LaWana Mayfield

Mayfield, LaWana 2017

LaWana Mayfield was born on January 9, 1970. She is a respected community activist, LGBTQ leader, equality advocate, and an admired public servant who was re-elected to serve her fourth term representing the residents of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Third District on the City Council.

LaWana Mayfield was born in Ruston, Louisiana to the late Daniel Slack, who was a construction worker, and her mother, the late Ruth Marsh, a teacher who worked for Miami-Dade 311 and was a homemaker. She has eight half siblings from previous marriages of both her parents. In 1975, Mayfield moved with her parents and three siblings to Miami, Florida. She attended Golden Glades Elementary School in Miami Gardens, and Hialeah Miami Lakes Senior High School.

While in school, Mayfield experienced the loss of her father when she was thirteen, opening the door for her first job at North Dade Junior High School. Her mother was later diagnosed with cancer when she was fifteen, and after a courageous struggle, she also passed away. The loss of both of her parents, and the care and security they gave her, took a toll on Mayfield. “Growing up I spent a lot of time mad at the world because of the losses I experienced,” she said. Mayfield didn’t see herself as queer when she was a child, and didn’t even acknowledge her sexuality to herself until she was 25 years old; it took another two years before she had her first same-gender date.

Mayfield left school her senior year to work full-time, and earned her high school degree from South Mecklenburg High School. In 1988, she visited Charlotte, North Carolina with a then-boyfriend, and realizing that she had few ties to Miami, decided to stay in Charlotte. The first five years were challenging, and Mayfield yearned to repair strained relationships with her siblings. In 1993, she moved back to Miami, attempting to reconcile with her mother’s children. She enrolled at Miami-Dade Community College, and started working toward her degree. Unfortunately, the attempt at reconciliation failed, and she moved back to Charlotte in 1997, realizing that was where her home was.

Mayfield then engaged in social justice trainings at the Center for Creative Activism, Southern Empowerment Project, Women in Leadership, and at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She says that her educational journey has been filled with opportunities, and the enrichment of multiple trainings and certifications, but she has not yet earned her degree.

Passionate about community service, Mayfield served as a community volunteer and activist for more than twenty years in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, not realizing she was being groomed for higher service. While serving on Mecklenburg Political Action Committee, she was part of a team of local volunteers tasked to identify an open LGBTQ person to run for local office, and her friends decided she should be the one.

In 2011, Mayfield became the City of Charlotte City Council’s first out, LGBTQ elected official, and only the second African American woman to serve on Council. She is a Democrat who is currently serving her fourth term, representing the city’s diverse Third District, which is home to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, and includes pockets of poverty on Charlotte’s west side, and thriving new commercial and residential areas in the southwest.

Councilmember LaWana Mayfield worked tirelessly to educate constituents about several public policy concerns, including domestic partner benefits for city employees, which was passed by the City Council through the budget process. In 2013, she sponsored Ban the Box legislation that would open up new opportunities for the formerly incarcerated who had served their sentences. Mayfield also helped create a new shopping center for Charlotte, the first since 2006. She is especially proud that this project led to more than 1,500 new jobs, and has an estimated $100 million impact on sales taxes for the region.

The Honorable Councilmember was at the forefront of an effort to pass a human rights ordinance for the city. Sadly, it was defeated by a 6-5 vote in March of 2015. It would have extended the categories for nondiscrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The failed ordinance spurred LGBTQ advocacy groups to join together in a movement called “TurnOUT Charlotte!” for the November 2015 elections.

Councilmember Mayfield is a proud and loving member of both the Black and same-gender loving communities. “It is extremely important that the greater community not only know who we are, but also recognize the wealth of experience we bring to the table. Young and older people of color need to see us in public settings to know there are no limitations to what can be achieved. We are not mistakes! We are the strongest, most creative, and most resilient of all of God’s creations. We are Black, proud, fighters for our community and we are LGBTQ!”

In 2014, Mayfield was awarded the David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellowship, and completed the Harvard Kennedy School of Government program. Mayfield serves on the National League of Cities (NLC) Race Equity and Leadership (REAL) Committee, as president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Local Officials (LGBTLO), and as board member of Smart Start of Mecklenburg County. She also serves on the Centralina Economic Development Committee, and is secretary of the North Carolina Black Elected Municipal Officials.

