As Gay as They Were Black: The Harlem Renaissance at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum
BY SHEREE L. GREER, Contributor
ST. PETERSBURG – June is a curious month for African Americans, particularly those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community. Consider an identity constructed of parts. I celebrate freedom and survival in remembering Juneteenth, lauding the bravery and resilience of my ancestors who contributed to my freedom as a black woman. Yet, June is also Pride Month, a hallmark of events centered on celebrating my freedom and survival as a lesbian woman.
These parts are many times at odds with each other. I remember Bayard Rustin, central organizer of the March on Washington in 1963, whose sexuality was deemed a liability even as he orchestrated the hallmark protest of the Civil Rights Movement.
In an interview in “American Poetry Review,” I recall Audre Lorde, famed poet, writer and philosopher, saying, “there’s always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself—because that’s the piece they need to key into; they want to dismiss everything else.”
Many St. Pete Pride events lack necessary diversity. Conversely, many black events regarding community building relegate the black LGBTQ community to the shadows, subjugating us to live “double lives” as Linda Villarosa wrote in her 2011 article “The Gay Harlem Renaissance.”
Imagine then, an opportunity for black LGBTQ individuals to find solace and support in ways that acknowledge the complete us, our whole selves.
As if answering a call, The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum is creating and curating that very opportunity. The Woodson Museum’s “As Gay as They Were Black: The Harlem Renaissance” exhibit highlights the oft-erased and ignored legacy of black, LGBTQ artists of the Harlem Renaissance and celebrates local pillars of the black LGBTQ community in Tampa Bay.
The Pride month events at the museum opens with a Harlem Renaissance-themed “Rent Party” featuring local poets and writers this Saturday, June 10 and continues with a candlelight prayer vigil for the victims of the Pulse Night Club massacre on Monday, June 12. An interactive movie night Friday, June 16 and a necessary community-based panel and conversation entitled “Not a Trend: The Truth” will round out the events Tuesday, June 20.
These events will hopefully incite conversations that are both difficult and encouraging, both public and private, but the conversations are overdue and a more expansive understanding of love and identity are needed now more than ever.
Visit www.woodsonmuseum.org or call the museum at 727-323-1104 for more information.