For what it's worth I was there when Gay Men of African Descent got started 25 years ago. Or at least I thought I was there, down at the Lesbian, Gay and Trans-gender Community Center. I dated Gordon Easley then. He lived on 14th Street, in an apartment that now rents for five grand a month. Luchow's and Palladium still existed. Keller's, as ratty as it was, was our favorite place to drink. Un-renovated, the center seemed then much more than now, a haphazardly retrofitted PS converted into our home-away-from-home, which some straights condemned as our 'school for scandal.'
Last night at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, over 200 people attended an exhibition opening reception and a panel discussion commemorating a quarter century of good work undertaken by Gay Men of African Descent.
As I recall, Gordon dragged me there. It was a pleasant summer evening, but hot as hell at the top of the center. We attended a meeting called by black lesbians from Brooklyn. They were forming a group based on one in Washington, D. C. 'Can't we just join your organization?', some naive fool asked. That fool, I should reveal, was I. 'No. You fellas need to start your own group. We have different issues...'
If unconvinced of the wisdom of separatism, the answer was emphatically enough expressed to let me know how futile reasoning or protest might be. We met without the becalming presence of women. We tackled the thorny issue of whether or not whites sympathetic to our cause might join. 'No!' That was the consensus, concluding that intergration was what Men of All Colors Together, then still known as Black and White Men Together, was for.
Through it all, annoyingly thrusting himself into the forefront, stood, sat and endlessly talked,the Rev. Charles Angel. After a year or so he ever increasingly talked of how he had started Gay Men of African Descent. Once he perished from AIDS, this contention was accepted as gospel. There is now a Charles Angel Room at the center to enshrine its 'truth' and a GMAD Angl lAward that underscores it.
That's not the way I recollect things, people brought together by an erratic central figure, meeting in living rooms and cellars in Brooklyn. How odd too, that gay men of African descent, a category of people whose history and identity in generations past has proven especially elusive to pin down, should even now, represented by our own support group, remain as elusive as ever and mythologized to boot!
Does it matter much? Well, the truth surely is what will set us free. But still burdened by brothers on the deep DL, dying from AIDS today at a greater rate than men did 25 years ago, some, it seems, require a little myth-making to ease their pain. But like the recession, one day, this plague and that need, too, shall pass. And, in as much as I and others are all to blame, not having bothered to take minuets, to produce a newsletter, or as the exhibition indicates, even to take many photographs, it's understandable that our recent history is a bit vague and differently remembered.
It's impossible to escape cameras today! That's bound to prove to be a bonanza for the historians who come after us.
Steven G. Fullwood, who directs the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture's LGBT Archive. Steven is the person most responsible for the GMAD at 25 exhibtion and last night's celebration.
State Senator Bill Perkins with Tokes Osubu , Executive Director of GMAD
Presenting a celebratory proclaimatiom to Gay Men of African Descent, State Senator Bill Perkins, one of the group's oldest and most steadfast supporters, was by turns, affecting, funny and deadly serious,
WHEREAS, IT IS THE SENSE OF THIS LEGISLATIVE BODY TO HONOR GAY MEN OF AFRICAN DESCENT, ADVOCATES FOR EQUALITY AND ACTIVIST FOR VISIBILITY AND RECOGNITION, FOR EXEMPLARY SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITYAND STATE; and
WHEREAS, THIS WORTHY BODY WAS ESTABLISHED 25 YEARS AGO AT THE NEW YORK LESBIAN, GAY AND TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY CENTER, OUT OF A DESIRE TO AFFIRM, UPLIFT AND EMPOWER OUR CITY'S ACCOMPLISHED, BUT LARGELY INVISIBLE AND UNDER-APPRECIATED COMMUNITY OF GAY MEN OF AFRICAN DESCENT ; and
WHEREAS, GMAD IS THE WINNING TEAM, WHICH COMBATS PREJUDICIAL BIAS, AND ENHANCES SELF-ESTEEM, SO OUR GAY BLACK BROTHERS TOO, MAY FIND THE BEST WAY TO PURSUE, DR. KING’S DREAM OF JUSTICE, IMAGINED FOR ME, ENVISIONED FOR YOU, TO FOLLOW THESE WORDS: TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE, AND THEN, BE YOUR BEST, IN ALL THAT YOU DO, YOU BEST HONOR ME, BY FIRST LOVING YOU!; and
WHEREAS, WITH THE EMERGENCE OF BLACK MEN AT THE EPICENTER OF THE HIV/AIDS EPIDEMIC, WHICH DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACTS AFRICAN AMERICANS, THIS SAME GROUP, GAY MEN OF AFRICAN DESCENT, STEPPED UP TO RAISE AWARENESS OF HOW BROTHERS COULD TAKE ACTION TO SAVE THEIR LIVES AND TO EDUCATE THE BROADER PUBLIC AS WELL, EXPLAINING THAT HIV/AIDS IS NOT THE JUDGMENT OF GOD, ANYMORE THAN SICKLE CELL ANEMIA, CANCER, DIABETES, STROKE OR HEART DISEASE WHICH ALL UNDULY AFFLICT PEOPLE OF COLOR IS; and
WHEREAS, TAKING A LEADERSHIP ROLE IN A 25 YEAR GOAL TO ELIMINATE HIV/AIDS, EVEN AS INTEREST AND FUNDING FADES, NEW YORK’S GMAD IS HARDLY THROUGH, UNDERTAKING THE WORK IT NEEDS TO DO, TO FIGHT FOR WHAT’S RIGHT, TAKING ON ENTRENCHED MIGHT, APPLAUDING THEIR WORK, WE ARE ALL HERE TONIGHT,,,
Extraordinay artist Michael Cummings, who made GMAD's parade banner and John Reddick.
Donald Andrew Agarrat with Gordon Eric Easley.
Newlyweds Malcolm Harris Perez and K. Tyson Perez Harris.
Mr. Osubu and Ron Lester.
KB with MHA.
Donald, seen with a friend.
Donald with James.
Steven B. Fullwood with an honored panelist.
Al Head with his friend in the background.
Some of the young boys in today's gay Band...