Celebrating Black Queer Trailblazers: 10 Icons Redefining Representation

From Janelle Monáe to Lil Nas X, Black LGBTQIA+ individuals have paved the way for acceptance and visibility. These ten inspiring personalities are pushing representation forward and broadening the narrative of Black identity.

Black queer people have come a long way. Thanks in part to the visibility of trailblazing lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and questioning (LGBTQIA+) pioneers like Little Richard, Ma Rainey, and activist Bayard Rustin, a lot of progress has been made in the last few decades. Although Black LGBTQ people continue to face discrimination (and, in the case of Black trans women, alarming transphobia and violence), representation and acceptance are nonetheless at an all-time historic high. Unlike generations past, where Black queer people were pressured to hide their full selves to prioritize basic civil rights or assimilate into religious communities that told them they were cursed, today’s Black queer people have more freedom and space to show up authentically––thereby broadening ideas of what Black identity looks like and helping all Black people get a little more free. Here are 10 Black LGBTQIA+ people pushing representation forward. 

Janelle Monáe 

One of the most recognized (and talented) Black queer people in media, actor-musician-all around artist Janelle Monáe continues to be a shining example of what it looks like to keep evolving. Though she wasn’t out when she arrived on the scene in the early 2000s, Monáe came out as pansexual in 2018 and later, non-binary. And while her definition of herself may be in flux, one thing is clear: she likes girls, and isn’t afraid to make it plain, as evidenced by her fantastic video for the song “Water Slide” from her latest album The Age of Pleasure, an ode to women’s magnificent bodies. 

Lil Nas X 

Arguably hip-hop’s first openly gay superstar, the Atlanta-bred music maker continues to push boundaries with his over the top style and fearless sense of expression.

Honey Dijon 

Even if you haven’t heard of DJ and producer Honey Dijon, you have heard her: the trans musician is revered in the electronic music world, beloved for her sets in nightclubs in Chicago (her hometown), New York, Berlin, Paris, and other global hotspots. Her star status reached even higher heights in 2022, when she was credited for writing on “Alien Superstar” and “Cozy” on Beyoncé’s Renaissance.   

Bryan Terrell Clark 

This gifted and prolific actor is on the way to becoming a household name. A graduate of the prestigious Yale School of Drama, Clark has soared on stage (he was George Wasghington in Hamilton on Broadway) and screen, where he’s been in When They See Us, Empire, and most recently, the BET+ hit Diarra From Detroit. 

Brittney Griner 

Already celebrated for her skills on the basketball court, the two-time Olympic gold winning WNBA player earned the respect and support of millions of Americans following her harrowing detainment in Russian prison for nearly a year. Her 2014 book In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court, details her experiences being bullied and shamed for being gay.  

Brian Michael Smith 

One of very few out Black trans men in pop culture, actor Brian Michael Smith––he was in Queen Sugar and plays Paul Strickland on the Fox series 9-1-1 Lone Star––has the honor of being the first trans man on People magazine’s long-running “Sexiest Men Alive” list, back in 2021. 


Cardi B 

Yup, the Afro-Latina rap phenom from the Bronx is bi, and has no problem reminding people that she is. Though she has been in a public relationship with her kids’ dad Offset for years, Cardi is a good reminder that just because a bisexual person is in a heterosexual relationship, their bisexuality doesn’t go away, and Cardi has proven she will clap back at those who try to put her in a box. 

Cynthia Erivo 

The British actor and singer leading the big-budget film adaptation of the musical Wicked has lit up the screen and stage, perhaps most notably in The Color Purple on Broadway, which earned her a Tony and a Grammy. She came out as queer later in life, saying that she used to look at other openly LGBTQ people with admiration, and that she “wanted to thrive, not just exist.” 

Ncuti Gatwa

The first Black Doctor Who in the British show’s decades-long history, Rwandan-Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa is also queer. A big international star thanks to the Netflix show Sex Education (and a turn in Barbie), Gatwa has been vocal about how proud he is to be an out queer African man.

Brittany Howard 

The Grammy-winning rock musician from Alabama––formerly the frontwoman for the band Alabama Shakes––has a massive fan base among the contemporary rock crowd, taking up space where Black people may not be as visible or expected. She came out as a lesbian at 25. 

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