The organization behind Atlanta Black Pride has been working to “reclaim” the Labor Day festivities that they worry have become synonymous more with partying than with their long-term goal of educating, empowering, and celebrating the local Black LGBTQ+ community.
In 1996, In the Life Atlanta established Atlanta Black Pride, Inc. in hopes of formalizing and organizing the smaller, disparate events that had been taking place for Black LGBTQ+ members throughout the city. Last winter, organizers renewed their efforts to “reclaim” the legacy of the 23-year old organization—charging that the intellectual property of Atlanta Black Pride has been “usurped, misrepresented, and maligned” in recent years.
Atlanta Black Pride typically hosts many of its events at Candler Park, but this year the organization went virtual in response to the Covid-19 pandemic—hosting its film festival, literary cafe, and workshops online. A planned erotic poetry night and fashion show were cancelled after organizers decided they couldn’t capture the essence of the events online. Prior to Labor Day, Terence Stewart, CEO of Atlanta Black Pride, says the organization informed their constituents that official events would be held virtually, and that anyone who came to party would be attending an event sponsored by an event or club promoter rather than a sanctioned function. Stewart noted that the organization did partner with three groups, such as the Legendary Marquette Lounge, helping them provide masks and adhere to Covid-19 restrictions, and allowing them to use the organization’s name when advertising.
Rickie Smith, president of In The Life Atlanta Foundation, said limiting the number of partners helps them manage blowback if anything goes wrong. The organization started warning other promoters—sometimes even resorting to legal measures—who used the Atlanta Black Pride moniker without permission after being held responsible for unassociated events organized by Black LGBTQ+ partygoers during the holiday weekend. “If anything ever happened during that weekend, of course, ITLA would absorb” the blame, he said. “[Promoters] could reap all the benefits and the glory of the weekend but would hold none of the responsibilities of the weekend. Sometimes you just get tired of taking the blame for stuff you didn’t even do.”
Smith said the common use of “Atlanta Black Pride” by people not associated with the organization also made it hard for them to obtain sponsors, some of whom falsely believed they’d already partnered with the official group or were deterred by the misconception that the weekend was all about partying. Stewart stresses that Atlanta Black Pride hosts programming year-round. Even amid the ongoing pandemic, he says they’re working to host events that touch on mental health and youth homelessness.
Stewart insists Atlanta Black Pride is “brand protective”—not in an effort to monopolize the market for Black LGBTQ+ events, but to ensure the organization’s longevity. “If we want to be around for another 25 years, we have to clean up some things and draw a line in the sand,” he says.