Looking back over the last 10 years, the LGBTQ+ community has a lot to be proud of. From the Supreme Court affirming our right to marry who we love to the increased visibility of queer and trans people in the mainstream, we are no longer sitting quietly in the margins.
As we usher in a new decade, ESSENCE takes a stroll down memory lane of some of the best moments Black LGBTQ+ people have had over the 2010s—and we’re looking forward to what comes for the community over the next 10 years.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Premieres
In 2009, RuPaul, then the world’s most famous drag queen, launched a reality competition show in search for America’s next drag superstar. If American Idol, Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model had a love child, the show developed a cult following on LGBTQ+ cable network LOGO before moving to VH1 in 2017, a sign that marked a continual mainstreaming of drag culture. Since the debut of Drag Race, contestants from the show have gone on to star in Oscar-nominated movies, Grammy-award winning music videos and more.
Frank Ocean’s Infamous Tumblr Letter
“Whoever you are, wherever you are. I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike.” This is how a 2012 Tumblr post by Frank Ocean begins, released in advance of his debut album Channel Orange. Posted after a blogger published an early review noting that some of the songs used male pronouns when referring to a love interest, he revealed that one of his first loves was a man. “He wouldn’t tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years,” Ocean wrote, adding, “I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him.” Dubbed as Ocean’s “coming out,” the industry support he received marked what many believed to be a shift in LGBTQ+ acceptance.
Brittney Griner Signs with Nike
In addition to becoming the No. 1 WNBA draft pick in 2013, Brittney Griner publicly came out in a Sports Illustrated interview. Weeks later, she signed an endorsement deal with Nike, the first time the company had done business with an openly gay athlete. She continues to break the mold, modeling the company’s “menswear” line.
Laverne Cox and “The Transgender Tipping Point” On The Cover of TIME
Before Laverne Cox became the first known trans person to land an acting Emmy nomination, she found herself on a June 2014 cover of TIME. It was a year after she debuted as Sophia Burset, a trans inmate who committed credit card fraud to fund her transition since medical insurance would not cover it, on a then-new show titled Orange is the New Black from a DVD subscription service turned streaming platform called Netflix. The publication deemed the moment of increased trans visibility as “the transgender tipping point,” a socio-political shift in our culture that saw trans people emerging from the margins of society.
Lee Daniel’s Empire Premieres
When the first season of Lee Daniels’ Empire debuted in 2015, its boldest statement was centering a gay character in a part Shakespearean drama, part musical set in the world of hip hop. Played by Jussie Smollett, Jamal Lyon represented the lived experiences of so many Black LGBTQ+ folks who longed for acceptance from our historically homophobic and stereotypically masculine communities—and the fact that Smollett (pre controversy!) was Black and gay made the portrayal all the better. Now in its sixth and final season, the show continues to feature LGBTQ+ storylines and actors including Alexandra Grey.
Moonlight’s Tarell Alvin McCraney Wins Oscar
There’s much to celebrate around the release of the Barry Jenkins-directed drama Moonlight, namely the fact that we all got to witness cinematic greatness in the form of a story about a young Black boy’s journey to manhood. But it’s the speech that screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCranney, whose unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue inspired the film, gave as he and Jenkins won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay that takes the cake.
“This goes out to all those Black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves,” he said. “We are trying to show you you, and us.” Cue the tears!
Andrea Jenkins Makes History
When Andrea Jenkins was elected in 2017 to represent Minneapolis’s 8th Ward on the City Council, she became the first Black trans woman elected to public office in the United States. She was one of dozens of women elected in a wave of female political representation that year. She’s been serving in that role since January 2018.
Janelle Monae Comes Out As Pansexual
Very few people knew what it meant to be pansexual—to have sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation—before Janelle Monae disclosed her sexuality in a Rolling Stone interview in 2018. But after the Q.U.E.E.N singer did so, the word became one of Merriam-Webster’s words of the year. Around the same time, she released her magnum opus, Dirty Computer, and its accompanying narrative film project.
Lena Waithe Wins An Emmy for Comedy Writing
The “Thanksgiving” episode of Master of None, co-written by Lena Waithe and based on her own coming out experience, is prime holiday content. In 2017, she became the first Black woman to win an Emmy (with Aziz Ansari) for comedy writing for penning the episode which starred Waithe, Angela Bassett, and Kym Whitley. “My LGBTQIA family, I see each and every one of you,” the Chicago-native said in her acceptance speech. “The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape, go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.”
Pose Premieres With The Largest Trans Cast
The Steven Canals-created, Ryan Murphy-produced FX show, Pose, made history long before it premiered in 2018 for assembling the largest ever cast of trans people on television. And when they casted five trans women of color as recurring characters—Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, Angelica Ross, Indya Moore, and Hailie Sahar—they made it clear that such narratives were being centered and not pushed to the periphery in this tale inspired by the ballroom scene.
Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X – Best Music Video
Billy Porter Wins An Emmy
“‘It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the Earth as though I had a right to be here,’” said Billy Porter, quoting James Baldwin. “I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right.” He was standing on the Emmy’s stage earlier this year, having just been named winner of the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series category for his role as Pray-Tell on Pose. He made history as the first Black, gay actor to win the television award.
The Pageant World Goes Black
By now, we all know that the beauty pageant world got a major dose of Black Girl Magic over the last year, with Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe, and Miss World all being Black women. But you might not know that the LGBTQ+ pageant scene, which includes drag and leather competitions, also received a diasporic injection with many of its top titles over the last two years being held by Black people as well: Kennedy Davenport as Miss Gay USofA, Jack Thompson as International Mr. Leather, Jazell Barbie Royale as Miss International Queen, Stasha Sanchez as Miss Continental, Darcel Stevens as Miss Continental Plus, Kayla Chanel Dupree as Miss Continental Elite, Sir’Twon Brown as Mr. Continental, and reigning RuPaul’s Drag Race queens Monet X Change and Yvie Oddly.