Following the success of such groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, a small but mighty few have started the Capitol City’s first ever coalition for the betterment of African American same-gender loving men.
The inaugural meeting of the Columbus Black Gay Men’s Coalition took place on Oct. 29 at Level Dining Lounge in the Short North. From the perspective of a passerby it looked like a simple gathering of 13 friends, maybe congregating for a birthday or other celebration. But it soon became clear to those at the table that a movement was stirring.
The meeting brimmed with inspiration. Everyone gushed over how much this group was needed and how much they were excited about its prospects. I felt the same, but it wasn’t until that very meeting that I realized how much I’d missed this type of support.
When such groups form and thrive in the modern age the first question that often comes to mind is, “Why are you separating yourselves, this is 2011, there’s no need for such a group.” We’re unfortunately in an age when gay hate crime rates continue to rise and making fun of our President’s race becomes commonplace on Fox News. It’s clear a group like this is more then needed. But it’s much more than that.
When you share the American black gay male experience, you share an entire realm of insights and understandings that can’t quite be fathomed by others. You share a duality of frustrations that can’t quite be explained. You share an enlightenment on matters that may never be reached by the mainstream minded. There’s an instant connection that can only be explained as brotherhood.
Being at that first meeting took me back to my college days at Ohio University and the friends I made while being a part of a group we started called SHADES. At first a simple meeting of solidarity to say that there were actually black and gay students on the predominately white and straight campus, it grew into a small force to be reckoned with, and now hosts chapters on the campuses of Ohio State University and others.
It was during my time in SHADES that I came out to my parents, had my first sexual encounter with a man, found the courage to actually hold hands with another man while walking down the street, attended my first gay dance party and later my first gay club. It was the first time in my life that I actually thought it was O.K. to be completely and totally all of Dwayne Alexander Steward.
The photo above is one of my favorites from college. It captures the thousand words of brotherhood. Evan, Micah and Adrian were three of my closest friends back then and if it weren’t for them and the support I got from SHADES, I may still be milling about trying to create the wife-and-three-kids “fantasy” I was planning to fulfill so that I could remain pleasing in the eyes of God and my parents. If it weren’t for SHADES, I may never have gained the strength to come out to my parents. I wouldn’t have been a part of the It Gets Better Project’s book. I wouldn’t have started the Make It Better Foundation. And I most definitely wouldn’t be producing this blog.
When you have a unconditional support system that works to build you up and never dreams of tearing you down, you feel like you can do anything. It gives you the strength to move mountains, to change the world. This is why I’m proud and more than elated to be apart of CBGMC at the start of it’s journey. And I can’t help but wonder, how will it change me this time? How will it change Columbus?
The next Columbus Black Gay Men’s Coalition meeting is set for this Saturday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. at Zanzibar Brews Coffee House & Lounge (740 E. Long Street, Columbus). For more information join the group on Facebook.