Pride began by marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, led by trailblazing Black and Latina trans women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. But Stonewall was not the first event, and it did not spur the first movement for queer and trans liberation. In fact, there are nuances to queer and trans liberation.
The gay liberation movement has gained visibility, public acceptance and civil rights like marriage, but rights for queer and trans folks of color and those who are disabled — people who don’t check as many normative boxes — continue to be attacked in legislatures nationwide. Trans people, especially trans people of color, lack support and resources, all while trans people, especially trans women of color, continue to be murdered at high rates, with 2021 being the deadliest year on record for transgender people.
That’s why five Seattle-area organizers, community workers and artists came together in 2020 to dream up Taking B(l)ack Pride, a family-friendly music and arts festival that seeks “to empower the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] transgender, queer and gender-diverse communities to take charge of the ways we own our joy, grief, healing, anger, celebration, pride, expression of culture and community.”
This year, the event will take place at Seattle Center’s Mural Amphitheater on Saturday, June 25, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The theme of the event is Seachella, and will include all-ages activities like crafts and food, and music from a wide array of artists. (The full lineup is being rolled out on the @takingblackpride Instagram page.)
Founders Renata B. (she/her), Evana E. (they/them), Mattie M. (they/them), Momma Nikki (they/he/she) and Lourdez V. (they/them) came to community organizing from backgrounds in advocacy, art, education and health care. (The founders asked to be identified only by first names due to safety concerns.)
Together, this collective works to honor each other, their communities and who they call their “trancestors” — the trans women and gender-diverse people of color whose work throughout modern queer and trans liberation movements is crucial and, in many contexts, thankless.
“I see it as just a really big part of my day-to-day life, making sure the community has the tools needed to be happy, healthy, self-determined,” says Mattie, an educator, organizer, trans-health expert and the senior program coordinator of transgender health at Swedish Medical Center. “Taking B(l)ack Pride is very much an extension of all of that for me and I know that it’s a really special project to each and every person” in the organizing group.
The Taking B(l)ack Pride team has expertise in mutual aid, organizing, mental and physical health, and also creativity in community building and art.
“A lot of the art I create really centers healing and dreams of liberation for queer and trans BIPOC community,” says Lourdez, an artist and, along with Mattie, a co-founder of the Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network, a mutual aid organization run by and for two-spirit, trans women and trans femmes of color in Washington state.
“As a parent and an artist,” they say, “I really enjoy thinking about how our activities and creativity can be involved in beautiful celebratory spaces like these. So we’ve partnered with Families of Color Seattle” for the event as well.
“I’ve always felt, as an artist, to take Nina Simone at her word — it’s our duty as an artist to reflect the times,” says Momma Nikki, a multidisciplinary artist and mentor for youth who works locally with Creative Justice and Totem Star. Their role as a youth mentor has brought young people onto the Taking B(l)ack Pride stage to perform, too.
Taking B(l)ack Pride is made specifically by and for queer and trans Black, Indigenous and people of color. It centers healing, connection and joy for that community, and encourages donations from white allies and attendees as a form of reparations.
Group founders said that while the reparations fee has been controversial — complaints of reverse discrimination from another Seattle-based Pride group led to threats, harassment, a Fox News write-up and more unwanted attention last year — other allies have been supportive. “Everyone has an opinion about our reparations model,” Evana said, continuing, “it’s nice to see that folks are just like, ‘Oh, look at what you’re doing. This is amazing. I want to support you.'”
The group was formed within the modern contexts of rapid gentrification and disproportionate health impacts of COVID-19 in Seattle and beyond, and, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the ongoing reality of police brutality and the resultant impacts on queer and trans communities.
But the event is also about joy.
“Displacement has hit the BIPOC queer and trans community in Seattle particularly hard, including members of our organizing team,” reads the Taking B(l)ack Pride website. “We tried to reimagine the forms community/grassroots reparations efforts could take and decided on encouraging white allies, supporters and accomplices to pay reparations to offset the costs of our event, to pay performers what they are worth, and to keep the event financially accessible to the community that we belong to.”
Like any community, the Seattle QTBIPOC community is not a monolith. But Taking B(l)ack Pride aims to be “a space where we could regroup, rest, heal, find familiar faces, build community, strategize, find moments of joy, love, compassion and bask in the fighting spirit of Pride.”
That joy is apparent in the growing success of the event over the last two years. While the organizers have been busy on the day of the event in years past, this year they’re working with an event-planning company to free up some time so they can enjoy the event, too.
“For me, joy and wellness comes up both in having a sense of connection and friendship with one another, but also in seeing the event come to fruition and seeing everyone gather together, laugh, love up on each other, and feel safe to do so,” says Renata, a social worker and community builder focused on advocacy for homeless services. “The political aspect is in the reparations, and also in having fun with each other. Joy is a political act in some ways and I think that that’s where I get a deep sense of happiness from the event.”
Evana, who has worked at Seattle Parks and Recreation for almost a decade and who focuses much of their advocacy work around affordable housing, displacement and gentrification, notes how many people travel from places as far away as California and Washington, D.C., for the event. That, Evana says, shows a lack of recurring Black- and trans-led Pride events nationwide.
“I got joy out of just hearing other people tell us how fun the event was,” Evana says.
When asked what their vision is for the future of Taking B(l)ack Pride is, the ideas mentioned show the loving and dynamic nature of the group and the event they are creating.
“I just want a slip-and-slide day,” says Momma Nikki to echoes of endorsement.
“I envision it being bigger and better or more refined,” adds Evana. “I think we have a lot of work to do internally, but I also feel like it would be nice to have more support from our community.”
Mattie echoed a similar sentiment.
“My hope for the future,” they say, “is that we can sustain, and that we can have those conversations, and that we can really connect more with both our own community and communities outside of our community about what our goals are and the importance of what we’re doing.”
Lourdez added that they are constantly impressed and inspired by the community collaboration.
“I’m always amazed every year what queer people will and can do and what we create, and we’re a small and mighty team,” Lourdez says. “There’s so many creative ways that we can think and dream, and that means getting the support that we need to be able to do that.”