LGBT rights group profiles leaders in the black gay community
by Christopher Johnson
For the month of February, the Human Rights Campaign is celebratng Black History Month by honoring a diverse group of African-American individuals who are leading the charge for LGBT Americans to have equal rights within their communities and society as a whole.
In the past, the real stories of black LGBT individuals have gone largely untold or unacknowledged in history books. For example, we need only to consider the roles of openly gay Bayard Rustin as a key civil rights activist and the chief organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington to have a glimpse of the impact members of the black LGBT community have made in our nation.
HRC is pleased to salute these leaders who are writing new chapters in American history today by telling the stories of black LGBT Americans and empowering black LGBT individuals to live openly and honestly.
Kevin Aviance is a legendary recording artist, female impersonator and personality in New York City’s gay scene and across the country. His songs “Din Da Da,” “Alive,” “Give It Up” and “Strut” have all reached the top of the Billboard magazine dance chart and remain hits in dance clubs around the world.
Raised in Richmond, Va., Aviance grew up in a close-knit family with seven siblings and almost immediately began dedicating himself to music and theatre. His career as a performance artist and club personality began in Washington, D.C., continued in Miami and eventually landed him in New York City in the early 1990s. In New York, Aviance joined the House of Aviance, a gay performers’ group founded in 1989 by Mother Juan Aviance that remains a highly regarded collection of singers, dancers, actors, visual artists and other creative professionals today. “Applause is my high,” Kevin Aviance admits. “I live for the applause.”
On June 10, 2006, while exiting a popular Manhattan gay bar, Aviance was robbed, beaten and kicked by a group of men who yelled anti-gay slurs at him. He was hospitalized and underwent surgery after his attackers left him with a broken jaw, fractured knee and other injuries. Four suspects were later arrested on hate crime charges. “I used to pay people no mind walking down the street,” Aviance recalls. “[Being attacked is] the most heinous, ridiculous thing afflicted on you. It’s the most disgusting thing in the world. It doesn’t leave me.”
Moving forward with a renewed spirit, Aviance is keeping busy with public appearances, a new high-heel shoe collection he designed and a planned trip to Africa this year to raise awareness and money for the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“My pumps have gotten me from the runways of Milan to the temples all over Japan to the Holy Land,” Aviance says with his trademark wit. “If it wasn’t for my pumps, I’d be dead or in jail.”
Dr. Mignon Moore
Dr. Mignon R. Moore is a professor in the departments of Sociology and African-American Studies at the University of Californi -Los Angeles (UCLA). Before arriving at UCLA, Moore taught at Columbia University, where she was also director of the undergraduate program in African-American Studies. She received her bachelor's degree from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago and she earned a Woodrow Wilson Faculty Career Enhancement Fellowship and the prestigious Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar Award for her research on black and Latina gay women.
Guided by her personal belief system, Moore’s primary academic interests and research seek to provide a greater understanding of how race influences the development and expression of sexuality. Her work has been published in numerous books and scholarly journals including SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society and The American Journal of Sociology. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled “Invisible Families: Gay Identities,
Relationships and Motherhood Among Black and Latina Women in New York.” This important study examines how African-American, West Indian and Latina lesbian partners select their mates, negotiate the division of household labor, raise children and maintain connections to important cultural institutions that may often be anti-gay. “The experiences of black women’s lives have not been told,” says Moore. “There are things in the black lesbian community that are different in some critical ways, based on race and class, than in the white gay community.”
Beyond the academic world, Moore is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and has been a volunteer and workshop facilitator for the LGBT Community Center of New York, consulted for the OUTFEST Gay & Lesbian Film Series in Los Angeles and served on the executive board of the non-profit organization Girls for Gender Equity based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Most recently, Moore and her partner, Elaine Harley, were featured in the documentary “Be Real: Stories from Queer America,” shown at LGBT film festivals across the country and featured on the gay cable channel Logo. “I am interested in making black women’s lives more visible, more comfortable, and placing them at the center of life instead of at the margins,”
Moore, 36, grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and currently resides in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with Harley and Bengee, their six-year-old shih tzu/terrier mix.
Dwight Powell is the founder of Sizzle Miami Inc. and editor of Clik, a leading lifestyle magazine about and targeted to African-American gay men. As the organizer of one of the largest yearly events for black gay men in Miami and head of an influential national magazine, Powell has played a pivotal role in creating and documenting the black gay experience. “I’ve seen a major insurgence with respect to black gay men,” he says. “Far fewer of us are hiding and afraid to come out and celebrate who we are.”
