Tri-State Black Pride educates and uplifts local black LGBTQ community

Memphis Black Pride has been rebranded after an over 20-year run. Tri-State Black Pride places an emphasis on education and bringing together black LGBTQ community members from the region.

The black LGBTQ community in Memphis has a new face. Nearly 3,500 peope attended the city's first Tri-State Black Pride weekend over June 15 to June 18. Related events covered Downtown and Midtown and included a sold-out reception at the National Civil Rights Museum, a panel discussion with LGBTQ authors of color, a fashion show at Loflin Yard and an educational forum.

Dr. Davin Clemons, co-founder of Tri-State Black Pride, speaks about his motivation in launching Memphis' official black pride gathering. Clemons is also co-founder of Cathedral of Praise Church of Memphis as well as The Unleashed Voice magazine, a news outlet for the local black LGBTQ community.

High Ground News: This is the first year that Memphis and the Cathedral Foundation has hosted an official Tri-State Black Pride weekend. What was your motivation for organizing the event and what need do you think it fills that was previously untapped?

Davin Clemons: We pride ourselves on the education of the LGBTQ community. We’re following the mission of the Cathedral Foundation, which is the host of Tri-State Black Pride. Our mission at the Cathedral Foundation is provide education, health, culture and social services to the LGBTQ community.


The void that Tri-State Pride fills is that the previous pride did not tap into was the education piece. We had two days where individuals came from all over the U.S. to teach health and wellness, financial literacy and spirituality classes. Those sessions were free.

Drag queens make their entrance at the kickoff dinner held at the National Civil Rights Museum.

HGN: How does this weekend's events differ from Memphis Black Gay Pride, which has been around for over 20 years?

DC: I think we really focus on the educational component. I remember participating in educational components with Memphis Black Pride, but time changes and people evolve. We have some new ideas they may not have had back then, and we have opportunities that may have not been afforded for them to have.


We gave the founder of Memphis Black Pride, Terryl Buckner, a lifetime achievement award at the National Civil Rights Museum for the work he's done in the community. So, we pay our respects to him for paving the way for us.


They've done a great job for the past 20-something years, but times change. We took advantage of the new opportunities that were afforded to us, and we just ran with it.


HGN: What do you mean by “new opportunities”?


DC: For instance, myself and (Tri-State Black Pride co-founder) Dr. Darnell Gooch, we have our doctorate degrees, so we are in a social setting of individuals who accept us for being LGBTQ as we're in the academic arena.


Because of the education that we have and the environments that we've been in, we're more connected to the resources and experts to make the event successful.


I am the LGBTQ liaison for the Memphis Police Department, so that has opened doors for me as well. That has helped me get in a better position and lead people to put on Tri-State Black Pride.

HGN: In estimates, how many people attended the weekend's festivities? What shows you that the event was a success?

DC: One of the things we really pride ourselves on is the opening reception at the National Civil Rights Museum. That was the first time ever in history that a gay pride event has been hosted at the National Civil Rights Museum.


I would say we had about 3,500 total people who attended all days of the event. At our educational sessions, we had about 200 to 300 people.


We did not have any incidents of violence or fighting at all, and it was just all a bunch of positivity the entire weekend. We really appreciate everyone and they appreciated what we were doing.


It was just a great four days of events with a good response from the community and we're looking forward to 2018 Tri-State Black Pride.

Davin Clemons (center) with members of the Blue Suede Sisters.

HGN: The theme of Thursday's kickoff reception at the National Civil Rights Center was "Ending the Stigma". In what way does Tri-State Black Pride further that work of ending stigmas against LGBTQ people in the local black community?

DC: The first thing, the stigma is if you talk to any person who does not know anything about LGBTQ individuals, they would think the LGBTQ community is just sex, drugs and rock and roll. That is just not the case.


We have individuals who are influential in the business world. We have LGBTQ individuals who are thought provokers. We want to end that stigma that affects the face of the LGBTQ community.


And we want to end the stigma around the conversation of HIV and AIDS. At the National Civil Rights Museum, our keynote speaker was Dr. Marye Bernard who was the third infectious disease doctor in the state of Tennessee. She did a dynamic job speaking about being a black woman and an ally to the community.


Through all of this, we hope to end the stigma of the totality of LGBTQ individuals especially in the black and brown community.


HGN: How do you hope the event will evolve or change next year?

DC: I hope it will evolve by having more sponsors participate. And with that, we could make more changes to the event like getting a bigger venue.


Fifty percent of our events were free to the public, like the educational breakout sessions. The people who led those sessions, they spent their own money to get here and render their services to the LGBTQ community and allies. That was great to not have to pay those people to come here. They saw what we were doing, they got on board with the mission and they came here to show their support.


I believe once we receive more sponsors for the events, we can take it to the next level and get Memphis what it really deserves and what it has been lacking the last couple of years. In other cities, they have big artists who come in for pride and we can do the same thing. We deserve the same thing in Memphis, Tennessee.

Partiers at the Tri-State Girls Black Pride block party outside of Side Street Grill.

HGN: Monday, June 19 marks one year after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In the past year, do you think that conditions for LGBTQ people in the Mid-South have improved or worsened? What are the biggest concerns to the local black LGBTQ community?

DC: It has gotten a little bit better, but we can always improve our services for our transgender sisters and brothers. They're still being attacked and murdered at an alarming rate, so we have to dispel that stigma. They can't get certain jobs because the names they have on their birth certificates and drivers licenses. So that's a struggle we continue to have.

We still have employment discrimination going on. You can get fired in the state of Tennessee for being openly gay. There's nothing on the books to protect you from that. We still have our struggles going on though we've come a long way. We are some resilient people. We've survived worse, and we'll survive this and continue to fight for our rights.


We show our support for those 49 victims who were murdered at Pulse, making it the worst shooting massacre in U.S. history. We are with them. I could be a victim at Pulse club. We just partied this past Friday and Saturday. Somebody could have come in there shooting.


We support our sisters and brothers, our Latino sisters and brothers, our transgender sisters and brothers. We support all of them, and we're on our way.


HGN: If people want to get more involved with next year's event or black LGBTQ programming in Memphis, what are some resources or places they can check out?

They can get involved on our website, where they can contact us. We’ll need sponsors and volunteers for next year.


We're just trying to do something to build healthy and productive lives in the LGBTQ community here in the Mid-South. We welcome anyone who wants to get on board.

This interview has been edited to be concise and clear.

Read more articles by Madeline Faber.

Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.