By Miko Evans of Meak Productions

Photos: Meak Productions, various PR
Sources: National Black Justice Coalition (Ubuntu Biography Project), Wikipedia, History of Black Gay America Archives, and various news outlets.

As Mr. History of Black Gay Atlanta, Miko Evans is the expert on local and national heroes and sheroes who have shaped Black History. In Peach’s continued celebration of Black History Month, Miko presents us with some of the significant national figures that have made American Black History. 

BAYARD RUSTIN

Bayard Taylor Rustin (March 17, 1912 – August 24, 1987) was a pacifist, event organizer, human rights advocate, and an important leading voice in shaping the strategies and objectives of America’s civil rights movement. He’s best known for being the Master Organizer & Architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which he only had eight weeks to plan. Rustin also worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in forming the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) to assist in strengthening King’s leadership in the movement. However, due to his sexual orientation and a previous arrest involving two men in an automobile, he was forced to work behind the scenes due to threats from the FBI and other homophobic militant leaders and associates of the movement. Although he played such an essential role in the civil rights era, Rustin never got his full recognition due to homophobia. However, the 2003 documentary film by Sam Pollard, “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin,” helped to raise awareness of his life and contributions to the Civil Rights movement. Former President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 20, 2013, which his lifelong partner, Walter Naegle, accepted.

MARSHA P. JOHNSON

Ms. Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson (August 24, 1945 – July 6, 1992) was an activist, a drag queen, a comic, a performance artist, and a co-founder of Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with her close Latina trans friend Sylvia Rivera to provide advocacy, food, clothing, and shelter to transgender and queer youth in NYC. She became a fixture in the city’s drag and art scenes and was affectionately dubbed “The Mayor of Christopher Street.” In 1969, Marsha played a prominent role in the Stonewall Rebellion, where violent encroachment by police was met with such resistance that it took hours to die down. One year later, she marched in what became New York City’s first gay pride celebration which she helped organize. Marsha was also an HIV-positive organizer with ACT UP, an outspoken critic of New York’s Gay and Lesbian Community Center for its lack of diversity and programming, and a member of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), participating in direct action like sit-ins to protest anti-LGBT discrimination. Johnson and Rivera were banned from participating in the 1973 gay pride parade because they were trans or considered drag queens; however, they marched ahead of the parade instead. She was found dead on July 6, 1992, where she’d experienced harassment earlier on. Police failed to investigate her death, ruling it a suicide. It wasn’t until November 2012 that the New York Police Department agreed to re-open the case. The documentary “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” examines Marsha’s mysterious death and celebrates her contributions to LGBTQ+ rights.

REV. CARL BEAN

Archbishop Rev. Carl Bean (Born May 26, 1944) is the Founding Prelate of the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, the world’s first African-American liberal affirming denomination welcoming the LGBTQ+ Community and Allies. The first church was founded in Los Angeles in 1982. Before starting his historic church, Bishop Carl was known as a renowned lead singer, songwriter, performing artist, and producer working with some of the music industry’s greatest projects and legends. In the 1960s, he was lead singer with the legendary Alex Bradford Singers, the Gospel Chimes, and the Gospel Wonders. In the theatre circuit, he’s was featured in productions such as Black Nativity and Your Arms Too Short To Box With God. However, it wasn’t until his record deal with the historic Motown Records that made him an icon in the LGBTQ movement by recording the historical classic, “I Was Born This Way.” The song became one of the first club hits of the gay liberation movement, popularized by disco DJs around the country throughout the 80s. The song also became the title of his first book, released in February 2013. Bean founded the Minority AIDS Project (MAP) in 1985 to address individuals’ needs within the African American and Latino communities living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles. On May 26, 2019, the Los Angeles City Council designated the intersection of Jefferson Blvd. and Sycamore Ave. as “ARCHBISHOP CARL BEAN SQUARE.” to honor his numerous contributions to the L.A. LGBTQ Community.

