When I was younger, my friends and I would frequent official and unofficial Charlotte Black Gay Pride events.
Many were disappointing; some were held in off-the-beaten-path venues and had high cover charges, questionable libations and small crowds. They were not very festive and left you feeling anything but prideful.
When he started started attending the parties, William Singleton, chairman of Charlotte Black Gay Pride, left unsatisfied as well.
"When I moved here and attended my first [Black Gay Pride event] I saw that is was a big party, but then I thought, what are you doing outside of all of this? I saw a lack of education, spirituality and unity in regards to the black, gay community."
In all fairness I would argue that the lack of unity in Charlotte's black gay community is symptomatic of a larger issue within the African-American community: not embracing its LGBT members, mostly because of the profoundly influential ideology of the church and its stance on issues of homosexuality. But not everyone in the community follows the church's lead. Fortunately that resistance was evident at this year's Black Gay Pride, "G.R.O.W. U.P. - Gay Rights: Openly Working Towards Unity and Peace," held July 18-25.
"I am very passionate about the spirit of black queer people being cultivated, nourished and respected," said Black Gay Pride board member Malu Fairley. "It is very hurtful when you have the black church historically saying you're less than or God does not love you. I believe none of that is true."
I attended the Thursday town-hall meeting at the Gay and Lesbian Center in NoDa, moderated by Charlotte Councilwoman Lawana Mayfield - the first openly gay person to serve on the Council. "The town-hall meeting is an opportunity for us to talk to the community," said Black Gay Pride board secretary Gwen Pearson.
The event was well-attended by a diverse crowd of lesbians, gays, transgendered people and everyone in between. I saw lesbians young and seasoned and the requisite gaggle of young fierce gay boys. But I would have liked to have seen more mature black gay males.
On Saturday I attended the EXPO, sponsored by Red Frog, an organization that hosts family oriented events, like basketball tournaments and skate parties. The gym was packed with basketball fans, and folks enthusiastically greeted one another with big smiles, loud exchanges and warm hugs.
I ventured outside to the stage area, which featured vendors, food and plenty of action. It was good to see Q Notes Editor Matt Comer and members of more mainstream gay organizations, like Charlotte Pride, in attendance.
Divas and drag queens kept the crowd laughing and engaged, which, in that heat, with all the hair, heels and makeup, was no small feat.
I still did not see the mature gay guy crowd, so I decided to head over to an all-boy day mixer (not sponsored by Black Gay Pride) held Uptown at the Roxbury from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. I arrived around 3:30 to an almost empty dance floor and a bar that was still being set up for the event. I left the mixer with an uncanny feeling of déjà vu from my past Pride parties.
On the walk to my car I realized that the small turnout most likely had nothing to do with organizing issues or Pride itself - some folks in the black community are just unable to formally validate their sexuality. But by not attending Pride, they are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the unique experience of being black and gay. So to all the folks who stayed away from Charlotte Gay Black Pride, I say "Come out, come out where ever you are."