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Queer Black History Spotlight: Gladys Bentley

Gladys Bentley, known on the stage as Bobbie Minton, was born in Philadelphia on August 12, 1907. She was a lively Harlem Renaissance blues singer that didn't believe in gendered clothes. Seen above wearing a tuxedo with a top hat, Bentley often dressed in traditional men's clothing. She began this tradition when she started wearing her brother's clothing when she was a child. Her parents thought that this habit needed a "cure" and sent her to numerous doctors. At age 16, Bentley was tired of the mistreatment and ran away to New York City to become her authentic self.

Bentley started performing at house parties, however with a large presence and a gravelly voice, she quickly made her way into singing at speakeasies and nightclubs. The speakeasy she performed at often, Harry Hansberry's Clam House on 133rd Street, was one of the most well-known gay bars at the time. Soon after that, she established her own weekly radio program. Theatre was another interest of Bentley's. She eventually dabbled in this by bringing a group of male drag performers into her shows.

Gladys Bentley was known for taking popular tunes and adding in her own raunchy lyrics. She would also play the piano, sing the blues, and flirt with women in her audiences. Through most of her life she identified as a lesbian, however in later years, Bentley took female hormones in an attempt to “cure” herself and live as a woman, dressing more feminine, marrying a younger man by the name of Charles Roberts, and studying to become a minister. After her death from pneumonia, her husband denied having married her.

While she struggled with her identity, later in life writing an essay titled “I Am a Woman Again,” Bentley’s story is an important one in the journey of gender queer people and lesbianism. Had society been more friendly to gender queer individuals, she may have felt more comfortable living her life in an authentic way, not needing to search for a “cure.” Her life was quite the emotional rollercoaster, but we tip our top hat to her, thankful for the strides she made toward acceptance of people who live outside the box.

Carrollton Rainbow Inc. is a non-profit organization that hosts regular meetups and events in Carrollton, GA and the surrounding West Georgia area for fellowship with LGBTQ+ and allies.  Our signature events include our annual Carrollton Pride Festival, Carrollton Pride Prom and Carrollton Drag Shows. Additionally, Carrollton Rainbow partners with local venues and restaurants in Carrollton, GA and other organizations to provide a calendar of fun things to do in Carrollton, GA and fun things to do in West Georgia.  We host Q&As, ally-oriented workshops, and online guides to provide the best local LGBTQ+ resources possible as well as to create dialogue with the local communityCarrollton Rainbow believes that representation matters and participates annually in the Atlanta Pride Parade, UWG Homecoming Parade, Carrollton Christmas Parade, Carrollton Mayfest and Carrollton's 4th of July Parade. Our visibility allows others in the West Georgia LGBTQ+ community to live with confidence and pride and to celebrate our identity and shared cultural history.


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