June 11, 2020 / 12:13 PM / a month ago

Gay Pride embraces its roots by teaming up with U.S. black activists

(Reuters) - Floats, all-night parties and parades may be out, but the LGBTQ community is returning to its roots by teaming up with black activists for Pride month celebrations in the United States.

While the coronavirus epidemic has forced the cancellation of traditional Pride events in June, U.S. gay groups are using virtual gatherings to amplify the voices of people of color, whose demands for social justice are taking the nation by storm.

“Pride started as a riot that was led by two women of color at Stonewall 51 years ago,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, chief executive of LGBTQ group GLAAD. “It is part protest, part celebration. I am thrilled that we can really be an ally and can be a presenter of pushing for change and locking arms with the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969 were spearheaded by transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson, who was black, and Latina Sylvia Rivera.

This year, GLAAD has turned plans for an online drag celebration into a “more substantive discussion around black queer lives,” Ellis said.

J. August Richards, a gay black actor on television’s “Council of Dads,” said he doesn’t mind missing out on the usual celebrations because of the momentum from protests sparked by the death of African American George Floyd after a white police kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“Right now, this uprising that is occurring - my entire attention is consumed by it,” Richards said.

Nevertheless, he is delighted that the LGBTQ community has thrown its weight behind black causes.

“I think it’s amazing and I pray it doesn’t end here. I hope there is a continued conversation and a continued inclusion,” he said.

FILE PHOTO: A participant takes part in the Brooklyn Pride Twilight Parade in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., June 8, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Not everyone has been so welcoming. Plans by LA Pride to team up with Black Lives Matter for a gathering in Los Angeles were shelved after black activists said they hadn’t been sufficiently consulted. Instead, black LGBTQ leaders are organizing a solidarity march to protest racial injustice, and LA Pride is supporting the effort.

But other initiatives are multiplying. Some 100 black, gay executives and entrepreneurs gathered this week for a virtual leadership forum on topics like health and social justice organized by Emil Wilbekin, founder of the Native Son black gay empowerment group.

“Black gay men are stepping up and leading. And I think it’s our time, not just to lead, but to actually be the light and to empower our own community,” said Wilbekin.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles and Alicia Powell in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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