The Atlanta Pride festival may still be a little under two months away, but the city won’t be lacking for a massive gay celebration in the meantime. Atlanta Black Pride 2012, organized by In The Life Atlanta (ITLA), takes over the Meliá Atlanta Hotel from August 29 and runs through September 3.
Billed as “the world’s largest Pride celebration for African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Black Gay Pride has grown from humble local beginnings into an event that draws revelers from around the world.
The festival kicks off on Wednesday, August 29 with a candlelight vigil at Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta.
On Thursday evening, attendees can pre-register for events, as well as attend a “Chocolate and Crème” VIP welcome reception and gala ball.
Friday hits the ground running with a full day of registration, where attendees may register for the events, workshops, and other Pride components they wish to attend. Also taking place all day is the Black Pride Marketplace. The two-day marketplace will feature vendors offering merchandise including books, hair care products, apparel, soaps and aromatherapy oils, adult entertainment magazines, novelty items, art, videos, and of course GLBT-themed items.
Festival-goers can officially kick off their Black Gay Pride weekend with a Friday night opening ceremony, followed by “Speakfire,” an open mic celebration of erotic poetry.
Saturday will be the first day to offer a smorgasbord of cultural and wellness offerings. From 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., be sure to visit the free Health & Life Expo, with sponsors including AID Atlanta, Lambda Legal, Georgia Equality, and L.A. Fitness. The day also boasts the marketplace, a community luncheon and “State of Black Gay America” summit, and a host of workshops covering topics of direct interest to the African-American GLBT experience.
“The workshops are a prominent part of the weekend because it provides education, training, and informative presentations that individuals may not otherwise have access to,” said Raymond R. Duke, president of In The Life Atlanta. “The workshops are open to anyone, but for the most part these are LGBTQIA presenters of African descent, presenting to LGBTQIA audiences of African descent. It’s us educating us, not to mention some of the presenters don’t get to Georgia, and most of the attendees don’t get to travel to see the presenters in person.”
Also notable on Saturday is the “See Us in the Life” film festival, which will present films of interest to the black gay community and will include a gala red carpet ceremony. The festival’s featured film is TLA Releasing’s Finding Me: Truth.
On Sunday, the marketplace and workshops return. The day will also include a jazz brunch, interfaith service, and attendance at the Atlanta Dream vs. Connecticut Sun basketball game at Philips Arena. The day will round out with the second annual “The White Party” with Tha Bigdogs and a fashion show.
Black Gay Pride closes out on Monday with registration and the marketplace.
With Black Gay Pride being unique in taking place over the course of six days, as opposed to the fewer number many other Prides are held in, the inspiration for the expanded number of days might have been strategic, Duke theorizes.
“I wasn’t one of the original founders or planners, but I’m guessing [the inspiration] was cultural education and entertainment, and making the best use of reaching those participants during the weekend in the midst of their evening entertainment options and overall holiday celebrating,” Duke said. “I am an advocate of dropping some science in the consciousness of our brothers and sisters in between their parties and special events that the club promoters provide, and the overall plans that one might already have in place.”
In addition to the official events hosted by In The Life Atlanta, revelers can dive into a bevy of sizzling, off-the-chain nightlife parties and other throw downs presented by RockStars Production, Traxx Atlanta, and The Lion’s Den Atlanta. For complete details and a lineup schedule, check out www.labordayrock.com. RockStars’ most hotly anticipated party will be the Friday, August 31 performance by RCA Records/MBK Entertainment, Inc. recording artist Elle Varner.
For a full calendar of events click here
Challenges – Present and Future
Producing any large-scale event or festival has logistical and financial challenges, but for a nonprofit organization like In The Life Atlanta, those obstacles can seem higher when putting on Black Gay Pride, particularly when relying largely on sponsorships and in-kind support.
“We have had some of our major sponsors regretfully decline to assist us this year, blaming the economy,” said Duke. “This year, we have Kaiser Permanente, AID Atlanta, and Positive Impact … and a host of in-kind supporters.”
In contrast to Atlanta Pride, which is free, Black Gay Pride charges admissions to its events. Because ITLA is a nonprofit, funds it raises are channeled directly into overhead costs including fees set by host hotels for food and beverages, audio-visual needs, printing of the Pride Guide, and presenting the health fair and workshops. ITLA also endeavors to make as sizable a donation as possible “to an organization that supports LBGTQIA,” Duke noted.
“Historically, we solicit funds based upon our event needs, so we often end each year not owing anyone. However, we don’t have much in our accounts afterwards,” Duke said. “Most people have a gross misconception about our organization’s finances. We welcome them to learn more and then donate more.”
Transitioning from its humble beginnings as an informal Labor Day barbecue among friends into the major annual event it has become, Black Gay Pride has encountered its fair share of hurdles that had to be surmounted and that remain today.
“I can only speak to the ones I’ve seen since 2005 to date, [and] they are the lack of major sponsors, and/or the confusion of major sponsors as to who and what they are sponsoring, and trying to get native Atlantans or those who have relocated here to support the weekend,” Duke said. “We still battle our own community. The event weekend pie is so large, yet some would consume it all if allowed. Clearly, we have black LGBTQIA’s who live in communities, yet we are still working to form a genuine, sincere, formative black LGBTQIA community.”
Stigmas, and a rich history
Black Gay Pride is well attended now, and yet there persists a reluctance – then and now – from many African-American GLBT’s to a festival where participation would make them openly visible in their communities, suggests Duke.
White GLBT’s can admire celebrities like Anderson Cooper, Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek and American Horror Story), Jodie Foster, Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge, Ian McKellen (X-Men and The Lord of the Rings), and others.
However, for African-American gays and lesbians, the choices of openly gay, contemporary A-list public figures to serve as inspirational role models seem far fewer: Lee Daniels, director of Precious and the forthcoming The Paperboy; Wanda Sykes; RuPaul; rising hip-hop singer Frank Ocean; and, perhaps, CNN anchor Don Lemon.
In the black community, “[there is] still a stigma attached. People who lay a foundation almost always benefit from its privilege,” Duke said. “I think that some people don’t want to be a representative pseudo poster child, not to mention having to deal with the stigma and what all flows [with] it. It’s a process.”
Famous black GLBT’s in history included Lorraine Hansberry (playwright, author of A Raisin in the Sun); Josephine Baker (singer); the late E. Lynn Harris (author); Alvin Ailey (choreographer); Langston Hughes (poet, playwright, author); James Baldwin (playwright, essayist and novelist); Angela Davis (activist); Audre Lorde (author); and Bayard Rustin, a friend and personal advisor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Rustin organized King’s historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
With that said, for all the lack of prominent contemporary black gay leaders, those legendary black queer creative artists and community leaders were trailblazers and unwitting inspiration for modern organizations like In The Life Atlanta.
“Those who have been forthcoming and open about not just being LGBTQIA, but about who they are and what they stand for and what they inspire others to aspire to, have made a tremendous impact on groups and individuals now,” Duke said.
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