Scholar Nikki Lane discuss D.C.’s Black Pride history
Credit: Carletta Girma

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“Beyond Stonewall: How D.C. Shifted the Nature of Pride”

By the time D.C.’s inaugural Black Pride celebration was thrown in 1991, the city had already become a sort of mecca for the Black LGBTQ community. Nikki Lane, assistant professor of Black queer studies at Spelman College, attributes much of the city’s status to a popular membership club for local Black gays and lesbians known as the Club House. From 1975 until 1990, the club hosted an annual Memorial Day party celebrating Black gay and lesbian culture. During its 15 years in business, the Club House drew attendees from well beyond city limits. As did the city itself, says Lane: “D.C. ends of up being beacon for Black gay people because there are a bunch of Black people here.” So when the Club House closed in 1990, a group formed the Black Pride Committee, which went on to create the city’s—and country’s—first Black Pride celebration. But as Lane points out, the timing of the event is especially important. “It’s 1990,” she says. “HIV and AIDS is decimating Black gay and lesbian life. It’s ripping and ravaging through the city.” Unlike larger, mainstream Pride events, which evolved from the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, Black Pride was intended to celebrate Black LGBTQ culture while simultaneously creating safe space and raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS crisis that continues to disproportionately affect Black people. The event’s creation in 1991 marks a visible break in the LGBTQ community, says Lane, where there’s a clear divide between what’s important to Black and White queer organizers. “Black Pride were taking on this LGBTQ celebration that happened every year in D.C.; they were frustrated by the fact that [Pride] wasn’t calling out or calling attention to this crisis that was happening around Black people.” Lane, who began studying the history of Black Pride after writing her dissertation on Black queer life in D.C., will discuss the city’s role in the creation and evolution of Black Pride and its continued importance today at the Smithsonian Associates’ virtual seminar, “Beyond Stonewall: How D.C. Shifted the Nature of Pride.” The lecture starts July 22 at 6:45 p.m. $20-25.