In June of 1969, Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman and queer liberation activist, led a group of transgender women of color in a riot against the police. Her actions began the famous Stonewall rebellion. This event was the turning point for the gay rights and liberation movement in the United States. To commemorate Stonewall, June has since been known as Pride Month, 30 days during which Americans celebrate all LGBTQ+, or queer, identities.
While an important part of Pride Month is honoring queer individuals’ ongoing struggles for rights and acceptance, another equally important aspect is uplifting LGBTQ+ stories and voices. Centering the experiences of a group that is typically marginalized and ignored is vital to good allyship. Pride Month is not only about the ways that LGBTQ+ people struggle, but also about the ways that they thrive.
This year, Pride Month happens to coincide with protests occurring across the nation and the world in response to the murder of George Floyd and others by police. These protests, organized largely by advocates of the Black Lives Matter movement, seek to illuminate the systemic racial prejudice and violence that plagues American police and justice systems.
As a result, more white Americans are becoming aware of the gaps in their understanding of race in America, and therefore are striving to educate themselves on these important issues. So it is essential to both educate oneself about racism in America and also to consume black art and content.
During a time when it is essential to celebrate LGBTQ+ and black stories, there is no better opportunity to read books by queer black authors and about queer black characters. Here are five books about the queer black experience for Pride Month.
1. “The Mothers” by Brit Bennett
“The Mothers” is a novel that follows a young black girl, Nadia, while she grows up in a black community on the coast of California surrounded by family and friends. As Nadia begins to face her teenage years and adulthood, she grapples with the death of her mother, her sexual identity and her religion.
Upon becoming pregnant, Nadia must face the strict morals within the church community where she grew up. She seeks solace from her guilt and shame by moving away from her hometown. However, in an unexpected turn of events, she is forced to return back home to California and face the people and secrets from her past. She reconciles her complex emotions through the help of a supportive network of queer female friends.
Bennett’s novel is a beautiful portrait of a young black woman struggling to understand herself and coming to terms with grief, secrets, strength and the long process of healing.
2. “Zami” by Audre Lorde
One of the key thinkers in both the LGBT+ and black movements, Audre Lorde tells her story in a “biomythography,” combining history, biography and myth to paint a poignant picture of her life. In “Zami,” Lorde explores her life, starting from her birth in Harlem in 1934, and chronicles her experiences with education, work, love and race in America.
The title of the book comes from the word “Zami” in the Carriacou language, which refers to the idea of “women who work together as friends and lovers,” which is apt, as Lorde identifies as a lesbian. It is an atypical coming-of-age story that provides a good introduction to Lorde as not only an essential scholar, but also as a woman, daughter and lover.
3. “Little & Lion” by Brandy Colbert
“Little & Lion” by black female author Colbert, describes the events that occur when Suzette, a young black woman, returns from boarding school. Over the course of the summer, she develops feelings for the same girl that her brother, Lionel, is romantically pursuing. Although Suzette has always been close to her brother, his bipolar disorder and her budding feelings prove difficult to navigate.
The book offers honest insight into struggles with mental health, and the relationship between Suzette and Lionel is sweet and authentic. It is a heart-wrenching, captivating novel, and would be great for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Colbert does a fantastic job of creating realistic fiction that captures the queer experience from the perspective of a young black woman without focusing too closely on either race or sexuality.
4. “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee
This is a must-read book for fans of comedic wit. “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” tells the story of two young men on a bachelor party-esque “Grand Tour of Europe.” The first of two main characters, Monty, is an incorrigible heir to his family’s estate. The second is Percy, a young black man headed to law school who is Monty’s best friend and traveling partner.
Monty is permitted by his father to embark on a voyage during which he must have his last hurrah before he is expected to grow up and stop goofing around. However, Monty and Percy’s budding romance complicates this fate.
The story is told from Monty’s point of view, and he seems to have a never-ending supply of quips and wit. The book is funny and tender, and it portrays an interracial, queer relationship in a fresh, cheerful way. It is a quick and fun read with a touch of escapism, perfect for car rides, the beach or late nights.
5. “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
The final recommendation on this list was a national bestseller in 2019 and has been praised by none other than Barack Obama himself, so anyone who enjoys good, dynamic writing should absolutely check it out.
“Girl, Woman, Other” boasts 12 different main characters, most of whom are black women, and it follows their joys and sorrows. The essence of the book is womanhood, and it speaks wonderfully to the fluidity of sexuality and wields stark honesty about race in modern society.
As there are so many characters, there are many different voices that Evaristo succeeds in channeling. “Girl, Woman, Other” is a masterpiece, the beauty of which is difficult to articulate.
It is important that people remain aware of the content that they consume, and make sure that they read and hear stories from diverse points of view. Each of these books offers heartfelt perspectives on the queer black experience, essential to consider not only during Pride Month, but all of the time.