LGBTQIA+ Black Experiences
By Rhys Wright, Becca Binnie and Rosie Green
It is important to learn from and celebrate Black voices and experiences during Black History Month, and all year round. We have listed some non-fiction works that detail the Black LGBTQIA+ experience to understand and support these beautiful intersections of identity.
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene A. Carruthers
Described by Carruthers as “a book for all people who are curious about and committed to the struggle for Black liberation,” Unapologetic is certain to spark your interest and introduce you to a wealth of insightful knowledge gleaned from Black liberation movements, past and present. A manifesto, a memoir, a guidebook and a history; it’s an eye-opening book that deserves a place on your TBR list.
A Black lesbian activist and co-founder of the Black Youth Project 100, Carruthers recounts some of her formative experiences as a community organiser and provides an organiser’s perspective on how to build a movement, channelling from a long tradition of radical liberation. From slave revolts and the Haitian Revolution to the modern Black Lives Matter movement, Unapologetic examines what we can learn from struggles for social justice.
Carruthers pays particular attention to the queer and feminist streams of the Black liberation movement, and shines a light on their lesser-known groups and leaders. This includes the 1970s Combahee River Collective, a Black lesbian feminist organisation that coined the term “identity politics” and established a platform for marginalised Black lesbian voices.
Ultimately, Carruthers’ book encourages us to look critically at systems of oppression through a Black, queer and feminist lens. It presents perspectives, histories and ideas you may not have encountered before and acts as a guide for anyone hoping to expand their knowledge of liberation.
No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell L. Moore
Darnell L. Moore is a leading journalist and avid activist. In his memoir, No Ashes in the Fire, he describes navigating childhood at the height of the AIDS and crack epidemics, and searching for love and belonging as a young gay man. Moore writes bravely and beautifully of a survival story, which ultimately leads to finding a passion for the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQIA+ movements to fight for justice and liberation.
Having been bullied for being gay, he documents a time as a fourteen-year-old when three boys from his neighbourhood tried to set him on fire; thanks to the wind and his aunt, he was pulled to safety, but this was not his only close call. The memoir highlights Moore’s experience as the son of teenagers on welfare in Camden, New Jersey. Readers are given an insight into growing up in a heavily policed and economically desperate city, struggling with drugs and mass incarceration.
There was little sanctuary for young Darnell, as both white and Black Americans and pivotal institutions discriminated against him whilst he was exploring his sexuality during the AIDS epidemic. Then, he found himself in the spotlight at a Newark rally after the murder of a young queer woman, where he found his voice and calling. Becoming a leading organiser with Black Lives Matter, he found that the movement also insisted his own life mattered.
Reclaiming beauty, joy and love in his own life, Moore’s moving memoir gives voice to the experiences of those seeking freedom. This important work details a painful past and a look towards a liberated and powerful future.
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments studies the experiences of Black women in American cities after emancipation, using the limited sources available to present a radical new perspective on the women behind the police reports, sociological studies and photos of dangerous slums that dominate the archives.
This book portrays something different; though it does not shy away from the hardships and brutality these women faced, it also shows their beautiful experiments in living that have been overlooked. It examines the radical lives and dreams they carved out for themselves, including partnerships outside of marriage, queer relationships and challenges to the gender binary, both relating to and rebelling against a society that constantly worked against them.
While it is almost anonymous in the sweeping way it picks out voices from the chorus, just a few examples of myriad dreams alive in Philadelphia, Harlem and the Black Belt of Chicago, the way Hartman paints the women and girls she studies also feels incredibly personal.
Although this is an excellent history book, to describe it only as such does not do it justice – it breathes life into its subjects in a way that creates art as much as non-fiction. Poetry and history in equal measure, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is a stunning exploration of Black women and their place in radical and queer history.