If you were expecting this year’s Pride Month to include glitter-filled dance parties, rainbow flags and corporate sponsorships, think again.
Large cities in the US like New York and San Francisco have cancelled their in-person celebrations due to the public health concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pride Month also falls at the intersection of mass protests surrounding the senseless killings of Black people by police, which only compounds for Black queer and trans people who continue to face day-to-day violence at the hands of those who are homophobic and transphobic.
Acts of violence aren’t new ― they’re continued symptoms of the abuse of power at the intersections of race, class, sexuality and gender. Pride itself started as a revolution, a series of riots and demonstrations led by queer Black trailblazers such as Stormé DeLarverie and Marsha P. Johnson in response to a police raid at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, on June 28, 1969. We would not have a Pride Month, the modern gay rights movement or the Black Lives Matter movement without the labour of the Black queer community.
Black queer people have consistently put their lives on the line for social change while being misrepresented, underrepresented and underserved across the board ― in business, employment and quality of life. According to the 2016 National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), which houses a registry of LGBTQ businesses, 80% were owned by caucasians, while only 4.3% were owned by African Americans. Furthermore, only 2% of the LGBTQ businesses registered were owned by transgender business owners. According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, transgender people are four times more likely than the general population to make less than $10,000 per year. This isn’t a coincidence, but a clear indication that one’s ability to thrive can directly be correlated to the disparities created by racism, capitalism, homophobia and transphobia.
Despite the odds, Black queer businesses exist and need your solidarity more than ever. You can do more to directly support them by purchasing their products, music, giving them donations, offering resources or sharing their businesses through social media. If you’re unsure of where to turn, here is a list of 22 Black queer-owned brands to get you started.
JamarzOnMarz is a rapper and saxophonist who normalises queer culture through hiphop music.
Raised by his Kenyan mum and Sri Lankan Tamil dad in the regional New South Wales town of Orange, he said growing up Black and queer in a rural area wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.
“I was never popular growing up in school,” he told HuffPost Australia. “The beginning of high school was so bad.
“I had a group of girls as friends. Every group we walked past would call me faggot.”
The rapper, whose full name is James Emmanuel, survived brutal bullying but channeled that energy into creating music in his teens.
Now in Sydney, JamarzOnMarz produces music that reflects his identity, culture and political matters which shine through in his forthcoming bilingual single “Tomorrow.”
”Written mostly in English, Tomorrow grapples with the tumultuous journey of same-sex courtship,” he said.
“Fusing Afrobeats, with hip-hop, South-African house and live jazz-inspired horns (including myself on the saxophone), the sonic canvas creates a perfect four-to-the-floor party beat for my razor-sharp bars.
“Coming from a Kenyan upbringing, I subvert the extreme social and legal prejudices LGBTQI+ people face in Kenya, by explicitly rapping about relations with another man in Swahili and Kikuyu (tribal dialect).”
He’s played with Solange Knowles in her band at sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House, performed at Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ beloved Fair Day and recently took part in Heaps Gay’s Loud n Queer TV livestream series.
The self-managed-self-funded artist could be Australia’s first openly gay Black rapper - he knows he has a historic role to play in the country’s road to ending racism and homophobia.
“I didn’t have that role model growing up ― a gay person of colour,” he said. “Through the music and social media, I try and be loud and proud because for 18 years I was repressed.”
2. No Sesso
No Sesso, which means “no sex/no gender” in Italian, is a community-driven brand founded by Pierre Davis.
“No Sesso is a brand that has strived to challenge fashion conventions and blur the lines between fashion, art, culture and design,” Davis told HuffPost. “Our pieces are made for every body and every identity and we aspire to empower people of all colors, shapes and identities through our service of fashion presentations, music performances and social events that push our community into new spaces in the fashion and cultural conversation.”
No Sesso made headlines when it became the first transgender-owned line on the New York Fashion Week 2019 schedule. Through her work, Davis’ goal is to have more Black queer designers involved in mainstream fashion conversations. She is thankful to be seen and heard through her platform, but knows there is more work to do in uplifting the queer community.
