In 1991, I was a 30-year-old Air Force captain and closeted. I had worked hard to earn my degree and commission and loved the Air Force.
But “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” was the law and I was always looking over my shoulder. Living two lives was physically and spiritually exhausting. I did go to the numerous bars that existed in D.C. at the time — they were fun, exciting and even dangerous. Gay bashing and HIV/AIDS were real hazards to living your life
I remember walking onto Banneker Field for the first DC Black Pride on Saturday, May 25, 1991 alone. It was the first time I was out in public, outside of the gay bar havens, with a group of black gay people, who looked like me and were dealing with the same issues I was dealing with. It was uplifting, refreshing and empowering. I bumped into a colleague from my office in the Pentagon who was in the Navy. We were not out to each other before. We laughed out loud, hugged and have been great friends ever since.
Now, 26 years later, LGBTQ people serve openly in the armed services. We have marriage equality at the federal level; and D.C. has some of the most LGBTQ positive laws in the world. Do we still need Black Pride? I posed this question to several LGBTQ leaders and activists. Here’s what they had to say:
Sheila Alexander-Reid, director, Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Washington, D.C. “Yes — People want to celebrate themselves with their own community and still do not see a lot of their community at Capital Pride.” She followed up by applauding Capital Pride’s efforts to make its board more diverse by including Ashley Smith and SaVanna Wanzer who are both African American. “If the leadership is not diverse, then outreach is not diverse, then attendance is not diverse.”
Dr. Anika Simpson, co-chair, Equality March for Unity and Pride. “Yes — we need safe places for Black LGBTQ people to come together to refresh and recreate; to come together in joy, solidarity and protest. The Equality March [set for June 11 in D.C.] intentionally has a majority of person of color leadership team, which has shifted the focus of the march. The mission centers very explicitly on those LGBTQ people who have been silent and neglected. There are 12 co-chairs: nine are black, Latino or Native American; the remaining three are white. Four are transgender or gender non-conforming.” Simpson added that this organization “shows the possibilities of where queer movements should go in the future.”
Ryan Bos, executive director, Capital Pride. “Yes, DC Black Pride offers that safe space for black LGBTQ people to learn and celebrate. Capital Pride is and will continue to help sponsor DC Black Pride.” Ryan stated that, “Capital Pride has a good relationship with DC Black Pride and that he’d continue to look for ways to foster partnerships.”
Peter Rosenstein, LGBTQ activist, planning committee member, Equality March for Unity and Pride. “Yes, DC Black Pride is still needed as a safe place for black LGBTQ people to come together and celebrate. It’s important that all voices are heard. On June 11, everyone needs to come together for the Equality March and resist — be unified to support and protect full civil rights for everyone – leaving no one behind.”
Abdur-Rahim Briggs, president and CEO, Project Briggs. “Yes, we still need Black Prides because of racism in the gay community. I do not see Capital Pride reaching into the black community.” Briggs does participate in Capital Pride. He has judged floats in the past and loves to march in the Pride Parade. He commented, “I would like to see more whites participate in Black Pride to build more bridges.” He’d also like to see more corporate funding to support Black Pride but he is wary of corporate control.
Ernest Hopkins, co-founder of D.C. Black Pride, legislative director, San Francisco AIDS Foundation: Yes — “Answer the question with a question, What is DC Black Pride to you? It still raises money to combat HIV/AIDS. It still provides a safe space, builds community and annual events that focus on black LGBTQ issues. The question answers itself — Yes!” Hopkins added, “There is one misconception that I must clear up. DC Black Pride was never a response or an alternative to Capital Pride. The original, Black and Lesbian Gay Pride Day, was established as a tool to sensitize the black gay community to the problems we were having with HIV/AIDS. Our friends were getting sick and needed money for rent, food and burial expenses.”
Chuck Hicks, community organizer, LGBTQ leader and historian. “Yes — Absolutely. The first Black Pride was held in D.C. as a fundraiser to help people struggling with HIV/AIDS. Welmore Cook took a leave of absence from Best Friends of DC Inc. to form the first black gay HIV/AIDS organization in DC to combat the disease. The Black Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Inc. eventually became DC Black Pride. Memorial Day weekend was chosen in homage to The Children’s Hour celebrations held at D.C.’s Club House. Black Prides became an expression of our lifestyle and culture that has spread worldwide. This wonderful result was completely unplanned. Black Prides also give black LGBTQ artists and entrepreneurs an opportunity to prosper.”
