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Empowering Narratives

Black Queer Advancement Festival Week is creating space for Black LGBTQ performers.

As a person in love with storytelling and a believer that history is often overlooked if it’s not documented, being a raconteur has been a gift to me as we continue to face challenges in politics, culture, and society. Throughout my years of doing work on the ground and having the opportunity to participate in media, I’ve often found that the arts are where we begin to shift people’s narratives. As being queer is becoming more mainstream, we are starting to see the effects of representation change the perception of the social climate around us.

My lens of telling our stories comes from the idea that Black queer people have always existed, and our spaces of bravery and joy are often underdocumented. It was 2005, and I was just a teenager when I rode in a car with friends from Texas City to go to Bartini in Houston. It was my first experience in a gay club, and there was a feeling of belonging and assurance that my experience was one of many. Standing in the middle of a sea of Black queer people dancing, jaysetting, voguing, and lip-synching, I had found my place. At that very moment, I knew it was essential to one day create spaces for people who looked and loved like me to find joy and to be celebrated in the community.

Black Queer Advancement Festival, or Black Queer AF, is an ode to the community at-large. In our third year, we are beginning to cement our place in Houston history as a premier event that centers on the talents and empowerment of the Black queer community. In the first two years, this celebration was held during Black Pride Weekend, but after many conversations it has moved to the week of Spring Break in order to celebrate the anniversary of The Normal Anomaly Initiative.

This celebration also includes the grand opening of Houston’s only standalone Black LGBTQ drop-in center, a space that serves as a testament to the community’s forward movement in Houston and the future of possibilities for Black LGBTQ people. Influencers, elected officials, community leaders, and socialites will come from across the region to support these events.

Chris Hollins, Houston’s city controller, says, “As Houston’s chief financial officer, it’s important to support organizations like The Normal Anomaly because creating inclusive spaces is critical to Houston’s success as a diverse destination to live, work, and raise a family.”

The premier event, The BQAF Music Festival, is the pinnacle of the week’s events and is unique because it is Texas’ only festival that provides a platform specifically for Black queer people. Over the last two years, we have had over 30 artists perform on our stage, along with many celebrities and influencers hosting events and speaking on panels—over 90 percent of them Black queer people.

This year will be no different, with almost 20 people participating in some way at the BQAF Music Festival. Our headliner and ally, LeToya Luckett, says, “As the headliner of this event, I am excited to perform because my LGBTQ+ fam has always made me feel seen and loved. It’s beautiful to be able to connect through music, and I can always expect good vibes and fierce lewks! I can’t wait!“

RaeShanda Lias-Lockhart, Damez, Thot Squad, and TazDaRealist are just four of the other hosts and artists who will be entertaining at the festival.

Let’s Check the Board

RaeShanda

RaeShanda Lias-Lockhart

RaeShanda has millions of followers worldwide, but at her heart she is a Southern girl with charm, class, and comedy. A U.S. Army veteran, she sampled a number of work opportunities following her discharge—including private lending and higher education—before running for City Council in Louisville, Kentucky. Though her dreams were derailed for a moment by politics, she would still end up in the public eye as she and her former wife were married on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. Years later, she turned her camera on and began using her platform to educate people on ideas and concepts that are important to her. As the camera rolled, she opened up with “Let’s Check the Board” and became an internet phenomenon overnight.

“Let’s Check the Board” was not rehearsed and was simply a way to communicate her ideas and opinions to the public from her Louisville boutique, All Is Fair in Love and Fashion. Her style of social commentary is to make complex concepts really simple. She often talks about abortions, hate crimes, Black history, and gun laws in a way that you forget you’re learning, and you end up following her for more.

“I don’t see myself as a star; I am just being myself,” she says. “The only thing that has changed is the freedom I have to do what I want and knowing people are actually listening to me, and I can pick what I choose to stand for.”

While influencers are often about the comedy without the education, RaeShanda’s brand of normalizing conversations about controversial and important topics is a masterclass in using your power for good. It is also an asset to the Black, LGBTQ, and female communities because her following is often educated in such an entertaining way that they forget she is expanding their perceptions. “I have been gay since second grade,” she says, “but I’m so palatable that sometimes white people forget that I’m Black, and straight people forget that I’m gay.”

This will be RaeShanda’s third time back in Houston and her second time appearing on behalf of The Normal Anomaly. Hosting the BQAF Music Festival with Team Jamar, she says, “means being unapologetic in who I am created to be. No apologies. No chaser.”

Follow RaeShanda on Instagram.


Representing for All of Us

 

Damez

Damez was always meant to be a star. He has been all over the internet and is now on movie screens with his viral Renaissance Tour outfit. Clad in silver, he was in the audience at the concert with Lil Nas X and ended up having a cameo in Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé. Before that moment, Damez was featured on many platforms including MTV News, Billboard, and Out magazine. He has released six projects to date.

Damez

Damez is one of the featured performers at the BQAF Music Festival. An all-around self-made musical artist with talents that include songwriting, creative directing, rapping, and dance, Damez was selected to be a part of the lineup because of his tenacity, professionalism, and commitment to his craft. With all his talents, he is sure to leave the audience hyped and excited.

