQ+ leaders over the centuries who have contributed to the dignity and freedom of black people today. The erasure of Black LGBTQ+ leaders was due to a combination of barriers. The concept of “respectability politics,” which is also code for assimilation, pushed queers into the shadows. The Black LGBTQ+ community had to combat a combination of White supremacist ideology in Christianity, which justified racism and systemic oppression, as well as being ostracized by the Black Christian church. Despite the erasure of the contributions by Black LGBTQ+ people in our history, it did not stop their stories from seeing the light of day.
I look forward to when our education system updates its history books and curriculum so children and young people can obtain the tools and critical thinking skills to grapple with this reality instead of banning books and admonishing critical race theory curricula.
John Diamond, a professor of sociology and education policy at Brown University, answers the direct question of what concrete ways in which white supremacy is embedded in education structures today. His response, “The power to define the purposes of education, the power to define the curricular content and the discourse around education, all tend to be in control of, to a large extent, white racial actors, but probably as importantly, tend to be steeped in a history in which whiteness, as a sort of structural position and an identity, has been structured as and thought of as superior to all of the racialized groups.”
Daniel Bessner, who received a Ph.D. in history wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times, “Without professional historians, history education will be left more and more in the hands of social media influencers, partisan hacks and others unconcerned with achieving a complex, empirically informed understanding of the past…. If we don’t, exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies will dominate our historical imagination and make it impossible to understand and learn from the past.”
I see Black History Month as an opportunity for white people to prioritize learning about black history. I observe this month with the hope that white folks will become inspired as well as committed to becoming anti-racist and dismantling white supremacy within all institutions. This is not an easy task in a deeply racist and sexist world.
Reading books such as How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Liberal White Supremacy by Angie Beeman is simply a starting place but it's far from the daily work. White folks would need to actively engage in training and workshops that are NOT Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion-oriented but specifically created to address white supremacy at its root. Training such as Unmasking Whiteness Institute by AWARE LA, Antiracist Classroom from the student-led organization at Art Center Education, 8 Online Courses on Racial Justice, etc. will guide the white community through the process of unlearning and learning how to effectively lead instead of perform.
On October 1, 2023, Sen. Laphonza Butler made “herstory” as the first Black and openly lesbian senator in Congress when California Governor Gavin Newsom appointed her to fill the seat held by the late Dianne Feinstein. Ultimately, progress is slow, but it is still happening even when it is hard to see.
To me, Black History Month is all about making the invisible visible.
I grew up in an almost exclusively white suburb in the 1980s. If you had asked me when I was a teenager, I would probably have acknowledged that there was a history of racial injustice within the US, but that had been completely resolved. That myth began to crumble when I unknowingly picked up the wrong book.
I was (correction: I am) a geek. My favorite store was a used bookstore close to my home. One day, I found a copy of H. G. Wells’s classic science fiction book The Invisible Man. I had always wanted to read it, so I bought it without looking carefully at the cover.
I was furious when I got home and realized I didn’t have the book I thought I had. It wasn’t The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells but by someone I had never heard of before—someone named Ralph Ellison. I felt like I had been tricked. I felt like he had intentionally misled me into buying a book I didn’t intend to buy.
But then I started reading it and I got even more angry. As I read Ellison’s novel, where the Black protagonist described being invisible to White society, I didn’t believe him. I thought “How dare he! Black people aren’t invisible to me.” But I kept reading it.
Then something amazing happened. After immersing myself in Ellison’s book, I went back to school. Though previously I thought there were only a couple of students of color at my school, I now realize there were a lot of Black students I hadn’t seen before. To my shame, I realized that there were many students walking through the halls of school with me whom I hadn’t really even noticed before. I had made them invisible to me.
The next time I went to the used bookstore, I told the store owner what happened. She asked me if I’d be interested in reading other books by people whose experiences differed from mine. When I hesitantly agreed, she handed me The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. The story broke my heart with its portrayal of the personal effect of racism. Over the next few months, she continued my education with such books as Native Son, The Color Purple (relatively new at the time), and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; each one had a profound impact on me.
It wasn’t until years later that I really appreciated what she had done for me. My formal education was so incomplete. I had learned a lot in school about people who looked like me—white people. But so much history, so much literature, so much art and culture had been invisible to me. I needed someone to open my eyes for me.
Today, in my field of psychology, I try to open my students’ eyes to the Black psychologists who impacted the history of science. Mamie Phipps Clark, whose research was used in the Brown v. Board of Education case to show the negative impact of educational segregation. Francis Sumner was the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. in psychology, who helped create the psychology department at Howard University, and who went on to teach generations of Black psychology students. Robert Lee Williams, demonstrated the racial bias of standardized educational tests, showing that tests could be created to be systematically biased toward any racial group. Beverly Greene, whose research showed that the intersection of a client’s race and sexual orientation affects the impact of mental health services. William Cross studied the challenges of forming an identity as a Black person when Blackness is often defined by White society in popular culture. My science is stronger because of the work of people who often go unmentioned in the history of psychology.
I continue to need Black History Month to help me learn and unlearn. But most importantly, I will continue my commitment to uplift Black leaders—past, present, and future.
Black history means that those who came before me fought for my freedom. Black history for me means I can walk the streets freely and work for my family to live. It also means that as a black trans person, I can fight for the right to exist for myself, my family, and those who walk a similar journey. Our ancestors have given life and limb for me and left me an example to follow for this generation to continue to have those freedoms. Black history is understanding the struggles and sacrifices made on my behalf and following those footsteps to our own version of what our freedom looks like. Until we have a true sense of freedom the work is not done.