Melba Mathurin knew it was important that LGBTQ Virgin Islanders were safe to celebrate who they are. That’s why she co-founded Liberty Place, the first LGBTQ organization in the Virgin Islands, in 2011.
“It took passion, commitment, education, and collaboration to effect a cultural shift in support of LGBTQ rights in the Virgin Island community, but with patience and determination, it can be done,” said Mathurin, the senior manager of HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program.
In 2015, Mathurin was among those who organized the first Virgin Islands Pride.
“When I organized the first celebration of Pride in St. Croix, it was groundbreaking. Nothing like this had ever been done, so we were treading on new territory and wanted to ensure everyone’s safety,” she said. “We had an incredible turnout with lots of allies. I will always recall how happy and celebratory everyone was. People commented on how free and supported they felt.”
For Black History Month, Mathurin is emphasizing the importance of Afro-Caribbean LGBTQ people and Affinity Prides, which celebrate the visibility of underrepresented communities. Affinity Prides are especially important because they lift up LGBTQ people who live at the intersection of marginalized communities and often face harassment, discrimination, stigma and violence just because of who they are.
“Historically Afro-Caribbean LGBTQ persons have always had integral roles in their community… But their contributions are hidden because they cannot bring their whole self or full expression to the table,” Mathurin said. “As we celebrate Black History Month, it is essential for me to acknowledge LGBTQ Afro-Caribbean persons who have transformed their communities and challenged the status quo.”
These challenges aren’t lost on HRC Global Innovator Hazel Mokgathi, a transgender woman who worked with the African Women for Sexual Health and Gender Justice to organize the first-ever transgender Pride event in Botswana in October 2018. To Mokgathi, trans pride in Botswana meant reclaiming being Black and transgender.
“I think in general our trans Pride here had an essence of deep reclamation of Blackness with queerness and Blackness with transness,” Mokgathi said. “We are an African country with majority African descent, but for the first time on that day of the Pride, what it meant to be African and trans was unpacked, re-understood, reset and reclaimed in a country that refuses to acknowledge the mere existence Botswana transpersons.”
To Malik Brown, the visibility of Black LGBTQ Prides is important, given the lack of representation in pop culture.
“As a Black, gay man in America, I don’t see myself in the media, in ad campaigns or in the nightlife scene as much as my white counterparts,” said Brown, the LGBTQ affairs coordinator at the Atlanta mayor's Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and a member of HRC’s National Board of Governors.
That’s why Brown organized Atlanta’s first Pride kickoff for Mayor Keisha Bottoms’ office, and took the lead on organizing Atlanta Black Pride.
“Every Pride celebration is important, but Black Pride is particularly special. I think any marginalized group deserves a safe space to celebrate their truth,” he said.
As Brown reflects on this, he reiterates that Black History Month is a celebration of the remarkable and often unrecognized contributions Black change agents have made to society.
This Black History Month, we recognize the barriers -- including how racism intersects with sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and more -- that remain and lift up the voices of Black and LGBTQ advocates challenging systems of power and oppression everyday. We deepen our commitment to those in our community who are still too often at its margins as we work to move equality forward in the U.S. and globally.
“If our stories are not written, shared and celebrated, they will be forgotten,” Mathurin said.