In 2019, being both black and an LGBTQ person can still seem like a revolutionary act. For those of us who are dialed in to current events, we see the violence toward black and queer bodies.
Unarmed, black men and women are still being killed by police and transgender women of color appear to be turning up dead weekly. To paraphrase James Baldwin, “To be Black and LGBTQ and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all of the time.” To compound matters, many people of color who identify as LGBTQ individuals, often feel like our community can default to following the same path as the broader society. Thus, the creation of Black Prides offers a safe place where people who identify as black and LGBTQ people could have safe spaces to celebrate their unique identities. In North Carolina, Fayetteville, Raleigh and Charlotte have all had Prides focused on the black community.
Alvernian Davis is a Philadelphia, Pa. native and founder of Fayetteville Black Pride. Davis’ impetus for starting Black Pride in Fayetteville was similar to the other stories from organizers. Being from Philadelphia, he had participated in Pride festivals in other cities. So, when he moved to North Carolina in the early 2000s’, he noticed that there were not many Prides in North Carolina at the time. The first event was in 2003 and was hosted at Alias and Spectrum, the only two gay clubs in the area. Davis said that this was a place which attracted many different segments of the gay community in the area. All of these segments of the community were able to participate in the first Pride. Unfortunately, after this beginning, the event took a hiatus. He moved away from the area and after coming back, the landscape had changed. The only gay club in the area had burned down and Davis’ connections with the local military community were gone. These challenges did not deter him from starting another Pride celebration in 2015, which has become Fayetteville Black Pride.
However, Davis has broadened his vision to include providing greater resources for the area. He noted that the Fayetteville area doesn’t have many resources for the gay community, and he would like to have greater buy-in from local services in the area like the health department, which he is trying to partner with this year. Additionally, Davis is looking to help boost participation from young people in the area by moving the date of the event to accommodate their return to school. He is hopeful that these changes will increase participation in the future. Since Davis began his Pride, the area has seen another Pride begin in Fayetteville, which attracts more whites. He says that he supports that Pride too, but he feels that Black Prides provide a place to celebrate black culture, which he feels is still important today.
Charlotte’s Black Pride began with wanting to highlight the culture of the black LGBTQ community. It began in 2005 with board members Damon Blackmon, Jermaine Nakia Lee, Monica Simpson and Lynkoya Handy and was met with some initial resistance from some within the community. Lee recounts the racist emails that he received when the idea was announced to the public. He and the organizers saw the need for space where those who identify as black and LGBTQ could have a space to be themselves.
That first event, Charlotte Black Gay Pride was a four-day event that included a town hall meeting, an evening of live theatre, film screenings, multiple dance parties, spoken word performances and the Pride Expo which took place at the African-American Cultural Center. The Expo included vendor booths, entertainment and speakers. The town hall was held at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of Charlotte (now closed). Simpson told qnotes “there were 210 people at the opening town hall meeting.” “That’s one of the largest events ever in the history of the center and definitely the highest number of African-Americans ever in the center at one time” she continued.
Black Pride in Charlotte, with a number of different management structure’s over the years, has gone through its struggles like other Black Prides, but has persevered and grown because it still provides a service to the LGBTQ community. The current president of Charlotte Black Pride, Shann Fulton, says, “ As a marginalized group of people, Black Pride is important to make sure our voices are heard, and our faces are seen. We must create a safe space for people of color to embrace their culture without judgment or fear….”
Latoya Hankins says that “Black Prides provide a place where people who identify as black and as LGBTQ individuals are safe to be themselves and be understood.” Hankins is a Southpoint, N.C. native and one of the founders of Shades of Pride. Shades of Pride began in 2009 and went through two iterations. It was an independent organization from 2009-2014. In 2016 and 2017, it became a program under the LGBTQ Center of Durham but has not returned since then. Hankins and her other founders, Akil Campbell, Kelly Eddings, Nina Ricci, Yvonne Ricci and Purusha Jones begin Shades of Pride because, like Davis, they had visited Prides in other areas and wanted to replicate the experience for the Raleigh area. Hankins says that the event was well-attended in the beginning, but numbers began to decline. She cites the “novelty” wearing off and life happening as reasons for the eventual folding of the organization.
Hankins says that she and the other founders and Kenneth Freeman all began to have additional commitments or moved from the area, so they were unable to devote the same effort to the endeavor. Regardless, as mentioned above, Hankins still sees Black Prides as playing essential spaces for those who identify as black and as an LGBTQ individual. In fact, she plans to visit Charlotte Black Pride in July and credits that event as another inspiration point for her decision to begin Shades of Pride.
The need for safe spaces was echoed by all of the people involved with these Black Prides. So, as we celebrate Pride Month, we encourage you to think about how are you providing the people of color within your community a place to be their authentic selves without judgment or fear.