June 13, 2007 Print version
I first attended a Pride function in 1993. An exchange student at Howard from Duke, DC Pride's Banneker Field was an emotional touchstone towards visibility and self-acceptance as a gay black man. I was as drawn to the numbers LGBT people celebrating their pride in broad daylight. Having grown up in rural Arkansas, there was a sense of community that served as an affirming contrast to feelings of isolation and loneliness that I had experienced as a teen.
Then there became a greater awareness of my sexual self. Pride was an opportunity for a more vast connection beyond the ways we experience on the daily in many of our cities, where circles and cliques seem incestuous. I don't know that anyone would have issues with me having really attractive close male friends; so as much as we don't want our sexuality to define who we are, it's ultimately the fact that I have sexual desire for men that people take issue with my identity. So navigating my sexual self in the context of Pride became an evolving challenge---not wanting to be defined solely by sexuality, but also understanding its undeniable role in why we come together in such numbers. If thousands show up in droves for the Empowerment workshops and not the sexual opportunity, then maybe I've been hiding under a rock. Our Pride doesn't show up in our yearly marches in the streets where we declare our political presence, save a few brave exceptions I've experienced in Detroit and Atlanta. I'm not suggesting that Pride has to be expressed that way.
Is Pride as much about the politics as it is about the flirting, and I dare say sex?
Growing into Pride is about valuing the conferences, the cultural and social events, as much as it has been about indulging who I am as a sexual being. In my mid 30s, I realize that growing up has meant setting different expectations for myself with regard to Pride participation that are consistent with my overarching aspirations as a gay black man. If I want greater political presence and more social and economic empowerment for black "in the life", then how do the choices I make about Pride reflect that desire? Yeah" I'm working on the summer body too; but I'm also doing reflection enough to ensure that my spirit is also in the right place" for this summer, and beyond.
My first memory of 'Pride' dates back to 1997, when I was a student at Howard. When I experienced the Delta on that Saturday night in May, I knew I had died & gone to black gay heaven. The next day at Banneker Field, black gay people spent the day proudly wearing their gayness like a badge of honor. I was HOME.
I held on tight to that concept of being proud. But after the weekend passed, the pride around me seemed to vanish. Over time, it seemed Pride weekends had become less about being proud & more about sex parties, clubbin, etc. DC Black Pride offered workshops, & other events by day. But there were less of us in attendance at these events than there were out in the clubs at night. Clearly by then, I was jaded. But that was all before...
[I'm intentionally exposing all of my previous judgements here because as a result of them, I've been able to grow and gain a greater understanding not only of myself, but also of the world around me.]
For our 1st Brave Soul gathering in DC last year, I didn't expect brothas to come out for something that wasn't linked to some kind of celebrity, and/or sex party reference.
The response to BSC proved that we were already in the process of healing & loving ourselves. This gave me a dose of optimism. Windy City Black Pride gave me a wealth of hope. "Chi-town" was the first place we took BSC after DC, so I didn't know what to expect. What happened was an LGBT community that was already rooted in a sense of unity and purpose welcomed us with open arms. That weekend confirmed for me that Pride wasn't just a time to party, but also a time for us to look at our past(s), enjoy our present(s) and preserve our future(s). By then my outlook had completely changed regarding the potential for bonds & alliances to be formed. We then took BSC to Atlanta for Labor Day Weekend where we also gained a wealth of support.
In hindsight, I see that had it not been for my work with BSC, I might still be closed to the infinite possibilities these weekends hold. The nightlife and all that it encompasses has just as much of a place as do the workshops, films, spiritual gatherings and poetry slams. For me it's not about either/or [anymore], as much as its about being whole and experiencing ALL that PRIDE has to offer. Nothing can exist without it's opposite. Balance is the key to what PRIDE means to me.