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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
August 11, 2006

SRO at Black, Gay and Proud events leaves folks smiling

Cleveland--Fighting the odds, the ninth annual Black, Gay and Proud Pride Celebration spread successfully across Cleveland from August 1 to 6, bringing hundreds of people out for a dozen events.

Although it wasn�t apparent to most of the people enjoying the celebration, it came together though a lot of work in a short time, several months instead of a year. BlackOut Unlimited, which founded the festival almost a decade ago, went on hiatus in the last year to restructure, leaving a void in the celebration�s leadership.

Black, Gay and Proud coordinator Deb Sharp said that some donors believed that with BlackOut inactive, the BGP Pride Celebration would not happen and channeled their donations elsewhere.

�It almost didn�t happen this year,� Sharp said. �A lot of funders reallocated.�

She noted, however, that a number of them found the money to help the festival anyway, when they were approached.

�They did it and we, in turn, did what we�re supposed to do and it worked out,� she said wryly.

The festival saw a record level of community involvement, with the AIDS Taskforce, People of All Colors Together, PuNan�, Da Brothas and Da Sistas, the Beyond Identities Community Center, Cleveland Black Pride, the Cleveland Friendship Committee, the Human Rights Campaign, CWRU�s AIDS Clinical Trials Unit and the Rainbow Connection hosting events across the city. The Cleveland LGBT Center served as its fiscal agent.

Sharp was especially pleased with the symposium on August 5. After declining numbers for the last few years, over 50 people came out for two workshops with motivational speaker Angela Harvey, a Cleveland native.

Coverage in the mainstream media for Harvey�s workshops brought some heterosexual and bisexual couples to the interactive events, and Sharp noticed the couples at the Family Picnic in Kirtland Park the next day.

�We�re getting support throughout the community, which is good because I hope it means people understand that sexual orientation has nothing to do with your culture,� she said. �I�m hoping to close that gap.�

The celebration began on August 1 with a screening of How Do I Look?, a documentary about the house ball system first examined in the film Paris is Burning. The short film Feminine Sense, about gender construction and the butch-femme dichotomy, was also shown, bringing about 60 people to the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland�s offices.

The following day, Judy Fussell of the BGP Pride Committee hosted the community awards ceremony at the AIDS Taskforce. Among the award recipients were Rochelle McKenzie and Vivian Hill for Party of the Year, Michael Medcalf of Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theater for Male Entertainer, and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones for Politician.

In addition, three youth from the Beyond Identities Community Center were honored--Shante Bell for Female Youth of the Year, Jesse Dismukes for Male Youth of the Year, and �Gladys� Paris/David Mayo for Transgendered Youth of the Year.

August 3 saw the first evening of the celebration with a youth-specific event, a pool party at Cuyahoga Community College, which brought out 57 people. The same evening, a jazz and poetry night packed Hamilton�s bar downtown.

It was not the last event of the festivities with a full house--the gospel brunch at Archwood United Church of Christ filled the pews, and Club 2527 had crowds spilling into the patio and parking lots for Tony Smith�s closing party on August 6.

Friday night had Da Brothas and Da Sistas hosting the Black At Cha black-attire affair, with a sumptuous spread of food prepared by Isis Tiffany Soul-Lamar, and Saturday saw the return of the Cleveland Friendship Committee�s White Fantasia party, which drew 200 people to the Manor on Rockwell Drive in Euclid.

In addition to the pool party, BICC also had a mini-ball that drew youth from Detroit and Chicago and a movie night.

The August 6 picnic at Kirtland Park saw a youth area, a live performance by Mary Player and Swank, as well as drag performances and DJ Low Key playing hot songs on the sizzling afternoon.

�The picnic, we did some different stuff, offered different stuff,� Sharp noted. �We had a masseuse there all day. the band was wonderful. We�ve never had a full band, just the show and a DJ.�

The changing face of the events, however, did not change the face of the participants. Sharp expressed some dismay at the scarcity of people from the greater LGBT community.

�One of the things I always find very disappointing is the lack of participation from the �mainstream� LGBT community,� she said. �Most participation is from college students because they �get� diversity.�

�We�re all-inclusive and we always have been,� she said, noting the case of Mike Kelley, PACT�s co-chair. �He�s been to various black functions and he said Thursday night that it was the most welcome he has felt.�

If the scope of the festival expanded this year despite lower funding, next year�s tenth anniversary event should be even grander.

�As we grow in numbers and there are people who have expressed an interest in coming on board [the planning committee], we�re going to be able to grow as a committee,� she said. �New people always have new ideas.�

She pointed to an evening boat cruise as an event next year, and said that BGP is in negotiations to have an event at the House of Blues.

An added boon for next year�s event will be the National Association of Black and White Men Together�s annual convention, which will be held in Cleveland in 2007. Kelley, in addition to being co-chair of PACT Cleveland, which is a member of NABWMT, is also co-chairing the planning committee for the convention and is on the BGP Committee.

Greer Hill, associate director of youth programs at the AIDS Taskforce and head of BICC, hopes those expanded plans include youth events as this year�s festival did, although she pointed out that the events were simply a continuation of BICC�s year-round programming.

Of the mini-ball, she noted, �The kids were really happy and it was something they put together themselves, so it was good to see their planning skills in progress.�

She also noted that the swim party grew out of the youths� desires.

�Health and wellness is an ongoing area of interest, according to the youth,� Hill said.

�It was nice to have a calendar of youth-focused and youth-safe events in Black, Gay and Proud this year,� she concluded.

Sharp and the BGP committee will have a debriefing on the festivities later this month, and she said that meetings will start in September for next year�s Black, Gay and Proud Pride Celebration.

She stressed that BGP is inclusive, and all are welcome to bring their ideas and their efforts.

For information about the meetings, call 216-6515428 ext. 50, or e-mail

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