Against the backdrop of Beyoncé, Cardi B. and Rihanna, the annual Pride Cookout kicked off its 10th celebration in Winston-Salem this past weekend. The event is meant to hold up Black queer and trans community members, though anyone is welcome to attend.

Organizers cancelled the event last year due to COVID-19, but Ky-sha Duncan said that makes this year even more special.

“This is the only time we have it,” she said as her cohort set up drinks and supplies behind her. “It’s Pride month in June, of course. But this is the only time we actually get together, and it’s important for the Black community to have an event like this.”

Across the country, organizers have put together more and more events to celebrate the Black queer and trans community, from Oakland and Seattle to Washington, DC. Some of these events have gone on for years, like the cookout, while others are brand new.

The first Pride, in fact, began with the Stonewall Riots and is largely credited to two women of color: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

The cookout, which took place at Bolton Park, had ordinary picnic tables turned into celebratory symbols with rainbow tablecloths. The hosts wore matching 2021 Pride Cookout T-shirts with their names on the back; dozens of attendees carried rainbow flags. At least one attendee sported rainbow slippers, while one organizer wore a rainbow mask.

Along with a DJ and free food, cookout organizers hosted games like cornhole. Vendors, including Drip King and Ms. G’s Creations, brought merchandise.

“We have to support each other,” said Tori Griffin, otherwise known as Ms. G, a vendor who was showcasing her handmade gift baskets at the event. “We’re a family. We haven’t been out in a while, so it’s very important to get together when we can, especially during Pride month, so we can support each other.”

Attendees celebrate Pride at a cookout on June 26 in Winston-Salem (photo by Nicole Zelniker)

The majority of cities across the country cancelled their Pride events last year due to the pandemic, though many were still able to host virtual celebrations. Since March 2020, Black Americans have been dying at 1.4 times the rate of white Americans due to the pandemic.

Roger Hayes of ReNewal Fellowship United Church of Christ represented AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest HIV and AIDS healthcare organization in the world, which is currently promoting their Share American Vaccines Everywhere (SAVE) campaign.

“We’re really focusing on that right now,” said Hayes. “And we’re just glad to be out here supporting the community.”

Even today, HIV and AIDS disproportionately impact queer communities, especially Black queer communities. In 2018, Black gay and bisexual men made up 26 percent of all new HIV diagnosis according to the CDC, despite being a much smaller percent of the United States population.

That same year, 3.9 percent of men identified as gay or bisexual and 5 percent of Black people according to Gallup.

“It is still prevalent in our community, particularly in the African American community,” said Hayes of HIV and AIDS. “We still see high numbers. Now coming out of a pandemic, we still have another pandemic. It is the first pandemic if you would, and we’re just trying to make sure we keep that focus in the community.”

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, who attended the event, noted that this was one of many events to come back after last year, when Winston-Salem had mask mandates and capacity requirements.

“Everybody’s remembering how to do these things since we had the limitations last year,” he said. “The more we can come together as a community and support all aspects of our community we’ll be in a much better place.”

From late afternoon until sundown, community members laughed and talked together, danced to pop music courtesy of DJ Robin and enjoyed free food. And while Pride month will not come around again until June 2022, the event was a reminder that community exists all year long.

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