Black Pride reaffirms our identity. And it dances to a different beat.
What started out in Washington, D.C. in 1990 as the only Black Gay Pride event in the country has grown to more than 35 gatherings nationwide. Each year, celebrations start in April and continue to October. More than 300,000 LGBTQ people of African descent rev up for a weekend of social and cultural events celebrating their queer uniqueness.
In 2007 alone, more than 350,000 attended Black Gay Pride events throughout the U.S. The largest events are held in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta, and smaller Black Pride events provide an important sense of identity and cultural heritage.
Sunday gospel brunches, Saturday night poetry slams, Friday evening fashion shows, bid whist tournaments, house parties, the smell of soul food and Caribbean cuisine, and the beautiful display of African art and clothing are just a few of the cultural markers that make Black Pride distinct from the dominant queer culture.
Just like in the mainstream of American society, cultural acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ communities of color in larger Pride events is hard to come by. Many can experience social exclusion and invisibility in the big events. Segments of our population will attend separate Black, Asian, and Latino Gay Pride events in search of the unity that is the hallmark of Pride.
The themes and focus of Black, Asian, and Latino Pride events are different from the larger Pride events. Prides of communities of color focus on issues not solely pertaining to the LGBTQ community, but rather on social, economic and health issues impacting their entire community. The growing distance between our larger and white LGBTQ community and these LGBTQ communities of color is shown by how, for example, a health issue like HIV/AIDS that was once an entire LGBTQ community problem is now predominately a challenge for communities of color.
Also, with advances such as hate crime laws, the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the legalization of same-sex marriage in a dozen states, and with homophobia viewed as a national concern, the LGBTQ movement has come a long way since the first Pride marches four plus decades ago. Many note the perceived distance the LGBTQ community has traveled in such a short time — from a disenfranchised group on the fringe of America’s mainstream to a community now on the verge of equality. But not all members of our community have crossed the finish line. Some are waving the cautionary finger that within our community to note that not all are equal.
Pride events can be public displays of those disparities.
Mainstream Prides have themes focused on marriage equality for the larger community where Prides organized by and for LGBTQ people of African descent have focused not only on HIV/AIDS but also unemployment, housing, gang violence, and LGBTQ youth homelessness.
By 1999, Black Pride events had grown into the International Federation of Black Prides, Inc. The IFBP is a coalition of 29 Black Pride organizations across the country. It formed to promote an African diasporic multicultural and multinational network of LGBTQ/ Same Gender Loving Pride events and community-based organizations dedicated to building solidarity, health, and wellness and promoting unity throughout our communities.
Also in understanding the need to network and build coalitions beyond its immediate communities, IFBP created the Black/Brown Coalition.
Black Pride is an invitation for community. While Pride events are still fraught with divisions, they, nonetheless, bind us to a common struggle for LGBTQ equality.
Black Pride contributes to that struggle for equality, demonstrating an African diasporic aspect of joy and celebration that symbolizes not only our uniqueness, but it also affirms our commonality as an expression of LGBTQ life in America. Happy Pride!
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Boston-based freelance writer.