Pride Month Spotlight: Audre Lorde, Black Lesbian Icon

Image credit: Jack Mitchell, Getty

This pride month, we will be highlighting influential activists that dedicated their lives to fighting injustice. Our first spotlight is on Audre Lorde, self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.”

Audre Lorde was born Audrey Geraldine Lorde on February 18, 1934 to Caribbean immigrant parents in New York City. She discovered her love for poetry at a young age and published her first poem in a Seventeen magazine during high school. Poetry became her form of communication; in fact, Lorde stated that when she was asked about how she was feeling, she “would recite a poem and somewhere in that poem would be a line or a feeling I would be sharing.”

Lorde graduated from Hunter College with a BA in 1959. During her time there, she also participated in the gay culture of Greenwich Village, a neighbourhood in Manhattan that has historically been the home of the bohemian movement and birthplace of the modern LGBTQ+ movement. After her time at Hunter College, she pursued her Master’s in library science at Columbia University and graduated in 1961. During the 1960s, she worked as a librarian in public schools.

In 1968, Lorde became a writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College, and her participation there further affirmed her identity as a Black, queer woman and her drive to address the civil rights issues that Black people faced. Her poetry collection, Cables to Rage (1980), was born of her time spent at Tougaloo. Lorde’s experience with pedagogy and white academia informed her feminist, queer, and critical race theory. Early in her career, she wrote on the necessity of intersectionality, emphasizing that all forms of oppression are interconnected and inextricably linked.

Quotes from Audre Lorde

To best represent Lorde’s theory and views, we’ve included some quotes from her here:

Let me tell you first about what it was like being a Black woman poet in the ‘60s, from jump. It meant being invisible. It meant being really invisible. It meant being doubly invisible as a Black feminist woman and it meant being triply invisible as a Black lesbian feminist.

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educated men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.

Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.

I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigated pain. It is important to share how I know survival is survival and not just a walk through the rain.

I wasn’t cute or passive enough to be “femme,” and I wasn’t mean or tough enough to be “butch.” I was given a wide berth. Non-conventional people can be dangerous, even in the gay community.

Decisions to cut aid for the terminally ill, for the elderly, for dependent children, for food stamps, even school lunches, are being made by men with full stomachs who live in comfortable houses with two cars and umpteen tax shelters. None of them go hungry to bed at night.

Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of difference strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.

Read Audre Lorde’s works:

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984)

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House (1984)

The Black Unicorn: Poems (1995)

Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power (2000)

The Cancer Journals (2006)

Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Essays and Poems (2017)

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