Why LGBT African-Americans Embrace Kwanzaa

Why LGBT African-Americans Embrace Kwanzaa

Kimberley McLeod looks at the connection some brothers and sisters have to the Afrocentric celebration

by Kimberley McLeod, December 27, 2013

Why LGBT African-Americans Embrace Kwanzaa

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in a position to draw upon that resource in being able to find our place within the work of Kwanzaa given the heterosexist ideas of some members of our communities,” explains Dr. Herukhuti. “We do it because we find sources of nourishment and sustenance in embracing ourselves.”

However, for some Black LGBT people it’s self-acceptance that can make it challenging to celebrate Kwanzaa. When Dr. Gumbs first learned of Kwanzaa’s origins, she hesitated.  

“As I learned more about its origins within an organization with a history of violence against outspoken women members and exclusion of LGBTQ people I started to distance myself,” shares Dr. Gumbs. “It was only a few years ago when we discovered through our Mobile Homecoming interviews that Black LGBTQ people in some of the earliest organizations had reclaimed Kwanzaa as their own ritual that it was possible to see the value in the community principles of the holiday without reproducing the homophobia of cultural nationalism.”

Rashid recalls being one of the only same-sex couples in the room at Kwanzaa celebrations decades ago. She was first introduced to the tradition at her son’s alternative school in Harlem, which focused on African heritage and culture. For many of the event attendees, she and her wife were the first lesbians they had ever met. Yet they always felt welcomed.

“While Kwanzaa is an Afrocentric holiday, meaning it is rooted in an African or African diasporic cultural context, it was not invented in Africa and it was invented after European colonization of Africa and kidnapping and enslavement of African people,” says Dr. Herukhuti. “Therefore, it has been informed, intentionally and unintentionally, by all of that history—the generative and the destructive, the communitarian and the individualistic, the African and the Western. Like much of the culture we have produced here in the United States, it is a hybridity.”

And it’s the hybridity of being both Black and LGBT – existing, surviving, sustaining and thriving at intersectional identities – that makes Kwanzaa so appealing to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender African-Americans. Dr. Kofi Adoma, president of Karibu House, has been helping coordinate Detroit’s Kwanzaa celebrations for over 30 years and shared with the Mobile Homecoming project that it feels good to have a safe space just for celebrating and examining Blackness.

“Historically we have cherished Kwanzaa celebrations as a time to specifically celebrate our Blackness and our connection to the Black community as a balance to the fact that we have sometimes been tokenized in majority White LGBT organizations,” adds Dr. Gumbs. “Kwanzaa has been a big deal for long-lasting LGBTQ organizations. And it still exists through those organizers to this day. That is huge in my opinion.”

Kimberley McLeod is a media strategist and LGBT advocate. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of ELIXHER, a resource for multidimensional representations of Black LGBT women.


LGBT Kwanzaa Celebrations Across the Country

Detroit, MI

Umoja (Unity)

Thursday, December 26

7:00pm – 10:00pm

Host: KICK: The Center in Detroit

41 Burroughs Street, Ste 109,

Detroit, MI 48202 

Kijichagulia (Self-Determination)

Friday, December 27

7:00pm – 10:00pm (African Naming Ceremony starts 8:00pm)

Host: Karibu House, Inc.

Home of Kofi Adoma

255 Worcester Street,

Detroit, MI 48203

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

Saturday, December 28

7:00pm – 10:00pm  

Host: Adodi-Detroit Chapter

4696 Quarton Road,

Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302 

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) 

Sunday, December 29

5:30pm – 8:30pm

Host: Marie Colts-Calhoun 

4 E. Alexandrine Street,

Detroit, MI 48201

Nia (Purpose) 

Monday, December 30

7:00pm – 10:00pm

Host: A.L.O.R.D.E. Collective

255 Worcester Place,

Detroit, MI 48203  

Kuumba (Creativity)  

Tuesday, December 31  

11:00am – 3:00pm

Hosts: Jo, Nkenge, and Patrick Burkhead

2941 Crooks Road,

Royal Oak, MI 48073 

Imani (Faith)

Kid’s Kwanzaa Klub!  

Wednesday, January 1

3:00pm – 5:00pm   

All ages are invited, especially children.

Host: Full Truth Church and Unity Fellowship Church of Detroit

4458 Joy Road,

Detroit, MI 48204  

Dinner afterward at a Black-owned restaurant, an annual Ujamaa tradition.


Durham, NC

Mobile Homecoming’s Queer Kwanzaa Retreat

December 26 - January 1

For more information, email mobilehomecoming@gmail.com.


Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia Area LGBTQ Organizations Present Kwanzaa 2013

Saturday, December 28

6:00pm – 9:00pm

William Way LGBT Community Center

1315 Spruce Street,

Philadelphia, PA 19107


New York, NY

The 36th Annual LGBT Community KWANZAA in Manhattan

Saturday, December 28

1:00pm – 8:00pm

Judson Memorial Church

55 Washington Square South,

New York, NY 10012


More great reads from Kimberley McLeod

Thank You,
Robin Roberts

by Kimberley McLeod


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