This Enslaved Person Is The Queen Of All LGBTQ Activists

The first drag queen
Leslie Taylor-Grover
July 14, 2020

From defending her sisters from police violence to hosting secret parties where Black people could dress and do as they pleased, The Queen was well loved and well respected. But she was also far more than that.

The precursor to Stonewall and Drag Ball culture, William Dorsey Swann was born into slavery just before the Emancipation Proclamation. As an adult, Swann had become part of a cohort of Black people, assigned “male” at birth, who dressed or identified as women. 

She was known simply as “The Queen,” as labels such as “drag queen” and “transgender” did not yet exist during this time. But one thing did.

Violence. This group of formerly-enslaved butlers, coachmen, and cooks were often beaten, jailed, and publicly shamed - as much because of their Blackness as because they broke gender rules. The Queen always fought back. But her fight didn’t stop with police brutality.

Falsely arrested for running a brothel, The Queen petitioned President Grover Cleveland, whose sister was in a same-sex relationship, for a presidential pardon. This was the earliest record of an American taking political action to defend the LGBTQ community’s right to gather in peace.

Swann’s request was denied, and she spent 10 months in jail. However, as we continue to fight for liberation, we must remember ALL members of the Black community have sacrificed for our freedom, including trans women and queens of drag.

We have a quick favor to ask:

PushBlack is a nonprofit dedicated to raising up Black voices. We are a small team but we have an outsized impact:

  • We reach tens of millions of people with our BLACK NEWS & HISTORY STORIES every year.
  • We fight for CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM to protect our community.
  • We run VOTING CAMPAIGNS that reach over 10 million African-Americans across the country.

And as a nonprofit, we rely on small donations from subscribers like you.

With as little as $5 a month, you can help PushBlack raise up Black voices. It only takes a minute, so will you please ?

Share This Article: