“I tell folks that some of us work at the intersectionality of Black and queer, or Black and gay. So everything we do is in that vein, where we are actually creating spaces for us to be able to come together,” says Kenya Hutton, deputy director of the Center for Black Equity, which organizes DC Black Pride, an annual celebration held Memorial Day Weekend.
“There are very few Black queer spaces for us to gather and talk about things that are affecting us as a community,” Hutton continues. “So at DC Black Pride, as well as other Black Pride celebrations, it’s important to create and maintain those spaces, which are disappearing, especially in some states where they’re trying to erase the Black conversation and the queer conversation.”
Hutton says that Black LGBTQ people can sometimes feel that their very existence is under attack, especially in this online era where more people feel emboldened to anonymously spread anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ messages, often employed in the service of attacking Black LGBTQ individuals.
He adds that the feeling of being under attack can be especially strong in places where politicians have sought to crack down on what they see as the promotion of “critical race theory,” — not so much the college-level sociological theory itself, but any organizations or movements that raise questions about or call attention to racial inequality, inequity, or systemic racism — as well as on displays of LGBTQ identity, especially those involving gender-nonconformity.
By the same token, Hutton doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that DC Black Pride weekend attracts a significant number of revelers from the Deep South, where many bills attacking so-called “wokeness” are being proposed and passed, and where funding for some Black and LGBTQ organizations has dried up.
“We get a lot of hate mail from people that call us all kinds of racist things, everything from posting pictures of monkeys to racist memes online,” Hutton says. “Then you also have the anti-LGBTQ people calling us pedophiles and deviants and accusing us of going against God. In an environment where that is the thought process of some people, it’s important for us to create a safe space to be able to come together, albeit only once a year.
“At the same time, that once a year feels almost like a family reunion, where folks who don’t see each other regularly get a chance to come and be who they are, and don’t have to worry about being judged,” he adds. “DC Black Pride creates a space where people from any part of the country can come to celebrate Blackness and queerness all at the same time.”
For this year’s DC Black Pride, organizers are paying homage to the ClubHouse, a fabled after-hours dance club in D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood that operated from 1975 to 1990 and doubled as a community gathering space.
“The ClubHouse really turned into a space for folks to come together, raise funds, get access to medications, and share information on issues affecting the Black community, especially Black gay men, during those times,” says Hutton. “Part of our work today is we try to remain as close to the core of what DC Black Pride was, so we will always have a health component, as well as an education component.
“We have a slew of enrichment workshops, where people can talk about issues going on both locally and across the country or where they’re coming from,” he added. “Thinking about the almost 500 anti-LGBTQ bills that have been pushed across the country, we wanted to create a space for folks to talk about some of those things and how to navigate those spaces and what it’s like. And we can also offer them support and find out what they need.”
In recent years, DC Black Pride has struggled to promote those enrichment workshops, especially among some revelers who have prioritized the weekend’s more celebratory aspects, including dance parties at various club venues that draw top musical artists and performers.
“I think that will always be a struggle, finding that balance,” says Hutton. “People come to D.C. not just to hear us talk or go to a workshop, but to party and have a good time. So we try our best to collaborate with our party promoters, especially those from the D.C. area.”
This year in particular, a number of major official parties will be centered around and taking place at the host hotel, the Renaissance Washington DC Downtown, at 999 9th St. NW. Organizers are hoping that housing the workshops and the parties at the same hotel will encourage some revelers to attend the enrichment workshops and other educational activities. Hutton estimates that more than 2,500 people came to the vendor expo or attended the workshops at last year’s Black Pride, and expects that figure to increase this year.
From Thursday, May 25 to Sunday, May 28, DC Black Pride will have a Health and Wellness Pavilion on one of the floors in the Renaissance, which will be staffed with nurses, doctors, and community health organizers. The pavilion is intended to serve as a one-stop shop for all health-related services, including HIV testing; full-panel screenings for sexually transmitted infections; vital sign measurements; Mpox vaccines; overdose prevention kits; and Doxy PEP, a post-exposure prophylaxis regimen that helps prevent the transmission of STIs if begun within 24 hours after condomless sex. The Health and Wellness Pavilion will also offer massages, mini-facials, and other spa-type services.
On Thursday evening, May 25, DC Black Pride will hold its annual “Unity Ball” from 8 p.m. to midnight at the host hotel. The event, hosted by the Capitol Ballroom Council, is free and open to the public, featuring a number of categories where participants will battle for trophies and over $3,000 in cash prizes.
That same night, a women-centric kickoff party will be held at Metrobar, at 640 Rhode Island Ave. NE, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., while promoter Daryl Wilson presents “The Jump Off,” an opening party where attendees can pick up early bird passes and meet the official Pride dancers, at the Ugly Mug at 723 8th St. SE.
On Friday evening, from 5 to 9 p.m., Black Pride will host “Rainbow Row,” an exhibition featuring various organizations with tables and information booths, as well as multiple vendors. The expo will take place at the Renaissance, and will also be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday.
On Friday evening, from 6 to 9 p.m., also at the Renaissance, DC Black Pride is hosting its “Opening Reception Talent Showcase,” a ticketed event featuring local LGBTQ artists and entertainers of color.
Saturday is primarily the day when most of the enrichment workshops happen. The weekend will feature a “Trans Town Hall,” a forum to discuss issues impacting the trans community, hosted by SaVanna Wanzer, and featuring keynote speaker Syria St. Clair, the current Miss Black America titleholder.
There will also be “An Homage to the ClubHouse,” a ticketed event featuring music by DJ Suspence celebrating the legacy of the ClubHouse and its impact on the local LGBTQ community. On Saturday, May 27, from 6 to 9 p.m., DC Black Pride will hold its annual Mary Bowman Poetry Slam, where attendees can share their own poetry and spoken word pieces with others, with more than $1,000 in prizes given to the most talented participants. That event will be hosted by four-time winner Kenneth Something.
Other workshops include “Lez Talk About It,” a discussion of various issues affecting and from the perspective of lesbian women; “Moves Tank,” a discussion, to be led by Tariq O’Mealley of the D.C.-based youth organization SMYAL about issues affecting Black and brown LGBTQ youth and their bodies; “Onyx University,” a discussion broaching issues around kink and BDSM; and workshops focusing on LGBTQ veterans’ issues, faith communities, and pronouns.
In addition to the nightly parties at various clubs, the weekend will conclude with “Pride in the Park,” a picnic at Fort Dupont Park in Southeast D.C. from noon to 7 p.m. that features a number of games and physical activities, as well as live entertainment.
“It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite event in particular, because I work on all things equally and want everything to be successful,” Hutton says. “I’m just looking forward to having a great Pride, having good weather, and getting a lot of people to come to our workshops. The parties are always great, but when I sit in the lobby and see the people walking back and forth [between workshops] and still having a good time, that’s what I look forward to every year.”
The 32nd Annual DC Black Pride will run from Thursday, May 25 to Monday, May 29, with many events taking place at the host hotel, the Renaissance Washington DC Downtown, 999 9th St. NW. For a full schedule of events, or more information about DC Black Pride, visit dcblackpride.org.