•BLK PEARL•

Black • Brown • Indigenous • Trans • Queer

Pride event for black LGBTQ individuals organized for Birmingham

By Jonece Starr Dunigan

jdunigan@al.com

After many years in the making, multiple LGBTQ organizations are coming together to host a black gay pride in Birmingham from August 17-19.

Known as Bham Black Pride, the series of events will include an awards banquet honoring advocates of the black LGBTQ community, an empowerment seminar, a black gay pride party at Saturn, an interfaith service and will close out with a community picnic at Bessie Estell Park complete a kid zone and two DJs playing house music. All events are free with the exception of the banquet which costs $15 per person or $22.50 per couple.

To see a full schedule of events, you can click here.

Bham Black Pride was created to celebrate, uplift and support the black LGBTQ individuals - a community that is often caught in the crossfire of racism and homophobia, head organizer Christopher McCummings said.

"We are a red state," McCummings said. "A lot of things (Alabama does) don't seem to be for the LGBTQ community period just like we don't do anything healthy and good for the black community. So when you hold both titles, that despairs you even more."

McCummings said gay prides for black individuals provides spaces where people can be themselves while also getting the resources that may be lacking in the community. Black same-sex couples are three times as likely as white same-sex couples to live in poverty, according to a national survey conducted by The Williams Institute, UCLA Law School and the LGBTQ Poverty Collaborative. This same study concluded that the unemployment rate among transgender people of color is four times higher than the average U.S. unemployment rate.

Black gay prides have existed since 1991, when the first official Black and Lesbian Gay Pride Day was planned in Washington, D.C. According to the Center of Black Equity, a global nonprofit supporting, 34 black pride events have been scheduled across the nation this year. That's four more than were scheduled in 2013. The largest events are held in Atlanta, D.C. and Los Angeles.

Small gatherings for black LGBTQ individuals have been planned in the past, but this will be the first black gay pride for the city that has a corporate sponsor. McCummings started thinking about a celebration for Birmingham while promoting an event for black lesbians in 2006. McCummings gathered with a group of black LGBTQ members to start planning Birmingham's black pride in 2010, but he said the idea was tabled due to lack of funding.

He continued talking about the idea with Tony Christon-Walker, director of prevention and community partnerships for AIDS Alabama, who was able to help McCummings secure sponsorships from businesses like Viiv Healthcare, a pharmaceutical company specializing in HIV therapies.

Other groups who are helping with the festivities include Blk Pearl, a Birmingham-based organization providing safe leisurely and learning environments for Southern LGBTQ women of color living at or below the poverty line, statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Alabama and the Center of Black Equity. McCummings said Central Alabama Pride, which hosted its annual gay pride celebration in June, has also reach out to help.

"They realize that, 'Although we have this huge pride and we are all in this thing together, you are still this marginalized segment of people who don't get an opportunity to really express and do the things that you need to do.'" McCummings said. "Black Pride is the place where we can find comfort in both our blackness and queerness away from either of the communities that have yet to fully embrace us. This is not a petty, 'We have our own pride.' This is, 'We've needed a black gay pride to help us manage the ramifications of racism and bigotry.'"

While the point of black prides is to serve the black LGBTQ community, McCummings said the festivities are open to all. McCummings especially wants to appeal to the black LGBTQ youth, who experienced the highest rates of homelessness in a University of Chicago study. He said that LGBTQ youth are suffering from depression and struggling with drug abuse because they don't have support in their homes, schools and churches.

"I am hearing from the youth that they are afraid. I am hearing 'There aren't people out there like us,'" he said. "You kind of feel like you're in here by yourself. You are alone. No one is there to talk to you, encourage you or validate you. That's one of the things that we want this pride to help change."

People from different professions will be speaking during the empower conference event, which will take place at the DoubleTree by Hilton on Aug. 18 from 9 am until 2 p.m. Free HIV/AIDs testing will also be provided. Black LGBTQ authors will also be having a book fair.

McCummings said it is important that the black LGBTQ youth see successful professionals who look like them because they are told that they are not to live a fulfilling life.

"There is a mindset like, 'OK they are nothing. They aren't going to do anything or be anything. There are a number of things that I'm hearing like, 'You're a disgrace to the family,'" McCummings said. "So, we want to change that dynamic and that works for the children and there is also a partnership that we can make with the parents who are struggling with this problem of understanding their child."

McCummings stressed that this isn't a segregated pride. All people of all walks of like are invited to join the fun.