Tank, a straight hip-hop star, is a proud ally to the gay community

 

Juneteenth commemorates the symbolic end of slavery, but for black LGBT Texans, it also touches on Pride of a different kind

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Executive Editor
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If you’re African-American, especially from the South — and especially especially from Texas — then June 19 probably means something to you. In a way, it’s a shameful date: The day in 1865, more than two months after the surrender of Lee at Appomattox, when slaves in Texas first learned that they had been freed. For more than a century and a half, it’s been celebrated by black Americans as the “real day” slavery ended on this continent.

And for gay black Texans, it has its own resonance.

“I had heard of Juneteenth while growing up in Alabama, but it was just a mention,” says P.J. Moton, development director for Dallas Southern Pride and point-man on the Juneteenth event. “But when I moved to Texas, I began to know a lot more about it and the whole idea of it representing freedom and liberation.”

And not just freedom from slavery, but freedom to live your life.

Performing for queer people of color appeals to out musician Bobby Lytes.

When Moton moved to Dallas, the local black gay community noted Juneteenth, but had not staged a large-scale event. Moton came up with the idea to revamp and expand it. The first time it took on the elements of a bigger party was 2014; by 2015 it had become a full-sized festival weekend and has continued to grow.

This year, Juneteenth takes place over three days (June 15–17) and four venues and welcomes six headliners performing at the main event, the Unity Festival on Saturday night.

“After each year’s event, we ask [attendees], ‘Who would you like to see?’ We do market research and reach out to our own network,” Moton says.

One of this year’s headliners is R&B artist Tank, who is a straight black male. Moton sees Tank’s willingness to appear at a gay-specific Pride event as evidence of the evolution not just of the culture at large, but the black community as well.  

“We already face a number of stigmas in reference to other communities, and stigmas within our own [black] community,” Moton says. “We deal with issues of promoting hyper-masculinity. We have men who can’t authentically be themselves and be on the DL because of the boxes people put them in as ‘less than a man.’ To have Tank, a black heterosexual male, performing for black gay Pride events has been a major step forward for how [performers] see [the gay community].”

“It is my pleasure to share my talent with the LGBTQ community and the Juneteenth Unity Festival,” Tank says. “[That] community has supported my career over the years and I will support them with no hesitation. I’ve been transparent and vocal with my support of [the gay community].”

For his part, rapper and reality TV star Bobby Lytes — another performer attending the festival who is openly gay — relishes the chance to be out among family.

“I feel extremely proud to be able to perform for my people,” Lytes says of the chance to appear at Juneteenth. “I love being able to live in my truth and share moments with other people that are living in their truth. I hope that my actions, and me being so open, will inspire others to do the same. I really want to continue bringing our community together.”

Nevertheless, Dallas Southern Pride has also had to fend off criticism of the celebration.

“I have seen people who have commented on our posts for Juneteenth like, ‘Why are you celebrating this?’ But I perceive it as an opportunity to grow and embrace liberation — turning things meant to demean and belittle into something empowering. Like how we changed the word ‘queer’ from a negative connotation to a positive one,” Moton says.

The whole idea of Juneteenth Pride is to enjoy the full spectrum of the black gay experience.

“We are redefining the whole idea of freedom and liberation — not just as black people, not just as gay people, but as all we are.”            

The celebration starts at the host hotel, the A-Loft Downtown, on June 15 from 8–11:30 p.m., and continues with an after-party at Marty’s Live. The Unity Festival, including a 50-foot water slide, vendors, food trucks and concert, is on the grounds of the Longhorn Ballroom at Riverfront and Corinth June 16 from 5–10 p.m. The weekend concludes with a free-admission barbecue picnic at Bachman Lake Park on June 17 from 2–7 p.m. For more information, visit DallasSouthernPride.com.