9 Black LGBTQ Artists and Activists on What They’re Claiming Space for

"Claiming space means holding onto our truth. It means holding onto our power."

For LGBTQ people, claiming space for what we’re passionate about in a cisnormative, heteronormative world is an act of revolution. That’s why Logo is introducing Claiming Space, a new roundtable series where we pass the mic to a group of queer people we admire to speak on…well, whatever they want.

In honor of Black History Month, we asked nine Black LGBTQ activists, artists, and journalists — from RuPaul’s Drag Race legends Peppermint and Bob the Drag Queen to activists like Alphonso David and Qween Jean — about what causes, emotions, or personal goals they’re claiming space for in 2021. Read their answers below.

Courtesy of Imara Jones

Imara Jones

Journalist and creator of TransLash Media

I’m claiming space for possibility, and the possibility to be pleasantly surprised. I think after five incredibly difficult years for our community — and the last year has only added to that with COVID-19 and economic distress, and of course, the intersections of racial justice the demands for that — it’s been extremely trying. Even with the political change, it could easily be the case that someone or people feel a lack of hope. There’s been so much darkness, and so many terrible things have happened. But tough times don’t last forever. We have to hold onto the possibilities for change, for progress, to reassert themselves.

HRC

Alphonso David

President and CEO of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

During this Black History Month, I want to claim space for all Black LGBTQ youth who feel unseen and unheard as their full selves, who too often feel that they must choose between their identities as a Black person and as an LGBTQ person. I want to claim space for all members of our community who confront violence, particularly Black transgender women, who are fearful of becoming the next victim in the rising tide of hateful violence that has claimed the lives of so many in the trans community. And I want to claim space for activists of color and white allies who are doing the work to dismantle transphobia, homophobia, and racism in order to create a better tomorrow. I hold this space to honor all of you and thank you for all that you do to help protect Black and trans futures.

Sarah Morris/Getty Images

VINCINT

Singer-songwriter

This year I’m claiming space for myself, if I’m being honest. I feel like in the past I’ve been a little quiet and put out music and hoped that it did well, and it did, and I just kind of focused on that. But this year, I want to see myself in the places that I see the people who I admire. I want to see myself on stages and charting and doing the things that I see the people that I look up to doing. I want to be where I think I should be.

I put out an EP at the beginning of last year in February. It was really great, because it was my first project that I had put out. I was like, “This is awesome.” And then [everything in 2020] happened. But it also kind of lit a fire under my ass. Like, “I’m going to make really good music, and I want everyone to hear it, not just a certain group of people. I don’t want to be categorized as something.” I think something awoke in me where I was past the point of sitting around and waiting for things to happen, and so I wrote an album. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I want to see myself be somewhere on a platform that’s much bigger than the one I’m on now. I want to be in a space where people can see someone like me doing what I do, and maybe it inspires someone to do what they want to do, too. … Pop music is run by specifically white pop girls, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s an old narrative. For me, being an independent artist and also a Black gay artist, it’s past the point of being seen when it’s cute — like being profiled in June for Pride or in February when it’s Black History Month. We’re past the point of being pigeonholed.

Qween Jean

Activist and costume designer

For me, this notion of claiming space — holding space, sharing space — is so important because for so long, like so many of our siblings have expressed throughout this entire movement, we haven’t had access to space. And we’ve been left out, undocumented, not recognized, not celebrated, not even given the access to really see ourselves succeed. For me, claiming space means holding onto our truth. It means holding onto our power. It means to stand on it and proclaim to the world who we are. We are power. We are love. We are transgender people, and we deserve the right to hold and feel space. We deserve the right to live past 35. We deserve the right to be seen, to be in corporate offices, to be in the restroom — whichever one that we feel best aligns with who we are.

Moving forward, I want claiming space to be the new thing. And I think it’s already happening. We are claiming space so that we will not have to have another generation of young people trying to find where they belong. They will have that answer, that northern star. They will find that space where they can be themselves. And the reality is, that space will be wherever they go.

Courtesy of Peppermint

Peppermint

Artist, activist, and drag performer

I’m claiming space for anything and everything that makes the lives of trans people, specifically trans women of color, better, more productive, healthier, and safer. And one of those things is physical safety, the issue here being that the murder rate of trans women of color globally rises. A lot of that has to do with the visibility of trans people. Being more recognizable makes us a target, just like how hate crimes against gay people rise around Pride season.

