By Jada Jinks | February 28, 2022
Photo Credit: Emercado2020 on Wikimedia Commons
In honor of both Black History Month and Gender and Sexuality Month, I am presenting a list of Black LGTBQ characters in popular media. All of these characters represent honorable traits and are fan favorites, while also being diverse. This list is also meant to celebrate the actors and actresses playing these characters, for they are trailblazers that make the media more open and welcoming to everyone.
Anissa Pierce (AKA Lightning) Played by Nefassa Williams
Anissa Pierce is the main character on the superhero show “Black Lightning.” “Black Lightning” is a story about a man named Jefferson Pierce who can no longer ignore the violence happening within his own community. Realizing this is not the neighborhood anyone deserves to live in, he decides to re-don his superhero persona, Black Lightning. Along this journey towards justice his daughter, Anissa Pierce, discovers she has super powers of her own. She discovers she has super strength and the ability to become nearly indestructible just by holding her breath and can create powerful shock waves to disorient her opponents. Equally fed up with how dangerous her community is and how the powerful aren’t interested in stopping it, she decides to don a superhero persona of her own, Lightning. Alongside her father, she and Black Lightning work to clean up their city and make it a safer place for all. But her heroics don’t end with the costume. She also saves lives as a doctor for a local relief clinic, charging nothing for her services. She’s also heavily involved in activism and protests to make a greater change in her hometown in whatever way she can. Did I also mention that she’s TV’s first black lesbian superhero? Her sexuality is no secret, she’s well accepted by her family and the people she loves. And her girlfriend, Grace Cho, is a source of strength and support. (And Grace also happens to be hiding some superpowers of her own, so they both protect each other.) Anissa is a well rounded and compassionate character, who always sticks up for people who can’t protect themselves.
Annalise Keating Played by Viola Davis
Annalise Keating is the star of the TV drama, “How to Get Away with Murder.” Annalise Keating is a practicing lawyer and law professor at Middleton University, and one night a handful of her students make a terrible mistake: murder. The show then follows Annalise’s attempt to protect them while also protecting herself. This is because, you see the person her students murdered was her husband, Sam Keating. Along the way, she and the audience discover her husband was not the innocent victim we thought he was and her closest companions have murderous secrets they've been keeping. Even as the people around her get more and more wrapped up in a web of lies (and a little more murder), Annalise tries her best to be the voice of reason and sometimes even the conscious of the group. She possesses a strong sense of justice, her current profession being to protect marginalized people because she was in their position once. For instance, being a bisexual woman of color who lost a child and has even been incarcerated herself. This ability to empathize with her clients puts her above most law professionals and she uses this ability well. However, don’t let all these take away from the simple fact that Annalise is ruthless when she’s trying to get what she wants and isn't afraid to go on the wrong side of the law to get it. Annalise is an interesting and nuanced character, who constantly switches between being morally right and morally wrong. She normally resides somewhere in the shades of gray. She has complexity, always strives to get what she wants, and possesses a strong sense of integrity. This, I think, makes her a compelling character audiences will want to get to know and root for.
Kat Edison Played By Aisha Dee
Kat Edison is one of three main characters on the hit TV show "The Bold Type." On this show, she is the social media editor for the magazine known as Scarlet. Witty, brave, and passionate, she uses her social media platform to raise awareness about women’s rights and promote powerful feminist figures. One notable example is when she tries to promote a popular Muslim artist that creates works that seek to “explore the woman behind the hijab.” This artist’s name was Adena and while Kat tries to convince Adena to let her work be featured on the Scarlet magazine, she ends up developing a crush on her in the process. This causes significant confusion for Kat because she has only ever been attracted to men. However, she learns to accept her identity and come out as bisexual. She even stands up to Adena when she tries to make it seem like her bisexuality is “just a phase,” a certain phrase bisexuals hear way too often. She is a proud bisexual woman, and she refuses to stand down and be quiet for anyone, even if it’s someone she loves. After Kat is fired from Scarlet, she still tries to use her power to advocate for immigrants being unfairly detained and deported. She is a strong believer in social justice and equality for all. Kat continually learns from her mistakes and confronts her own biases. She is one that many young women going into the news can look up to.
