Growing up, I followed in my mother’s footsteps. Like many single Black women raising a child, she represented diligence and poise. I performed femininity out of example, an obligation of what I knew womanhood to be watching her as a kid.
Then I met someone unlike me. She was uninhibited, something I desired to be. I was curious about this freedom of rules and expectations, and it led me to explore what I had no language for. It was as instinctual as my attraction for boys. I made the first move, enamored by the possibility of who I could be outside of the rigid constraints of Black girlhood. In that moment, I was recognizing my bisexuality.
Then, in the summer of 2009, I took the next step: I acknowledged it.
I remember being home from college. I was in my room while my mother was in the kitchen, a feeling of wholeness coming over me. Fearlessly, I marched down the stairs into the kitchen, took my stance on the opposite side of the island and announced that I was bisexual. Her response: “I already knew.” She said she had assumed after noticing that I had stopped taking my birth control. (Because I wouldn’t dare come home with a baby, so I must be gay.) Needless to say, her assumption had some validity. But with pronunciation, with acknowledgement, came ease.
I was growing more confident in who I was, which led me to humbly attend my first Pride, Hotter Than July, in 2009. I didn’t want to go alone, so I took my little cousin. He didn’t know where we were or what was going on, but the vibrancy that filled Palmer Park was enough to bring us both comfort. Hotter Than July was unlike anything I had ever seen. It also felt familiar. And it was during that first Pride I experienced Black queerness joyfully. My adolescent self didn’t know it then, but being able to celebrate my truth in a way that felt loving would help me grow monumentally. That level of representation gave me something to aspire to. I knew then that I would never shy away from who I am for anyone else’s comfort. It was affirmation that if an entire community of people could live and share in their truth, I could too.
I’ve lived in the Midwest, the South, and on the East Coast. I have attended Pride events domestically and internationally. Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, Windsor. I understood why Pride was necessary. But feeling a part of something bigger than myself only manifested at home in Detroit.
HTJ has a long history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, and it’s even made history as the longest-running Black Pride in North America. Rooted in education and advocacy, LGBT Detroit, the organization that produces the event, has been providing safe spaces throughout Southeast Michigan since 1994. And for 26 years, LGBT Detroit has been committed to hosting a week-long celebration of Pride with HTJ, serving as a social barometer for community development while also providing a multidimensional forum to advocate for equality and social justice. This year’s event took place July 23-25. I was there, a full 12 years after my introduction to the event.
HTJ’s programming offered virtual and in-person interactions. Most memorable was the art show on July 23, an interactive experience fusing photography installations, journalism displays, musical performances, panel discussions and an awards ceremony. During the awards ceremony, the host asked the three awardees what Pride meant to them. Their responses varied, but within each were valuable threads about visibility, life and documentation. And, for me, their words carried strength. For Black queer folx, our lives demand visibility in a world that says Blackness and queerness cannot coexist and therefore must be documented. It was in that moment I took notice of what Pride meant to me too.
To experience Pride is to experience joy. But to experience Black Pride is to heal. Pride for Black folx is a purposeful experience: It’s acknowledging trauma and choosing to heal. It’s being excluded and paving a new way. It’s loving ourselves without expectation of love in return. When we hold space for one another, we grow closer. My commitment to growth, exploration and authenticity led me to serve the community in the same way I sought support when I was 19, when I still trying to recognize and acknowledge my bisexuality.
Since first attending HTJ, I’ve grown into a community advocate. I’ve volunteered with HRC of Alabama. I’ve been president of the queer sorority, Alpha Kappa Pi. I’ve been a campus and culture liaison for Amplified at Alabama State University. I’ve been a diversity liaison for the Graduate Student Association for Liberal Studies at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. I’m the founder and creator of The Bi Queer, and now a queer leadership mentor with LGBT Detroit’s Leadership and Protege Academy. I’m not just recognizing and acknowledging who I am anymore. I’m sharing it.