Why celebrating Black Gay Pride in itself is activism

During the summer of 1986, the National Coalition of Black Lesbians & Gays released the first edition of Black/Out, a quarterly newspaper by founding editor Joseph Beam. In this first edition, noted black feminist Barbara Smith discusses being in community with other black LGBTQ folks.

“My perceptions about race are not something I have to explain to activist Black gay men, nor do I need to delineate the challenge of being queer in the Black community.

I also don't have to explain the talk I talk, why I cannot get into white women's music, why I do not call Black persons past a certain age by their first names, or why I am so worried about our youth.

It's all understood. We share language, culture, values, the African genius, family ties — in short we share Blackness." 

That’s exactly what Black Pride feels like to me – safe harbor in a world where there are few spaces that feel safe and where black queer folks can exist without explanation or validation. In Atlanta, we pay homage to those folks who first gathered for a picnic in 1996 over Labor Day Weekend.

As they were laying the groundwork for what would become Black Gay Pride in Atlanta, they were doing much more than convening a get-together, but demonstrating an act of political defiance. They recognized that our love is an act of political resistance.

I wonder if they knew then the importance of their decision?

As the LGBTQ rights movement took shape in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, black queer people found themselves wedged between two movements. The LGBTQ rights movement, though largely birthed by black and brown trans folks at the Stonewall Inn and other actions, was essentially a white movement that failed to embrace us. 

And while the gay white movement mostly omitted black trans lives, the black civil rights movement was also slow toadd gender and sexual politics to its agenda.While there were progressive leaders like Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor of Atlanta, who believed that people should have basic civil rights, including LGBTQ people, the need for a space that was both black and queer was, and continues to be, critical. 

In 2018, black people are still systematically limited in our ability to live, move, gather and participate fully in our democracy and our economy. For example, in the past few months alone, there have been a number of incidents that exploded onto social media and made national headlines of police being called on black people who were just going about their daily lives in myriad places including the dorm, sitting in Starbucks, and leaving an Airbnb. 

I cannot imagine Atlanta, during that first picnic in 1996, being an any kinder place for black people, especially those who were also living openly as members of the LGBTQ community. 

Suffice it to say, they were brave. 

Even today, every time we make the active choice to place shame, fear and rejection on the back burner and live openly as LGBTQ people, we are taking a radical stance. In doing so, we pay homage to those who stood in the gap before us.

So this Black Gay Pride, remember that just by being here, we celebrate our survival, and we demonstrate to a new generation that a space must exist for all of our identities. 

Eric Paulk is an Atlanta advocate working at the intersections of race, class, and sexuality. This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue below.