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.
Tagg turns 10
D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women
In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012.
“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”
As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.
“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”
Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals.
“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”
Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments.
“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”
Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said.
“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”
Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
Battling the pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception.
“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”
However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community.
The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe.
There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication.
“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.”
While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets.
“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”
Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs.
Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis.
For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.
Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’
Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following
Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan.
With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.
BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?
DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.
BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?
EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.
BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?
EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.
BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.
BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?
EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.
BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?
EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.
BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?
EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.
BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?
EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.
BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?
EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.
BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?
EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.
CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future
Wesley Combs marks six months in new role
June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.
Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.
For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.
Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.
In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.
Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.
Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.
Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”
Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.
Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.
“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.
Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.
Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.
“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”
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