Hotspots has teamed up with our partners at LGBTHistoryMonth.com to celebrate Black History Month. Tim’m T. West and Alvin Ailey are two 20th century LGBT Icons who have left an indelible mark on the world around them.
Tim’m T. West
July 6, 1972
“There are aspects of ourselves that we are encouraged never to reveal, but I’m not a unicorn.” – Tim’m T. West
Tim’m T. West, born Timothy Terrell West, is a hip-hop performance artist, poet, activist and educator. He has produced nine albums, written extensively about hip-hop culture and has been a spokesperson for a new generation of openly gay musicians.
West was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had a speech impediment as a child that caused him to stutter and repeat the “m” in his name, which led him to include it in his moniker. West was a respected student and athlete who became interested in music at a young age. He was interviewed by recruiters from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point while in high school, but was rejected when he told them he was gay.
West was an active Boy Scout and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon). But when he came out to his bishop and was rejected, he struggled with depression and anxiety and even contemplated suicide. He admitted later that the experience influenced his youth outreach as an adult.
West was a serious college student. He attended Duke and Howard Universities and later The New School for Social Research in New York, where he was exposed to the spoken word and poetry scene. While pursuing his master’s degree at Stanford University in 1999, West discovered he was HIV positive. The revelation inspired him to begin his youth advocacy work and to join with friends to launch the queer hip-hop group Deep Dickollective. West coined the term “homohop” to describe homophobia in the hip-hop community.
As a solo artist, West has released music and published many books, including “Red Dirt Revival: a Poetic Memoir in 6 Breaths.” He performs, writes poetry and hosts “Front Porch,” a spoken word showcase that travels to colleges and universities. He also created a one-man show called “Ready, Set, Grow: A Coming of Age Story” about his life.
He launched MyWritingProfessor.com and continues to advocate for youth with Teach for America, where he combines education and advocacy to improve the experience of LGBT students in public schools. West’s daughter, Shannon Rose Matesky, is also a spoken word artist. They both live in Chicago.
Alvin Ailey Jr.
January 5, 1931- December 1, 1989
“I am trying to show the world that we are all human beings and that color is not important. What is important is the quality of our work.” – Alvin Ailey Jr
Alvin Ailey Jr. was an internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer. He founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a dance company hailed as an ambassador of American culture. Ailey formed a multiracial company and revolutionized dance, incorporating elements of ballet and jazz, along with modern and African dance, into his work.
Ailey grew up in Rogers, Texas, the son of a young, struggling single mother. His father abandoned the family when Ailey was six months old. In 1941, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Ailey met Lester Horton, who ran the first multiracial dance school.
Horton took Ailey under his wing, teaching him a variety of dance styles and techniques. In 1953, Ailey joined Horton’s company. Later that year, he was named artistic director.
In 1954, Ailey made his Broadway debut dancing in “House of Flowers.” He also performed in “Sing, Man, Sing” with Harry Belafonte and in “Jamaica” with Lena Horne.
In 1957, Ailey established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The company’s premiere performance, “Blues Suite”—a riveting work reflecting the African-American emotional experience—defined Ailey’s theatrical and eclectic style.
A prolific choreographer, Ailey created 79 original works for his company. “Revelations” (1960), recognized as his signature piece, is touted as the most-watched work of modern dance. “Cry” (1971), one of Ailey’s most successful works, was dedicated to his mother and African-American women.
In 1979, Ailey received the Springarn Medal for outstanding achievement from the NAACP. In 1988, he was recognized with a Kennedy Center Honors Award.
Ailey died at age 58 from complications of AIDS. In his memory, a section of West 61st Street in New York was named “Alvin Ailey Way.”