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DETROIT — As pride season continues this weekend with “Hotter Than July,” organizers of the MidwestÕs oldest black gay pride event look to mobilize the community.
“For many in our community racial inequities, economics, quality of life, health and wellness continue to be more of a challenge than just sexual orientation alone,” said Johnny Jenkins, co-founder and director of Black Pride Society. “We, in the black community, are aware we need to establish our own institutions to fight injustices with our own culture and race (i.e. the black church, status quo). Detroit’s Hotter Than July is designed to lay the foundation for such work.”
While some have questioned the need for a second Detroit pride event (Motor City Pride takes place in June), Jenkins sees value in a separate gathering.
“There are tens of thousands of black same-gender-loving, gay, lesbian, bi-attractional and transgender Detroiters who are just more comfortable in an environment that celebrates their race and sexual identity as equals,” he said.
Essentially, though, Hotter Than July isn’t much different from Motor City Pride.
“In my opinion, both pride celebrations serve as tools to create safe environments for people to empower themselves,” Jenkins said. “Our community is so fragmented that a lot of grass-roots work must happen across geographic, social, political and sometimes religious boundaries amongst ourselves.”
When Black Pride Society, Motor City Pride and Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center come together, Jenkins believes it builds bridges for a stronger gay community.
The goal of Hotter Than July, according to Jenkins, is “to mobilize our black, same-gender-loving, bi and transgender community through the collective works of community leaders, volunteers, friends, families and allies. It seeks to increase our visibility and encourages us to promote wellness, empowerment and self-identity with one voice to enrich our quality of life.”
Kicking off with an art exhibition and continuing through the week with the Ruth Ellis Pride March and conferences on improving life for people of African descent, Hotter Than July is more than just a festival. In fact, Jenkins said, the candlelight vigil, where participants pay special tribute to those who have made a transition due to HIV/AIDS and breast cancer, is the most essential event.
“The spiritual tone of the event allows us to open up pride by inviting our ancestors to join us in the celebration,” he said.
Jenkins remembers when, at the first candlelight vigil, the community planted a Blue Spruce Evergreen near Lake Frances as a living memorial.
“It has grown significantly since, so I consider it one of our most prideful moments,” he said.
The most popular occasion, though, is the free Annual Palmer Park Festival on July 29.
“The energy is positive, and our community always shows off its warmth and hospitality,” Jenkins said. “We get a large percentage of out-of-town guests to Detroit’s Hotter Than July. Even Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick acknowledges the impact of us being able to mobilize so many black SGL folk in Detroit. It’s an event that when you don’t see people all year long, you’ll definitely see them in Palmer Park that day.”
Jenkins expects 13,000-15,000 people at the 11th Hotter Than July Festival.
“I’m hoping they will support next year, so we can grow our pride on many different levels,” Jenkins said. “Most of these promoters and business make more money than us each year, but we’ll continue to service our community to the best of our abilities while maintaining the good faith of the community.”