Mayfield previously served as a steering committee member of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the grants chair of the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund, the National Female Diversity co-chair for the Human Rights Campaign, and as one of the three chairs of the 2007 Human Rights Campaign’s Gala.

Mayfield received the Diversity Outreach and Volunteer of the Year awards from the Human Rights Campaign; the Woman of Achievement Community Champion Award from the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA); the 2012, 2013, and 2014 Best of List on Q-List; the 2013 Harvey B. Gantt Award from the Young Democrats; as well as the 2014 Charlotte Business Guild’s Torchbearer Award. More recent honors include the 2016 PowerHouse Project Power of One Award; 2016 National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. Queen City Metropolitan Chapter Candace Award for Advocacy in Civic Engagement; the 2017 Charlotte Pride Champions of Pride Harvey Milk Award; and the 2017 NLC-LGBT-LO Outstanding Local Leadership Award.​

Councilmember LaWana Mayfield and her partner, Gelisa, met around 1999, and were friends long before they started dating. In August of 2017, they celebrated their eleventh anniversary together and are now married. They enjoy traveling, movies, plays, spending time with friends, and are avid Carolina Panthers fans.

We thank The Honorable Councilmember LaWana Mayfield for her leadership, for her powerful commitment to community service, and for her many contributions to our community.

Diana King

King, Diana 2017

Diana King was born on November 8, 1970. She is a singer and songwriter perhaps best known for her hit 1995 single, “Shy Guy,” and her remake of “I Say a Little Prayer,” which was featured on the “My Best Friend’s Wedding” soundtrack. In 2012, King became the first Jamaican artist to come out publicly as LGBTQ.

Diana Eugena King was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, to an Afro-Jamaican father and Indo-Jamaican mother. Growing up, King had a variety of musical influences, including reggae, dancehall, pop, R&B, and country. When she was just 13, King was gang raped after looking at a girl for too long, and ran away from home.

“I call that time the turning point in my life,” she told the “Times of India” in 2015. “It’s a weird feeling. In a way I’m grateful that it happened because it made me a singer. If it hadn’t happened, maybe I wouldn’t have become a singer. I began singing after I ran away from home. I started working as a singer at a resident hotel because singing was the one thing I knew I could do, even though I didn’t want to become a singer. We would work six days a week, and honestly, it was heaven.”

In 1994, King signed a recording contract with Sony Music after appearing on The Notorious B.I.G.’s hit, “Respect.” That led to her record a cover of Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up” for the “Cool Runnings” motion picture soundtrack. The following year, her single, “Shy Guy,” became a huge hit, reaching #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and #2 on the UK Singles Chart. It went on to sell five million copies worldwide, and was certified gold in the United States. In addition to being included on the soundtrack to the film “Bad Boys,” “Shy Guy” was the lead release off King’s debut album, “Tougher than Love,” which was released in April of 1995.

After two follow-up singles and a collaboration with Nahki, King returned to the Billboard Top 40 in 1997 with a cover of Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer” for the soundtrack to the film “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Her sophomore album, “Think Like a Girl,” was released later that year, hitting #1 on the Billboard Top Reggae Albums chart and spawning the international singles, “L-L-Lies,” “Find My Way Back,” and “Supa-Lova-Bwoy.” King also appeared in the documentary “When We Were Kings,” and performed the film’s title track with Brian McKnight.

Over the next five years, King continued to produce music, and performed and collaborated with artists that included Celine Dion, Brownstone, Toots Hibbert, Ziggy Marley, Buju Banton, Maxi Priest, Shaggy, Gentleman, Kid Capri, Richie Stephens, and I-Three. She toured five cities in India in 1999 (King has Indian heritage through her mother), and released her third album, “Respect,” in July of 2002 (initially released in Japan, it eventually became available in the United Kingdom in 2006 and the United States in 2008). Her single, “Summer Breezin’” was a hit in 2002, followed by the single, “Spanish Town Bluez,” four years later.

