by Patheresa Wells
Taking B(l)ack Pride (TBP) is Seattle’s only large-scale Pride event that centers on queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (QTBIPOC) communities. But TBP is more than just a Pride happening. It is lives. Lives that come together to celebrate, protect, and center their experiences. I spoke with members of TBP in advance of their third celebration, SEACHELLA, on June 25, 2022, at Seattle Center’s Mural Amphitheatre. SEACHELLA will be bigger than ever, featuring QTBIPOC performers from across the nation, food trucks and vendors, community resources, and family-friendly events.
In addition to performances and partying, attendees can expect everything from information on how to access health care, on-site mental health/crisis support, safer sex supplies, self-defense kits, and harm-reduction supplies. TBP will also offer COVID-19 rapid home tests, and HIV and hepatitis B testing.
Attendees can get a twerk lesson from CJ the Trainer, then head over to one of the many Black- and Brown-owned food trucks and food vendors for a meal. The event will also include free donated food for participants to enjoy, plus a plethora of QTBIPOC art vendors.
The formation of Taking B(l)ack Pride, according to one of its co-founders, Mattie M., is that it began in the middle of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest/Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, CHOP/CHAZ. At a time when the attention of the nation was turned toward the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter, they said, “We saw conversations within the Black Queer and Trans community about being erased in conversations about Black Violence as if Black Trans Folks and Black Trans Women do not disproportionately experience state violence.” Mattie notes that according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), “Transgender people of color were six times more likely to experience physical violence from the police compared to White cisgender survivors and victims.”
The Human Rights Campaign says in its “Dismantling a Culture of Violence” report that when tracking fatal violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people, “We know this epidemic disproportionately impacts trans women of color, who comprise approximately 4 in 5 of all known violent killings of transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.” So when initially coming together to create a space, Mattie explains it was to honor victims of violence. “We wanted a space for our community to recharge, regroup, and be celebrated on our own terms during Pride month.”
Renata Bryant — media lead for TBP who handles in-kind donations and production — says that when talking about the historical context of the group, many had experiences of not being heard, “both in movement building and in nonprofits,” that often people in leadership or with platforms use language centered on equality and social justice but without the necessary movement toward radical change. So, Bryant said, “We decided to do it our damn selves.”
Bryant said with TBP, people often think it’s “a formal organization, and we’re not … yet … we’re just five queer trans BIPOC community members trying to show the possibilities for what it could look like to build spaces that actually center QTBIPOC artists and community members.”
In the three years since its first event in 2020, TBP has grown in the number of attendees, in location, and in joy. “That’s the magical thing about the queer trans BIPOC — specifically Black — community is historically and presently we strive to make our own reality and strive for joy and laughter with one another and show how things could be done if folks could just unpack all of their internalized anti-Blackness and colonial conditioning,” said Bryant.
From public parks, like Jefferson Park and Jimi Hendrix Park, where the first two events were held, to this year’s location at Seattle Center, the event has grown, receiving national attention. “I also believe we have grown as a team in our strategies of care for one another and commitment to making sure that joy is centered for our QTBIPOC community as well as ourselves as QTBIPOC organizers,” said Vendor & Accessibility Manager Lourdez Velasco.
It’s important to note that those putting on the event for the past three years are all community members and organizers who do this work year-round. Some organizers of TBP are involved with the Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network and Queer The Land, and have partnerships with other similarly aligned organizations.
For instance, Families of Color Seattle is partnering with TBP to provide a free event for queer and trans Families of Color at SEACHELLA from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with child-centered activities for all ages. Bryant says that when developing a supportive and inclusive event, it was important for them to consider that not every QTBIPOC is looking for a party space. “Some folks want to network with other parents and child-friendly (queer and gender-affirming) spaces.”
It’s just one of many ways TBP is intentional about the kind of spaces it creates.
The need for spaces like Taking B(l)ack Pride is as multifaceted as the lives celebrated at the event. Its website states, “We also know that as such, Black people are not a monolith, and that our needs can be varying when discussing and addressing lived experience and intersectional identities.” Centering the Black LGBTQ+ community’s experiences as well as memorializing the lives lost is an important part of the event. Momma Nikki, a TBP organizer, said, “It’s unfortunate that even within our Black community, that Queer folks — especially Black Trans folks — are not a part of the conversation or even seen. … If we’re fighting for Black Lives to matter, then it needs to include ALL Black folk, including Queer & Trans folk.”
