By Robert Tate
As the LGBT community celebrates 20 years of Hotter Than July, I can’t help but reminisce about what the community looked like when I was younger. I can’t help but smile at how we got here, and how far we’ve come. I also can’t help but to feel a sense of pride in having been involved with Hotter Than July, initially. I am filled with so much joy that our community still has this magnificent event 20 years later!
Being able to see the community grow and see young people working with folks from my age group for the movement is what keeps me going. Hotter Than July is a space where a lot of this work happens. We didn’t have this type of organization when I first started event planning. I can remember that all of my life; I wanted my own space to entertain. When I turned 21, I moved into my own home and one of my friends asked me to go to a bar with him. He took me to this bar called Gagan’s, which was down the street from Menjo’s on Six Mile Road. I had a blast that night, and I danced and partied and have not missed a beat ever since! I have been entertaining people for 40 years. Most folks know me through entertainment, and it seems like that’s the way that I have been able to keep people engaged. I told my friends a long time ago that anywhere I go, come with me. I still have most of my friends here with me today entertaining the community.
Twenty-eight years ago, we started a black, LGBT social club called the Billionaire Boys Club (BBC). We had our events at places that most of our attendees had never been and ultimately enjoyed talking about the experience for days afterwards. We made sure that everyone had a good time and met new people who walked away from the event with a smile on their face. We never knew that we were doing anything special. All we wanted to do was entertain the community. We didn’t intend to break barriers, but we did. We reached so many people, and it helped us to understand that we were doing community work through entertainment.
About 20 years ago, BBC was an annual weekend event. Soon after that, we merged that occasion with Men of Color Motivational Group (MOC), another social organization. MOC was already active in the movement and I liked their vision. I thought that joining them would be a good idea. At the time, being partnered with a successful entity like Men of Color helped us to really bridge community and entertainment. We began to partner with additional organizations to support them in their events. Working with community based organizations led us to start Imagine This Productions about 15 years ago to help those organizations improve in their efforts.
I now realize that I am an activist in a different kind of way. My way is to bring people together and network with community organizations. Entertainment and community are different now, but they can be brought back together with the same flavor but for a different era. We did it 20 years ago and it can be done again.
Twenty years is a long time to be doing this work, but it’s also something that needs to be celebrated. People that were a part of this historic development need to be out celebrating something they were at in the beginning. Things have changed from back then, but I like what I see. It’s not perfect, but it’s still moving. At the end of the day it’s all about the community and the space that we make for ourselves. It’s all well and good to party, but let’s party with a purpose and continue building our community!