From 1975 until 1990, the ClubHouse in Washington DC, was a remarkable nightclub founded by Black members of DC’s LGBTQ community, widely for its signature event – the Children’s Hour. This event was a true celebration and took place annually during Memorial Day weekend. As word spread throughout the country, the Children’s Hour quickly became an institution drawing celebrants from near and far.
When the ClubHouse closed in 1990, many feared the Memorial Day tradition would also be lost. However, three men—Welmore Cook, Theodore Kirkland and Ernest Hopkins— envisioned creating an event that would continue the tradition of the Children’s Hour while also bringing awareness to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in their community. Their vision and hard work gave life to the first Black Gay and Lesbian Pride event on May 25, 1991 on the grounds of Banneker Field.
This historic event was a collaboration among many organizers and organizations including the DC Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gay Men and the Inner City AIDS Network, and it continued the tradition of the Children’s Hour, while also raising funds for the HIV/AIDS organizations that served the African- American community in Washington and the surrounding area. This first event drew 800 people, who were centered around the theme of “Let’s All Come Together”.
The following year, DC Black Pride increased its offerings and became a weekend-long festival, which included an event line-up, a midnight cruise on the Potomac River, a Sunday prayer breakfast and the first Washington film screening of Marlon Riggs’ groundbreaking film “Tongues Untied.”
As DC Black Pride continued to grow during the mid-nineties, organizers focused on developing long-range plans to sustain the event by creating a board of directors, filing for incorporation, and becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Black Lesbian & Gay Pride Day, Inc. (BLGPD) was born, and the all-volunteer governing body of BLDPD would now oversee the planning and execution of DC Black Pride.
DC Black Pride was the catalyst for what is now regarded as the Black Pride Movement. Since
its birth, more than 50 other Black Pride celebrations now take place throughout the world, many using DC Black Pride as its model. During the 1998 DC Black Pride Festival, the then President of BLGPD, Earl Fowlkes, met with the organizers of Black Prides from New York City, Detroit, Atlanta, as well as other cities to form the International Federation of Black Prides (IFBP), which later became the Center for Black Equity (CBE). Today, the CBE has more than 50 members and serves as the principal body through which organizers find support, raise funds and share best practices.
When Welmore Cook, Theodore Kirkland and Ernest Hopkins saw a need to continue an important tradition and rally the community around the HIV/AIDS in Washington, DC, they started a movement that has impacted the lives of millions of Black LGBT men and women around the world.
Today, more than 500,000 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of African descent and their allies come to Washington DC on Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the beauty of a shared community and raise awareness and funding for HIV/AIDS in the name and spirit of Black Pride.
While much progress has been made across the globe since 1991, there remains a need to educate the community about HIV/AIDS and stand against homophobia inspired violence and bigotry that remains prevalent throughout society.
DC Black Pride continues to inspire a movement. . . May 26–29, 2023.