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LGBTQ Black history heroes of today

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As Black History Month concludes, we'd like to acknowledge that, while many of our modern achievements, rights, and victories are due to the hard work, bravery, and pride of Black Queer and Trans heroes, there are still countless people creating and shaping LGBTQ+ history today.

Phill Wilson — Black AIDS Institute  

Phill Wilson
One such hero is Phill Wilson, an American activist fighting for the rights of Black LGBTQ+ HIV/AIDS survivors in the United States. In the early 1980s, he and his partner, Chris Brownlie, were both diagnosed with HIV. They watched as the US government cast AIDS victims aside, and noticed that most of the help that did come to the LGBTQ+ community was reserved for cis white men.

Following the death of his partner in 1989, Wilson harnessed his grief and turned it into action. He has used his platform for the last 40 years to speak out and educate the American people about HIV/AIDS.

He cofounded the Chris Brownlie Hospice in LA for people living with HIV/AIDS. Having already served as the director of policy and planning for AIDS Project Los Angeles, Wilson decided to take on a leadership position with the city's HIV Health Commission. He founded the Black AIDS Institute in 1999 and was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Wilson the co-chair of the disparities subcommittee of the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

Andrea Jenkins — Brooke Ross Photography  

Andrea Jenkins
Andrea Jenkins is a writer, activist, and politician. In 2017, she was the first Black and openly Transgender woman elected to public office in the United States after being voted onto the Minneapolis City Council with 70% of the vote. Following her first term, Jenkins was elected city council president, serving from 2022 to 2024. "I believe that when we center the most marginalized folks in our community, then everybody benefits," she said.

Before her election, Jenkins worked as a staff member for the council for 12 years while also splitting her time as a curator for the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota.

Jenkins grew up in a working-class community in Chicago with a single mother who valued hard work and education. She moved to Minneapolis in 1979 to begin her studies at the University of Minnesota. Throughout her twenties, Jenkins explored her identity, coming out as Gay, getting married, having a child, and then getting divorced. At 30, she came out as Transgender, returned to school, and finished her bachelor's degree.

Jenkins also helped to develop the Trans United Fund, a political action group to help elect Transgender candidates to local offices. While in office, Jenkins served as the chair of the Race Equity Subcommittee and helped create the Racial Equity Community Advisory Committee for city residents. Jenkins represented the district where George Floyd was killed by police in 2020; following his death, she advocated for the abolition of the police.

"Black Trans women are brilliant and are qualified to contribute to our culture and society, and in more ways than just dancing on our stages," she said.

Lori Lightfoot — Courtesy photo  

Lori Lightfoot
Lori Lightfoot was the first Black and openly Lesbian woman to serve as the mayor of a major US city, and the first Black woman to serve as the mayor of Chicago, after being elected in 2019. Most did not expect Lightfoot to win her campaign for mayor, but in an upset, she won the primary runoff.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Lightfoot worked as a congressional assistant before she decided to return to law school. While a law student, she clerked for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Charles Levin.

Following her graduation, Lightfoot worked as an assistant US attorney until 2002, when she began working for the Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards. While holding this position, she investigated cases of police misconduct. She made national headlines when she opposed the department's decision not to terminate an officer after video evidence showed he unjustly shot an unarmed man.

During her time as mayor, Lightfoot focused on building affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, and repairing dilapidated areas of the city. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Lightfoot decided to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from Grant Park. During the consequential Black Lives Matter protests, she spoke out against police unions, which she believed were the biggest obstacle to reform.

History is being written every day, often by unrecognized and unsung heroes. As Black History Month wraps up, we recognize the trailblazers and change makers who came before us, and the ones who stand in front of us today as leaders, activists, and community members.