For the first time I’m making it a priority to attend Black Pride in my hometown of New York City in August. As a Black, queer young adult, I feel I now have more access to my community, without restrictions of age. Although Black Pride has been around since the early 1990s, when I tell people about it, most are curious to know what it is and why it exists.
Black Pride was born of a lack of representation within the mainstream LGBTQ community for queer people of color, especially Black people. It sets aside a time of the year—usually summer through fall—to recognize the interests and perspectives of those of us who haven’t found a place within the mainstream gay community.
When people ask about it, I often tell them to think about the feminist movement. It arose during the 1970s to advocate for the rights of White women, not women of color. This was also the impetus of the first Black Gay Pride festival, which took place in Washington, D.C. in 1991. Today, there are over 33 cities in the U.S. and seven internationally with Black Pride events.
Vanessa Granberry, a health professional with the Center for Multi-Cultural Health in Seattle, co-founded Black Pride events in the city eight years ago because of a lack of diversity and inclusion in that city’s mainstream PrideFest. This year’s Emerald City Black Pride celebration is scheduled for July 28 and 29.
“Black Gay Pride is an opportunity for Black LGBTQ folks to come together and celebrate everything that makes us who we are: our culture, music, dancing, food, and even a good gospel drag performance,” said Grandberry, a gender-nonconforming trans-identifying individual. “We can relax and say things most of us can relate to without having to explain. If you live in a predominantly White city, it is refreshing to see other Black gay couples and Black folks loving each other.”
Some of what’s planned for this year’s NYC Black Pride, scheduled for Aug. 15–19, include a musical tribute to the late trans activist Marsha P. Johnson; the annual Heritage Ball, featuring notable Black LGBTQ people in the arts, such as author Janet Mock and stage performer Billy Porter. This recognition is important for those of us who feel disconnected from a community of people who have transcended the same hurdles we have.
People like me.
The biggest frustration I felt as a college student in New York and Boston was a lack of convergence of Black and queer spaces, especially for someone under 21—and still struggling with self-acceptance.
I knew early on that I was gay by how different my interests and behaviors were from other boys my age. I had little interest in sports, for example, and couldn’t tell the difference between a Maybach and Honda.
I don’t feel fully welcomed by the Black straight male students.
Of course, like most other gay people, I was afraid to come out to my family. And being Black, I had even more difficulty because many in the Black community still have not fully embraced homosexuality. I dreaded seeing the reaction from my mother and sisters as they learned that yet another family member was gay. (My older brother and cousin are also openly gay.)
I finally came out to my mom in a long-winded text message. The few minutes before her response were like an eternity. She didn’t take it seriously at first but eventually came to accept my sexual identity.
Being at the intersection of Black and gay meant I got a double dose of oppression—discrimination by White people, even from within the movement, and homophobia and lack of inclusion from the people within my ethnic community.
It also leaves me with an identity crisis. What box do I fit in? Where will I fit in society when college is done? Where are the spaces to celebrate all of my identity and not just the parts of it? Are there other folks who are also going through the same thing?
That’s one of the benefits of Black Pride. While the mainstream gay pride movement was largely focused in the last 15 years on achieving marriage equality, the Black gay pride movement has focused on issues such as health care, housing, and homophobia in their communities.
As one of few openly queer students, in a small Black student body on a predominantly White college campus, I sometimes feel isolated. I don’t feel fully welcomed by the Black straight male students, who hold negative feelings toward queer people, especially Black gay men. And I’ve not fully immersed myself in the LGBTQ community, as many of its organizations are dominated by a White agenda—with no thought of programs or events for queer people of color.
When I was given a chance by one of the Black organizations to host a program about Black homophobia, I had difficulty finding faculty, Black student leaders, and members of the Pride organization to co-host and curate it because of a lack of knowledge and understanding. When I tried to assemble an e-board for an organization dedicated to queer people of color, that also failed to come to fruition due to lack of interest.
But change, I know, takes time, and I’m willing to keep trying. And as I’m the new secretary for my school’s Black Student Union, my goal is to incorporate the Black queer community into my programs and events.