“Being first Black and then gay, these words express things that I have experienced, things found in the Black gay culture that are unknown to many. At times I cried just remembering how it is to be both Black and gay during these truly difficult times. But here we are, still proud and living, with culture all our own.” — Sylvester, "In The Life" edited by Joseph Beam (1986)
As Black gay and queer men we live in the duality of our identities. When the world sees us, they see our Blackness before they witness our gender nonconformity. We are often raised to protect ourselves from a myriad of forces in the world — white supremacy, racism, homophobia, hypermasculinity, religious doctrine and dogma, and patriarchy.
As Black men we can’t be too strong, too powerful, too arrogant, or too masculine or we are viewed as a threat. As Black gay and queer men we must navigate our otherness — gayness, queerness, femininity, softness, and sensitivity that can be considered too much, and ironically too often not masculine enough. The dimming of our light (both inside and out) can be exhausting, but it can also serve as a resource and reservoir of inspiration and ingenuity to fuel our resilience.
It is that confluence of social codes, conscience, and constructs that cause us to imagine our own creativity, confidence and characteristics beyond our wildest dreams and encourage us to strive and thrive for our own self actualization and liberation. Historically, Black gay and queer men have been the mavericks, innovators, and pioneers who shift social change, serve the community to mobilize, organize, protest and raise consciousness, and create cultural trends and transformation.
In the honor of the rebels, radicals, and revolutionaries who came before us — James Baldwin, Countee Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, Alvin Ailey, Bayard Rustin, Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, E. Lynn Harris, Willi Smith, Patrick Kelly, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Sylvester, Larry Levan, Bishop Carl Bean, and so many more — we celebrate today’s Black gay and queer changemakers.
The Native Son 101 is a list of Black gay and queer men who have had impact in 2021 on our community, on their profession or artistry, and on the world. This is an alphabetical listing of visionaries, dreamers, innovators, thought leaders, and change makers who believe in themselves, take risks, and audaciously make a difference while fearlessly representing themselves — and our community.
The Native Son 101 Class of 2021 was difficult to curate because there were too many Black gay and queer men who are creating greatness, igniting change, and challenging the status quo. There are people who were on last year’s list, but elevated their work and raised the bar higher this year, so they are back. The list is subjective, multidisciplinary and intergenerational and we believe they are all worthy to be recognized — seen, heard and respected.
Most importantly, the list is exciting and empowering to see and show that Black gay and queer men are brilliant AF. We are not simply magical queer negoes, but actually the architects of our own existence. We are masterpieces of our own creation and that light is shifting the way we see the world and the way the world sees us, Our Voice. Our Story. Our Power.
— Emil Wilbekin, Founder of Native Son
Illustrations by C.J. Robinson
Written by Antoine Tate, B. Musique Cook, Emil Wilbekin, Greg Emmanuel, Juan Michael Porter II, and Rashad Benton
Special Thanks to Kiwan Anderson, Steven Psyllos and Smith
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