In 2010, King’s own record label, ThinkLikeAgirL Music, Inc., released her fourth studio album, Warrior Gurl,” in Japan. The album was renamed “AgirLnaMeKING” and distributed internationally in November of 2012, along with the singles, “Yu Dun Know,” “Closer,” and “Jeanz N T-Shirt.” By creating her own label, King has been able to retain more control over her music.

In June of 2012, King became the first Jamaican artist to ever publicly come out when she identified as lesbian on her Facebook page. “I answer now, not because it’s anyone’s business but because it feels right with my soul and I believe by not answering or hiding it all these years somehow makes it appear as if I am ashamed of it or that I believe it is wrong,” she wrote.

Although she personally acknowledged her sexuality in her 20s, King decided not to initially go public out of concern for her daughter and son. In a 2016 interview, King revealed that she remained close to only one of her 15 siblings in the wake of coming out. For her courage, King was given the prestigious Vanguard Award at the 2012 Out Music Awards in Las Vegas.

In 2015, fellow Jamaican singer Shaggy said in an interview, “I live in Kingston, and there are a lot of gay people in Jamaica, and nobody is walking around killing gays. If you look at the statistics, there has not been any killing of gays in Jamaica. The only killings you hear is gay-on-gay crime, which is crime of passion. So don’t listen to the propaganda and be misled.” In response, an angry King revealed her childhood rape and added, “And you don’t even have to physically kills [sic] us. We die inside everyday because we are denied our human rights…”

King announced in 2016 that she was working on an all-lesbian record label, as well as new music. She created controversy in her home nation of Jamaica after posting on social media: “Jamaica is tolerant of rape and sexual abuse of children even incests [sic] but not of sex between consenting LGBT adults.”

We thank Diana King for her numerous contributions to the world of music, and for her courageous support of our community.

Charles M. Blow

Blow, Charles 2017 Beowolf Sheehan
Photo: Beowolf Sheehan

Charles M. Blow was born on August 11, 1970. He is a widely respected columnist for “The New York Times,” a knowledgeable political and social critic, and a CNN commentator. He has also appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and HBO.

Charles McRay Blow grew up the last of five brothers in rural and segregated Gibsland, a predominantly Black small town in northern Louisiana. At the age of seven, he was sexually molested by an older male cousin. In his later memoir, Blow would reveal the trauma and sexual identity confusion the molestation caused, and how he made plans to violently confront his abuser at the age of 20. He would also write about how his mostly absentee father, Spinner, would show up drunk on the family doorstep after a night of drinking, gambling, or cheating on his wife. Blow’s mother, Billie, was a teacher who would have to raise Blow and his siblings after she separated from her husband.

Blow was an athlete and star student growing up. He says that as a young boy, he visited the local newspaper and the staff allowed him and his classmates to typeset and print their names. From that point on, he was hooked on journalism. Blow founded his high school newspaper, and began writing regular letters to the editor at the “Shreveport Times” (where he would work part-time while in college). At Grambling State University, Blow was president of his college fraternity, and graduated magna cum laude in 1991 with a BA in mass communications.

Following graduation, Blow took a job as a graphic artist for “The Detroit News” before joining “The New York Times” in 1994 as a graphics editor and, eventually, graphics director. He became the paper’s design director for news before leaving in 2006 to work for “National Geographic” as an art director. He returned to the “Times” two years later as the paper’s first visual op-ed columnist.

In 2014, Blow came out publicly as bisexual in a memoir, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” At the time he revealed, “One thing the gay rights movement taught the world is the importance of being visible…This is how I felt all my life. It does not feel to me in any way transitory. It does not feel like it’s going to change. And I also wanted to say that there are people who may not fit what we conceive bisexuality to be.”

In an interview on SiriusXM Progress, Blow stated, “People can be bisexual and heteroamorous, meaning they can have sex with both men and women but only fall in love with people of the opposite sex. Or it can be the inverse. It can be people who fall in love with both, but only want to have sex with one. There’s a huge spectrum. Part of what my discomfort was, in the beginning, is that I wanted something that didn’t exist. I wanted something that was so singular, a label that was so singular for me. I was so special—I was so different from everybody else I was meeting. And that I wanted a different label. And I had to say, ‘Charles snap out of that. What are you talking about?’”

Blow has three grown children, including twins, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

We thank Charles M. Blow for his contributions to journalism, and for his support of our community.