Seven LGBT African-Americans Who Changed The Face Of The Gay Community

Bill T. Jones

One of the most celebrated (and outspoken) choreographers today, Bill T. Jones performed worldwide as a soloist and with his late partner, Arnie Zane, before forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982. As a choreographer, he’s created hundreds of works  for his own company, as well as pieces for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, AXIS Dance Company and numerous other dance troupes, and collaborations with author Toni Morrison, opera diva Jessye Norman and fellow queer New York artist Keith Haring.

He has been lauded for his professional accomplishments: He has two Tonys for Best Choreography (one for Spring Awakening and the other for Fela! which he also co-created and directed), received a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1994 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.

Though Jones, now 60, came of age when the dance world grappled with acknowledging gay choreographers and dancers—Alvin Ailey guarded his sexuality throughout his life—he has always been open about being gay. (Zane and Jones were often paired in sensual duets.)

Jones has also never hidden the fact that he is HIV+ (Zane died of AIDS-related complications in 1989). He’s incorporated themes relating to AIDS in his works, including The Breathing Show, D-Man in the Waters and Still/Here  and, after Zane’s death, created a series of  “survival” workshops for people with HIV/AIDS, elements of which have inspired movements and passages in his artistic output.

“Living and dying is not the big issue,” Jones told the MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1987. “The big issue is what you’re going to do with your time while you’re here. I [am] determined to perform.”

Though he’s endured prejudice, illness and the loss of a lover of 17 years, Jones is optimistic for the future of the gay community. He once told POV magazine:

“In 20 or 30 years, we’ll be out from the Middle Ages, the Inquisition. This is a benign universe that exists on a level so far beyond the screams and cries of the Holocaust, my mother’s tears, beyond lesions and sores and gasping for air in the last moments of life. I think that if we look back, it’ll be understood that we know what it feels for me to right now be saying, I am HIV positive, and I am all right. I am a homosexual man, and I have been promiscuous, and that too is all right.”

Photo: Abbey Braden, the Estate of Keith Haring

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