Jermaine Nakia Lee can still remember the pushback and the controversy. Racist emails and letters, questions from other community leaders and confrontation with some.
“I still have the emails and the letters,”
And all because he, along with Damon Blackmon, had a vision to reach out and serve the local LGBT African-American community in a unique way.
This month, the event they co-founded, Charlotte Black Gay Pride, will celebrate its 10th annual suite of activities in the Queen City. The organization, which brings former “American Idol” and “The Voice” contestant and Broadway star of “Rent” Frenchie Davis for their Extravaganza on July 18, plans several other events beginning July 11 and running through July 19.
July 11, 8-10 p.m.
Black Tie Gala
1801 N. Tryon St., Charlotte
Charlotte Black Gay Pride celebrates a “decade of excellence” with a black-tie gala and awards dinner. Tickets are $30 per person and can be purchased online at eventbrite.com/event/17081082979/.
July 16, 7-10 p.m.
Community Town Hall
Carole Hoefener Community Center
610 E. 7th St., Charlotte
A lively panel discussion and town hall discussing current events and issues.
July 17, 7-10 p.m.
Meet and Greet
1820 South Blvd., Charlotte
Come out and mix and mingle with community members.
July 18, Noon-5 p.m.
Carole Hoefener Community Center
610 E. 7th St., Charlotte
Featuring headliner Frenchie Davis, other local entertainers, vendors and more.
July 19, 11 a.m.
Faith Forward: An Interfaith Worship Experience
Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte
6151 Sharon Rd., Charlotte
An interfaith service celebrating Charlotte Black Gay Pride
In 2005, Lee says LGBT people of color were often overlooked, ignored and underserved. Blackmon and Lee had attempted to serve the community in various ways and to partner with other organizations. He says he even reached out to Charlotte Pride organizers at the time to explain why their programming didn’t appeal to people of color. At nearly every turn, Lee received no response. So he and Blackmon took the effort to serve on themselves.
“We knew that black and Latino LGBT people were very diverse, but they were just in hiding,” Lee recounts. “If they wanted to be with their peers, it would only be at the clubs at night or somebody’s house party or they would have to leave Charlotte to be gay.”
But all that has changed in a decade, Lee says.
“What’s beautiful is that now people come to Charlotte to be gay,” he says. “Men and people of color come to Charlotte to be gay and people from smaller, surrounding communities don’t feel like they have to go to Atlanta or D.C. in order to celebrate and socialize and galvanize. I’m really proud of being a part of that change.”
The decade of change is something current Charlotte Black Gay Pride organizers will be honoring this year, starting with a special black tie gala on July 11. There, they will honor leaders who have helped organize their group or others who have supported their activities over the past 10 years.
Crystal Long, current Charlotte Black Gay Pride president, says it’s important to honor those who have striven to keep Black Pride alive.
“I think it is a major accomplishment that here in Charlotte, we have survived trough all the ups and downs of the various boards and financial troubles and just trying to stay adrift,” she says. “Over the years, it’s because of how committed these individuals were. That’s why it’s continued to grow. Nobody gave up on it.”
Charlotte Black Gay Pride offers a special place for people of color to uniquely celebrate their full identities, Lee and Long say. The event often focuses on a variety of intersectional issues of importance to LGBT people of color — freedom, spiritual growth, physical health and more.
“It’s about building upon your own strengths as an African-American. That’s what Black Pride is about,” Long says. “They need that connection to feel they are recognized, not just as a gay person, but also as an African-American gay person.”
Such recognition is still important, Lee says, even though he stresses that events like Black Pride are never closed to other communities. In fact, he still waits for the day local Asian and Latino communities begin their own Pride celebrations.
“I’d love to see how those communities celebrate their identity,” he says.
But the kinds of racist pushback he says he received 10 years ago has lessened. All a positive sign for progress, but disparate treatment and disproportionate outcomes for people of color still exist. Lee points to examples today, citing the disparate treatment experienced by organizations with leaders of color.
“Our community is still funded by affluent, white gay men and they have their cliché charities they always give to,” Lee says. “We need to start spreading some of that money out to organizations like the Freedom Center, which are black led and operated and doing great work, to organizations like Black Pride.”
Any many ways, Black Pride exists to empower and encourage — especially in a world were affluence and privilege still rules the day, says Lee, who works with the PowerHouse Project, an AIDS Service Organization primarily serving young men of color.
“I would hope that our community fights for fairness and would like to be fair in how it distributes its wealth and shows its benevolence in the community,” he adds.
This year’s suite of events will bring attention to those social issues and others. A town hall is scheduled for July 16, a highlight of each year’s events allowing community members to come together and discuss important current events and topics.
The town hall will be followed by a Friday social and Saturday’s main event — the Extravaganza. Community performers will join headliner Frenchie Davis for entertainment and community organizations will come together to reach out to the community.
“The expo is a really fun time to get to see all our stakeholders and friends and supporters,” Lee says. “It’s free, the family can come. There’s great entertainment and great food and it’s great to see the cooperation among the organizations in the community.”
This year’s event follows a successful 2014 in which thousands visited from out of town to come to both Charlotte Black Gay Pride and the weekend conference of the Center for Black Equity, held simultaneously with the Pride event.
Long foresees an even higher turn out for this year and is ready to toast to 10 years of success and a full year’s worth of planning making this month’s events a reality.
“It’s fantastic to be celebrating 10 years now,” Long says. “I believe we will celebrate 20 years in 10 more!” : :
— For more information on Charlotte Black Gay Pride and their events this month, visit charlotteblackgaypride.com.