David Bruinooge, founder, Equality March for Unity and Pride. “Yes, people should celebrate anyway they want. So yes. Communities can come together in many different ways. The various Prides celebrate their unique identities. Communities should come together to celebrate their uniqueness and see themselves.” Asked what motivated his interest in the Equality March, he said, “It is even better when we can all come together and celebrate together. The Equality March centers the margins to highlight those that have been forgotten and neglected. More people must be educated to support [LGBTQ] people who live in the margins. We need to mobilize our community and allies and rally behind the voiceless and poor. It is time that those issues are centered. We need to stand together as one.”
Earl Fowlkes, executive director, Center for Black Equity. “Yes, Black Prides are annual events driven by attendance. If they were not relevant, no one would come. Our Prides provide an opportunity to celebrate being black and LGBTQ — a duality that has to be addressed and acknowledged. Black Prides have workshops, poetry slams, plays and visual arts. Black Prides are also social. Social media doesn’t replace socializing face-to-face. The big parties are important too as we lose black bars and clubs.”
The Center for Black Equity supports 32 member Black Prides that include major cities across the U.S., DC Black Pride and London. “I’m encouraging the other Black Prides to come to support the Equality March. All hands on deck.” Fowlkes is an Equality March honorary co-chair and he also feels that the march is important and must not fail due to lack of local support.
Khadijah Tribble, Ground Game, organizer, Equality March for Unity and Pride. “Yes, we need safe spaces and we need to be visible. We need DC Black Pride as long as we have people who are challenged about coming out and need resources. DC Black Pride has social as well as political consciousness and focus. Local D.C. politicians find some way to connect to DC Black Pride.” Tribble said she would like to see DC Black Pride workshops put more focus on “building, and rebuilding organizations, to create pipelines for new leaders, activists and entrepreneurs.” She would also like to see, “a method to pass national-level issues identified by Black Pride organizations to the DNC and Congressional Black Caucus for resolution.
Devin Barrington Ward, president, Impulse Group DC. “Yes, we need Black Prides now more than ever. As DC and the country change, it is more important than ever to have spaces created by and for black people to contribute to Chocolate City. DC is changing and gentrification is a fact not just a discussion. It’s harder for black folks to have black spaces, which is so important.” Asked if DC Black Pride was missing anything for younger people, he said, “As the president of Impulse group DC, I have the luxury and responsibility to create the things that are missing.” Ward recognizes his privilege as a cis-gender black queer man. “Trans people will think differently. Our spaces will always be inclusive of trans and gender nonconforming folks.” Impulse Group’s mission is to educate gay, bisexual and queer men about HIV.
Dr. Ron Simmons, executive director emeritus, Us Helping Us. “Yes, the initial purpose of DC Black Pride was to raise money for HIV/AIDS organizations. Black gay men and lesbians need to be affirmed and see themselves as part of empowerment. You don’t see yourself at white pride. The events they have may not be what you need. It is like the difference between going to a white club and a black club.” Asked about the Equality March, he replied, “I think people must participate in the national march. We must be seen as part of the national community. As a young person, going to the gay march showed me I was not alone. Everyone should actually march and go to the rally.”
Jamil Fletcher, publisher, SWERV Magazine. “Yes, we still need to celebrate Black LGBTQ Pride. We actually need it now more than ever given the state of the world today. At the root, Black Prides are about building community. A community that is empowered, healthy, financially strong, educated, and vibrant. Those of us living at this unique intersection of being black and queer know too well the challenges within our community. Pride affords us an opportunity to come together in a way that embraces all of our identities without condition.”
It was a unanimous, resounding “yes,” we still need DC Black Pride for the health and vitality of black LGBTQ communities. As the White House submits its budget to Congress this week, it’s clear that health and social services programs are being reduced to levels that threaten LGBTQ communities, particularly those already living in the margins. Moreover, several states are pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation, bringing a renewed sense of urgency to both Black Pride and the upcoming Equality March for Unity and Pride
Marvin Bowser is a lifestyle blogger and Blade contributor. Follow him on Instagram @FirstBroDC.