Black Love: Celebrating the Black queer experience

Last month, community members held a celebration of the Black queer experience at Strut, the new health and wellness center from San Francisco AIDS Foundation. More than 150 people packed the house to hear poetry, music and stories told live by performers from across the Bay Area.

“The performers were inspiring, powerful, and committed to speaking their truth,” said Ernest Hopkins, legislative affairs director at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, who attended the event. “The event was well attended and I was happy to see black and brown faces in the Castro, feeling welcomed and enjoying the Strut space. I look forward to future events in the space as community members embrace it as a place for the entire community.”

Baruch Porras-Hernandez, community organizer at Strut, said the event was intended to welcome people of color to Strut and let them know that it is a place for them while also acknowledging people of color who are already clients. The event was held in honor of Black History Month in February, although Porras-Hernandez said he plans to run the event four times per year.

The night began with a welcome from Porras-Hernandez as he explained what Strut is: A community health and wellness center with a variety of mental health, sexual health and substance use services for gay, bisexual and transgender men. Strut, a program of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, is an open and welcoming space where people can find community at art shows, book clubs and other events such as Black Love.   

The two co-hosts were Naamen Gobert Tilahun and Beatrice L. Thomas, performing as her drag queen persona Black Benatar.

Beatrice L. Thomas read a piece she had written about growing up as a black queer woman, being married to a transgender man, and the “code-switching” she does within the gay community.

“She talked about how when she’s with lesbians, they might not understand why she’s married to a trans[gender] man. And when she’s with Black people, they might not understand that she’s gay and what being queer means. It was so well written,” said Porras-Hernandez. “It came down to her exploration of what being free means. And people were mesmerized by what she had to say. It really changed the night.”

Other performers, including Kwan Booth, Maisha Z. Johnson and Gregory Pond spoke and shared poetry. They shared experiences including: Finding love when you’re older while feeling both hopeful and desperate; the “magic” in queer subcultures; and being able to love a Black queer body. The musical guest, Jade Way, performed love songs including “You’re teaching me,” which was about how her girlfriend had taught her to love again.

“Jade made everyone cry,” said Porras-Hernandez. “She only brought five of her CDs with her to the show, and during her performance I had people coming up to me and giving me money to reserve a CD for them!”

“When I curate a show, I like to think of it as a meal. It has to have a good starter, exciting climax and a great ending. And the energy has to tie together. One of my goals for this specific show though was to make sure I helped the artists feel free to perform whatever they wanted. One thing that happens often when you’re an artist of color is you get invited to perform at a space, but only if you’re speaking about being an artist of color, it puts you into a box, and makes us feel stereotyped or tokenized. I told the artists the theme was Black queer love but that they could talk about anything: public transport, unicorns, toast. All of the performances ended up being so unique and were so well received, I loved working with all of them,” said Porras-Hernandez.    

The show also included short introductions to the programs at Strut and San Francisco AIDS Foundation—explaining who they were designed for and what types of activities, services and support they provided. Karl Knapper, manager of Black Brothers Esteem (BBE), introduced BBE and DREAAM, which are both programs at the foundation designed specifically for Black and African-American gay, bisexual and same-gender loving men and transgender men. 

“Black Love was a wonderful event. The performers were amazing, the space (Strut) was perfect, and the turnout was great. I’m looking forward to the next one,” said Knapper.

Find out about other community and wellness events held at Strut including discussion groups, book clubs, art events and harm reduction groups at Black Love is an ongoing performance series focusing on Black queer artists. The next Black Love event will be held at Strut on April 4, 2016 at 8 pm (doors open at 7:30 pm). 

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