Three Levitt venues embrace Black Pride this June
This June we celebrate Pride Month, commemorating the beauty and diversity of queer people everywhere. In addition to being a time of celebration, Pride is also a time to reflect, learn about, and acknowledge those throughout history who have advocated for LGBTQ+ communities and advanced their rights. With June also being Black Music Month and the time of Juneteenth, we’re excited to dive into the intersectional history of Pride, and spotlight the POC pioneers as well as musicians who have championed the movement.
But first, be sure to mark your calendar for three intersectional Pride events within the Levitt network. Levitt Pavilion Denver is hosting a live concert on June 18th to kick off Denver’s 2021 Juneteenth Music Festival, headlining Black GRAMMY-winning R&B group 112. This year, the Juneteenth Music Festival collaborates with The Center on Colfax, an LGBTQ+ community center, to produce Denver’s first ever Black Pride. Look forward to events such as The Majestic Melanated Cabaret, featuring drag entertainers of color, a Drag Gospel Brunch, and The Strange Fruit of Black Excellence Ball, celebrating the Black community.
Levitt Shell Memphis is partnering with the area’s local Tri-State Black Pride to present the Tri-State Black Pride Music Festival live at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park on Sunday, June 20th from 5-10pm (CT), featuring nine Black and queer musicians from the local Memphis community. Catch artists including Cherisse Scott, a powerhouse singer-songwriter whose music runs the gamut from R&B to gospel to jazz, and drummer and bassist Arnishia King. All proceeds from the $20 admission fee are donated to Hope House, a Memphis-based non-profit that cares for individuals with HIV.
And over on the West Coast, Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles brings us HOMEplxce Healing Vortex: Juneteenth Pride Concert in collaboration with Wild Art Party, a series of events for diverse artists to showcase new and experimental performances to the public, and HOMEplxce, an educational consulting firm dedicated to mobilizing survivors of childhood sexual assault. This virtual event, happening at 12pm PT on June 26th, is a participatory space that celebrates Queer Black Joy, envisioning and celebrating creative interventions for collective freedom. Register for the livestream here: https://linktr.ee/HOMEplxce.
Today, the Pride movement is an open, welcoming space for people of all gender identities, sexualities, and races to come together and find empowerment and community. But it’s important to remember that Pride began not as a celebration but as a protest fighting the violence and brutality against queer people—particularly trans women of color.
An important event precipitating the modern-day Pride movement is the Stonewall Uprising, beginning on June 28, 1969, when a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in the New York City neigborhood of Greenwich Village sparked six days of protests against the harassment of queer people. The following year, LGBTQ+ activist groups organized the first ever gay pride march, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, on the first anniversary of the uprising—June 28, 1970—that spanned the 51 blocks from Christopher Street to Central Park. This event was a crucial catalyst of LGBTQ+ activism, encouraging more marches and events across the country around the month of June, cementing its status as Pride month.
Pride began as a protest against queer people being deprived of access to physical spaces, to healthcare, to jobs, to representation. Its history is deeply intertwined with issues of police brutality, homelessness, and access to public services. The people who were hardest hit by these obstacles were those who already faced other barriers to socioeconomic wellbeing—Black communities and communities of color. This is why intersectionality was and remains a quintessential part of the Pride movement.
One of the most important activists of the LGBTQ+ community was Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), a veteran of the Stonewall Uprising credited with being one of the people who began the uprising. She was a Black trans woman who also co-founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with Latinx trans activist Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002), a shelter for homeless trans youth in New York City—the first LGBTQ+ youth shelter in North America and the first organization in the U.S. led by trans women of color. In 2019, New York City announced a monument (still in progress) for Johnson and Rivera in recognition of their contributions. The monument is proposed for Ruth Wittenberg Triangle, a short walk from the historic Stonewall Inn.
While the Pride movement has thrived because of the work of queer people of color, these communities have yet to fully reap the benefits. A 2019 study by the UCLA Williams Institute found that Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other-race LGBTQ+ people faced higher rates of poverty than their white LGBT counterparts. A 2013 report co-authored by various civil rights organizations including the National Black Justice Coalition, dedicated to the empowerment of Black LGBTQ+ people, also showed that LGBTQ+ workers of color are among the most disadvantaged workers in America and also face higher rates of unemployment.
Alongside the constantly growing fight for racial equality has been the call to recenter BIPOC voices and priorities in LGBTQ+ activism, and strides are being made in recognizing and prioritizing these voices. In 2017, the City of Philadelphia unveiled a new pride flag that added black and brown stripes to the iconic rainbow layout, as a dedication to queer and trans people of color. The following year, Portland-based designer Daniel Quasar (xe/xem) released a wildly popular redesign of the Pride flag, incorporating the black and brown stripes as well as the colors of the Transgender Pride Flag into the traditional rainbow.
The erasure of queer BIPOC voices isn’t just within history and political activism, but music and the arts too. Today, the actions of white, ostensibly straight and cisgender (having the same gender identity as one’s birth sex) artists who move beyond the gender binary—such as Harry Styles and Bad Bunny—are recognized and valued more than out queer artists of color including Janelle Monae, Rina Sawayama, Hayley Kiyoko, and Raveena. As André Wheeler writes for The Guardian, “It becomes obvious there is more capital to be gained from wearing the queer activism of the moment like a costume than actually living and embodying it.”
However, queer musicians have been making great strides in the industry not just in recent years, but throughout history. From early 20th century jazz and blues songstresses Bessie Smith and Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey (the latter about whom the award-winning film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom starring Viola Davis was released in 2020) to R&B and rap artists of today such as Lil Nas X, Frank Ocean, Princess Nokia, Tyler The Creator, and Brockhampton, queer artists of color are producing critically and commercially successful work that’s reaching audiences across the world. Seeing these artists enjoy immensely successful careers while still openly embracing their queer identities is a testament to how far we’ve come and the power of Pride.
While there is still a great deal of work to be done in truly leveling the playing field for QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) in music and beyond, Pride is the time to celebrate those in our communities and around the world who are working towards freedom and equality for all, whether through activism or art. Wherever you are, be sure to tune into Levitt Los Angeles’ event to support some fantastic queer artists of color. And if you’re around Denver or Memphis, head over to these Levitt venues and enjoy some great live music while celebrating Pride!