Sophia Burset Played by Laverne Cox
Sophia Burset is a main character on the Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black.” She is a hairstylist at Lichfield prison and is serving time for stealing credit cards to pay for her sex assignment surgeries. Before she was sent to jail, she was a firefighter with a loving wife and son. From the start, Sophia is brave and willing to put her life on the line for others. This was all before she transitioned, and it was when she started to transition that things started to get rocky. She couldn’t afford to pay for her sex assignment treatments, so she resorted to stealing credit cards to pay the cost. Her son resented her for transitioning and because of this, he eventually told the police about her stealing the credit cards. Her son was not the only person who was unwilling to accept her change. She is continually subjected to transphobia from both inmates and prison officers. Despite these struggles, Sophia has a very positive outlook on life. She does not take her frustrations out on others or is brought down emotionally by the petty transphobia surrounding her. Sophia has thick skin and will not let anyone stop her from being her. She’s also still a loving mom to her son, despite the fact that he was the one who sent her to jail. She’s not perfect by any means but she tries and he notices and appreciates it. Her son eventually accepts her for who she is and the two make amends. Sophia also eventually starts to make genuine friends in Lichfield, even bonding with fellow mom, Gloria. Sophia’s story is filled with tragedy but also growth. Her story can reach out to several different people, from what it’s like being a mom in jail, to being a trans woman, and to being a person of color.
Captain Raymond Holt Played by Andre Braughner
Captain Raymond Holt is a main character on the comedy TV show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Raymond Holt joined the police force back in the 70s, and as such, was subject to extreme discrimination and ridicule as a Black man. This discrimination only increased when he came out as gay. Despite all this, he managed to climb the ranks of the police station, and become captain of his own precinct. He is also the founder and creator of the African-American Gay and Lesbian New York City Policeman’s Association, an association dedicated to helping Black and gay/lesbian officers find their way in New York City’s prejudiced police precincts. See, that’s the thing about Captain Ray. He might be strict, by the book, and may act emotionless, but he’s actually a very kind and empathetic man. He genuinely cares about the officers under his command and has dedicated part of his life to making things easier for the people that come after him. Several officers, including lead character Jake Peralta, look up to him as a father figure and a source for support. The officers of precinct Nine-Nine don't know what they would do without him. He is an inspiration for all, because he shows that even when all the odds are stacked against you, you can still succeed and thrive in what you do.
Officer Antoine Wilkins Played by Brian Michael Smith
Officer Antoine Wilking is a character on the TV show “Queen Sugar.” “Queen Sugar'' is a show about a family reuniting after years of being separated, and the drama and secrets that come out as a result of that. The show has been praised for its realistic and nuanced representation of Black families, and what it’s like being Black in the South. The show also deserves praise for taking an intersectional approach, talking about the effects of being both Black and LGTBQ. This can be found in the character officer Antoine Wilkins. He and the main character, Ralph Angel, get together and talk about how hard it was for Antoine growing up when he was still living as Antoinette. He talks about Ralph defending Antoinette and accepting him when he decided to come out. “You let me be me even when I didn’t know who I was,” Wilkins said. They also talk about how Ralph is extremely accepting of his son, Blue, and how he allows his son to explore things that are not stereotypically masculine. This is an extremely important conversation because Black men from a young age are often forced to follow an example of extreme hypermasculinity and to reject all things “feminine.” To see two characters, Blue and Antoine, who reject hypermasculinity and just be themselves as men, is a big step in the right direction of accepting all kinds of Black men. Another plus about Antoine’s story is that according to the actor, he used this role to come out as transgender in real life. This is extremely important because activists have been calling for trans people to play trans characters, instead of a cisgender person. People who are trans having the platform to represent themselves, and even using that representation to make transitioning a little easier, is an extreme accomplishment.
Lionel Higgins Played by DeRon Horton
Lionel Higgin is one of the main characters on the show “Dear White People.” This show is about Black students on an ivy league campus trying to educate their fellow students on racism and other important issues. Lionel does this through the student newspaper, The Independent; it tackles serious issues going on throughout campus. Despite his role in the newspaper, he is introduced in the show as very shy and withdrawn. A lot of this is due to the fact that he has been ostracized most of his life for being both Black and gay. He’s been indirectly told his whole life that he’s “too Black” to fit within the LGTBQ community, but also “too gay” to fit within the Black community. However, overtime he starts to build up the confidence to fight these issues. The biggest example is when he informs the Black Student Union about a party going on at Garmin House, where the partygoers were all in blackface. Another notable example is when he, Wesley, and Brooke try to find out the identity of an online troll that has been racially harassing one of their friends. He convinces his other friend, Reggie, to perform a hack on the troll’s account to find out their identity. Both these instances show Lionel’s bravery and his commitment to calling out racial injustice when he sees it. This, I think, makes him an interesting character and that his story can touch the lives of other people out there struggling with an intersectional identity.
In conclusion, these characters play an important and unapologetic part of the TV shows they are in. Whether that be calling out injustice, revealing personal narratives about how Blackness and sexuality/gender can intertwine, or simply being their true authentic selves without shame. This representation lays the foundation for a world where people will be judged by their character, not for the color of the skin, their gender, or who they’re attracted to. Let us enjoy and cherish these characters for the work they do, and what they mean to us.
Happy Black History Month and Happy Gender and Sexuality Month!