Labor Day weekend brings tens of thousands to Atlanta for what is billed as the world’s largest Black Gay Pride. This year’s festivities will have added impact, as the nonprofit In the Life Atlanta celebrates 15 years of bringing cultural and educational events to the massive celebration.
In the Life Atlanta formed in 1996 to create a community component to Black Gay Pride, which began as an informal network of house parties, nightlife and other gatherings. This year, ITLA’s packed schedule of events focuses on the theme “A Crystal Ball” to mark the organization’s crystal anniversary.
“The overarching theme for our anniversary this year is ‘In the present, learning from the past to shape the future.’ We chose the crystal ball because it’s been 15 years; 15 is the crystal year,” explained ITLA President Raymond Duke.
“As for the ball, rather than say, a crystal goblet or the crystal itself, when you gaze into it, you can see what’s going on now and what’s happened in the past to get us to where we are now. And then it will also take you into the future to see what’s up ahead,” Duke said of the highly symbolic theme.
Duke’s remarks came Aug. 15 at the History of Black Gay Atlanta Press Conference at the Meliá Hotel. Presented by Meak Productions in partnership with The Tenth Amendment Media Group and Xtreme Entertainment, the press conference gave a sneak peek of the events to occur during Black Gay Pride.
The conference included representatives from In The Life Atlanta, the State of Black Gay America Summit, Traxx, Traxx Girls, and other club and event promoters, who promised that this year’s Black Gay Pride will continue to deliver quality entertainment and education.
In the Life Atlanta: ‘Calling upon our ancestors’
While Black Gay Pride began before In the Life Atlanta formed, the nonprofit brought important changes to the festivities, said Miko Evans, executive producer/CEO of Meak Productions.
“When there was no ITLA, I remember people just went out and partied with no cohesion [on Labor Day weekend],” Evans said. “Now all the major players have gotten together this year to celebrate ourselves.”
ITLA wants to entertain and educate through a variety of offerings that range from a health expo, workshops and a youth track to a fashion show, film festival and literary café.
“We are an organization that, for the past 15 years, has worked diligently to educate our community, to provide cultural services to our community, to look at the nuances of our population of men and women who are of African descent who could be transgendered—people who identify or don’t fit into certain sub-populations,” Duke said.
“We have historically done this and do this today, calling upon our ancestors on whose shoulders we stand to continue to support us, protect us, and sustain us to be able to do this for decades to come,” he continued.
Duke also discussed his vision for Black Gay Pride.
“We are a proud people, we matter, we make a difference, our dollar is very powerful and we are a force to be reckoned with. My vision for Black Gay Pride is that we continue to exist, to be proud,” he said.
He disagreed with those who say that they long for a day when there is no longer a need for a Black Gay Pride, countering “that’s like living for the day when there is no Fourth of July celebration or Martin Luther King day.
“People are still celebrating Civil Rights victories just as we should be celebrating the fact that we can be black and gay,” Duke said.
ITLA is also excited to be able to clear up the public misconception that it is somehow at odds with the Atlanta Pride Committee, which hosts the Atlanta Pride festival Oct. 8-9.
“The Atlanta Pride Committee is 40 years old — it’s an adult with a driver’s license and a mortgage. ITLA is just turning 15; we are barely getting our permit,” Duke said. “There is so much we can learn from the APC.”
State of Black Gay America: ‘Revitalizing our commitment’
The State of Black Gay America Summit, held each year on the Saturday of Black Gay Pride, celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2011.
The SBGA Summit was conceived by Darlene Hudson, an educational specialist advocate, and co-produced with Gregory Allen, the president and CEO of Xtreme Entertainment, Inc. Both attended the Aug. 15 press conference to discuss the event.
Hudson spoke of her vision of the summit working to help and nourish communities.
Allen discussed the importance of cohesion within the black LGBT community.
“People have to show up and show out; the only way to move ahead is to move together,” he said. “Black Gay Pride is everyone’s, so it’s our responsibility to see it through.
Earl Fowlkes, the president/CEO of the International Federation of Black Gay Prides, was announced as the keynote speaker.
“He’s a catalyst and resource for putting together Black Gay Prides all around the world,” Hudson said.
The theme of this year’s summit is “Revitalizing Our Commitment to Leadership, Diversity, and Community.”
One panel, “Revitalizing Our Commitment to Leadership and Community,” calls for setting the agenda for progress for the black LGBT community.
“We can’t be stagnant. In 10 years, Pride should look completely different; it should be better,” Hudson said.
“Atlanta sets the tone for the rest of the black gay world. This is the black gay mecca. When Atlanta does something, people watch. We set trends,” he said.
And as for the future of the Summit, Hudson acknowledged that organizers have big dreams: “We want to nationalize it. It isn’t called ‘The State of Black Gay Atlanta or Georgia.’ We want our model to be used across the nation. But first we have to get it right here,” she said.
Top photo: Organizers of Atlanta’s Black Gay Pride events gathered Aug. 15 for a press conference to show their unity and discuss plans for this year’s festivities. (Photo by Shaun Jones / Finesse, LLC)