Mattie added that often these communities are left out of the conversations or ignored by the media when it comes to their experiences with violence — that people believe the violence “is justified BECAUSE of our sexualities and identities. We are often dismissed by our OWN communities in advocacy against racialized state violence because of the common talking point that we are Black or Brown first and then queer or trans when often for trans and queer community it’s not that simple, we experience our racial identities AND our gender identities often at the same time.” Mattie says that to erase one identity is to ignore the risk of violence for being both.
QTBIPOC are often marginalized in both Black communities and LGBTQ+ communities generally, especially in Seattle, where major Pride celebrations are overwhelmingly white. Mattie said when addressing the issue that people figurehead trans mothers of the Pride movement, like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, “while simultaneously paying BIPOC trans people absolute DUST. It’s performative. We can’t even tell you how many tears, long nights, and near cancellations of the event we endured as a result of just not getting the types of major support as PrideFest or Seattle Pride.”
Bryant added, “So much of Black culture is consumed and dissected by white queer community — my question would be, Why don’t we already have spaces for us? Spaces where we’re not gawked at or made to feel like a commodity or unsafe? Seattle is overwhelmingly white sometimes, and it can be really difficult to experience this sense of cognitive dissonance where you’re in such a ‘liberal’ space and you’re supposed to feel safe.”
Yet the tears, frustrations, and long nights are not all the organizers endure. While this year’s location of Seattle Center means a bigger event, the need for a partner was born out of necessity. Bryant says this year is their first time holding the event in a “formal or “legitimate” way. She said, “The previous years we have done TBP have been renegade style; which politically made sense (it still does) … And that was beautiful but came with a degree of having to be really vigilant and responsive to any number of factors.” So their ability to get funding and cultivate the relationships needed to secure Seattle Center is not only important in terms of growth but safety.
This year’s theme, SEACHELLA, is a play on Coachella. Mattie said, when coming up with the theme, “We wanted to showcase just how unique and quirky and forward Seattle Queer and Trans Fashion and gender expression is.”
Bryant said in addition to the “festive, celebratory, booty-shaking energy” from previous years, “there’s more love and intention going into this year’s event.”
“We dedicate TBP to all our Black trans ancestors’ lives lost in the last few years,” Velasco said. “ Each year we have had an altar, created in partnership with Alphabet Alliance of Color, to remember our Black trans loved ones lost in community, nationally and globally.”
The love and intention going into the event are meant to address issues within their community. Velasco noted that “2021 was the deadliest year for Transgender and non-binary people, disproportionately impacting Black trans women.” And many face issues like housing and employment insecurity, the inability to receive gender-affirming care and mental health services, in addition to dealing with systematic racism and transphobia. “We believe that creating a Pride celebration not only can provide a space of healing for our communities to celebrate in joy, we work hard to ensure that we contribute to economic justice by paying our Black and Brown trans and queer performers well.”
While Taking B(l)ack Pride was started by a few organizers coming together to address a need where QTBIPOC were not being heard, it has grown into a collective of organizations working together with the community. Partnerships and sponsorships with groups like UTOPIA Washington, Alphabet Alliance of Color, Black Trans Task Force, Lil Woody’s, and many others make it possible. But access to funding and support is necessary. Mattie said, “Our solution has always been to make sure this event is something that centers our community and creates physical and psychological safety by intentionally building equity into the foundation as well as a way for us to sustain it. One of the ways that we do that is to share that our expectation is that if allies want to join us, they should donate.”
And when discussing the need for the sustainability of TBP, Nikki said, “Black & Brown folks don’t have many spaces to call our own on a good day, let alone Queer & Trans centered.” They want attendees, allies, donors, and the entire city to know, “This event was formed from a couple people in the community seeing a need. If a couple of people can make this happen, I can only dream of if we could gather more numbers and create spaces all over Seattle year-round that would help fill the gaps.”
For a schedule of events, follow the official Taking B(l)ack Pride Instagram.
Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She currently attends Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
📸 Featured Image: Taking B(l)ack Pride (TBP) is Seattle’s only large-scale Pride event that centers queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. SEACHELLA, happening this Saturday, is TBP’s largest event so far. From 2021’s TBP celebration at Jimi Hendrix Park, pictured from left to right: Goddess Briq House, Beyonce Black St. James, and a TBP attendee. (Photos: Chloe Collyer)
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