Affinity Community Services teamed up with Mary Morten's Morten Group to host "Queer Black History: Leaving the Shadows Behind" at The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago Feb. 9.
The Queer Black History event began with a screening of "Leaving the Shadows Behind." Morten's short documentary, shown for the first time in its entirety, featured interviews with Black LGBT activists from the mid-1990s. It also featured the faces and words of several prominent activists who have since died, including Renae Ogletree, Rosalind Glanton, Troy Ford and John Pennycuff.
Following the video, panelists ranging from their early 20s to 50s discussed various issues within the Black LGBT community. The panel included Iman Crutcher of Earth Pearl Collective; Michael O'Connor, co-founder of The Rocks Pride Event; Lisa Marie Pickens, co-founder of Affinity and one of the activists featured in the video; and Fresco Steez, youth organizer. Affinity board member and Scholar Alum D. Jamari White, acted as moderator.
Brandy Donaldsonvice president of A.L.P.H.A.S, an acronym for African American Lesbian Professionals Having a Saytraveled from the Quad Cities to attend. A.L.P.H.A.S, an Affinity ally, described the event as "phenomenal" and "educational, especially from the perspective of someone who is not a Chicago native."
"It was such a wealth of knowledge and I appreciated the fact the panel was both young people and, how Michael put it, elders in this movement," she said. "I appreciated it because although they were so unique, you can still hear that unified message, you can still hear that unified purpose and that struggle that continues. It was a very good mix of ideas and perspectives."
O'Connor said he rarely speaks to African-American LGBT groups, but at this event he shared his beliefs, saying, "Understand that, if you know your history, you tend not to make the same mistakes." In turn, he hoped to have more coalition-building events such as this one.
"I think we don't coalesce enough," he said. "I think ... sexism tends to overshadow the other issues that we really need to be addressing in the African-American men's community; there's sexism, and that sexism has adversely affected our community as a whole, and I think that's a mistake. I think it's a mistake for the broader LGBT community to assume marriage equality is the only issue that is of importance to our entire community. Too many people are dying because of lack of good healthcare because of lack of good housing, because of lack of jobs."
Pickens, featured in the film while participating in the Bud Billiken parade, said the film and event are historic.
"I think it's historic because it's Black History Month and I think that effort has had such a tremendous impact, not just in the city, but I think nationally in terms of really stepping out there and becoming visible in that way," she said. "It's exciting to see how far we've come in the past 20 years."
Reception photos by Tracy Baim at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .