For decades, Americans have dedicated February as a time to recognize the contributions of Black leaders. Despite embracing and celebrating Black history everlastingly, Black History Month always provides me with the chance to highlight certain aspects of our narrative and inspire my own place in the American dream, even at a time when it sometimes seems less a dream and more of a nightmare.

While this annual month-long appreciation has since expanded into a massive celebration that includes documentaries, books, events, discussions, and celebrations, far too often the contributions of Black LGBTQ people remain marginalized and demeaned in our daily existence.

Growing up, the explicit, positive portrayal of LGBTQ people of color were sparse. It wasn’t until characters such as Calvin Owens (Paul James/Greek), Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett/Empire) and Jeffrey Harrington (Gavin Houston/The Haves and the Have Nots) came into my personal picture that I was able to fully identify with someone else and feel like it was ok to be my authentic self.

Despite the extent of progress that has been made in terms of representation in the media at large, I believe there is still much work to be done. I can’t help but think how transformative it would’ve been to my overall journey of acceptance and self-love if there had been more positive narratives, characters, and media highlighting important individuals of color. Consequently, I feel it’s my responsibility to empower others in a similar place by highlighting thriving examples, both past, and present, of my double minority status.

From civil rights leader Bayard Rustin to author Langston Hughes to well-renowned inventor George Washington Carver, Black queer people have enriched our nation and our lives immensely. Nonetheless, stories about queer communities of color revolve around HIV/AIDS and hate crimes, which the horrific attack on Jussie Smollet only underscores. While these are important stories to tell, they should be just one of the many narratives of this communities’ transformative contributions to our nation and our long road to freedom.

In celebration of Black History Month this year and the journey of black LGBT individuals throughout time, check out my selection of 20 influential Black icons from the past and present paving the way for future generations of LGBTQ individuals of color.