Years ago, I was invited to attend Atlanta Pride by some white ladies I worked with in Columbus, Georgia. It would be my first time going to such an event. The adventure was intriguing, but ultimately, I decided not to go. I’ll never regret missing out because, as fate would have it, my first Pride celebration was Atlanta Black Pride. Labor Day weekend. 2003.
What a way to be ushered in.
I was fresh out of college. Had a new car and a fly girlfriend.
We rented a suite in the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood. You couldn’t tell me shit. Until this time, my exposure to gay culture was mostly white gay culture or Alabama gay culture. Arriving at my first Atlanta Black Pride party showed me that there was much more to be seen.
Where I grew up, we basically established ourselves as degrees of the same thing everyone else was. And there certainly was no one who was out and proud. So I didn’t know much about gay culture until I got to college. And even then, the Alabama scene was rooted mostly in a femmes and studs binary.
using Black gay vernacular like “yaaaaas” and “slay,” and delighting in the artistry of Black [gay] icons like Beyoncé are welcome. It’s the Black people who are not, or are dismissed as background noise.
I’m from Phenix City, Alabama, a small town that shares a border with Columbus, Georgia, the state’s second-largest city. While my home and family were in Phenix City, work and my social life were a short ride across the Chattahoochee River to Columbus. This meant that my intro into #thelife began at white clubs in downtown Columbus.
The few times I went, I felt exclusively like an observer. The music didn’t move me, and the vibe wasn’t my vibe. But it was cool to watch queer courtships happen. I was (and continue to be) fascinated by that aspect.
And then I went to Atlanta Black Pride.
If I close my eyes, I can still see and smell that Friday night we arrived. It was one of those southern nights where the heat feels like a thin sweater that gets draped over you every time you step outside. There was a line when we pulled up to the spot. I didn’t mind because I’d never seen anything like what I was seeing.
Sartorially, neither the Alabama nor the Columbus queers I was around were setting the world on fire.
But in Atlanta, the girls had sauce.
My limited experiences produced lesbians that looked one of two ways. But in that line, they represented every point on the spectrum. Femme. Stud. Goth. Bamma. Regular. Fly. Fly as hell. Every woman was a Black woman, or a woman of color. Inside, the place buzzed with hundreds of women who were confident and comfortable in their queer skin. We watched people. We flirted, and danced, and stunted for hours. That night gave me Black girl magic and Black joy before we’d formally named them.
Regular Atlanta Pride – their fave – could never.
Events like Gay Pride are meant to celebrate the entire marginalized group, but sometimes being Black is still a burden. To be clear, using Black gay vernacular like “yaaaaas” and “slay,” and delighting in the artistry of Black [gay] icons like Beyoncé are welcome. It’s the Black people who are not, or are dismissed as background noise.
In a 2016 piece for The Advocate, Les Fabian Brathwaite writes that “Black LGBT Pride celebrations …[were] providing a safe space for queer people of color to build community and find a sense of self.” In my view, our culture places much value on sameness. By that, I mean it’s okay to recognize social, cultural, and racial differences without trafficking in prejudice. When we adopt “all ___ lives matter” positions, we risk erasing the unique experiences that exist within marginalized groups. At Black Pride, we celebrate with our music, our style. And we confront the issues that challenge our communities in particular because we must. Unity Prides are less likely to focus on uniquely Black LGBTQ issues.
In Washington, D.C., Black Pride is Memorial Day weekend. Last year, the Washington Blade, DC’s LGBTQ news source, posed a question to several LGBTQ leaders and activists: do we still need Black Pride? Respondents included Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of Mayor Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride, and many others. More than a dozen responses are compiled in the article, and the answer was unanimous: yes, Black Pride still plays an important role in the health, visibility, and celebration of Black queer lives.
David Bruinooge, founder of the Equality March for Unity and Pride, said in the same article that, “[t]he various Prides celebrate their unique identities. Communities should come together to celebrate their uniqueness and see themselves.” In 1996, Atlanta Black Pride Weekend was the only event of its kind that centered the Black LGBTQ community.
This year, Black Prides will convene in cities from London and Paris to Memphis, Indianapolis, and even Birmingham. And they will convene in conjunction with mainstream Pride celebrations. Black and queer communities have always had to carve out their place in society. And society has been better for it. I’m proud of that.
Cover Photo The Black Youth Project