African American Gay Pride: A Section of the Gay Community Finds Ways to Celebrate

Yolanda Perdomo- For Janet Black, issues about the lesbian community is just as important to her as child rearing. An African American woman with short cropped hair and wire rimmed glasses, she sits in the front row of wooden bleachers cheering on her 12-year-old daughter at a softball game in Kent.

Black, who works for a social service agency, says while people see her first as an African American woman, when it comes to identifying herself as a lesbian it can sometimes be a daunting process.

Janet Black- Unfortunately, racism is a part of the general society so the larger, whiter lesbian and gay community in some places is no more immune to that than anyone else. Homophobia is also a part of the larger, whiter world. And in some parts of the African American community, homophobia exists as well. Being a person of color and being lesbian and gay kind of puts you in no person's world. You have a foot in both worlds, but not quite.

YP- Black says for some gays and lesbians of color, issues of culture and spirituality can separate them from their white counterparts. She's a board member of BlackOut Productions, a volunteer organization sponsoring pride activities for the African American gay in the Cleveland area.

Black says health issues, such as the spread of AIDS and HIV, are of critical concern.

JB- Women of color are the fastest growing group in terms of HIV infections - and how do we deal with some of those things. It's not just those people. It's not just gay people, it's not just a white gay men's thing any longer. And how do we address those issues in the community.

YP- The Center For Disease Control reports AIDS is the leading cause of death for black males (aged) 25 to 44. While there's been an overall decrease in the number of AIDS cases, the numbers in the black community are actually increasing.

Aron Meyers is the chairman of Brothers Circle of Cleveland, an African American HIV support and education group. He says blacks coming together to discuss these and other issues are why different organizations are needed. Meyers says his organization approaches fellow blacks with self-esteem and cultural perspectives, and they also address spirituality.

Aron Meyers- Our white counterparts can separate themselves from their religion and still be gay and be okay with it, whereas our African American brothers and sisters are going to struggle and question their spirituality because it's such a deep rooted part of our culture and our experience - that may not be the case of our white counterparts.

YP- The lack of prominent black role models from the entertainment and sporting worlds contributes to this partial isolation, says Derek Barnett. He co-founded BlackOut Productions Unlimited three years ago in the hopes of highlighting issues faced by gays of color that might be overshadowed by general pride events. The first BlackOut weekend drew 200 people from Ohio and the surrounding area in 1997. This year, he's expecting close to one thousand attendees.

Derek Barnett- There wasn't a whole lot outside bars and clubs to do for African American lesbian and gay people. Coming out issues are often very different for African Americans and people of color than they are for white people. When you're in an environment that's predominantly African American, it's a little safer space to come out to. Sometimes the cultural issues are different. We relate to each other differently.

YP- But Barnett acknowledges they're not in the business of alienating the general gay and lesbian community or the African American community - but they do want to address cultural items of interest to promote understanding between gays of all backgrounds. BlackOut weekend in Cleveland is scheduled for the first weekend in August. In Cleveland, Yolanda Perdomo, 90.3 WCPN 90.3 FM.

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