A Look Back at Kwanzaa in the Black LGBT Community

In 1966, Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a leader in the Black Power movement, to provide African Americans with an official celebration through which community and culture could be affirmed. Over the decades, Black LGBT communities across the country have been reclaiming the holiday.

GLAAD worked closely with Imani Rashid, author, community organizer and African-American Lesbians United for Social Change (AALUSC) board member, as well as Huffington Post Gay Voices and Black Voices to highlight the significance of Kwanzaa for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender African Americans.

InCelebrating Kwanzaa in the Black Lesbian and Gay Community,” Rashid wrote:

I first learned about Kwanzaa in 1977. I was 37 years old, and my then-wife and I were raising a son together in Harlem. He attended an alternative school focused on African heritage and culture, and the school hosted a Kwanzaa celebration. This event opened the door to a new way of life for me: the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, of this week-long celebration resonated with me, given their focus on culture, family, and community.

It was not easy to be a black lesbian couple raising a child together in 1977. Many of us were cast out of our families, while others faced opposition from family members (often our mothers and grandmothers) who feared that our decision to live openly as lesbians threatened our safety. Same-sex adoption was not legal at the time, and in-vitro fertilization was not an option. Yet with our lesbian partners, many of us were raising children from former relationships. When my wife and I attended the Kwanzaa celebration with our son's classmates and their families, we were the only lesbian couple in the room. For many attendees, we were the first lesbians they had ever met. Yet we were welcomed into that room. This was a life-changing event for me. It was one of the first times I felt accepted by a straight black community. At the same time, through the principles of Kwanzaa, I could understand other people's children as children I was responsible for, and I felt that I was part of a community where previously I had not. I was inspired to learn more.

Once Rashid learned about Kwanzaa, she introduced the idea of a Kwanzaa celebration at a meeting of Salsa Soul Sisters (the oldest black lesbian organization in the United States, founded in New York City in 1974, which is now called African-American Lesbians United for Social Change). The organization began by gathering their biological and chosen families to celebrate together in seven different homes over the seven days of the festival.

“Kwanzaa gave us a way to promote our own value system and take time together, safe in each other's homes, to name our fears and our hopes,” Rashid continued. “Kwanzaa became a training ground for the principles we wanted to live by in the coming year, in community together.”

In New York City, the tradition of Kwanzaa in the Black lesbian community continued with a recent celebration on Jan. 1, 2012, at the LGBT Center. Rashid has also documented a deeper history of Kwanzaa in Black gay and lesbian families in her new book, Kwanzaa in the Lesbian and Gay Family.

“Many of us have been deeply influenced by the principles of Kwanzaa and the way of life they dictate to become the responsible, cultural, and political elders that we are today,” Rashid explained. “And we recognize that we walk with our ancestors, who constantly remind us to connect with family. That is who we are. That is our African heritage.”