SYLVESTER JAMES

Before there was RuPaul, there was Sylvester. Born Sylvester James Jr. (September 6, 1947 – December 16, 1988), he was primarily active in the Disco, R&B, and Soul music scene in the late 70s and most of the 80s. Before dawning his flamboyant and androgynous appearance, he developed his signature falsetto voice at an early age growing up in the Pentecostal church with his middle-class family. Leaving the church after the congregation expressed disapproval of his homosexuality, he found friendship among a group of drag queens and trans women who called themselves The Disquotays. Moving to San Francisco in 1970 at 22, Sylvester joined the avant-garde drag troupe The Cockettes. Afterward, Sylvester left them to pursue his solo career. He formed the Hot Band, a rock act that released two commercially unsuccessful albums on Blue Thumb Records in 1973 before disbanding. In the mid 70’s he signed with Harvey Fuqua of Fantasy Records and obtained three new backing singers: Jeanie Tracy (Dance & R&B Legend), Martha Wash (now known as the Queen of Dance Music), and Izora Rhodes (both became the group “Two Tons O’ Fun” & later The Weather Girls). His first solo album, Sylvester (1977), was a moderate success. This was followed up with the acclaimed disco album Step II (1978), which spawned the classic dance singles “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat),” both of which were top hits in the U.S. and Europe. He recorded four more albums – including a live album – with Fantasy Records. After leaving this label, he signed to Megatone Records, founded by friend and collaborator Patrick Cowley, where he recorded four more albums, including the Cowley penned “Do Ya Wanna Funk.” An activist who campaigned against the spread of HIV/AIDS, he was awarded the key to the city in San Franciso. Sylvester died from the virus’s complications in 1988, leaving all future royalties from his work to San Francisco-based HIV/AIDS charities. In 2005, he was posthumously inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame, while his life has been recorded in a biography and made the subject of both a documentary and a successful musical. After careful research and study, and though he gained the moniker as “Queen of Disco” in the late 70s, Meak Productions has now deemed Sylvester the Father of the LGBTQ Music Movement.

JANET MOCK

Janet Mock (born March 10, 1983) is a pioneering trans activist, writer, author, director, and executive producer. She lived most of her youth in her native Hawaii, with portions in Oakland, California, and Dallas. She began her transition during her freshman year in high school and funded her medical procedures by earning money as a sex worker. During high school, she played volleyball, a sport she had bonded over with her childhood friend Wendi, who also helped Janet express her femininity. She chose her name Janet after the Princess of Pop, Janet Jackson. She was the first person in her family to go to college. Mock underwent gender-confirming surgery in Thailand at 18 in the middle of her first year in college. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Merchandising from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2004 and a Master of Arts in Journalism from New York University in 2006. After graduating from New York University, Mock started working at People magazine, where she was a staff editor for more than five years. Her career in journalism shifted from editor to media advocate when she came out publicly as a trans woman in a 2011 Marie Claire article, written by Kierna Mayo in Mock’s voice. In 2012, Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, signed Mock to her first book deal for a memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More,” which was released in February 2014. It’s the first book written by a trans person who transitioned during their youth. In April 2015, Oprah Winfrey invited Mock to be a guest on Super Soul Sunday for a segment titled, “Becoming Your Most Authentic Self.” She was invited back a second time and was claimed by Winfrey as one of the SuperSoul 100 list of visionaries and influential leaders. In addition to this, Mock has appeared on countless mainstream talk shows and the acclaimed documentary, The OUT List, which screened on HBO on June 27, 2013. Her second memoir, “Surpassing Certainty,” published in 2017, promised to “pick up where Redefining Realness left off. Among all of her trans activism and media accomplishments, her most historic, pioneering contribution to date is writer, producer, and director of the hit FX television series, “POSE,” which premiered on June 3, 2018, and made her the first trans woman of color hired as a writer for a TV series in history. She didn’t stop there. In 2019, Mock signed a three-year deal with Netflix giving them exclusive rights to her TV series and a first-look option on feature film projects. This made her the first openly transgender woman of color to secure a deal with a major content company.

BISHOP YVETTE FLUNDER

Rev. Dr. Yvette Adrienne Flunder, born in San Francisco, California, July 29, 1955, is a respected and renowned pastor, writer, lecturer, Gospel recording artist, and social justice advocate. She attended high school at the Church of God in Christ’s Saints Academy in Lexington, Mississippi, graduating in 1969. As a young adult, she returned to San Francisco and attended local colleges, earning a degree from the College of San Mateo. She moved on to the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, where she earned a degree in Ministry Studies in 1995 and a Master’s of Arts degree in Christian Ethics in 1997. This began a career in social justice ministry that continues in her ministerial work today. Flunder is a third-generation preacher with roots in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). She experienced a self-imposed exile from COGIC as she was conscious that being same-gender-loving and an active member of her denomination would cause conflict. During her sabbatical, she continued working toward social justice with careers providing services for the elderly and those living with HIV/AIDS. She found herself opening to new theologies as she knew that she was in the right relationship with God—just not the Church of God in Christ. This led her to say “yes” when Gospel legend, the late Bishop Walter Hawkins of Love Center Ministries, asked her to come and preach for them. She joined their church and remained a member for nearly ten years.

She was later ordained by Bishop Hawkins and served as the church’s Associate Pastor and administrator. This also began her music recording career when she started performing with the Hawkins Family and the Love Center Choir. Her first hit was her duet with Bishop Hawkins on his award-nominated album, “Love Alive III” entitled “I Love You Lord.” Her next two hits with the Hawkins legacy will become historic staples in Gospel music history. Hawkins’s 1987 album, “Special Gift” became a huge hit with Dr. Flunder leading the title track. Then, in 1990, Hawkins acclaimed album, “Love Alive IV” found her leading the #1 track, “Thank You” which is now one of the world’s greatest Gospel anthems. Also, on this album, she performed her first duet with Hawkins’ niece and Gospel Legend, Shirley Miller, who would later become her life partner in marriage and ministry for three decades. Bishop Flunder remained with Love Center until she joined fifteen charter members to found the Oakland, California-based City of Refuge United Church of Christ in 1991. In June 2003, Bishop Yvette Flunder was consecrated Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM), a multi-denominational fellowship of primarily African American Christian leaders and laity representing churches and faith-based organizations from all parts of the United States, Mexico, Asia, and Africa. Bishop Flunder is a much sought-after and requested figure in education, HIV/AIDS activism, human rights, music ministry, and theology. In December 2014, Bishop Flunder served as the keynote speaker for the White House observation of the 26th anniversary of World AIDS Day. She was also honored and portrayed by actress Phylicia Rashad in the Dustin Lance Black ABC mini-series, “When We Rise.”

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STEPHEN A. MAGLOTT (Historian/Biographer)

Stephen Maglott (October 26, 1953, to August 13, 2016) was a social justice activist, civil servant, political operative, historian, and creator of the Ubuntu Biography Project. Born in Bangor, Maine, Maglott moved first to Boston, MA, when he was six, and shortly after that to New York. Maglott attended the Parson’s School of Design (The New School) while working for the United Nations as a researcher attached to the UN Commission on Apartheid. When costs mounted, and job offers began pouring in, he left school to work full time as a graphics designer and art director for several major agencies. He then moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s at the request of his friend and music legend, the late Rick James. He toured with James and worked periodically with Teena Marie (The Queen of Ivory Soul) and Prince (The King of Rock & Soul), handling merchandise sales while they were on tour. Maglott eventually left California for Amsterdam, where he lived life as a bohemian expatriate artist for a few years before returning to the United States and the world of advertising and marketing. Nurtured in his formative years in both Harlem and Buffalo, he was drawn to civil rights and social justice struggles early on. Working with street prostitutes, the homeless, and migrant workers, Maglott helped create outreach programs and investigate instances where farmworkers were held against their will. He went undercover to expose the corrupt system, and the investigation resulted in a change in policies. Maglott accepted a position with the Men Of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA) Project, a Rochester, New York-based HIV/AIDS prevention and case management program committed to serving the needs of gay Black men. He helped open a Buffalo office and assisted in forming the New York State Black Gay Network (NYSBGN). The MOCHA Project made history in 2000 when it hosted the first statewide summit of Black gay service providers for NYSBGN. Maglott took a short break from the MOCHA Project to assist his friend, Byron W. Brown, with putting together a campaign for a New York Senate seat. When his MOCHA sabbatical ended, Stephen stayed on with Senator Brown as director of research. Maglott returned to New York City in 2005 when Brown launched a successful campaign to become Buffalo’s first Black mayor.

