During the month of February, AfterEllen.com highlights the lesbian and bi black women who overcame obstacles in the entertainment industry and society, ultimately finding success. These women not only face discrimination for their sexual orientation in such an image-oriented profession, but for being black as well.
Audre Lorde, the self-titled “black feminist lesbian mother poet” was a norm-shattering revolutionary who pioneered the framework through which we think about interlocking oppression and intersectionality. Lorde, a New York City native of West Indian parents, experienced racism and sexism from a young age, and turned to poetry to affirm and develop her identity both professionally as a writer and sexually as a lesbian. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities, implicitly comment on race and society, while her second, Cables to Rage, reflect Lorde’s urgency to effect change in the face of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy’s assassinations.
Lorde used literature as protest art, such as the overtly lesbian poem “Martha” in Cables, to challenge “destructive social patterns,” and emphasize the importance of coalition-building not just strictly among the Black community, but while encompassing women and lesbians. Before passing in 1992, Lorde had been living with partner Gloria I. Joseph in St. Croix. Lorde saw writing as necessary for her survival; her groundbreaking theories about oppression are necessary for society’s survival.
Bisexual author Sapphire constantly pushes the envelope with her smart, gritty, and irreverent literary work. Famous for her novel Push, on which the Oscar-winning Precious is based, Sapphire, born Ramona Lofton, has published audacious prose and poetry, including American Dreams, Black Wings & Blind Angles, and other works published in various anthologies. A stanza from “Wild Thing,” a poem about ignorance, violence, and child abuse in American Dreams was taken out of context and sent to Senator Jesse Helms in his quest to squelch the National Endowment for the Arts and its chair John Frohmayer.
Nonetheless, she was able to continue to publish her work, including Push. She allowed Lee Daniels to head up the adaptation of Push into Precious, and despite her hesitation to reinforce negative stereotypes of the Black community across the screens of millions of American theaters, Sapphire felt it important to depict Precious as a human being–not just as a statistic. Sapphire continues to expose the injustices of the inner-city, racism, and police brutality, and use her personal experiences to advocate for justice.