Black gay pride
events grow, reaffirm identity
SFGate.com from the Web, June 17, 2006
Inclusion and acceptance are at the
heart of the gay pride movement and of pride events held across the country each
June, but gay African Americans are increasingly organizing their own events to
boost their sense of identity.
From a single event in Washington in 1990, black gay pride has grown to 35
gatherings nationwide that are expected to draw 300,000 people April through
"The majority of people who go to black pride do not live in the gay ghettos, on
Castro Street or in Chelsea," said Earl Fowlkes, president of the International
Federation of Black Prides, a coalition created in 1999. "Black folks
don't have the institution that develops in gay neighborhoods, and they don't
feel that safe space. Our events create a space where no one is going to
call them names -- or question their blackness."
Organizers and participants say that what initially grew out of a sense of
alienation at largely white events morphed into a chance to unite with other
African Americans, talk about issues and feel accepted.
"Black pride started in the early '90s in large part because a lot of the gay
pride events were overwhelmingly white," said Keith Boykin, a board member of
the National Black Justice Coalition, a gay civil rights organization. "People
decided to start their own."
The largest events are held in Washington, Los Angeles and Atlanta, but smaller
offshoots provide an important sense of identity because they are held in black
communities, organizers say. Though coordinators of the larger pride
events support the black pride events, organizers said the big celebrations
nationwide are still organized primarily by white gay people.
"There is this perspective that all the gay people live in West Hollywood or the
Castro, where the mainstream events are, but we live in the 'hood where other
African Americans live," said Jasmyne Cannick, chairwoman of the At the Beach LA
Black Pride event in Los Angeles. "There are still only sprinkles of
African Americans at the mainstream celebrations."
Lee James, a founding member of Black Gay Pride New England, which started in
Boston seven years ago, said he likes to celebrate pride as he would celebrate
anything else in the black community -- with gospel brunches, poetry slams and
block parties. Many of the organizers said it is important to incorporate
black cultural heritage with black gay pride.
"It is an ongoing process for us to feel part of the rainbow, because the
majority of pride events are at least 75 percent white people," James said.
"Different cultures do things differently."
In San Francisco -- where the communitywide celebration, set for June 24-25 this
year, is one of the nation's largest -- a concerted effort has been made to
include African Americans and people in other ethnic and cultural groups, said
Calvin Gipson, a former president of the pride celebration committee who
initiated "rap sessions" years ago among different cultural communities to
assess their needs.
"One of my goals was to make sure we were sensitive to the individual
communities and their needs and desires to be together," Gipson said. "In
San Francisco, there has not been a strong push for a separate event but to be
inclusive and provide spaces where people can be with others they identify with
San Francisco's pride celebration in the Civic Center includes a Soul Pride
village, an Asian and Pacific Islander stage and a Latin stage.
"The village provides a level of visibility and our own space to talk about
issues, not just a dance arena," said Joshua Smith, on the board of directors
for the pride celebration.
There are separate black events in Oakland -- Bay Area Black in the Life in
August and Oakland Black Pride in October.
"For African Americans, in a lot of ways, we are still in a period of coming out
to the black community, to our churches and families, who are not necessarily
accepting of who we are," said Gipson, managing director of human services at
the Glide Memorial Church foundation. "It is important to join together,
show we are visible and do exist, so I still support the concept of black pride
events. They play an important role."
The International Federation of Black Prides was formed by African American
organizers who wanted to unite to promote events, network and offer mentoring
and support. The coalition plans to raise funds for events, develop a
magazine and recognize and unite with similar efforts around the world.
"The black gay agenda is different than the (white) gay agenda," Fowlkes said.
"We are talking about housing, medicine, economic development and homophobia,
while the gay agenda is more focused on marriage."
Many events are planned so they don't overlap with the larger pride
celebrations, allowing black people to be part of both worlds.
In Chicago, black pride events started 10 years ago and now last a week.
Charles Nelson II, president of Windy City Black Pride, said separate events are
still necessary because the other pride events are all held in Newtown, which he
described as a predominantly white gay Chicago neighborhood.
"We wanted to help those who did not make the gay flight," he said.
Nelson, who came out in the 1970s, said the events grew because the larger gay
community was not welcoming and people couldn't celebrate the duality of being
black and gay.
"It is very important as African American men and women to let people know we
exist," Nelson said. "We want to encourage men and women of African
descent to have a sense of pride in their own communities."
Though there are Latino and Asian American pride events around the country, they
are far outnumbered by black pride events.
"The Latino and Asian American communities are more integrated into the larger
LGBT communities and feel more comfortable," Boykin said. "There still
seems to be an exclusion of African Americans."
Until other racial groups are included in planning, or the larger pride events
are held in African American communities, many black pride organizers say they
will continue to hold separate events.
"When we see some events on the South Side and on the West Side, we may be able
to all come together," said Nelson, the Chicago organizer. "It's not too
late, but it may be too early."
Others, like Cannick, say they don't have any desire to merge with the larger
"Having black pride in black communities makes all the difference," she said.
"I am not trying to show white folks my sexual orientation. I am trying to
let African Americans know that I am black and also a lesbian."