Back in the younger years of DC’s Black Pride celebration, I was coordinating HIV-prevention outreach efforts with one of my black co-workers at Whitman-Walker Clinic. ”Okay, so you’re handling Black Pride and I’ll focus on regular Pride,” I said.
A long beat.
”Um, that didn’t sound right, did it?”
Obviously, I was a big fan of ”Capital Pride” when it debuted as the official name of the traditional June pride event.
Over the years, DC Black Pride for me has become the official kick-off of the overall pride season, which is an amazing thing in and of itself given the festival’s historic role in raising money and awareness for HIV in the African-American community and kicking off an entire national network of black LGBT pride events, from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
Too often, though, the question still pops up: ”Why do we need to have separate prides?” And with the growing efforts of Capital TransPride, DC Latino Pride and Pride & Heritage, it becomes more pointed for some. As I’ve often heard from various corners of the community, ”We don’t celebrate white LGBT pride.”
I’ll admit to sharing some of that attitude when I was younger, hence my slip with ”regular pride.” Frankly, I got over it. That’s because being ”white” is simultaneously the most important and irrelevant fact about me. It’s the former because I was born into a majority that comes with a few unspoken privileges that others didn’t share and without significant barriers that others had to face. It’s the latter because it is simply, and unfortunately, the default.
It’s only by being gay that I’m not at the complete default setting, what author John Scalzi recently described as, ”In the role playing game known as The Real World, ‘Straight White Male’ is the lowest difficulty setting there is.”
I think of African-American, Latino and Asian pride celebrations as events where people get to come together by virtue of shared experiences, even though each of the individuals attending have their own unique life stories. For myself, being white brings no true shared experience beyond the blandness of the default.
I know enough about my Scotch-Irish paternal background to be aware of my history and the path my family took to Kentucky, but there’s no sense of shared experience because whatever cultural significance once existed has long since faded into the past. The same goes for the German immigrant path of my maternal side.
I do take some measure of pride in being from Kentucky — and face it, when you hear ”Kentucky,” you think ”white” — even if Kentucky is a state prone to doing things to LGBT people it shouldn’t be proud of. But while I enjoy being part of the gay Kentuckian diaspora in Washington, it’s not something I would organize more than an afternoon cookout around because, again, the shared cultural experience isn’t that significant.
The shared experience of D.C.’s black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community remains significant. It’s worth sharing, worth commiserating, worth celebrating. The same is true of Asian, Latino, Native American, or any other minority LGBT community. Perhaps in 50 years, or 100, much of that shared cultural identity will fade into history as my Scotch-Irish background has and the world will be a better place for it.
But that’s the world then. In the world now, these experiences are worth their moments of pride. Never think of Black Pride as an event where one community celebrates by itself. Think of it as a day when you can celebrate the community.