Black lesbian activist describes 1950s queer life in fascinating archive footage

Poet, academic, civil rights campaigner and intersectional feminist Audre Lorde can be seen in fascinating archive footage describing what it was like to be a Black lesbian in the 1950s.

Lorde, a self-described “Blacklesbian, mother, warrior poet”, is best known for writings reflecting her hatred of racial and sexual prejudice. She dedicated her life and creative works to confronting and addressing social injustices, including racism, homophobia, sexism, classism and capitalism.

The clip is taken from the 1984 film Before Stonewall, which documented the lives of LGBTQ+ people prior to the landmark uprising in New York.

On 28 June 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a queer nightclub then owned by the mafia in Greenwich Village, was raided by police officers – something that was uncommon for for gays bars at the time.

However, what followed was anything but the routine. It turned into nights of resistance, and calls for LGBT+ equality, which continue to embolden new generations of activists to this day.

In the video, Lorde speaks to fellow activist Maua Adele Ajanaku about growing up as “outsiders”, especially within the predominantly heteronormative and white feminist circles of the 50s and 60s.

“You need to begin with a movement, which is what Black Power and the Civil Rights Movement was,” Lorde says.

“Then, immediately within it, you are going to get those people whose differences are not being articulated, which is us: we were outsiders, we were dykes, right?”

Lorde died of breast cancer at the age of 58 in November 1992 in St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, where she had been living with another Black activist, Gloria Joseph.