In the movement for Black Lives, we can’t ignore the lives of Black LGBTQIA+ people. Black LGBTQ leaders have been historically swept under the rug, moved behind the curtain and even pushed back into closets in our country’s most prominent movements. However, we wouldn’t be where we are today without the contribution of leaders like Bayard Rustin, Toni Morrisson, Marsha Johnson, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and James Baldwin. Now, as more people lift every voice and sing, Black LGBTQ leaders are taking the reins for themselves without asking for permission or waiting for acceptance. From marriage equality to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Monday, June 15th, banning employment discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it evident now more than ever that the revolution is here and it’s peaking this Pride Month.
As we head towards mapping what a more progressive, just and inclusive society looks like for all of us, we can’t ignore the Prideful voices and the work of people who are often gone unnoticed. There are people in our very city with their boots, pumps, stilettos, and Air Force Ones on the ground and marking a pathway that we all can follow and support. Memphis has its own fair share of Black LGBTQ leaders whose voices you should be paying attention to now more than ever on this road to justice and equality.
1. Shahidah Jones
When it comes to bad asserdry, you can’t mention activism in Memphis without mentioning Shahidah Jones. Shahidah has led protests, strategic planning and organizations in inclusivity and diversity for over a decade, flying under the radar as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to affecting change without the spotlight.
She’s a drum major for justice. On any given day, you can log onto Facebook and take one of her free masterclasses by reading her facebook posts addressing equity and coalition building. She’s a voice for the people, unafraid to call out systems that perpetuate poverty, racism and dsiscrimination against LGBTQ people. If the pandemic weren’t a thing right now, you’d find her and her wife, Catherine, planning and hosting live music events like Artistik Lounge and DreamFest where she curates a local festival for local and indie Black artists in an effort to raise their notoriety and influence. Right now, you can find her leading Black Lives Matter – Memphis Chapter and leading initiatives including the Mother’s Day Bail Fund, an effort to bail mothers out of jail so they can spend Mothers’ Day with their children. She’s been a resounding voice since the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, challenging local and state governments on modifying policies that could greatly impact Black and Brown communities. She’s definitely someone you need to follow and watch.
2. Martavius Hampton
Memphis continues to grapple with a silent issue: the rise in HIV/AIDS infections. Martavius Hampton, Senior Director of Health and Evaluation at OUTMemphis, is here to change that. He’s one of the leading voices and faces whose passion for HIV/AIDS prevention and education drives engagement and increases the accessibility to HIV testing across our city.
Having studied and been involved with OUTMemphis (the former Gay and Lesbian Community Center) for over 10 years, Martavius designs health programming, trainings and curricula for the organzation and its partners. He and his team tackle issues including intimate partner violence, mental health, and sex education.
“I look forward to expanding OUTMemphis’s health programming in an effort to address other health issues that are impacting our local LGBTQ community, “ says Martavius. “In addition, I envision a community that embraces healthy living, diversity, mentorship, advocacy, research, and self/community pride.”
3. Jasmine Tasaki
In a mid-June interview online, Dr. Angela Daivs said, “if we want to develop an intersectional perspective, the trans community is showing us the way. This community has taught us how to challenge that which is totally accepted as normal,” and Jasmine Tasaki is doing just that in a major way, locally and nationally.
As the first transgendered person of color to hold an executive leadership position with the Memphis Urban League (Health Literacy and Advocacy), Jasmine continues to travel off the beaten path here in Memphis. If you ever get the opportunity to hear her story, you’ll understand how she quickly became a mentor, influencers and role model for so many in the LGBTQ community in the city. In 2019, she founded and leads as the Executive Director, WeCareTN, a non-profit that supports trans women of color through education and empowerment, with the goal to ensure that transwomen of color have the same equity and quality of life envisioned. As a Memphis native and Overton High graduate, she volunteers for programs including The Headliners, Sisterreach, OUTMemphis, and Deep South Regional Roundtable.
“Overall, here in Memphis, I’m able to balance creativity and living a purposeful life,” said Jasmine in Focus Mid-South.
4. Deja Foster
Our last featured voice may not consider herself as a leader in the movement, but we consider her one. One who many in the city have grown to respect, admire and consider influential. Deja, a Wooddale High grad and former Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball star, works as a financial planner for Fish and Associates. She’s taken her skills as an athlete and a basketball coach, and coaches individuals and families in planning for a healthy financial future. In 2019, she graduated from the University of Alabama with a Masters in financial planning and counseling. Before the achievement, Deja penned an essay featured in MLK50 about her experience winning homecoming queen at her high school, an act of solidarity and support for the White Station male student who won homecoming queen last year and made national headlines.
“It may have made the news had we done it: I, an openly gay female basketball player at Wooddale High School, and my friend, a popular gay male student, were chosen homecoming queen and king in 2007, and conspired to switch crowns at the ceremony. That may sound funny, but there was a lot of pain leading up to it,” Deja writes.
Deja continues to stand as a role model for youth and young adults whether via her social media or coaching her local youth basketball team. Deja volunteers with the Memphis Urban League of Young Professionals, leading the Financial Literacy and Empowerment committee which provides education and awareness around topics including homeownership, investments and healthy consumer habits.
Follow these folks on social media and stay plugged into the movement right here in Memphis. The revolution won’t be televised, but it will be Black, Queer and Livestreamed!