“There is work that needs to be done for our Black trans brothers and sisters, and we need to make sure we include queer identities when we say Black lives matter,” she said. “We need to feel safe in knowing our Black brothers and sisters stand with us and should be held accountable just as much as anyone else when it comes to the violence against Black trans bodies. Again, it needs to be known that ALL Black lives matter.”
Black Queer Magic was founded by Vanessa Miller, a self-taught jewelry artist, social worker and facilitator who is intentional about centering Black LGBTQ people in everything that her brand does.
“I donate a portion of my sales directly to Black LGBTQ people, work to provide healing in the form of therapy to the community, write blogs and research papers about the Black LGBTQ experience and teach folks how to tap into their creative process to make their own jewelry,” Miller told HuffPost.
Regarding the intersection of Pride and the protests this year, Miller said, “I refuse to choose between my Black rage, my art, and capitalism, nor do I want to be complicit in white passivity. I sell my art with the intention of it reaching people that support Black LGBTQ people in life and in death.”
As the Black, queer, women-identifying entrepreneurs behind BLK MKT Vintage, Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy are in the business of “uncovering and amplifying Black historical narratives, many of which belong to queer people and communities who have made our work possible. ... We empower these stories and voices by finding and making accessible vintage Black and queer publications, photographs/archival materials, sourcing visual art by and about queer folk and articulating the cultural, historical, monetary and communal value these items hold.”
For the founders, choosing to be visible in uplifting the Black, people of color and queer communities by being intentional in their business practices was a no-brainer.
“One of the decisions queer folks have historically had to consider is the extent, to which, they live their lives ‘out loud,’” they said. “We’ve chosen and continue to choose to be at the forefront of this work as partners in love, life and vintage. Our business is built on a network of POC, queer-identified makers, creatives and entrepreneurs fostered through community-centered partnerships and collaborations.”
A Tribe Called Queer was created because Sabine Maxine wanted to create everyday T-shirts that had an important message.
“I wanted people, specifically Black women and queer people of color, to wear my T-shirts and make a statement without having to say a word,” Maxine said. “People need to support Black queer brands every single day, not just during Pride! Every. Single. Day.”
Being a Black queer designer during this time means everything to Maxine as a Black, Latinx and Native queer femme.
“I ask myself every day, what have I done to contribute to this movement and my community? I ask myself when thinking of designs, what message do I want to get across? What do non-Black queer people need to learn?”
A portion of proceeds from the line will be donated to organizations such as Black Lives Matter and ProjectQ, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides free gender-affirming haircuts, self-empowering workshops, clothing, food hygiene boxes, internships, job placement, mentorship and so much more, to LGBTQ and homeless youth.
6. Pyramid 7
Pyramid Seven LLC, founded by Zipporah Jarmon, makes boxer briefs for periods, not gender. The company was created to answer the lack of recognition of menstruators who don’t wear feminine underwear or identify as women.
“Our mission is to provide gender-affirming underwear to menstruators while giving a voice to underrepresented communities, broadening the conversation on menstruation,” Jarmon said.
Based in Chicago, Illinois, Pyramid Seven prides itself on being customer-oriented and using its platform for education and social good. For this brand, Pride doesn’t exist only in June and drives the point that support for the Black and queer community must to be intersectional.
“Many non-Black queer folx are unaware that only part of Black people’s identity is celebrated during Pride Month, while the other part is under constant threat,” Jarmon said. “This month, it’s more critical than ever for us to assist in supporting Black lives and speaking out against the continuous and systematic violence against Black bodies.”
Stuzo Clothing is a gender-free clothing brand designed to push the conversation forward through fashion. “For us it’s about affirming our existence as humxn beings,” said co-founders Uzo Ejikeme and Stoney Michelli Love.
Stuzo Clothing’s products aim to empower those that wear their clothing, offering a sense of belonging and solidarity.
“Our products empower and remind our community that we are stronger together. That we are stronger than we know ourselves to be due to the systemic oppression of people that do not fit into the binary world that we have lived in.”
