Since 2015, I have had the joy of working at Project ORE, inside of the Sirovich Community Center. I am surrounded by incredible older people every single day who have taught me so much wisdom and so much about what it means to be a strong and good person in this world. So many of our community members are life long activists who, in big and small ways, have dedicated their lives to making our city a better place to live.
Given that, it shouldn’t surprise me that I was so drawn to Mabel Hampton and her legacy of activism when I first learned about her in Hugh Ryan’s book, When Brooklyn Was Queer. Mabel Hampton got her start as a performer in the 1920s at Coney Island, a place whose history captivates my curiosity and imagination. It was at Coney Island that Mabel Hampton first learned the word lesbian; she later reflected on this time to Joan Nestle, saying “I said to myself, well, if that’s what it is, I’m already in it!”
Mabel Hampton continued to work as a dancer and singer before leaving the entertainment industry, but that isn’t what makes her a hero to me. In her later years, Mabel Hampton worked to ensure that her personal papers would be archived, ensuring that the experiences of an out lesbian Black woman in the early 20th century would continue to be known. She was an activist and involved with SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), and even served as the Grand Marshall of the New York City Pride Parade in 1985.
In 1984, Mabel Hampton addressed the crowd at the New York City Pride Parade, saying: “I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for eighty-two years, and I am proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my Black people.”
Reading these words now gives me chills. We have so much to learn from our LGBT elders and ancestors. Further, one way that oppression continues is through our society deciding whose legacies are worth carrying on, and whose lives are lost to time. Mabel Hampton understood that and made sure that her legacy will not be lost.
The 14th Street Y invites you to tune into our PRIDE 365: Live Free, Love Fierce series, a virtual event series celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community.
We want to honor the LGBTQIA+ community and welcome them to our virtual community center where they can celebrate who they are loud and proud. At the 14th Street Y and Educational Alliance, everyone is welcome here.