Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Black Pride Matters: With So Much Attention Being Focused on Black Bodies, Black Pride Celebrations Are More Important Than Ever

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Black Pride Matters: With So Much Attention Being Focused on Black Bodies, Black Pride Celebrations Are More Important Than Ever

Article excerpt

The concepts of Black Pride and Gay Pride developed almost concurrently in the United States. In 1968, James Brown released "Say It Loud--I'm Black and I'm Proud," the same year Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in defiance on the medal podium at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. In 1969, young street kids, many of them black and Latino, fought to be seen, heard, and respected at New York's Stonewall Inn. The following decade saw the rise of black consciousness and gay liberation--the "black is beautiful" movement; the Black Panthers; the premiere of and subsequent national obsession with Roots in 1977; the first Pride marches in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles in 1970; the American Psychiatric Association declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973; the election of Harvey Milk to office in 1977.

Black Pride and LGBT Pride--what Gay Pride has evolved to become--are essentially the same thing: a rejection of that which America's dominant culture has said is right, is beautiful, is normal. Yet, for a queer person of color, the two prides can seem at odds. Blacks are often stereotyped as being more homophobic than whites, usually by white people, while the public face of the LGBT community is overwhelmingly white--even though black people are more likely to identify as LGBT (4.6%) than white people (3.2%). Black LGBT Pride celebrations started as a way to reconcile these two identities, providing a safe space for queer people of color to build community and find a sense of self.

"Black Prides allow people of color the chance to celebrate our culture and orientation without explanation," says LaToya Hankins, of North Carolina's Shades of Pride. "We can feel free to attend an hour workshop, take in a drag gospel show, or hang out in the park basking in the company of our fellow black gay/queer/same-gender-loving folks without having to shape our existence to fit someone else's comfort level."

Leaders and organizers of Black Prides are quick to point out that the celebrations are not meant to divide or further ghettoize the LGBT community. However, being a minority within that community carries a certain extra burden, as does identifying as queer within the black community. But just as homophobia has no race, racism has no sexual or gender identity.

"Many queer people of color do not feel comfortable or welcomed at most mainstream LGBT Pride events," says Earl Fowlkes Jr., president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, which organizes D.C. Pride. "There is still a racial divide within the LGBT mainstream, with many black LGBT folks feeling as though they have to step away from their racial identity when going to community Prides."

"There is no question that everyone within the LGBT movement deserves to celebrate and gather for Pride festivities," says Gabby Santos, who coordinates Albany's Black and Latino Gay Pride. "But as LGBT people of color, we face some particularly difficult issues that require tailored Black Pride activities. We face myths of negative stereotypes, such as, we are more violent than others. We face realities such as racism within programs and the criminal system that leave people of color with fewer options, greater obstacles to participate, and fewer protections. These myths and realities are painful. LGBT people of color who experience them need support from their peers who understand the impact.

"Black Prides strengthen our collective power by providing a culturally specific celebration for communities that live at the intersections of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and/or sexism."

LOS ANGELES held the first Black Pride event with At the Beach in 1988, and New York City's Black Pride has been going strong since 1997, but the roots of Washington, D.C.'s Black Pride, may very well predate both. Though D.C. held its first official Black Pride event in 1991, it was born of an informal 15-year tradition called the Children's Hour. …

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