10 of the Many Black LGBTQ Characters to Remember & Celebrate During Pride Month
Pride is here, and while we should be celebrating LGBTQ characters all year long, this is a special time when we can shamelessly just allow our gay feels to take form, and I am fully embracing that. As someone who’s Black and bisexual, I especially wanted to highlight the amazing Black queer characters that are a part of our television and movie history. There are so many and not all are here (there is no real order to this list), but it feels good to be in a place where we can cut a list down to ten and still have a lot of good ones to honorably mention, rather than reluctantly including a character we’re not enthusiastic about, just because there are too few options.
Also … spoiler warning, I guess?
10. Cleo (Set It Off):
Set It Off is a damn perfect heist movie featuring four women: Francesca “Frankie” Sutton, Lida “Stony” Newsom, Cleopatra “Cleo” Sims, and Tisean “T.T.” Williams, who turns to bank robbery after a series of unfortunate events. One of the characters is Cleo Sims, played by Queen Latifah, who is a lesbian with a really hot (but silent) girlfriend, Ursula. Cleo is a hood rat and fully embraces that side of herself, while violent and prone to reckless behavior, she also loves her friends and partner.
In a powerful scene between her and Stony (Jada Pinkett), when they’re reconciling after a fight, we see that part of why Cleo acts in a rash way is because she doesn’t see herself having a future. For Cleo, there is only the now, which is why, in the end, she decides to commit suicide by cop to allow her friends the chance to escape. For her, death was always a part of her future; it was just closer than she expected. Be warned: Morally complex queer characters will be a theme in this listicle.
9. Kelly Jane Booth (Black Mirror):
Sometimes it’s just nice to see people be in love, and Black Mirror uncharacteristically delivered a beautiful love story with “San Junipero” and the character of Kelly, played by the beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Kelly is fun, loving, and kind. She is not as well-rounded of a character as “Yorkie,” but both of them carry emotional weight. It’s also great when bisexual/pansexual characters are allowed to be in love with people of multiple genders and all of that is recognized as valid, without taking away from their queerness.
8. Lafayette Reynolds (True Blood):
R.I.P to Nelsan Ellis, who brought Lafayette to life for several seasons. True Blood was my first HBO series (I’m young-ish), and I fell in love with Lafayette instantly. Lafayette took no shit, looked gorgeous doing it, and most importantly, he survived something his cousin didn’t get to do (#JusticeforTara). While there are strong Magical Negro elements to his character, there’s also something authentic and powerful about him—not to mention it was established very quickly that, as campy as he was, Lafayette would and could kick your ass.
You eat the burger the way he makes it!
7. Elektra Abundance (Pose):
The Mother, the Queen, the Hera of New York City’s Olympus, Elektra Abundance is a gift to media. Dominique Jackson plays the character with such perfect exaggerated grace that Elektra feels like a storybook character come to life, Jackson herself a product of the NYC ’90s ballroom scene.
Despite Elektra’s rough edges, the show realizes that the hardness comes from a sense of self-confidence that was crafted out of protection. Pose grants Elektra to be a “bitch with a heart of gold” but does stoop to such sanguine levels as to make her a totally benevolent character. If she loves you, Elektra will support you no matter what, but if she hates you, make sure to glue your edges because they will be snatched.
6. Alika (Pariah):
The 2011 movie Pariah, written and directed by Dee Rees, is the story of 17-year-old Alika, a butch lesbian trying to live her best life while dealing with her mother, Audrey, who is uncomfortable with her sexuality. A coming-of-age story, we watch the young Alika fall in love for the first time, get her heart completely shattered, and rebuild herself.
Many queer stories deal with narratives of “found family,” and with Alika, rather than falling into despair over the rejection of her mother, she decides to start college early and move to California. “I’m not running; I’m choosing.” Despite all the pain, we see Alika’s story as a reminder that, despite the failings of the family we were born into, we can find the family and path of our choice.
5. Pray Tell (Pose):
Yes, there are two characters from Pose on this list, because really, there is nothing like Pose on television. There were so many cis-gay options from this show, but I realized that Pray Tell was the one, because it was so refreshing to see a story older gay man with HIV/AIDS, but still finding love.
The 1990s were a period of great loss for many in the LGBTQ community, lovers, friends, and family lost to the disease. Now, we have much more knowledge, medicine, and activists that work to humanize HIV-positive gay men. There is something powerful about watching an HIV-positive gay man be determined to live a full and beautiful life, filled with love, in a time when hope was hard to find. Love is the message <3. Also, who better to MC the Balls?
4. Anissa Pierce (Black Lightning):
A bulletproof lesbian superhero in a relationship with another woman of color? Amazing. We have sung the praises of Anissa Pierce often on this site, but honestly, the way fandom longs for LGBTQ heroes, she frankly doesn’t get appreciated enough. Intelligent, open-minded, and driven to do good, Anissa is a great heroine, and there is a pleasure in knowing that. Plus, she’ll never get Tara’d by the writers. Amen.
3. Annalise Keating (How to Get Away With Murder):
Oh, Annalise Keating—one of the messiest bisexual women on television, but boy do I love her. I think it’s clear from this list that I truly love queer characters who are allowed to be a mess, and Annalise Keating is absolutely one. She has a dark past, is a survivor, and is morally ambiguous, which is so fun. Her relationship with Eve (Famke Janssen) is complicated, and it’s nice to have Eve’s character as the one who is totally sprung on Annalise romantically.
Also, she has tragic taste in men and great taste in women—a true bisexual icon.
2. Omar Little (The Wire):
Omar from HBO’s The Wire is a fearless and fantastic character who broke all the rules of what a gay man on television looked like. A robber who targets drug dealers, the character had a strict moral code but was also morally complex. Even the death of his partner didn’t seem like a typical “bury your gays” death. Michael Kenneth Williams was fantastic in the role and it was great to see such a compelling, layered depiction of a Black gay man on television who could be the anti-hero we could root for. No doubt.
1. Shug Avery (The Color Purple):
One of the great things I realized when finally reading The Color Purple was how queer the story was. While I remember watching the movie on television once or twice, I think that version edited out the kiss between Celie and Shug. When I read the book, I fell in love with Shug Avery the ultimate bi/pansexual.
A free spirit unbound by the conservative life she was raised into, initially, we are to view Shug as a negative character when she tells Celie “you sure is ugly” but as we get to know her, we realize that Shug simply refuses to allow herself to be dominated by anyone. She’s warm and compassionate while also being sexual and vivacious. The movie has an amazing scene with Margaret Avery (dubbed by Táta Vega) coming into her father’s church singing “God is Trying to Tell You Something” as she reunites with the man who once cast her aside. It’s a powerful moment and one that perfectly sums up Shug’s beauty as a character.
Let us know who are some of your favorite Black LGBTQ+ characters down below!
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