As gay pride celebrations kick off around the country (June is National Pride Month), Harlem held its own Pride kick-off, Monday night, at Hyacinth’s Haven. Sponsored by the city’s Public Advocate, Leticia James, this was her first Black gay Pride kick-off, which she hopes to make an annual event.
More than just a start to Pride celebrations, the event was a chance for James to recognize the contributions of LGBTQ businesses and entrepreneurs who have made a difference in the Harlem community. The honorees were given commendations from the city.
For its commitment to helping homeless gay youth, the Ali Forney Center received commendation. Founder Carl Siciliano, who recently moved the Center to Harlem, admitted his trepidation to do so, given that the streets of Harlem is where Ali Forney ( for whom the Center is named) was shot and left for dead, in 1997. More than 15 years later, he says the Harlem community has embraced him, the Center, and their constituents.
Harlem resident, Alexis McSween, also praised the community’s inclusivity upon receiving her commendation; she was lauded as the CEO of Bottomline Construction, a woman-owned and LGBT business. Generally, these categorizations might be building blocks of resistance to her company, but McSween says her business was warmly received by Harlem when it moved to 126th and Park Ave, two years ago. In reciprocity, Bottomline not only hires from the Harlem community, but the firm also builds affordable housing in the Harlem community, where increasing rents are forcing out residents.
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“It’s about inclusivity,” says McSween. “Harlem is open for ALL.”
Despite a national shift toward inclusivity and openness, Letitia James reminded the crowd that the fight for equality was far from over. And while she’s confident the Supreme Court will “do the right thing” when it debates gay marriage, her primary focus is closer to home: communities of color.
“There’s lots of push and shove in communities of color,” James says. “But it’s important to have Pride [in Harlem] because LGBT people are our neighbors, our friends, and they’re certainly in our churches!”
Her hope is that equality for all will not only make life easier for LGBT residents, but a change in the national attitude would allow LGBT youth to receive the help and resources they need when they are kicked out of their homes, face bullying from peers, or contemplate taking their own lives.
According to statistics compiled and published by Advocates for Youth, many in the Black LGBT community report that their churches or religion viewed homosexuality as “wrong and sinful.” Rejection of this sort, from church and community leaders, as well as neighbors and family members, cause many in the Black LGBT community to have low self-esteem and experience suicidal thought at higher rates than other ethnicities. And Black gay men experience higher rates of depression.