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In a Year of Unprecedented Visibility, the Native Son Awards Honor Achievements of Black Gay Men

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Activist DeRay Mckesson, journalist Don Lemon, and playwright George C. Wolfe were honored at the inaugural Native Son Awards. 

On November 30, New York's Cadillac House played host to the first ever Native Son Awards, honoring the achievements of black gay men in media, entertainment, and social activism. Named after James Baldwin's seminal book Notes of a Native Son, the awards were started this year by journalist Emil Wilbekin "because there are more black gay men who are visible in the world who need to be recognized and celebrated."

"Often times in the LGBT community, African-Americans are marginalized and overlooked--very similar to mainstream society," Wilbekin toldEssence magazine. "I wanted to create a safe place where we can come together and have fellowship, mentorship and discussions that are specific to us and our community."

Black Lives Matter activist DeRayMckesson and CNN anchor Don Lemon were recognized for their contributions, as well as playwright and director George C. Wolfe, who won a Tony in 1993 for directing the original Broadway production of Angels in America and the same award again in 1996 for Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk.

In 2016 black men have had to face a reality in which their lives seemingly didn't matter as a spate of police shootings continued unabated and usually unpunished, then the election of Donald Trump only provided further reason for people of color to lose faith in an America determined to set itself on a path of white nationalism. Still, amid these challenges, black folks have continued to thrive in art, media, and activism, refusing to be ignored or reduced to stereotypes, while creating varied and diverse representations of black life.

So an award and movement like Native Son is vital to put things in perspective. Sure 2016 has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, but there's also been a lot to celebrate.

"This year alone, Moonlight became the 'must-see' film of the year," Wilbekin said, "Empire--created by Lee Daniels and staring Jussie Smollett--is still one of the highest rated shows on TV, DeRay Mckesson has been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Don Lemon has been outspoken about social justice and police brutality. And with the election, it's even more important to make sure that black men, no matter what their sexual identity, are seen and heard."

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