DC Coalition Stirring

Decades-old black GLBT group hoping to harness momentum

When it comes to cities known for vibrant, black-GLBT communities, D.C. routinely sits in the upper tier. DC Black Pride, for example, is the world’s first “black pride” GLBT organization, formed in 1991. The DC Coalition of Black GLBT Men and Women — founded in 1978 — was one of the groups that helped start it. But while DC Black Pride has continued to grow, the DC Coalition has seen interest ebb and flow.

Today, it looks like the tide might be coming back in.

“With the activities we have planned, I hope we’re starting it up again,” says Carlene Cheatam, who traces her first involvement back to 1980. Today, she says she’s seeing new interest in the group, which, while remaining active, was last thriving around the Millions More Movement. That event, an October 2005 march and rally in Washington that brought together all corners of the African-American community, fueled the DC Coalition, particularly in the effort to have a speaker identified with GLBT community included in the rally.

That momentum pushed through into 2006, when the DC Coalition, along with other co-sponsors, pulled a standing-room crowd of about 100 people to a town-hall meeting in April that year to discuss “The State of the Black Gay Community.”

In a scenario familiar to the DC Coalition, things quieted down after that. If, however, a Sunday, July 19, meet-and-greet event at a private residence in Southeast is any indication, the Coalition is coalescing once again.

“It was a very good turnout,” says Brian Watson, referring to himself as “technically still” president of the Coalition, as it’s been two years since the group last elected officers. “We almost ran out of food.”

There was no shortage of speakers, though. Watson estimates that an audience of nearly a hundred attendees listened to speeches from Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who received “polite applause” along with some raised eyebrows for his about-face on GLBT civil rights with his stance against marriage equality; Clark Ray, the gay man being urged by many in the District to run for the at-large seat occupied by Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At large); and Rev. Anthony Motley, who may be eyeing the seat now occupied by David Catania (I-At large), a gay councilmember.

Sterling Washington, Coalition vice president, says he saw many new faces, too. All three have various thoughts on what is renewing interest in the DC Coalition, though they all mention the marriage-equality fight as a factor, particularly in light of divergent assessments of the disposition of African-American residents of D.C.

When it comes to why the Coalition is needed, however, there’s little difference of opinion.

“I think [the DC Coalition] is critically important, which is why I have once again stepped back into the picture,” says Cheatam. “People look for the organization. People expect it to be here. But you have to have life. You have to participation.”

Adds Washington: “It’s important to the extent that there is not another organization on the local level that has the constituency that the Coalition had. Arguably, DC Black Pride does. But in terms of a black-LGBT political organization, I don’t really see one on the local level.”

It may be premature to say the DC Coalition is primed for new growth or that this time those involved will be able to maintain it steadily, but organizers are doing what they can, adding more events to the Coalition calendar. There will be a general meeting Wednesday, Aug. 5, at 6:30 p.m. in room 950 of One Judiciary Square; a larger community meeting in August or early September; and possibly officer elections in October.

“I’m hoping by the first of the year to have a new Web site, new plan, new focus,” says Watson. “I’m pretty confident. We’ve been getting nothing but positive feedback. We just want to make sure everybody’s voice is heard.”

 For more information about the DC Coalition of Black GLBT Men and Women, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DCCOALITION78/.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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