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Dallas Black LGBTQ Community Combines Pride, Juneteenth With Unity Festival

Dallas Southern Pride / Facebook
Tank, an R&B singer, performs at last year's Juneteenth Unity Festival.

In late May, dozens of people gathered at a block party to drink, dance and do the limbo.

It was sort of a pre-party for the big party happening this weekend. A chance to celebrate being LGBTQ, and being black. It's Dallas Southern Pride's Juneteenth Unity Festival.

The festivities celebrate both Pride month and Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865 — the date that marks the traditional end of slavery in Texas.

Although Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared that all slaves in rebelling states were free, slaves in Texas didn't learn of their freedom until a Union Army general arrived in Galveston two years later and announced that all slaves were freed.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. Today, celebrations include rodeos, cookouts, historical reenactments, and other celebratory gatherings. 

Credit Dallas Southern Pride / Facebook

Shemar Garcon Dupree said it makes sense for the black LGBTQ community to celebrate both Juneteenth and pride.

"For us, as a community, I think Juneteenth is important, it especially being important for gay people," Dupree said. "Because not only are we celebrating the culture, but we're celebrating the freedom for us, too."

The weekend festivities include a welcome reception, pool party, concerts, a barbecue, and more. But it's also a party with a purpose.

Organizers have been offering free tickets to the events — featuring musicians like rapper Kash Doll — if partygoers get health screenings, which includes  testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, as well as testing for hepatitis C.  They're calling it "testing for tickets."

        View this post on Instagram                   Although we are no longer selling Juneteenth tickets online, there’s still time to Test for a Ticket! Get a FREE ticket to the Unity Pool or Mega Party when you take a FREE HIV test. Above is our testing schedule. Come test with Abounding Prosperity ! A post shared by Dallas Southern Pride (@dallassouthernpride) on Jun 13, 2019 at 7:24am PDT

Deon Christen is helping organize those events.

"Now because they wanna go see Kash Doll or because they wanna come to something that they know is gonna be hype, they'll come in and get their status," Christen said. "So I think it's important to get people aware, however you have to make them aware."

Christen works for Abounding Prosperity, Inc., a Dallas nonprofit that provides health and social services to African Americans, with a focus on the black LGBTQ community. The group is organizing the Juneteenth Unity Festival.

The festivities started years ago as a Juneteenth pool party at the house of Kirk Myers, the founder of Abounding Prosperity. It has since grown into an annual festival of events around the city.

Ahmad Goree, who works with Abounding Prosperity, says health service organizations will have a presence at the party.

"Dallas County Health and Human Services is going to be there," Goree said. "Some of the pharmaceutical companies, one in particular, Gilead Sciences, which makes the drug TRUVADA for PrEP, and some HIV treatment drugs, is a major sponsor."

Credit Dallas Southern Pride / Facebook

The weekend event gives partygoers access to health services, but Goree said it also creates a safe space for them to have a good time, and be themselves.

"There's Cedar Springs, primarily like the 'gayborhood' of Dallas, and a lot of the African American LGBTQ members here in Dallas just really don't feel comfortable down there," Goree said. "There's been stories of possible discrimination and mistreatment in that area."

Many also say there are dress codes at gay bars and clubs that they consider discriminatory. Something that has been repeated by black LGBTQ people around the country.

And many in Dallas say that Oak Lawn, the heart of Dallas' LGBTQ community, is also changing due to development. Dupree hosts events in the local black LGBTQ community.

"I think they have purposely re-gentrified the community," Dupree said. "You have these lavish luxury apartments in that area, increased the rent, and as they did those things, they moved a lot of the minority community out."

Experts say these issues have been happening throughout history, and around the country.

E. Patrick Johnson is a professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University. His research mostly focuses on black southern queer identities.

"We were not welcome in what was considered the 'regular' pride, which is a code for 'white pride,'" Johnson said.  "And, so we had to create our own traditions, our own spaces, just like there are historically black colleges because black folks could not get into white colleges. Just like there used to be a Miss Black America Pageant because black women couldn't get into those pageants."

Those spaces also include ballroom culture.

Ballrooms are kind of like underground LGBTQ galas that happen regionally, throughout the year. The events feature MCs, dancing, competitive performances, and more.

In Dallas, the Southern Regional Ball/House and Pageant Communities, or B/HAP, has an annual conference hosted by Abounding Prosperity. This year's Leadership and Health Disparities Conference will be Sept. 26-29, the same time as official Dallas black pride events.

Christen participates in ballroom.

"Not having spaces, and needing to create spaces to celebrate our own things is how ballroom was created, and it started off as a thing for black trans women, and black gay men," Christen said. "At the time, when it started, it started as more so like drag pageants and drag balls."

And ballroom culture is gaining visibility and representation in media, such as with the FX TV series "Pose," which explores the history of ballroom culture on the East Coast.

E. Patrick Johnson said he's excited to see what the black LGBTQ community creates next. 

"Wherever we are in the world, we're being festive and we're celebrating all that we bring, not just to queer culture, but to culture in general," Johnson said.

A celebration that will be in full force this weekend in Dallas.

Galilee Abdullah is an arts reporter.