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WerQfest to honor the intersection of Blackness and queerness during Black History Month

Jordan Braxton is a Black queer activist and entertainer. She performs under the moniker “Dieta Pepsi” and she shares her story in werQfest’s digital campaign, “Black, But Make It Queer.”
Neu Er World Studio
Jordan Braxton is a Black queer activist and entertainer who performs under the moniker Dieta Pepsi. She shares her story in werQfest’s digital campaign Black, But Make It Queer.

What do Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes and Bayard Rustin have in common?

They are all Black American trailblazers who have had their queerness understated or erased from their identities or in the retelling of their influence in pivotal historic moments — and they are far from the only ones.

Intersectionality and representation matters within marginalized communities as much as outside them. Being Black and a member of the LGBTQIA community comes with unique lived experiences that are typically not realized in mainstream (read: heterosexual and cisgender) culture. And when those identities clash, it can make feeling accepted, or even feeling safe, nearly impossible.

Now there are efforts to honor the intersectionality of Blackness and queerness.

Tre’von Griffith co-founded werQfest with his husband, Shelton Boyd-Griffith, in 2020 with the intention to uplift Black, queer artists in St. Louis. For this year’s Black History Month, their mission expanded with the introduction of Black, but Make It Queer — a digital campaign highlighting Black queer activists, artists and community leaders in St. Louis. Tre’von Griffith told St. Louis on the Air that the project is meant to make representation top of mind for everyone. He added that it has also been part of his personal healing journey as a Black, queer man.

Tre'von Griffith is co-founder of werQfest.
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Tre'von Griffith is co-founder of werQfest.

“I wanted to provide the [representation] that I needed growing up,” Griffith said. “I'm pretty sure that there were queer [and] Black Americans in our culture that we know of. I'm [still] learning as I go back into history and really get into it. I wish that was at the forefront because it would have made me feel just a little bit more seen, a little bit more heard, and not [like] I was the only one out there.”

The Black, But Make It Queer digital campaign will live on werQFest’s Instagram account. This year, it features five Black and queer “angelic troublemakers” in St. Louis. Each post includes storytelling from those being featured and photography from Neu Er World Studio. The first to be featured is Jordan Braxton, also known by her stage persona Dieta Pepsi.

Griffith credits Boyd-Griffith with the idea of a digital photo campaign. He said his husband was behind, “the mood of what type of emotion he wanted to evoke, how he wanted people to see the humanity in us and how we can actually do that through visuals.”

Another part of the Black, But Make It Queer campaign is a curated playlist of Black and queer musicians, including homegrown talents Paige Alyssa and Eric Donté.

“Music in general is that unique language that really brings people together,” Griffith said. “Music has gotten us through different times — like the Civil Rights Movement — and music is so integral to St. Louis. There's also been this underground Black, queer scene of musicians for a long time who don't necessarily get uplifted.”

For more about Black, But Make It Queer, the importance of Black and queer representation and werQfest’s partnership with this year’s Music at the Intersection, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast, or by clicking the play button below.

WerQfest to honor the intersection of Blackness and queerness during Black History Month

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."