Powell started Clik magazine — then known as Clikque — with his former business partner Lewis Nicolson in Houston in 1998 after being dissatisfied with the quality and frequency of media images depicting black gay men. Drawing upon his background in graphic design, Powell set out to produce a quality magazine that would present affirming representations of black gay men and tackle important issues in the community. “In the early days of Clik, a great deal of our content and advertisement focused on presenting HIV/AIDS and providing information for those that may have already been exposed and infected,” he recalls. “Now it’s important for me to stress that the black gay man is about more than HIV/AIDS. We have relationships and are interested in dialogue that fosters healthy and productive lives with other men. It’s important for our magazine to be able to address these and other everyday issues important to men, gay or straight, black or white.”
In fall 2005, Powell and his team at Clik redesigned the magazine and expanded its monthly feature issues, a lineup that currently includes the Black Gay Heritage issue, the Fall Fashion issue and the Relationship & Family issue. Last December, Powell launched the Clik Honors, an awards program held in Atlanta that recognizes key leaders in the black LGBT community. “I knew that there were so many talented people in our community — so many that were missed time and time again,” he explains. “So I am so proud that we were able to do it for our community. That awards night at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, in my opinion, is one of the great moments in black gay history. It was a special moment.”
Bishop John Selders Jr.
Bishop John Selders Jr. is an ordained minister serving in the United Church of Christ and is the organizing pastor of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford, Conn. He is president of the Inter-Denominational Conference of Liberation Congregations and Ministries, a new religious body, and a member of the HRC’s Religion Council.
As a nationally renowned teacher, prolific guest on African-American radio and HIV/AIDS educator, Selders has played and continues to play an instrumental role in reaching out to young people and African-American religious leaders to foster honest dialogue about LGBT equality within the African-American community. “There is a connection between the oppression that is experienced of all people,” explains Selders. “How we make those connections is important for me as a faith leader. We need to critique how we have experienced and talked about sex and sexual orientation.”
Selders has been busy doing just that. Last fall, he spoke to more than 200 students at the University of San Francisco on sexuality and the black church and participated in another important discussion on youth, spirituality and sexuality at a Child Welfare League of America conference. Today he is committed to traveling around the nation to speak on marriage equality and engage communities in open conversations on sex and sexuality in the context of life experiences and expressions of faith. “There are places where these conversations are being had,” says Selders.
Selders attended Life Christian Bible College, Webster University and Eden Theological Seminary and is currently lecturer for supervised ministries at Yale Divinity School. He is a frequent contributor to national newspaper stories and is the spouse of Pamela and father of his daughter Alisia and son Jay.
Nathan Hale Williams
Nathan Hale Williams is an award-winning film and television producer, entertainment attorney and event promoter. Williams is also the executive producer of the film “Dirty Laundry,” a “dramedy” that explores identity and coming out in the black family, scheduled to be released nationwide in spring 2007.
An actor and former model, Williams is perhaps best-known for his lead role as Byron in the award-winning independent feature film “The Ski Trip,” a romantic comedy that Williams also produced, starring a cast of young black gay males. This groundbreaking film became the first black gay movie on commercial television when it aired on MTV Networks’ Logo channel in July 2005. “I hope my work extends the dialogue and understanding that, just like the rest of the world, black LGBT people come in a variety of shapes, sizes and persuasions,” says Williams. In a move that further increased his visibility, Williams and his partner, Keith Boykin, also made television history as the first black gay couple on reality TV when they appeared on Showtime's “American Candidate.”
Williams earned degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the George Washington University Law School before forming his own entertainment practice and production company. Born and raised in Chicago, he is a classically trained dancer who began appearing in regional theatrical productions, tours, commercials and television shows at the age of eight.
As the founder and chief executive officer of iN-Hale Entertainment, Williams has made it a priority to present positive images of black LGBT identity in many of his current and future film and television projects.
“The community is beginning to have a conversation of what it means to black and gay in America,” Williams explains. “As we push the conversation, heterosexual black people become more comfortable talking about it as well. You have heterosexual black women and men openly discussing issues like HIV/AIDS and homophobia at home, at church and at work. It is always a good thing when people are talking.”