Celebrating Black Pride And Its History In Kentucky: It's Not All Rainbows

Jun 26, 2023 at 10:28 am
Sweet Evening Breeze (right) at the Living Room Bar, Lexington, circa 1971.
Sweet Evening Breeze (right) at the Living Room Bar, Lexington, circa 1971. Photo courtesy of Faulkner-Morgan Archive.

Pride Month is a month-long celebration in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising where people in the LGBTQ community fought back against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay club. This moment in history is considered to be a major turning point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. 

Throughout the month of June festivals, pageants, drag shows, and other events are held to bring a queer-safe space to those in cities and towns across the country. However, for some people in the LGBTQ community Pride still is a hard topic, and controversial for them. 

“[A] major factor in establishing Black Pride, especially in and around the early ‘90s, when we see a lot of Black Pride festivals happen, has to do with the racial microaggressions from white LGBT folks,” said Dr. Kaila Story, the associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Louisville.

Story added that with Black Pride being present in the southern states where statistically there are more Black LGBTQ people in the community, participants worry less about racial microaggressions or overt acts of racism. 

In late 2016, Shawn Ka’Ron Bumpase founded the non-profit organization Kentucky Black Pride to honor and promote unity, pride, self-awareness, and positive visibility in Kentucky for queer and trans people of color. According to Story, Black Pride events nationwide still focus heavily on advocacy work and providing LGBTQ resources.

“A lot of vendors that are there are doing HIV/AIDS testing, they're working on LGBTQ youth homelessness,” said Story. “Pride wasn't just this kind of empty dance party, at one point in time it was definitely designed for advocacy for LGBTQ communities and I think that Black Prides in Kentucky, as well as nationwide, still have the advocacy leaning in that representation, more so than a big Pride festival.”

Black Pride in Kentucky is also important due to the Black queer people who paved the way decades ago. 

One notable figure in Kentucky’s Black queer history is James “Sweet Evening Breeze” Herndon. Herndon or Sweets for short, was one of Lexington’s first prominent drag queens. In the 1960s, Sweets and a teen that was an aspiring drag artist were arrested in downtown Lexington for violating the city’s cross-dressing ordinance

As a gay Black man, it was not uncommon to be under attack by these types of ordinances in Kentucky. According to Jeffery Jones’s dissertation "Hidden Histories, Proud Communities: Multiple Narratives in the Queer Geographies of Lexington, KY, 1930–1999," upwards of two-thirds of ‘cross-dressing’ and sodomy arrests in Kentucky were charged against Black men.

Story said that when the LGBTQ equality movement started gaining traction in Lexington people like Sweets were instrumental in overturning these ordinances. At the time, the ordinance for cross-dressing was that a person must be wearing three articles of clothing that matched their assigned sex at birth. 

“Sweets became instrumental in overturning this cross-dressing ordinance,” said Story “I mean Sweets would be on Main Street in drag in the early 1930s and really just [by] being themselves [they] gained a local reputation, not as some kind of provocateur or deviant, but just as a beloved respected member of the LGBT community, everyone saw them as kind and had great charisma.”

Sweets also opened their home as a sanctuary for other Black LGBTQ people since they didn’t always feel comfortable at pride events due to a lack of inclusion. In honor of Sweets, Louisville opened its own LGBTQ homeless shelter for young adults called Sweet Evening Breeze.

While recognizing people like Sweets in this way is monumental, Story says we still have a long way to go with Black Pride.

“I think it's getting much, much better, but you know we got a ways to go because it's still so many folks who don't know about where pride comes from, and so many folks who don't even put together that pride had everything to do with an action against law enforcement for the routine harassment, like this was an exercise in fighting against police brutality,” said Story.

“So when people look at the uprisings of 2020, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Black Lives Matter and they don't connect that to the beginnings of LGBTQ liberation [then] we're still in a situation, we still have a problem, because there's so many people who just don't see that the Stonewall was about that.”

Kentucky Black Pride will be hosting multiple events in the upcoming months to honor, unite, and advocate for Black Pride. Some events coming up are:

  • Kentucky Black Pride Pageant – Saturday, Aug. 12 at 6 p.m.
  • Meet & Greet Drag Show – Thursday, Sept. 14 at 9 p.m.
  • Annual Night of Elegance Gala & Honor’s Ball – Friday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
  • Pride in the Park – Saturday, Sept. 16 at 12-7 p.m.
  • Pride After Party – Saturday, Sept. 16 at 10 p.m.
  • After Church Drag Brunch – Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2-5 p.m.
Some event locations and ticket costs are still being determined so for more information check Kentucky Black Pride’s website here or their Facebook page here.

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