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LGBT BLACK PRIDE Innovative Programming Takes 2003 to New Heights
by Cleve Adkins

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Like most events characteristic of the magnitude of Windy City Black LGBT Pride, planning has to begin almost immediately after each year's week of events ends. But this year the United in Pride 2003 Board of Directors and volunteer committee chairpersons faced the daunting task of budget cutbacks and the preliminary fear that out-of-town guests might pass on Chicago as the fear of terrorism looms in the air.

But under the leadership of outgoing Executive Director Thayer L. Johnson, a founding member who was asked by his colleagues to remain at the helm for a third year, United in Pride 2003 appears to have surpassed everyone's expectations.

And for this writer, it even brought the added joy of finding someone who just might be 'Mr. Right.' Thus with as much objectivity as can be mustered, given such personal disclosure, this year was successful because it was marked by a greater variety of well-planned events than had even been attempted.

Perseverance overcomes budget cuts

'Like most African-American organizations, we had difficulty getting funds this year, as most of those dollars tend to come from white organizations,' Johnson said. 'And some individuals who made significant donations in years past were unable to do so this year. But the biggest challenge was the City of Chicago cutting funds well over 25 percent, which made production of a special pride quite difficult. We still had the commitment of our volunteers, but to achieve success you need finances.'

Johnson went on to say that many who attend the annual Black pride events are unaware of how much it actually costs the organization. For example, last year's budget was just over $40,000.

'While we included some new events this year that we believed would increase participation, particularly among our youth, we reluctantly had to charge admission for some of the programs.'

Pat Combs, who served as Johnson's vice-president, added that other factors contributed to the struggle for sufficient funds.

'We were caught behind in the planning process when MOIP [Minority Outreach Intervention Project] closed,' she said. 'They had acted as our fiduciary agency—Windy City Black LGBT Pride had been covered under their 501(c)3. And without their organization in place, it made it that much harder to get things done. We were without a central location and we were still trying to book places and schedule events well in advance. And everyone on the planning committee agreed that this year we wanted to include more options for those in attendance—things that would attract the wide range of ages and appetites of our collective community.'

Chin sets the stage for hot, new poets

DEF Poetry Jam super poet StaceyAnn Chin helped kick-off this year's United in Pride with a benefit performance aimed at raising funds for United in Pride 2003 at Leo's Den on the city's South Side Tuesday, July 1. For those not in the know, Leo's Den has become the home of many budding spoken-word artists, under the tutelage of our very own C.C. Carter, who has an outstanding group of dedicated sisters who have put their talents together to establish Pow Wow Wednesdays—an opportunity for LGBT poets to head South and speak what's on their minds.

'I always try to put my mouth where my heart is,' Chin said following her performance. 'And truly it has been no easy task to bring Black LGBTs out each week on the South Side of Chicago.'

Chin tackled such topics as domestic violence, the exclusion of Blacks from the white queer movement, growing old and her childhood experiences in Jamaica, including a moving piece in which she describes the fear she suffered as eight young men attempted to sexually assault her in her teen years.

'If we don't start addressing the needs of the queer community of color soon, we may find ourselves going back to the drawing board,' she said. 'Representation is necessary. I know that I am blessed to be an artist that always has work, but so many others from the community are struggling and aren't receiving the kind of support they should from other sisters and brothers in the life.

'I guess you might say I pattern my life after pioneers like Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King and Audre Lorde. ... In my own way, I'm attempting to write my people and our specific way of life into history.'

Chin added that she admires many of the young LGBTs who are making themselves more visible than any other generation.

'It's great to be out there and demand that others recognize you, but our youth need to realize that they have to become more politically aware and connected. Many of them don't see how much they benefit from the battles of their elders. I'm concerned that some of those rights that they take for granted may one day be lost,' she said.

But not to be outdone, last year's Poetry Slam first-place winner from New York City, T'ai Freedom Ford, returned with her own special vibe the following evening at the official opening of this year's celebration on Wednesday night.

Decisions, decisions

One way to remember this year's United in Pride might be by uttering the phrase 'Decisions, decisions,' because there was so much to do.

The always anticipated LGBT Poetry Slam, again sponsored by Northern Trust, was without a doubt one of the most heavily attended events of the week. The event has grown in popularity since it was started in 1998 by C.C. Carter (man, that sister gets around doesn't she?).

