San Diego Urban Pride Reaches Beyond African-American Queers
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Once upon a time there was an organization in San Diego called Ebony Pride, which was primarily aimed at African-American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. It produced an annual Ebony Pride event — until one year, when problems with the venue caused the show to be canceled at the last minute. Ebony Pride pretty much dropped off the community radar after that, but last September it made a dramatic re-emergence under the new name San Diego Urban Pride, with a much broader outreach and mostly new people. Zenger’s interviewed Darnelle Williams, Urban Pride board member and chair of the group’s activities committee, on the group’s purposes, functions and future plans.
San Diego Urban Pride meets the second Tuesday of every month, 6 p.m. The location varies but the meeting in November took place at the Christ Chapel of North Park church, 3094 El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. They don’t have their own Web site yet but they’re accessible through Facebook at www.facebook.com/urbanpride
Zenger’s: Just tell me a little bit about San Diego Urban Pride, how it got started and how you got involved.
Darnelle Williams: O.K. Urban Pride basically took off where Ebony Pride left off. Ebony Pride had been around – it would be 10 years next year – and over the years some of the membership and participation had declined. An associate of ours called us and said he was going to be the new director of Ebony Pride and asked if we wanted to get involved. So we welcomed an opportunity to do that. During the first meeting we suggested a name change, because there’s a lot in a name, and we were able to get the name changed from Ebony Pride to Urban Pride to be more inclusive of different groups within the community.
Zenger’s: So, in the proverbial nutshell, what is the purpose of Urban Pride?
Williams: The purpose of Urban Pride is to promote awareness of different issues affecting the Black and Brown community, and the Gay community as a whole. We don’t want to be known as an organization that just has events or activities. We really want to be a force to be reckoned with in the Gay community, and really have a voice to create change and to promote positivity within the Gay and Lesbian culture, and to put a new face on the urban Gay community.
We want to raise awareness and promote greater understanding about health and social issues affecting our community, including but not limited to HIV/AIDS, sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, breast and prostate cancer. Those are some of the things we’re going to target, in addition to a whole array of issues that we want to tackle. That’s why we’re building a board of intelligent and competent individuals that can tackle all these different issues, and really create an organization that people look to for support and change.
Zenger’s: Is part of your agenda also combating racism in the Gay community and homophobia in the communities of color?
Williams: Yes. I think any time you deal with any minority groups, combating some of the stereotypes of the different ethnic groups, and promote the positive aspects of different ethnicities, needs to be part of the foundation of the group. One thing we really want to do is reach out to other groups, not only the Black and Brown communities but the white and Asian communities as well. Getting assistance or guidance from Urban Pride doesn’t mean that you have to be Black or Hispanic. It just means that you want to be part of diversity, and that’s what we really want to embrace. Within the Gay culture, it’s really important that we as Gay men and women promote diversity and tolerance, and educate those that don’t know much about our community.
Zenger’s: You have the stats from Proposition 8 that voters of color were more likely to vote for it than white voters. Why do you think that is, and how can your group help change that?
Williams: I think it really starts at home with the people we know, educating them one at a time about Gay marriage, and that we all deserve the right to marry whoever we want, and to really drive home that equality is not negotiable.
Zenger’s: There was an early report that 70 percent of African-American voters had voted for Proposition 8, which turned out not to be true. The corrected figure was more like 57 percent, but that was still a substantially greater margin than it passed by in the electorate as a whole, which was 52 percent. A lot of that was actually attributed to the strong support being given by African-American churches. How does the influence of the church in the African-American community affect both you as an individual Black Gay man and what your organization is trying to do?
Williams: I’m glad you asked that question, because a lot of times I see the Black churches hold the same mentality as our military. It’s almost a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Growing up in church, where there are a majority of African-American attendees, there were always Gay individuals within the church that were obviously Gay, but just not “out.”
Basically, the Black church is a very conservative church. I’ve noticed that on the West Coast it is more liberal than it is in the South. So with respect to African-American churches, there’s not much you can do. I think basically the tide is changing. We are having new blood and new understanding, and a new wave of tolerance coming in, that wasn’t there even a decade ago.
Zenger’s: The other side of that is racism in the Gay community. It’s been a long time since I heard the kinds of horror stories I regularly got in the 1980’s: Black people showing up at Gay bars and being asked for four or five ID’s. That kind of stuff, and one bathhouse, when the manager decided that there were too many Black people, he would put on country music and hope that would drive them out. I haven’t heard stories like that in a while, but I’m also not so naïve to think that the racial prejudices of white Gay people have disappeared altogether. So what is the status of the Gay community in terms of making people of color feel equal?
