How Beyoncé honors Black queer culture in ‘Renaissance’


In an era that has left LGBTQ rights vulnerable, Beyoncé has reaffirmed her support of the queer community. Her latest album, “Renaissance,” released on Friday, has been lauded by members of the LGBTQ community as the defining album of the summer.

Ahead of the release of Beyoncé’s seventh studio album, the singer dedicated “Renaissance” to her children and husband, her late gay Uncle Jonny and LGBTQ change-makers who have shaped Black popular culture.

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“A big thank you to my Uncle Jonny. He was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album,” Beyoncé wrote in a letter to fans. “Thank you to all the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long.”

Beyoncé has spoken about Jonny — who was the nephew of her mother, Tina Knowles — in the past, including after receiving the Vanguard Award at the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards. In her speech, she said Jonny was “the most fabulous gay man I’ve ever known.” He died of AIDS-related complications.

Throughout Friday, fans celebrated the inspiration the music draws from, as well as the Black queer artists who are featured on the album. They contrasted this joy with the political moment: “Renaissance” comes at a fraught time for the LGBTQ community amid an unprecedented onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation as well as recent protests and attacks at Pride events.

“Beyoncé putting out an album that’s a love letter to the gays right as republicans are attempting to rescind the right for the LGBTQ community to get married is why she’s the best music artist of our generation,” author and podcast host Akilah Hughes wrote on Twitter.

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The 16 tracks in “Renaissance” draw from house, disco and bounce music, genres that hark back to underground ballroom culture from the 1970s. In highlighting how queerness has paved the way for Black dance music, Beyoncé pays homage to the familial aspect represented through the house mothers, fathers and children in ballroom scenes. It’s a reminder of the love and inclusivity inherent in Black culture, said Omise’eke Tinsley, a professor of Black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

“Beyoncé is singing on the side of a more expansive gender system and reminding Black people: This is our culture,” she said.

And while Beyoncé has consistently been an icon in queer spaces and championed the LGBTQ community, this album is an expansion to her advocacy, Tinsley added.

“What’s interesting and important about ‘Renaissance’ is that she’s moving away from a sisterhood … [of] primarily Black cis women, and she’s really partnering with trans and gender nonconforming folks,” Tinsley said. Beyoncé is “reminding us that Black sisterhood shouldn’t be cisterhood, that all Black women’s lives are worth celebrating.”

In addition to Beyoncé referencing queer culture in her album, the singer-songwriter also partnered with queer artists. “Break My Soul,” which has been celebrated as a gay anthem, was Beyoncé’s second collaboration with Big Freedia. She previously paired up with the rapper for “Formation” in 2016.

Other queer artists featured in the album include Ts Madison, Honey Dijon, Syd, Moi Renee, MikeQ and Kevin Aviance.

“This is Black culture, not the culture of kicking people out, not excluding people,” Tinsley said. “This is the culture of Black people raising and loving each other, not because we’re genetically related, not because we’re perfect, not because we fit in molds, but because we don’t, and we love each other anyway, and this is how we produce beauty.”

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