(Editor's note: October is LGBT History Month, celebrated annually to recognize the notable achievements of LGBT people throughout time. Each day this month, Equality Forum will feature one LGBT icon who has made notable contributions to society and SDGLN will publish the story here in the Causes section. View previous LGBT History Month icons HERE.)
Blanco is the youngest, the first Latino and the first openly gay person to be named a U.S. inaugural poet. He read his poem “One Today,” written soon after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. He describes the poem as “a unique snapshot of where we are as a country.”
Blanco was born in Madrid to Cuban exiles. Shortly thereafter, the family immigrated to New York and later settled in Miami, where Blanco was raised. He graduated from Florida International University with a degree in civil engineering and worked initially as a consulting civil engineer. His creative yearnings eventually sent him back to his alma mater, where he earned an MFA in creative writing.
His first book of poetry, “City of a Hundred Fires,” published in 1998, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh. After the book’s success, Blanco accepted a creative writing professorship at Central Connecticut State University. Subsequently, he taught at Georgetown University, American University and at the Writer’s Center.
Blanco’s poetry explores his cultural heritage and sexuality, most notably in “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” published in 2012. “It’s trying to understand how I fit between negotiating the world, between being mainstream gay and being Cuban gay,” he says.
His work has been published in The Nation, Ploughshares, New England Review, Americas Review and many other poetry journals and publications. He received the PEN Open Book Award for “Directions to the Beach of the Dead” in 2006 and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry for “Looking for the Gulf Motel” in 2013. He wrote and read the poem, “Matters of the Sea,” for the reopening ceremony of the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, in 2015.
Blanco has participated in many charitable causes, including Freedom to Marry and One Fund, an organization that benefits victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. He lives in Bethel, Maine, with his partner, Dr. Mark Neveu, a research scientist.
“I don’t exclusively align myself with any one particular group — Latino, Cuban, gay or ‘white’ — but I embrace them all.”
Staceyann Chin is a spoken-word poet and performance artist dedicated to LGBT rights. She has been out since 1998, soon after co-writing and performing in the Tony-nominated Russell Simmons “Def Poetry Jam” on Broadway. She has also appeared in one-woman Off-Broadway shows and at the famed Nuyorican Poets Café. Her work has been featured in more than 21 publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Born in Jamaica, Chin is of Chinese- and African-Jamaican descent, a subject she has written about often. She appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” to discuss what it was like growing up gay in Jamaica.
The Brooklyn resident announced in 2011 that she was pregnant with her first child, the result of in vitro fertilization. She eventually wrote about her experiences as a single pregnant lesbian for The Huffington Post. She also contributes to “She Said What?”—an online show on AfterEllen—and to Centric TV’s “My Two Cents.”
Chin has earned much recognition for her poetry and performance, which she calls “activist driven.” She won the 1998 Lambda Poetry Slam and the 1999 Chicago People of Color Poetry Slam.
In 2009 she published her autobiographical novel, “The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir,” in which she recounts being raised by a single mother and coming out in a country where she had few, if any, role models. “I am mostly proud of the path I have taken,” she writes. “I am learning one never puts a turbulent childhood completely to rest.”
“I want to erase the lines so I can be me.”
Jason Collins is a retired professional American basketball player who played for 13 seasons with the NBA. During the 2012-13 season, Collins came out in Sports Illustrated before signing with the New Jersey Nets, making him the first openly gay athlete to play on any professional sports team in North America.
“If I had my way, someone else would have already done this,” he said when he came out. “Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
During his career, Collins played for the Houston Rockets, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Atlanta Hawks, the Boston Celtics, the Washington Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets before retiring in 2014. He wore number 98 on his jersey in honor of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who was murdered in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming. Collins’s jersey broke records at the NBA Store; it became a best seller with the proceeds of signed jerseys benefiting the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
In 2013 Collins was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. The following year, he was featured on the cover of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Collins was born in California. He has a twin brother who is also an athlete.
“I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore.”
Top photo: Richard Blanco
Middle photo: Staceyann Chin
Bottom photo: Jason Collins