On April 28, Charlotte Pride and Charlotte Black Pride issued a joint statement canceling this summer’s Prides. The statement was not a surprise, but the fact that the two organizations issued it together was noteworthy.
For years, Charlotte Pride and Charlotte Black Pride have quietly collaborated and supported each other’s events. Many in Charlotte’s LGBTQ community saw the groups as two separate entities with little overlap.
“I don’t know why people feel like we don’t get along with Charlotte Pride, that we’re at odds,” said Charlotte Pride Chair Shan Fulton. It’s not that way at all. We work well together.”
Organizers issued a joint statement because this year, the two Prides were scheduled about week apart. Charlotte Pride moved to the first weekend in August to accommodate the Republican National Convention happening later that month.
“As we were looking ahead at the COVID-19 crisis, we knew that if one of us made an announcement without the other, the other would be inundated with questions,” said Jerry Yelton, Charlotte Pride director of programming and development.
Most of the organizations’ leaders were not involved 15 years ago when Charlotte Black Pride started and when Charlote Pride was tucked away in Gateway Village. Recollections about why Charlotte Black Pride began differ among people who were leaders back then. One thing is clear; however, black gays and lesbians here wanted a celebration that recognized black culture, faith and social justice.
Jermaine Nakia Lee said he and other founders of Black Pride approached Charlotte Pride organizers multiple times in the early 2000s about programming that would make Pride more reflective of the city’s growing Black LGBTQ population.
“There was no black and brown programming at all,” said Lee, a current Charlotte Black Pride board member.
Monica Simpson, another Black Pride co-founder, worked at the now-defunct Lesbian and Gay Community Center of Charlotte and qnotes back then. Simpson said there was division among race and age at the time.
“When we were coming up the city was so divided. The lines were so clearly drawn,” Simpson said. “I remember the voices of young people were not wanted at the table.”
When Charlotte Black Pride launched in 2005, it featured a weekend of live musical performances, theater, dance parties, workshops an interfaith and more.
“They built something amazing. As young people, they took it an ran,” said Sacred Souls United Church of Christ Bishop Tonyia Rawls. “There was a hunger for community, there was a hunger for a black experience for them in terms of the ways that we would do a Pride.”
David Moore was editor of qnotes back then and a senior advisor for Charlotte Pride in 2006. He acknowledged that the LGBTQ community, like society at large, has a variety of ‘isms;’ however, he thought Black Pride began because organizers wanted to celebrate black culture.
“The people that I worked with were a broad spectrum of the community and there was always an effort to be inclusive. We wanted everybody to be a part of it,” Moore said. “I never got the feeling from that period of time that there was anything that would have made anyone feel not welcome. I can’t address what came before that because I don’t know.”
He was glad to see the two groups working together now.
“We’re looking at a younger generation of people that are more broad-minded and don’t necessarily think in terms of the difference in culture, but how they can help each other and how they can add culture distinctiveness to each other.”
In those days, Rawls was the pastor of Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte. Many of the Black Pride founders and volunteers attended her church on Eastway Dr.
“I’ve been so excited to see how this evolved,” Rawls said. “Of course we should all be presented as one with the opportunity for each group’s unique efforts to also be recognized and celebrated.”
The COVID-19 statement quietly signaled the shift that has occurred between the two organizations. The current leaders want organizations that reflect the rich diversity of this city.
The relationship began five years ago with Reel Out Charlotte, the LGBTQ film festival. Initially, Fulton said festival organizers asked them to volunteer, but that conversation grew into a night at the showcase. Since then leaders of the two Prides have attended InterPride conferences together. Lee said Charlotte Pride shares information about resources and is a community sponsor for Black Pride.
“Yes, there’s some history, but it’s history, it’s not how we work together,” Yelton said.
Fulton added, “It’s important as a part of the community and as community leaders to bridge gaps and find ways to work together for the benefit of the overall community.”
The pandemic’s decimation of marginalized communities shows why we need these bridges now more than ever. The Prides’ joint statement highlights a relationship that few knew existed, but was long overdue. We need each other.