June looks different for Black queer people as we celebrate Pride and commemorate Juneteenth within the same month. Pride is queer activism that started with a riot by two trans women of color in 1969. June 19 (Juneteenth) is the day in 1865 that enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom, marking the end of slavery in Texas. So in the context of Juneteenth, Pride Month becomes an even larger act of courage for Black queer people.
This year, these two concurrent events spark added emotions for our intersecting identities as hateful and oppressive anti-LGBTQ+ bills are passed in the Texas State Legislature. At the same time, we still feel the disparity as Black people who have never genuinely become free.
As I began to think about our continued journeys to freedom, it brought me to a notable local activist whose work often conjoins these complexities of race and sexuality. Kevin Anderson is widely known as a community advocate who founded The T.R.U.T.H. Project, an organization created to utilize the power of art as a catalyst for wellness and healing. The T.R.U.T.H. Project installments have given a stage of expression to many poets, dancers, visual artists, and musicians, including Marsha Ambrosius and Grammy Award-winning artist Chrisette Michelle. Still, Kevin’s journey to find peace within himself as a Black queer man has been a continuously winding road. He says, “I must remind myself that the work I do is often for me first.”
Kevin walked in to be interviewed as he enters any space: with a composed nature, a youthful look, and with salt-and-pepper locks falling to the middle of his back. After hearing his deep, mellow voice, you would never suspect the silencing he experienced as an 11-year-old boy. He describes that child as “an effeminate, double-dutching boy who regularly could be found with his hands on his hips.” Early on, his cousins would ridicule him to stop his expressions of queerness—even before he had the language or understanding to call it that.
For many queer kids, this is the norm. But being around Black men makes asserting our masculinity even more necessary. After all, for many Black males, the only thing they have to take pride in is their maleness.
In this context, Pride is obscured by the effects of generations of slavery and structural racism—all manifested in a boy’s identity uplifted by glorifying masculinity as his only asset.
As a young, effortlessly flamboyant boy in 1986, Kevin’s family treated him like a dark blemish. So shortly after he turned 17, he left for the military. “The first time I was around Black men was in the Navy; I picked up on many of their behaviors in that space,” Kevin recalls. “We pick up cloned behaviors. It’s all a part of us trying to find ourselves.”
Kevin’s chronic inability to feel his own pride seemed inescapable, even today. Sitting on the floor rubbing his legs, Kevin gazed up, remembering some of the difficult things he’s had to manage as he searched for contentment within himself. He recounts having suicidal ideations while he was driving to work, and realizing he needed someone to care for him. Turning his car around, he headed to the emergency room and checked himself into a mental health facility. This awakened him to realize how depleted he had become in searching for his best self. “Access to pride,” he says, “is not just opening the door. It really is about being conscious about looking for patterns.”
These patterns make being Black and gay inseparable identities that are essential to how one sees and is seen—patterns that make celebrating Pride Month and Juneteenth a single movement, intertwined within each other for those who exist as both Black and LGBTQ.
Our local Pride Houston organization has worked to bridge the gap of race, and over the past decade we have seen notable recognition given to Black LGBTQ people throughout the month of June. Still, as Kevin notes, we celebrate “Black Pride” in May—a separate month, and proof of how disconnected race is with Pride.
OutSmart’s May 2018 issue documented how Houston Splash—Houston’s Black Pride event in May—came to be. After Black people started attending an annual event primarily centering white gay men, its organizers moved the event elsewhere because of the influx of Black people. Although Pride is widely considered a time for the entire spectrum of queerness to experience joy and celebrate their existence, history reminds us why race must be intentionally included.
Still, Kevin is resolved to experience pride, joy, and love in all his intersections. “You find pride in creating a culture of new traditions that impact others, knowing that love is connected to trust. The joy is continuing to be a part of creative spaces and collaborations, knowing we’ve had and will continue to experience trauma. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.”
This is why during this year’s Pride Month, The T.R.U.T.H. Project is producing its fourth installment of an event titled “Feel My Pride” on June 30, in collaboration with MECA Houston. It’s a space where LGBTQ people of color—Black and Brown alike—will come together to express Pride through the lens of art. This event holds space for all the nuances connected to Pride, and for the reimagining of a culture that upholds freedom and the responsibility it entails.
“The tools we use to create this culture are vulnerability, openness to being coached, checking privilege, and honoring uncomfortability,” Kevin emphasizes as he sits upright against the wall with delight.
Though he may have been talking about curating an event that celebrates two cultures, Kevin’s description is the solution to finding Pride in Blackness for the entire spectrum of the LGBTQ community.
Black queer people have always existed in the margins of the greater LGBTQ community. With the spirit of our ancestors—color, identity, and orientation included—we still have the same fight for liberation. Without ignoring either part of our history, we find as much pride in our rainbows as we do in our locks. As much pride in our parades as we do in our coily hair. As much pride in our beads as we do in our long nails, and as much pride in our identity and orientation as we do in our Blackness.
For more info, visit truthprojecthtx.org.