Why You Probably Didn’t Know That Angela Davis is a Lesbian
Francesca Sylph discusses the unanswered absence of Angela Davis’ sexuality in the current racial movement and the key role of intersectionality.
Angela Davis: political activist, police abolitionist, former Black Panther and lesbian icon. For the past month, I have seen her quotes plastered all across social media. If you haven’t seen anything like this then, surprise! You’re living in an echo chamber, and you should really work on diversifying your following list. June also happens to be Pride Month, so it was even more disappointing to see little to no reference to Davis’ own sexuality. Angela Davis came out as a lesbian to Out Magazine in 1997. Since then, she has continued working tirelessly to fight injustice, including that from within her own community. She opposed the Million Man March, arguing that the exclusion of women promoted male chauvinism. In response, along with Kimberlé Crenshaw (who coined the term intersectionality), Davis founded the African American Agenda 2000, an alliance of black feminists working to combat racism, sexism and homophobia. Her sexuality is not a secret. So why does it feel like it is?
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article recommending documentaries to help aid you on your anti-racism journey. In that, I discussed the disappointing erasure of James Baldwin’s queerness in the otherwise stunning documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016). Despite a few ambiguous comments and an excerpt from his FBI files stating that he may be a homosexual, it is uncomfortably easy to come away from I Am Not Your Negro believing that James Baldwin was in fact heterosexual. This is not the only case in which the sexuality of a black activist has been concealed (Malcom X was allegedly bisexual to name another) but it does seem that Angela Davis’ sexuality is even more hidden than that of her male peers.
As we celebrate Pride, we need to acknowledge the path that has been paved for us by trans people of colour.
When you type “Angela Davis lesbian” into Google, very few results come up. Why is that? As a radical black lesbian, Davis’ very existence is political. She not only battles white supremacy but outright rejects compulsory heterosexuality. In doing so, she wobbles the pedestal that white men have put themselves on by her simple existence. I don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that the Black Lives Matter movement has seen the biggest surge in engagement while we have all been locked up indoors. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this coincided with Pride Month. Race and sexuality are eternally intertwined. As we celebrate Pride, we need to acknowledge the path that has been paved for us by trans people of colour. We need to acknowledge that black lesbian activists have always been at the core of activism: Angela Davis, Stormé DeLarverie, Barbara Smith and Audre Lorde to name only a few. Intersectionality is integral to activism. We cannot fight for one community and not another. This Pride, I choose to celebrate the black queer activists who have been fighting the fight and putting in the work way before we, as white people, decided it was trendy to be anti-racist and post Angela Davis quotes to our Instagram stories.