5 Star Stories: Tri-State Black Pride 2021 ‘Doing it for the Culture’

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 9:28 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As we celebrate Pride Month, we’re showcasing the people, places, and things that make us proud to call the Mid-South home.

This week shows us how the non-profit, Tri-State Black Pride, is carrying on the tradition of helping members of the black and brown LGBTQ community through the struggles of magnified discrimination.

“Doing it for the Culture” was the theme of Tri-State Black Pride’s 2021 celebration which kicked off with a lively gathering in downtown Memphis at the Pocket. But parties like that are only a fraction of Tri-State’s focus, according to President Gwendolyn Clemons.

“One thing our community knows how to do is party well! So, we want to also add some really tangible elements, so we call ours a convention and we host it four days,” she explained.

Those tangible elements include a plenary with complimentary lunches and two days of educational breakout sessions that address the unique needs of the black LGBTQ community.

“We have a housing problem with the black transgender women in Memphis, Tennessee as well as an employment problem. The median wage for a black transgender woman is $10,000 a year, and I think we need to change that. So, our Pride focuses on economic development, we focus on health and wellness, and HIV and AIDS,” said Gwendolyn Clemons.

Gwendolyn Clemons’ son, Dr. Davin Clemons and his husband, Dr. Darnell Gooch, are pastors at Cathedral of Praise Church where five years ago, they founded Tri-State Black Pride.

“Religion was very traumatizing for me and for many black LGBTQ people,” recalled Davin Clemons. “Being black in the south and gay, aw man! That’s an abomination, quote, unquote. We’ve helped many people behind the scenes and in front of the scenes. And so if we were not here, more people would have been in that cycle, being traumatized and hurt by religion and all of those things. But, we’re here.”

Long before Tri-State Black Pride, 30 to 40 years ago, there was former club owner Terryl Buckner who’s considered by many to be the father of the Memphis Black Pride community.

“There is a need for two Prides. We have different struggles. We have two issues to deal with: black and gay,” described Buckner who learned first-hand the difficulties of finding a welcome place for queer black folk to gather for a drink or to socialize. “We was always called, I’m going to be honest with you, ‘I don’t want them freaks at my club.’ So, I decided I want to open up my own club and invite us there so we have a good safe atmosphere to go into.”

Buckner opened his first club in the early ’80s. He said it was actually located around the same location as third base at AutoZone Park in downtown Memphis. He changed club locations and names several times throughout the years, sometimes for business, and other times to avoid what he said was harassment from the very people sworn to “protect and serve.”

According to Buckner, Every Friday and Saturday night, he would start sending paddy wagons and park them in front of my door and about three police cars on Friday and Saturday, so that kind of killed my business. So, I just went on and moved.”

Buckner also unknowingly started a tradition with the production of his first black Pride event by holding it on Juneteenth weekend.

“What made me do Memphis Pride? I really wanted the community to get together. Not just for a party, it was a unity, unity in the community is what we always said,” explained Buckner.

The tradition continues to this day with Tri-State’s convention weekend.

“That’s a weekend of liberation, of freedom and so for us to celebrate with the Juneteenth weekend is great,” exclaimed Gwendolyn Clemons.

Despite the organization’s focus on issues affecting the black and brown LGBTQ movement, everyone is invited and welcome to attend events or volunteer with the organization.

“And so what we try to make clear to them is that even though it says Black Pride, everybody’s welcome. Everybody’s welcome. The only reason that we have that word in it is to make the distinction that what we’re doing is geared toward this community. But we don’t exclude anyone,” said Gwendolyn Clemons.

Her son, Davin Clemons, invites you to connect with them on social media and through the group’s website: https://www.tristateblackpride.com/.

As Davin Clemons put it, “Our whole mission is liberation of black LGBTQ people, not limited to. And so I just want people to come out and celebrate with us, learn more, empower yourself, and just be a part of the movement. It’s a movement.”

One thing both Clemons’ mentioned is the difficulty they’ve experienced getting large corporate sponsorships and donations for Tri-State Black Pride to continue its work in the community. They hope to reach equity in that area as well someday. Even so, Tri-State Black Pride is working this year with Mystic Krewe of Pegasus to raise money for Hope House, whose mission is to improve the quality of life of HIV-affected individuals and their families by providing high-quality early childhood education and social services” for children ages six weeks old to five years old and are impacted by HIV/AIDS.

The Center For Black Equity (CBE) has recognized Tri-State Black Pride as the official Black Pride for Memphis. This recognition is based on three factors: capacity, community support, and commitment to the CBE’s mission and values. After an extensive four-month review, which included an interview with The Cathedral Foundation and discussions with members of the Memphis Black LGBTQ community, CBE is convinced that The Cathedral Foundation will set a high standard for an inclusive, well executed Black Pride event for the Memphis metropolitan area.

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