The Black queer pioneers who shaped America

Friday, February 5, 2021

Noon 1 p.m. PT


USC Annenberg Lecturer of Journalism Channing Gerard Joseph discusses his groundbreaking research on the untold history of Black queer America.

Joseph’s forthcoming book, House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens — and Changed the World, tells the life story of William Dorsey Swann, a formerly enslaved man who became the world’s first self-described drag queen and the earliest-known American queer activist. Drawing on his skills as an investigative journalist, Joseph reveals the existence of a secret world of drag balls and queer resistance in Washington, D.C., in the 1880s and ’90s. His book is set to be published next year by Crown in the United States and by Picador in the U.K., and it is now being developed into a film by the Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen and the Academy Award-nominated director Lee Daniels. 

San Francisco State University’s Professor Marc Stein writes that Joseph’s research “resets the historical clock on our understanding of queer and trans resistance, activism, and pride.” In 2019, Joseph was awarded the Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant in support of his work, which the jury wrote “complicates and expands our understanding of the history of LGBTQ activism and African American history.”

Joseph will be introduced by Professor of Journalism Sandy Tolan, and the event will be followed by a Q&A.