“Platforms and opportunities like this,” he says of the BQAF Music Festival, “remind us of our power, strengths, and the gifts of our community. It reminds us we deserve to be on stage and celebrated.”

Though he hasn’t previously performed in Houston, Damez has family here and across Texas. He  once lived here for a few months while taking a break from college, but hasn’t returned since becoming a rising star. In essence, this is also a homecoming for him. With Beyoncé being his favorite artist of all time, he says, “All of this feels like a full-circle moment for me.”

You can expect Damez’s performance to be high energy and high entertainment value, with storytelling that showcases what Black Queer AF means to him. “Black Queer AF, to me when I hear it, sounds like pride—being unapologetically you. Being Black and queer, there is so much culture there,” says Damez. “There’s struggle and so much pain, but there’s also so much joy there. I’m representing all of that.”

Follow Damez on Instagram


The Nonbinary Rebel

Thot Squad

Thot Squad is the first nonbinary performer to grace the BQAF stage, as well as the newest artist on that stage. Also known as Blvck Bunnie, Thot Squad released their first single in 2022 and has rapidly gained a following on all social-media platforms with their unapologetic music created for the Black, female, LGBTQ, and sex-worker communities. This freedom to create couldn’t have happened any sooner. “For a long time in my life,” they say, “I felt like I had to calm myself down because I didn’t want to deal with whatever anyone had to say. Going into music gave me the opportunity to say that this was exactly how I feel and who I am.” 

Thot Squad

Thot Squad’s transparency in their music and in life is what makes them so relatable to the masses. They recognize the power in centering Blackness in queer spaces. Though BQAF Week is uplifting the Black LGBTQ experience, it does not keep anyone from any community from attending. Actually, it is quite the opposite; BQAF believes that by focusing on the most marginalized and creating a brave space for them, it inevitably becomes a safer space for most anyone. Thot Squad likens it to a religious experience when being among people with similar intersections.

“When you go to a regular Pride event [around the country], you may see our language and our culture, but you will see few of us at the events. So to be in spaces where you know the focus is on people who have a baseline experience like yours, it validates our experience in the broader community.”

Thot Squad’s blend of EDM, rock and roll, and rap performance promises a lot of call-and-response, much like a church service, with high-energy songs like their popular singles “Pound Cake” and “Shoo Doo.” This will be Thot Squad’s first time performing in Houston, and their desire to visit was sparked over ten years ago after hearing Beyoncé’s “Bow Down” lyrics, which began “H-town coming, coming down / I’m coming down dripping candy on the ground.” 

For Thot Squad, performing is not just about the entertainment; it is a spiritual calling. They have a desire for the audience to be so bought into the moment that whatever weighs heavy on their minds melts away. “My goal is to be so ‘out loud’ that it inspires other people to say, ‘Oh, if she can get up there in some blue platforms, I can do what I want to do myself.’”

Follow Thot Squad on Instagram


Advocacy Through Music

TazDaRealist

“Black Queer AF means strong, melanated people coming together as one to do our best, and I’m still trying to completely realize the fact that I will be one of the people on that stage.” —TazDaRealist

TazDaRealist has been a part of the BQAF family for a couple of years. Last year he performed with our collaborating partner, Pink Elephant Music Festival, in the Hip Hop Cypher onstage. He also made history as the first trans man to have a spot on our stage. This year he is returning to perform a full solo set.

TazDaRealist garnered a lot of attention for openly talking about his transition through music. Two years ago, after having his top surgery, he decided to honor the process through a deeply personal music video and song he wrote, entitled Rewind This. Since then, he has become one of the most prominent emerging artists here in Houston. “I know that a lot of Black trans people, and especially Black trans men, feel like there’s certain things we can’t do,” he says. “I am happy to show them that we can do anything we put our minds to.”

TazDaRealist

TazDaRealist’s advocacy expands outside his onstage persona and into community work. Recently, his pursuits led him to start The Trans Action Project last November. Their first event, TransGiving, was one of the largest-ever convenings of transgender people, with a majority of the attendees being transmasculine.

“TransGiving was a focus on people of trans experience who are alone and whose families have rejected them,” he says. “I want them to know that there is a community of people here for you to become family and build together.”

Whether it’s advocacy through action or through music, TazDaRealist will always bring the storytelling, transparency, and authenticity. “Black Queer AF means strong, melanated people coming together as one to do our best, and I’m still trying to completely realize the fact that I will be one of the people on that stage,” he says.

Follow TazDaRealist on Instagram


WHAT: Black Queer AF Music Festival
WHEN: March 16, 4 p.m.–2 a.m.
WHERE: Warehouse Live Midtown, 2600 Travis
INFO: normalanomaly.org/BQAF

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Ian Haddock

Ian L. Haddock aspires to be a conduit of joy in all things activism and art. He is a published author and writer and leads a team of nontraditional activists at The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Inc.
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