As a historical hub for African American culture, Harlem was, and still is, home to some of the most iconic Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer artists, musicians, and writers. From Zora Neale Hurston, Countée Cullen and Langston Hughes to Mabel Hampton, Claude McKay and Richard Bruce Nugent, the list goes on. One can only imagine what a round up of the Black queer brilliance nestled among its city streets, parks and public housing would look like today. Tired of being overlooked, LGBT residents and activists are now demanding a Community Pride Center that would cater to this vibrant Harlem population.
“As a child growing up in Harlem, I experienced many of the trials so often reported in the media that negatively impact our youth,” says Carol McDonald, a 53-year-old lesbian and Harlem resident. “That said, I remember there always being an overwhelming love and support of me and those like me in my youthful circle.”
“Fast forward to the present, I am still in love with Harlem, and I consider its history the richest of any area in the five boroughs of New York City. I only wish others were privy to this history and a space could be created to nurture the ever-evolving LGBT dynamic found Uptown,” McDonald continues.
Residents aren’t the only ones that recognize Harlem’s magic. In 2010, community organizers saw an opportunity to celebrate not just Harlem’s LGBT community, but its role and contributions to Harlem’s rich history. Soon Harlem Pride was born. The organization’s mission to promote LGBT pride in Harlem was welcomed by many but also met with some resistance when they hosted the first LGBT pride picnic in the summer of 2011.
Though home to the city’s second largest LGBT community outside of Brooklyn, Harlem is without a Community Pride Center that serves the needs of the LGBT community in the area. According to Harlem Pride, there is an expressed hesitancy, difficulty or inability of Harlem’s LGBT community to travel to other Community Pride locations. This is particularly true of the elderly and youth.
To address this disservice, the advocacy group has launched an effort petitioning for an LGBT community center. The signatures collected will be presented to local elected officials.
“We launched this initiative because we feel it’s time we have a center to serve the diverse needs of the [same gender loving] SGL/LGBT community uptown,” explains Carmen Neely, Harlem Pride President (pictured). “We want something that celebrates our illustrious cultural history and works to alleviate the many issues that affect us as SGL/LGBT people of color.”
The petition adamantly asserts that the longstanding history of Harlem’s LGBT community should not be forgotten, and the contributions of its current residents should be celebrated. Not only would targeted programs at the Harlem Community Pride Center commemorate the varied cultural heritages dominant in Harlem, but they would also address issues such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, homeless youth, isolated elders, homophobic religious institutions, workplace and governmental discrimination, as well as transgender rights and health care fairness.
So far, Harlem Pride has garnered the support of several Harlem-based community organizations and plans to finance this initiative mainly through private contributions, fundraising, matching government grants and foundation grants. After gathering and solidifying their support base, they plan to hold a press conference during Pride 2013 to make an official public announcement.
“Had I had access to a Community Pride Center growing up in Harlem,” adds Harlem resident McDonald. “It would have been much easier for me to know my roots – the roots that are anchored in the Black LGBT experience.”
– Kimberley McLeod
Kimberley McLeod is a DC-based media strategist. She is the founder and editor of ELIXHER.com.