The Tradition of Connectedness

An Ancient African philosophy Inspires Hotter Than July

BY CURTIS LIPSCOMB

It is that time again, and after months of strategic planning and securing partnerships, Detroit comes alive. The summer heat, the creative energy, and the festivities are highlighted accomplishments and challenges of same gender loving people. How hot is it? It's Hotter Than July!

In its 22nd year, Hotter Than July has been identified by the national organization Center for Black Equity as the world's second oldest Black Pride celebration - which is quite an accomplishment, if I do say so myself. Over the years, it has grown to embrace multicultural dynamics which serves to support and celebrate the essence of Black Pride. The event continues to demonstrate togetherness and solidarity within Michigan and Midwest America and it attracts people who are black, white, brown, Asian, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, young, mature, straight, lesbian, gay, bi-attractional and transgender to attend the event annually. For 22 years, the flagship event Hotter Than July Palmer Park Picnic remains a staple as a free, open and roaming activity where anyone can self-express without fear or limitations. The event has morphed into a travel destination event, where friends visit and family gather to bond, love, laugh, people watch, celebrate and reminisce.

This year's theme derives from the ancient word "Ubuntu - I Am Because We Are." This philosophy serves as the inspiration for this year's celebration as the essence of Ubuntu dictates compassion, virtue and humanness which are relevance to the culture of the celebration. It also promotes an interconnectedness which is pivotal to solidifying unity and strength within us. According to this principle, one cannot be human all by oneself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your humility and generosity.

Since the initial development of a national Black Pride Day in 1991, this unique experience remains relevant as it continues to provide a safe space and unite to celebrate the duality of being both racially different and a member of LGBT communities. Historically, there is little room at the "traditional" community LGBT pride events to do so; however Black LGBT communities celebrate a black pride in the same spirit in which other Americans are encouraged to celebrate their heritage with Columbus Day, Von Steuben Day, Israel Independence Day, St. Patrick Day, and the Pulaski Day parades as well as other ethnic festivals.

When I "came out," there were limited spaces to freely express and celebrate my pride in community oriented ways. As an urban youth, the city hosted establishments that welcomed adult patrons -- bars, bookstores, and bathhouses, to name a few - remain common (to most males) individual's experience in gay culture. As a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, additional locations have become commonplace -- clinics, hospitals, and funeral homes. Between this juxtaposition of joy and pain, the LGBT spaces where people gather are of paramount importance in the increasingly hostile political climate.

Hotter Than July is as relevant today as it was 22 years ago in spite of new challenges to address as it relates to providing safe spaces that respect and promote the dignity and worth, which is a basic human right, to members of the LGBT community. Thanks to the national organizations and freedom fighters within the Obama Administration years, the fight for marriage equality became a reality and was a new galvanizing point for the community; however, other equally important struggles remain.

Poverty: The City of Detroit has a poverty rate of almost 40 percent, making it the most impoverished major American city.

Healthcare: Detroit has the largest percentage of residents infected with HIV.

Tobacco: LGBT people have smoking rates about 33 percent higher than heterosexuals in Michigan.

Hate crimes: A consistent threat and concern.

To successfully overcome these challenges it is imperative that we continue to build strong partnerships and collaborations at the community organizational level with both LGBT identified and non-LGBT identified organizations to achieve an arena that exemplifies Ubuntu. Our strength is in our numbers and our ability to coalesce around common goals and objectives to achieve a safer and more inclusive space for all.

In spite of the advancement of technology and limited resources, our nation remains divided and that divide can only be bridged by a meeting of minds and a concerted effort to coexist with respect and inclusion for all and in utilizing the principle of Ubuntu. Communication has become more difficult as conferences, front porches and dinner table conversations have become a gladiator arena where blood is drawn and enemies emerge. This has spilled over in every sector, including in gay lesbian bi and transgender rooms.

This year's Hotter Than July theme "I Am Because We Are" serves to inspire and promote a keen awareness and resolve for us to unite in the struggle and to do so collectively - whether we succeed or fail in our struggles.

HIV/AIDS still kills young gay men and trans women. Poverty remains rampant in urban and rural America. State legislative discrimination exists. There exists 51 weekends within the year to club, party, or either turn-up. I argue that the onus is on us to use this special multi-day event, Hotter Than July, to educate ourselves on the issues, to learn about causes and struggles that impact others, and how we can effect a positive change.

In my archival library, I have a video footage of the very first Hotter Than July Palmer Park Picnic in 1996, and even today I am in awe of the attendance, and the impact it had on the community. I remain emotionally fulfilled and gratified. It almost inconceivable that even today this achievement remains significant to so many as many young adults have confirmed their commitment to the movement and have continue to promote the legacy of Hotter Than July.

The LGBT Detroit Leadership Academy has effectively identified new Michigan leadership to continue and enhance the work necessary to meet future challenges for equality for generations to come. Recently, two talented and hardworking young adults played a pivotal role in the development of the #SafeBraveSpace Campaign, which helped secured a new office site on Greenfield Road in Detroit's Murray Hill neighborhood, which facilitates networking, an exchange of ideas and a place to strategize new realities for same gender loving people. Another member of the LGBTQ community, Nguvu Tsare, is running for a seat on the Detroit City Council and his platform includes working towards social change within the LGBT community by means of creating change in the local legislature. I support him and I wish him a great electoral win!

Times have definitely changed - very challenging in some cases. We are currently experiencing the other side of the great recession which has impacted employment, blighted urban development and is changing the faces of neighborhoods - for some, not the better.

Ubuntu should remind us of the need to unite, to solidify and brave any storms that come our way.

Looking ahead to Hotter Than July 2018, it is our hope that we will be able to examine our success, identify our path forward and remain diligent in our commitment to the LGBTQ community in making the world a better community for all and in doing so; together we can continue the tradition of connectedness with the guiding principle of Ubuntu.

Curtis Lipscomb is the executive director at LGBT Detroit and co-founder and project manager of Hotter Than July. Connect with him at http://www.lgbtdetroit.org/.
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