LGBT History Month 2013: Joseph Beam, Activist

LGBT History Month By Equality Forum Part 7 Photo Credit by Equality Forum

LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay,bisexual or transgender Icons. Each day in October, a new LGBT Icon is featured with a video, bio, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources.

In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month.

October 7: Joseph Beam Activist

Joseph Beam was a gay rights activist who helped build a black LGBT community in the 1980s. He was the editor of “In the Life,” the first collection of nonfiction works by and about black gay men.

A native of Philadelphia, Beam attended Franklin College in Indiana, where he studied journalism. He was an active member of the black student union and the Black Power movement. After college, Beam received his master’s degree in communications.

In 1979, he returned to Philadelphia. He explored literature on gay figures and institutions while working at Giovanni’s Room, an LGBT bookstore. Discouraged by the lack of community for black gay men and lesbians, Beam began writing articles and short stories for gay publications.

In 1984, he received an award for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist from The Lesbian and Gay Press Association. In 1985, he became the first editor of “Black/Out,” a journal produced by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. He served as a consultant for the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Friends Service Committee.

Beam continued to collect materials about being black and gay. In 1986, he produced the first collection written by black gay men, called “In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology.”

In 1988, while compiling “Brother to Brother,” a sequel to his anthology, Beam died from AIDS-related complications. His mother, Dorothy Beam, and the gay poet Essex Hemphill completed the work, which was published in 1991.