Several things stood out as noteworthy at this year's poetry slam. First, with approximately 40 contestants entered and performing their own styles of wizardry, two-thirds of the poets were under 24 years of age. And after a first-round performance by 16-year-old phenomenon Perre Shelton, Northern Trust tripled the prize money to $1,500 for first prize. And with a total of $2,600 given away to the three eventual winners, you can be sure that next year the stage will be full as actors, philosophers and once-closeted poets prepare for their debut.

Samaiya and E. Nina James took second and third place, respectively. And what were the topics that these new generation James Baldwins and Audre Lordes chose to tackle? I Like Pussy, Tribute to Women, I Like Fat Girls, I Am a Blues Poet, Reparations, What It Means to be Black, and I Smelled Your Ass Was Straight.

Of course in addition to the annual events, like the picnic/festival at Rainbow Beach, which closed out the activities on Sunday, July 6, there were some other firsts.

Two fiery seasoned veterans from the Black LGBT community, Adodi President Kenneth McCane and Jackie Anderson, responded to cries last year for something aimed at the more mature crowd and co-hosted an over-40 steppers dance, which started just as the Poetry Slam was ending.

'A lot of the older girls like to go stepping regularly,' Anderson said. 'And some of us have grown too stiff for all of that hip hoppin' and percolating. It's happening at Star Gaze now and for awhile we had these sets going on at Club Escape—all aimed at LGBT crowds.'

DJ Sheron added that she hopes those within the Black LGBT community will continue to work on collaborative projects. 'I would love to one day have a place like the Regal Theater that presents the kinds of entertainment enjoyed by the gay community,' she said. 'Live entertainment, pageants, dances, you name it. But it will take us all working together.'

McCane said the steppers' set, as well as the Youth Dance, also held on Friday, July 4, were separate but necessary events for every Pride weekend.

'The steppers' set not only affirms and includes a more mature community, but also pays homage to many great entertainers who have paved the way through the harsh days of segregation. We wanted something for our youth to attend, like their own party, but far too often we see that in our same-gender-loving community, entertainment is primarily aimed at the younger audience.'

Adodi also held its monthly men's support group meeting at the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Chicago, during the weekend.

But if poetry or steppin' weren't your thing, there was a pageant hosted by the 'Heavy Diva' Otis Mack, following the tradition of similar events started in New York City. Mack promised glitz and glamour and he was true to his words.

'There is always a king and queen selected at white pride, but never at our own event,' Mack said. 'This was something very different from our previous kinds of programming here in Chicago, but it was time.'

Community Awards Luncheon honors 'best of the best'

Absent from the dais this year was the witty Borris Powell, who served as last year's master of ceremonies. But given the encouraging words by guest speaker, Earl Fowlkes, president of the Federation of Black Prides, and the special performance by Rochelle Fleming, we didn't miss Brother Powell as much as we first though we would.

According to Fowlkes, the Black Pride movement is growing rapidly, even as far away as Toronto, London and Johannesburg, but Chicago, along with Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., continue to host the largest gatherings in the U.S.

'This has now become a movement that 10 years ago we could not have imagined,' Fowlkes said. 'Our community is coming of age despite allegations that we are all on the DL [Down Low]. We have a history—these pride events—that need to be shared, documented and passed on to future generations.'

Fowlkes also applauded the efforts of the Chicago planners of United in Pride 2003.

'City officials are beginning to realize that you are job holders, home owners and tax payers,' he said. 'And that means you have power and a voice. We remain a great untapped market among American consumers. But even with that, we need to remain united and out there in the public's face because there are still those who don't think it's such a great idea that we are all here at this hotel together to celebrate our lives. Black Pride as it continues to grow has the unique opportunity to give us a voice and to carry our agenda to our local and national leaders.'

Winners at the luncheon included: Lora Branch, Chef Tanya Award; Frankie Knuckles, Derrick Henderson Award; Lorrainne Sade Baskerville, Leslie Rejanee Award; Men of Onyx Inc., Club LaRay Institutional Award; and Debra Bedford, Derrick Hicks Community Activists Award.

Was there something for everyone ... and then some? There sure was. We'll see you next year.

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