This Black History Month, we’re highlighting just a few trailblazing Black Americans who’ve contributed to education, public health, and LGBTQ+ history.
, a biracial, butch lesbian, found her calling in performance from an early age. For over a decade, from 1955 to 1969, she captivated audiences as the charismatic MC and sole drag king of the groundbreaking Jewel Box Revue, the first drag show in North America to embrace racial integration.
In the '80s and '90s, she was a bouncer at several lesbian bars in New York City and assumed leadership positions within the Stonewall Veterans Association. Revered as the 'guardian of lesbians in the Village,' she devoted herself to community service, patrolling the streets, and organizing fundraisers for survivors of domestic violence and their families, leaving an enduring legacy of advocacy and compassion.
has been a trailblazer for trans representation in the media. After her groundbreaking role in Orange is the New Black, she was the first openly trans person to make it onto the cover of TIME. She was also the first trans person to win a Daytime Emmy for executive producing Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, which was also the first trans documentary to win a Daytime Emmy.
Among her many 'firsts,' Cox is also recognized as the first transgender individual to portray a transgender series regular on broadcast television and to receive a Primetime Emmy nomination for acting.
. W.E.B. DuBois
As the first Black American to attain a Ph.D. from Harvard University, authored influential works such as 'The Philadelphia Negro' and 'The Souls of Black Folk.” His lifelong work illuminated the social and health impacts of racism and discrimination.
In addition to his writings, he was also known for being a founding member of the NAACP. Du Bois died in Ghana on Aug. 27, 1963, before the historic March on Washington.
Did you know that a Black woman invented the predecessor to the maxi pad?
submitted a patent for the sanitary belt, long before the advent of disposable pads, when women were still using cloth pads and rags during their period. While her invention gained interest, when a representative from a prospective company found out she was Black, the company suddenly lost interest in her invention.
Despite the setback, she filed five patents in her career as an inventor, for items such as a serving tray with an attached pocket for a walker, and a toilet paper holder designed to keep the loose end easily accessible. In her career, Kenner filed more patents than any other Black woman in history.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
, a Black transgender woman and prominent activist, has dedicated her life to championing trans rights. She is a former sex worker, Stonewall veteran, survivor of Attica State Prison, and lifelong human rights activist. She has turned her experience of facing homelessness and incarceration into a lifelong advocacy mission.
Miss Major has consistently denounced the prison system, highlighting its disproportionate impact on transgender individuals, especially those of color and with low incomes.
The documentary Major! was released in 2016, which shared her life story and her advocacy work. It is now available on Amazon Prime.
Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD- BHM
During her time at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, stood out as one of only six women, and the sole Black woman, in her class. Her contributions to medicine were groundbreaking, notably with her 1986 study that pioneered a national sickle cell disease screening program for newborns. Additionally, her research demonstrated the efficacy of penicillin in preventing infection from sepsis in infants with the disease.
In 1990, Gaston became the first Black female physician to lead the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Furthermore, she achieved the distinction of being the second Black woman to hold the position of assistant surgeon general and attain the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.
After the death of his partner from HIV and his own HIV diagnosis, founded the Black AIDS Institute in 1999. Wilson was later appointed to President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and served as a World AIDS Summit delegate advocating for the CDC to provide additional funding to Black-led HIV/AIDS advocacy groups. He was a forerunner in the creation of the “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign, which promotes HIV testing, prevention, and treatment.
In 1993, as the 15th Surgeon General of the U.S., breaking barriers as the first Black person and second woman to hold the position. During her tenure, she sparked controversy for her progressive views on sexual health and education. Advocating for comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives for teenagers, Elders also championed freedom of choice in abortion and the medicinal use of marijuana. Despite enduring criticism and for her outspoken stances, Elders was (and still is) dedicated to promoting public health initiatives and advancing social progress.
Gabrielle Alexa Noel
(@gabalexa) is a writer, software developer, and influencer. She’s been published in notable outlets such as Elle, Playboy, Bustle, and Cherry Magazine. She uses her social media platforms to educate her followers on sex, social justice, polyamory, bisexuality, data privacy, and internet and media literacy, Gabrielle advocates for awareness and empowerment in these critical areas. She’s also a published author.
Kevin A. Patterson
, an acclaimed author and polyamory advocate, is the visionary behind Poly Role Models (@polyrolemodels). His platform is dedicated to enlightening individuals about the intricacies of polyamory and alternative lifestyles by spotlighting diverse poly individuals and couples. Patterson is also known for his book, 'Love's Not Colorblind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities,' shedding light on racial dynamics in non-monogamous relationships.