Black History Month is a time when the world reflects on heroes past, present, and those emerging in the future. Often, though, the conversation leaves out people across the queer spectrum. Though Black queer people have been integral to the history of the building and sustainability of this country, homophobia, transphobia and stigma often work against their inclusion in this February observance.
From Barbara Jordan to Alice Walker, Alvin Ailey to Marlon Riggs, and RuPaul to Sir Lady Java, the Black LGBTQ community’s legacy is vast, and our representation spans the gamut of culture, politics, and social status. Even now, when Little Richard and Bayard Rustin’s stories are being embraced by audiences across the world (and Colman Domingo is receiving an historic Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Rustin), Black queer people continue to make their mark as society’s change makers.
Accordingly, we want to call your attention to three of these change makers in Houston who are part of the Black LGBTQ community, and who have been involved for decades with powerful and impactful work in communities both locally and abroad. Of course, the diversity and resilience Houston’s Black LGBTQ community is also seen in its pastors, artists, politicians, educators, promoters, nonprofit leaders, therapists, social workers, entertainers, business persons, and so many others. Indeed, Black history is still being made.
Black Queer Love and Liberation
Josie Pickens, a liberationist activist, has a vast background in uplifting marginalized communities. Defining herself as a speaker, engager, and storyteller, she often uses her words to bring to light the power within communities. Published in respected media such as Ebony, Essence, and the New York Times, she has even delivered a Ted Talk. She eloquently delivers a message about seeing more of people who look and love as she does. “Black queerness is expansive,” she says. “I want to know how we can be better lovers to ourselves and others in the Black queer community—not just romantic love, but also self-love, familial, and communal love.”
Currently, Josie’s primary foci are family policing in her work as director of UpEnd Movement and in her art collaborations with Jason Oliver at BaskBlack. UpEnd Movement is housed at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work and seeks to make information more accessible regarding how racism plays a negative role in the child welfare system for BIPOC families. BaskBlack has curated and created spaces for Black artists to find nontraditional art patrons.
These intersections come as no surprise, as she is constantly expanding her lens of advocacy to reach deeper into the LGBTQ community. To her, leadership is service to the community that she regards as family. “Community is more from a familial sense,” she explains, “a place that grounds and centers us, a place that sees us and values us, a place where we can be fully who we are and have a soft place to land.” That is exactly what Josie Pickens brings to us.
Follow Josie Pickens on Instagram @jonubian
From Stage to Advocacy
Wendell King II
Years ago, people knew that Wendell King II would be on the stage. In college, he was a lover of theater, a trained dancer, and very early became an award-winning debate team member—while also dancing background for popular drag pageants. Currently, he reigns as Mr. Renaissance Opulence and is a former Mr. Gay Texas USofA At-Large.
“The Black LGBTQ+ community carries many faces,” he says. “We can show up at the bar in ‘fun girl’ mode and still be interested and involved in politics and culture.”
Involved is an understatement. Wendell has sat on the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Board for the last five years, works with the Houston Coalition Against Hate, and is both the president of Impulse Group Houston and a cluster leader for multiple chapters across the country. Through Impulse Group Houston, he has been creating a ‘party with a purpose’ for the last several years. When he learned how substance use was ravaging the Black LGBTQ community, he decided to take action and find the most culturally responsive way to address the crisis.
“We realized that chastising drug use was only going to make people do it more secretly. Instead, we welcomed our community to talk about it bravely, and created a campaign that [promotes safer] ways to do drugs.”
Using this harm-reduction technique is saving many lives across the community, and is used across his cluster of chapters. “We can’t do things the way we once did. This community needs help, and we can’t continue to leave them empty-handed.” We are grateful for how Wendell King keeps us all filled.
Follow Wendell King II on Instagram @wendellking2014
Diva of Diversity
Nishia Jackson answers to many names, including “Da Diva” and “Educated Party Girl.” But at her heart, she is a humanitarian. Throwing parties since high school, where she graduated in the top 5 percent of her class, she has always been able to balance the need for joy and structure. After completing three degrees, she is now both a full-time counselor and a full-time co-restaurateur. Her Society Kitchen & Kocktails opened late last year in EaDo and has been a hit. Both owners are LGBTQ, and though it’s not exclusively for the community, it is inclusive—and that is a part of her advocacy work.
Nishia believes that in order to garner widespread support, we have to normalize being in communities of diverse populations safely, intentionally, and authentically. “I’m about making inclusive spaces,” she says. “Society Kitchen is about us doing it together as one human race. In that, I had to realize the journey to be inclusive is expanding outside of that focus of only our community.”
With 20 years of experience promoting and hosting spaces for the community, her heart is in ensuring the forward movement of the community. Oftentimes, finding herself as the person who is called in crisis to use her academic skills to talk people through things, while leveraging her socialite status for relevance, Nishia is a hero within the community. “What I appreciate most about my place in the community is that I get to see people in situations where no one wants to help them, and after I offer a little compassion, they climb out of that hole,” she says.
Each one of us is better for her duality.
Follow Nishia Jackson on Instagram @nishiadadiva