NATIVE SON 101 LIST CLASS OF 2023
“When an individual is protesting society's refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” —Bayard Rustin
This has been a year of great contrasts. In 2023, there were unprecedented attacks against the LGBTQ+ community with over 500 anti-queer legislations and simultaneous assaults against Black history and culture. It was as if we were being stripped of our own humanity. Oftentimes, our lives didn’t seem to matter. The violent murder of O’Shea Sibley while voguing to Beyoncé's “Renaissance” in a New York gas station parking lot crystallized the horror of what it could mean to be a Black queer man in America. But the Black LGBTQ community showed immense resistance and resilience and refused to be reduced to racist and homophobic caricatures. We have come too far to be erased or go back into the closet. That wasn’t an option for us in 2023. Sibley became a martyr for us—a symbol of freedom and tectonic tenacity. His memorial turned into a celebration of living.
You see, we come from good stock. We have the historic blueprint from our ancestors to guide us. We learned from Bayard Rustin, that we can own our power. Rustin, the architect of The March on Washington on August 28, 1963, proved that a Black gay man could not only conceive of a historic moment of freedom in the Civil Rights Movement, he could also create the vision and a pathway for it — giving life to the Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which is one of the most powerful orations in history. It’s divine alignment that Rustin’s life and legacy was memorialized this year on screen thanks to powerful Black gay/queer men actor Colman Domingo, director George C. Wolfe, screenwriter Julian Breece, executive producer Mark C. White and public relations and marketing executive Kevin Stuckey (all featured on this year’s list). They were fueled by Bruce Cohen and our forever President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama and their Higher Ground. We are the dream.
With all the political rhetoric, backlash and roll back of the rights of the Black and LGBTQ+ community, we rise like our beloved Bayard Rustin. Black gay and queer men have ascended making history in politics, shifting narratives in media, TV and film, and holding critical positions of power in business and technology. Living at the intersection of our Blackness and our queerness can be simultaneously challenging and triumphant. Meet the rebels and the warriors in our community who are doing the good work to push past any roadblocks: those who are creating opportunities, acting as agents of change and those who are advocates for everyone to be able to stand loud and proud in their truth. This year’s 101 List is evidence of our resilience, innovation and bravery. In the words of Beyoncé, we are the bar.
Professor Emil Wilbekin
Founder of Native Son
Illustrations: CJ Robinson
Writers: Greg Emmanuell and Kelsey Minor
Editor: Cori Murray