One of the things that I think will be important to do in addition to making sure that the perpetrators get arrested is making space for the partners of transgender people, because many of these murders are committed by our lovers, people who are our intimate partners. They’re not just random attacks from strangers. So while we have people’s attention on issues of equality for trans people, what trans people look like, and whether or not they should be able to play sports… I think it’s important that we not stigmatize the partners of trans people, specifically the partners of trans women, usually cisgender men. There’s a lot of gay shaming that happens whenever we find out that [a cisgender man] is interested in or involved with trans women — which is why we never hear that people are interested in or involved with trans women, which makes it seem like we’re just alone and not lovable. And that message really resonates, so this year, I want to make space for this conversation. My new album is written with all of that in mind, and some of the projects I’ll be working on later on in the year that I’ll be ready to announce later are also focused on just that.

Courtesy of Lina Bradford

Lina Bradford

DJ, actress, and activist

Claiming space is always being aware and being present, because you can do that any time of your life. I’m a very spiritual person, so I take all of those things into account every day of my life. But I will say, as I’m human, like everybody else, it was a lot… [more important] this year because of the fact that we were all in a place of being more empathetic about everybody’s life because our regular day-to-day life was taken from us. It’s not like [inequalities] just happened all of a sudden. The only thing that happened was a physical pandemic that was killing people, but all the other things have been there. So it’s been really nice to see how people can listen to a movement — listen to a group of people who’ve been ostracized for over 400 years — that has been in your face and that you have probably been a part of and didn’t even know. Because guess what? Even as a mixed race person, I’ve been guilty of [prejudice] and not even known it. We’re all so saturated in it. … It took many people until this moment to take their blinders off and look and see all of the stuff hidden right there. My blinders have never been so off and open to the Universe, to so many things that I thought I was very empathetic and clear-eyed to but now realize that I necessarily wasn’t. And when you can realize and always know that it’s never too late to stop growing and learning — that’s beautiful.

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Bob the Drag Queen

Drag performer and TV personality

In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, I was really encouraged and inspired to focus my energy on trans lives, specifically Black trans lives. And I have been trying to uplift and hold space for those voices in our communities. It’s interesting how sometimes they are the loudest voices in our community and basically the names of progress, but also being held back significantly as well. And I think trans joy is really a wonderful moment [to highlight]. … This past summer, I realized like, “Oh my God, there’s just so much Black death and Black sadness and not a lot of Black joy.” It was really hard to find Black joy in the media, so I started focusing on that myself.

One of my modes for uplifting trans joy, Black trans joy specifically, is to collaborate with Black trans artists and nonbinary voices, which we don’t really [hear that often]. We are not hearing enough about these amazing Black nonbinary people who are also part of the trans umbrella.

Photo courtesy of Arin Sang-urai

Jay Jurden

Writer and comedian

I’m claiming space as a Black queer person. Recently, the term “intersectionality” has allowed a lot of people to understand that being a part of multiple marginalized groups gives you a special vantage point — especially this past summer with everything concerning not only the racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd, but just the idea that we have to be able to keep our eyes on multiple balls. As a Black queer person, me taking up space in entertainment, specifically comedy, is a really fun thing to see. … Our legacy goes all the way back to Moms Mabley and Wanda Sykes. So to see queer Black people in the comedy space at large has always been really inspiring, even when I couldn’t articulate that I was queer. Taking up space by being good. It’s so sad because at one point, you don’t want to fall into the trap of respectability politics, but you also want to showcase Black excellence in a way that uplifts and affirms people who feel, think, and exist like you. So that’s one thing I’m doing: trying to take up space to just be very good. To be on top of my shit even when it seems like the world isn’t this year.

And where does this chimera of fantastical dreams come to life? Because RuPaul is a Southern Black person, and I happen to be a Southern Black person, he’s always been inspiring [to me]. … Regardless of how far you want to say we still need to go as queer people, I think it is really, really cool that a Southern Black drag queen informs so much of the conversations that we have about representation in 2021.

Courtesy of Sailey Williams

Sailey Williams

Photographer, content creator, and publisher of TENz Magazine

I am claiming space for the ballroom scene and the surrounding queer people of color community, particularly the innovators of commonly used pop culture phrases, style, performance, and content creators. Queer people have a history of being overlooked in regards to historical contributions, but magnify that if you are of color, or of color and of trans experience.

What makes those stories even more frustrating is a lot of the creative innovations from queer people of color were birthed out of inequality and segregation. The ballroom scene emerged out of the response to exclusion — exclusion Black people faced within the larger LGBTQ community. People love to quote Crystal LaBeija in that scene [from The Queen], but break down what was happening in that moment. Crystal was bold enough and unbothered enough to call out a stunt when she saw it. She saw a competition in which she was set up to lose, called out the event-throwers and the person who she deemed was not beautiful enough to win that night, and then had the brilliance to go start her own function and her own system. That formula is something that I’ve lived by in my own work as a photographer, director, and overall content creator. And that is definitely the story that led to the creation of the TENz platform, which centers ball culture and has become a resource for modern, provocative commentary on the Black and brown experience.

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