June 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm EST | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Black lesbian event has final party this weekend
Sheila Alexander-Reid

Sheila Alexander-Reid is discontinuing her Women in the Life events after this weekend

Lesbian activist and events promoter Sheila Alexander-Reid has announced she’s stepping down from heading the D.C.-based Women in the Life Association after 18 years. It concludes with a bounty of activities this weekend.

A party being billed as “The Last First Friday” is tonight from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. at the Loft at the Warehouse (4th and Penn streets, N.E. off New York Avenue). An open mic night was held Thursday night. On Saturday, a cocktail reception will be held at Martin’s Lounge at 1919 9th St. (near 9th and U) from 7-11 p.m. featuring singer/songwriter Angie Head. Admission to tonight’s party is $20. Saturday’s is $15. Visit lastfirstfriday.com for more information.

Women in the Life has been mostly inactive for the last year. Alexander-Reid said many of the factors that contributed to the group’s founding are moot points now. She’s also at a different time and age in her own life, she said.

“I’m quite frankly just tired,” she said. “I’m hearing from all over the country people saying, ‘You can’t let this die, it needs to continue,’ and so on. When we started there was more of a need for safe spaces for professional lesbians of color to get together, raise visibility in the greater LGBT community … some of the main reasons we started are no longer needed. There are other needs that I’d eventually like to address, things like mental health concerns, obesity, smoking, but right now I’m taking a break. It remains to be seen if this is just a hiatus for Women in the Life or the end. It may come back in a different incarnation, but we’ll see. I’m open to that but I’m not committing to that.”

Bob Witeck, of Witeck-Combs Communication and a former Women in the Life board member, said it’s a different era in many ways from when Alexander-Reid formed the organization.

“She was pre-Internet,” he said. “None of us had these tools to connect the way we do now. I wouldn’t say she’s old school, but the place she held has changed and those gaps and vacuums are different than they used to be.”

Witeck said Alexander-Reid deserves high praise for her efforts.

“She fulfilled a pioneering leadership that is unparalleled,” he said. “There really isn’t a counterpart for the bridge that she built. Plus she’s just exciting to be around with her warmth and her curiosity. She’s a dynamo who changes and improves everything she touches.”

Women in the Life began as a for-profit events agency providing First Friday nightclub events for local black lesbians. Alexander-Reid said over the years, her crowd was typically between 75-80 percent black. It broadened into the scope of a non-profit in the early ’00s when she started publishing a newsletter/magazine for her regulars that was extraordinarily popular. After her friend, Wanda Alston, was murdered, she started Wanda’s Will Project to encourage lesbians to get wills in place. All along, Alexander-Reid maintained her job as a business development manager at City Paper. She said eventually Women in the Life got out of control and could have easily been a full-time job, so she pulled back.

“I feel good about what I accomplished,” she said. “But our community has so much more now and I’d like to take a break.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

  • What is it with all these segregated gay groups? We gays supposedly champion ourselves on diversity and one-ness.

    If we’re going to have a black lesbian event, why not have a white lesbian event??

    • I can tell that either you did not thoroughly read the article or you are just too young to comprehend the purpose and need DURING THE TIME PERIOD when Sheila created WITL. Her purpose had a need and the need has been fulfilled three fold. It is now a different time and place and as the writer stated. Sheila should be commended for all that she has achieved. I can only look forward to her next adventure. Thank YOU Sheila for all that you have done for us. You are a true inspiration for the present… they should learn from your achievements.

    • It would be nice to think that parties and events are inclusive. However, the reality is, they usually aren’t. The genre of music in a party for Black lesbians is less techno-house than at White parties. From your question, you’re probably not a person of color. We don’t expect you to understand.

    • Oh my Goddess, I can’t believe I am reading such a thing. Please read Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, and Pat Parker’s poetry. Oneness is not sameness, not as long as I and other person’s of color experience racism in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and white social circles and institutions. It’s like asking why we need a lesbian or gay coming out support group. Why can’t straight people come to such a group? Every community needs a place to engage in community building and sharing where they aren’t called upon to explain their culture or difference, where they can just be. That includes lesbians separate from straight persons and men, and persons of color separate from white people and straight people. Just because one goes to a location to have cultural solace, it does not mean that one stays in that location and does not befriend or care about white people or straight people. We do not yet live in a post racial society, RACISM is alive and well! Read and come to understand your lesbian/gay/bisexual trans herstory! Don’t let our foremothers and forefathers have died in vain.

  • @laurelboy2 That’s because our supposed “oneness” is a farce. As a lesbian who’s been involved in an “interracial relationship”, I can attest to bigotry from within the community. Getting “looks” from other gays for being in an interracial relationship; Lesbians with a mainstream appearance harping on butches; butches bashing transmen; gay men and lesbians not spending time with one another. <–A few of the things I've seen happening.

    We might stick together for the sake of getting legal rights, or for walking through a parade that's lost touch with its roots, but I don't see us being much of a community otherwise.

    • Laurel Boy you’re very young and if you really think that RACISM isn’t a factor in this community then maybe you need to stop going to predominately white gay clubs and learn something! You sound like an idi0t…seriously

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