Additionally, the co-founders ensure that they give back to the community and are inclusive in their hiring practices.
“We directly work with the LGBTQIA center’s youth here in Los Angeles by employing them ― 95% of people we work with and hire are from our communities and are mostly Black, queer and non-binary.”
Founded by Zizi Nicole, Nicole Zizi Studio is a brand focused on eco-consciousness, sustainability and innovation in creating gender-free premium streetwear and accessories. Its line includes T-shirts, sweaters, denim jackets and trench coats made out of recycled plastics.
Telfar is a unisex brand established in 2005 by Telfar Clemens. Its iconic shopping bag is hailed as an affordable status symbol in the fashion industry. In the past, Telfar has used a portion of its funds to bail hundreds of youth off of Rikers Island, in New York City.
10. Coco and Breezy
Coco and Breezy Eyewear was founded in 2009 by twin designers, DJs and producers Corianna and Brianna Dotson. Coco and Breezy have designed eyewear for the likes of Prince and brands like Hershey’s, Ciroc and SIX:02.
11. Makoma The Brand
12. Gaia Earthpeace
Gaia Earthpeace seeks to inspire the awareness that art can change the consciousness of a people. The designer’s line of products includes jackets, T-shirts and anoraks. Earthpeace is a master barber, producer, rapper and the other co-owner of Chokmah Hair Lab (see Makoma The Brand, above).
Phlemuns is a unisex clothing brand founded by gender-bending fashion designer James Flemons, who has collaborated with the likes of Solange Knowles, particularly on creating a two-piece outfit for her “Don’t Touch My Hair” video.
At the start of COVID-19, Liselle (aka Afronautic) decided to create and sell masks on Etsy with this mantra in mind: “Be the person that will never hesitate to help someone in need.” You can purchase the brand’s masks in a variety of colors and styles.
15. Two Minds Press
Two Minds Press, founded by a queer woman of color named Felicia, is a Philadelphia-based silkscreen press making handprinted apparel, accessories and prints.
16. Kris Harring
Kris Harring designs genderless evening wear and tailored basics that can transition from day to evening. The label’s designs merge the worlds of menswear and womenswear with subtle ease and versatility.
17. Style Is Freedom
Created in 2008 by Toni Branson, Style Is Freedom is a clothing brand with the purpose of liberating and celebrating tomboi culture through fashion. Branson is not only a streetwear designer but a facilitator determined to create safe spaces in fashion for masculine-identifying women.
Founded by Devin-Norelle, Trans Is Beautiful Apparel is a clothing brand that donates funds to trans folks for everyday living expenses, including but not limited to bills, hormones, ID or passport gender marker changes and/or name changes.
19. Bowtie Behavior
Bowtie Behavior was created by Robin Williams, who was searching for bow ties for a tie-themed bridal shower in 2014. With no formal education in fashion or design, they learned how to sew their own. Bowtie Behavior features a line of bow ties and pocket squares made from kente cloth and other colorful materials.
20. The Proper Bunny
The Proper Bunny, created by costume designer, stylist and artist Oneita Parker, sells fun, artful, comfortable, washable, double-layer face masks, graphic tees and mugs.
21. Mack The Tailor
Destinee Macklin hoped to create a fashion line called Devarcia, named after her father, who was killed in an armed robbery when she was 11 years old. But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she switched gears into making masks. She lives with debilitating pain due to complex regional pain syndrome after being struck by a truck in 2018 while on duty as a patrol cop. The brand’s cut-and-sew designs are bright and bold, with many pieces made from kente cloth and floral materials.
Show and Tell Concept Shop, founded in 2011, is a platform for unique, vibrant, inclusive style and features indigo-dyed head wraps, masks, T-shirts, pillows and bowls. Founded by a Black queer womxn named Alyah, Show and Tell believes in socially responsible practices, authentic self-expression and the radical acceptance and celebration of people of colour, LGBTQIA+ folks, women and other marginalised communities.
Carly Williams contributed to this report.