In an email from April 2009, Stephen Maglott first discussed creating what would become his “soul work.” The working title for his new biography collection of America’s Black LGBT+ pioneers and trailblazers was called ‘The Ubuntu Project’ (Zulu for ‘I am, because we are’); however, the details of how this will be used was not complete. By September of 2009, Maglott had created a logo for the Project and begun gathering biographical information on his honorees. Over the next several years, he fleshed out the Project, eventually creating a Facebook site for launch in 2014. Over the next two years, the Ubuntu Biography Project would grow to several hundred biographies, each lovingly and meticulously researched by Maglott. He would also reach out to as many of his subjects as possible, often striking up friendships and charming honorees with his flirtatious and infectious personality. In the final years of his life, Maglott’s eyesight began to deteriorate, and he worried about maintaining the Ubuntu Biography Project. He reached out to friends and community members to express his concerns and to ask for assistance with the Project if needed. On Saturday, August 13, 2016, at around 6:00 in the morning, Maglott’s final biography (of Karen Williams) was posted to Facebook.

Scheduled to meet up with friend Aundaray Guess later that day, Maglott instead sent a text to Guess that he was en route to the hospital with chest pains. Stephen Maglott passed away hours later at the age of 62. On September 7, 2016, Maglott was remembered at a memorial service hosted by the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center. As of February 1, 2021, the historic National Black Justice Coalition has acquired The Ubuntu Biography Project. NBJC is the perfect organization to continue Stephen’s legacy under its new domain, beenhere.org.

ELLIS HAIZLIP (An Unsung Hero)

Ellis Haizlip (September 17, 1929 – January 25, 1991) was a pioneering broadcaster, television host, theater and television producer, and cultural activist. Born in Washington, DC., he attended Howard University and graduated from there in 1954. While at Howard, Hazlip served as a producer for the Howard Players, the acclaimed performance art troupe of Howard University’s Department of Theatre Arts, during their summer season. After graduating, he left for New York City, where he began producing plays with Vinnette Carroll at the Harlem YMCA. One of their productions was “Dark of the Moon,” with Cicely Tyson, Clarence Williams III, Isabel Sanford, Calvin Lockhart, James Earl Jones, and the Alvin Ailey Dancers. Through the 1950ss, Ellis Hazlip produced concerts and performances in Europe and the Middle East. These included “Black New World” by dancer Donald McKayle; “The Amen Corner” by his friend James Baldwin; and “Black Nativity” by Langston Hughes. He also produced a concert tour by Marlene Dietrich. In 1972 and 1973, Haizlip and Lincoln Center produced “Soul at the Center,” an acclaimed 12-day Black expression festival through the performing arts.

Other groundbreaking Haizlip productions were the first Congressional Black Caucus Dinner in 1970, “Welcome to the World Saxophone” in 1980, and “Watch Your Mouth!” in 1978 for WNET Channel 13, New York’s flagship Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station, where he served from 1967 to 1981. Hazlip is best known as the host and producer of a unique and radically Afrocentric program for PBS simply called “Soul!” which ran from 1967 through 1973. As executive producer, Hazlip is credited with helping to advance the careers of singers Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and Roberta Flack and Novella Nelson. “Soul!” was the brainchild of Haizlip, the first Black producer at WNET (then WNDT), who joined the station in the mid-1960s. Perhaps more than any other television show before—or since, “Soul!” insisted on representing the heterogeneity of Black culture. It embraced cultural nationalists, Muslims, and feminists—occasionally on the same show. It flouted the conventional wisdom that ballet dancers and blues singers could not share a stage, let alone an audience. The show was also responsible for championing emerging acts. In an era when “being out” had yet to catch on, and previous to the Stonewall riots, which would catalyze the gay and lesbian liberation movement, Ellis Haizlip was a Black gay man and an important public figure in America’s Black cultural landscape. He was not “out” as we understand the concept today, and his presence was said to be “tolerated” by executives at Channel 13 who were uneasy with Haizlip’s presence and worried that a gay man wasn’t an appropriate or fitting on-camera embodiment of Black masculinity. While not out to the general public, neither did he shy away from gay community issues. For reasons unconnected with Haizlip’s sexuality, “Soul!” ran out of funding before he could be replaced, despite its popularity among audiences. In the 1980s, Ellis Hazlip was diagnosed with lung cancer and then a brain tumor; his friends, guests, and colleagues were devastated. A year before his death, there was a benefit to help pay his medical expenses, attended by Ashford and Simpson, Betty Shabazz and Roberta Flack, and dozens of other notables and close friends. He lost his battle against cancer at the age of 61 on January 25, 1991. Ellis Haizlip and his groundbreaking program “Soul!” were honored with a documentary celebrating the contributions of this pioneering PBS program. “Mr. Soul! The Movie” was directed by Samuel D. Pollard and Melissa Haizlip.