Williams: I think you would have to break it down as to which community. I know that when I first came out, back in the late 1990’s, there used to be a lot more of the club and bar scene that would cater to the urban community more. I’ve seen the bar and club scene kind of stray away from that, and lean a little bit more towards the Brown community. Organizations like Urban Pride are now becoming a face for the urban community and letting their members be known that we want a little bit more diversity in the clubs. And we’re getting a lot of great responses.
Basically, for a business owner money is all the same color, so race doesn’t matter in terms of where it’s coming from. And we’re really pleased that we’re getting a lot of support from all the clubs here in San Diego. But, again, San Diego is less urban than L.A. L.A. is less urban than Atlanta. It just depends on what area of the country you’re talking about, because when it comes to the urban community, it’s not very large in San Diego compared to other areas in the country.
Zenger’s: So when you talk about outreach to the clubs, what specifically do you want them to do?
Williams: In order to bring in the urban community, it’s not about having a night set aside for Black people, or another night set aside for people who are Latino or Hispanic. It’s more than that. What we talk about is you can bring about an urban feeling through music. You can bring it about through the different facets of saying that tonight’s going to be “urban night.” There are different ways to create that.
As far as what the clubs can do, basically open the doors and give Urban Pride a chance. We’ll bring people into the club. We have not experienced anything negative with any of the venues in San Diego. They all have welcomed us with open arms.
Zenger’s: So essentially you’re telling the club owners, “Let us put on an event in your place, and we’ll draw people who, if you treat them right, will decide that they like it and will come back.”
Williams: Absolutely, absolutely. And we’re getting great responses from different places. We’re pleased by the support we’re getting from the community. If you attend an Urban Pride event, you’ll note it’s not just one ethnic group that’s there. It’s different ethnic groups that attend.
Zenger’s: You also said that one of your organization’s priorities was outreach on health issues. What have you been doing so far on that front?
Williams: We’re really still coming out of the gate. It’s been approximately four months that I’ve been on the board, and we’ve had all new people on the board. We started out with our September 15 meet-and-greet at the Center, our after-party at the Redwing, and we’re now planning monthly activities and quarterly events within the community. With regard to raising money for, or assisting in, certain health issues right now, we’re still at the grass-roots level.
We want to be an organization known for helping out charitable organizations. We are a non-profit organization, but we want to be known for raising money. We want to be known for putting on great events. We want to be known for our activities on a monthly basis, whether it’s walking for AIDS, whether it’s walking for literacy, it’s walking for breast cancer: anything we can do to show that there’s — and it doesn’t matter if it’s a straight charity, a Gay charity, a Lesbian charity. We just want to be involved and know that there’s another group within San Diego that wants to help. And that’s what we want to do.
Next year we have a lot of things planned to really make ourselves known, but right now we’re just starting to build membership back up, because when we took up where Ebony Pride left off, membership was basically nonexistent. There were a lot of negative feelings in the community about Ebony Pride, and right now we’re getting great feedback on all the changes that we’re making, starting with the name. People are more inclined to be part of Urban Pride than they were of Ebony Pride, because they felt that that was so divisive. It actually wasn’t, but there are a lot of things in a name that can be perceived that way.
Zenger’s: That’s a criticism I remember hearing, not only about Ebony Pride but also Latino Pride. It seemed to make perfect sense to me that the concept of Pride is big enough that people who shared a certain ethnicity would want an event of their own. It didn’t seem to detract from the main Pride celebrations, and the whole concept that a lot of people really did get rankled by: “Why do they need their own Pride?”
Williams: Yes, it seems that, based on the different changes in society, there’s really no need for an Ebony Pride anymore, or a Latino Pride. I think if the two groups had come together and embraced the other groups – the Black, Brown, Yellow, white communities, everyone – that would fall more in line with the values of the Gay community embracing diversity. If they could join forces and become one, that could really strengthen their voice. That’s what Urban Pride really want to do: become more inclusive and make sure everyone really wants to be part of it and understands that we want to promote diversity and change within the Gay community.
L to R: Darnelle Williams, Lily Anaya, Edward Melendrez, Charles Patmon (president), Willie Walker, LaShawn Johnson, Tinesia Conwright, Monica Bradley and Carolyn Biggs Harris.