More people attend the seemingly endless parties at D.C. Black Pride than the educational programming and seminars but the yin and yang of the event — always held Memorial Day weekend and now in its 28th year — are in a solid groove organizers say, which is mutually beneficial to both the for-profit and non-profit branches of the agency.
“We just have a sliver of their amount of people,” says Kenya Hutton, D.C. Black Pride program director. “It’s nowhere near what the party promoters see, but we don’t have the capacity for all that either. It’s definitely not a huge number in comparison but it’s hard to say exactly. We always have a good flow of people up and down the hallways on a Saturday in the daytime, but if we took all the people in the workshops and put them in the club, it would be a huge difference. A lot come to just enjoy the parties and some are hung over Saturday morning, so we totally understand.”
EmJay and her business partner Tino (they use only first names professionally) have run TMS Entertainment for the last nine years. They bill themselves as “definitely the number one lesbian promoters in Washington.” They’re up front about what they offer.
“It’s really just straight-up partying all weekend,” says the 36-year-old, African-American lesbian (born in Washington, though she grew up in Los Angeles). “We party from start to finish and there’s never a dull moment. It’s ironic in a way because people tend to think women don’t spend as much but there’s a plethora of bottles flowing. It’s the same thing you see in a straight bar — the hookahs, the beautiful women. You can expect us to have fun always.”
She guesses their crowd is mostly in their 20s and 30s (about 70 percent) and almost totally female and African American. There’s no way to know how many come from out of town (“I wish we could geo-tag them”) though she knows a fair amount based on unfamiliar faces and “the way people dress” in different parts of the country. Any one of their events can draw as many as 400 lesbians and bi women.
“It gives us a place to have a commonality and somewhere where you can really be yourself and party,” EmJay says.
Omega Party D.C. and Daryl Wilson Promotion plan the men’s party events. Hutton says the estimate for 2017 attendance was about 30,000 for all the Black Pride events, including parties. The host hotel Grand Hyatt Washington (1000 H St., N.W.) sold out earlier than ever this year. Two overflow hotels (Pod D.C. and Cambria Hotel Washington) were “almost full” when Hutton spoke to the Blade May 18. He says the event continues to grow each year. It’s the longest-running Black Pride in the country.
Hutton guesses about 10 percent of attendees are non-black. Seven volunteers serve on the Black Pride Advisory Board, which plans the programming each year and selects honorees. The Center for Black Equity, an umbrella agency for Black Prides in other areas, grew out of D.C. Black Pride under the leadership of Earl D. Fowlkes Jr.
The annual operating budget for the non-profit sector is “whatever we can get,” Hutton says. Sponsors are accepted but he says the event sees nowhere close to the corporate sponsorship Capital Pride gets.
“There isn’t really a quote-unquote budget,” he says. “It’s on a year-by-year basis.”
Perhaps because of their lack of heavy corporate sponsorship, Hutton says the activists in No Justice, No Pride — a group that protested at the Capital Pride parade last year and is still active — have left Black Pride alone. Trans Pride officials (Trans Pride was last weekend), even though it’s part of Capital Pride officially, said the same.
“We just don’t have a lot of those big sponsors, but it’s not for a lack of trying,” he says. “I know when I first got involved, I sat down and called every single one of those places and their response is always they have a certain amount for their pride budget and it goes to Capital Pride. We survive off of, like, $200 here and there or selling space in our Pride guide.”
Black Pride always breaks even, Hutton says, although that has not always been the case. The party promoters (“They make a killing that weekend,” Hutton says) are good about funneling money back to the volunteer side of the organization.
“It’s very reciprocal,” he says. “They give us money so we can have some extra bells and whistles here and there. We usually have some extra change left over so we can host a volunteer appreciation event or do something after Pride but every dollar we spend, goes back into Black Pride.”
Hutton says the most difficult aspect to Black Pride is squeezing in something for everyone in such a short time frame.
“We try to make sure we have something for men, women, youth, trans, something so everyone feels welcome at D.C. Black Pride,” he says. “There’s never enough hours in the day to get all this stuff done.”