MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As we Celebrate Memphis, we are honoring pride and accomplishment within LGBTQ+ community. This weekend, Tri-State Black Pride hosts a series of events. ABC24 caught up with organizers and volunteers at their career fair as they kicked off the weekend of festivities.
“I’m coming into who I truly am,” said Demeshia Shannon, Tri-State Black Pride volunteer.
It is a strength and confidence Shannon did not always have throughout her life.
“Growing up, I didn’t know. I didn’t know who I liked. I did hear from family members, ‘You’re not doing that gay stuff.’ It wasn’t acceptable. It was turned away…I feel as a bi-sexual Black woman, it is hard to truly be yourself or you don’t know who to be yourself around,” said Shannon. With the Tri-State Black Pride community, Shannon found that standing out was fitting in.
“I volunteered and it was like a natural love like a feeling. It was just a good feeling like somewhere I could not only feel safe but be that safe space for myself and others,” said Shannon.
It is a safe space that the group’s Chairperson, Gwendolyn Clemons, also felt. “You can’t talk about the LGBTQ community or the Black LGBTQ community without talking about race.” Clemons grew up in the 80’s era where discrimination was openly present.
“We weren’t allowed in the clubs. They were owned by the white LGBTQ community. They’d find ways to keep us out,” said Clemons. She also grew up in the HIV era. She loss her trans sister to HIV and AIDS.
That is why working with Tri-State Black Pride is personal for her. It is the work of awareness and inclusion within the LGBTQ+ community. Tri-State Black Pride hosts four days of events focused on diversity, culture, and education.
“We know that Black transwomen have a lifespan they say between 32 and 36 years old because they’re subjected to violence. We get the opportunity to raise awareness about the housing needs for transgender women and employment needs for their community,” said Clemons.
They also have a focus on mental health and trauma-informed care.
“It’s people, purpose, and power. We’re all intersected in some type of way…That old cliché, ‘None of us are free until we’re all free…This is an opportunity to get educated about people that live right in your community,” said Clemons.
It is a community bonded by love and celebrating individuality.
“The first thing that people see when they see me is that I’m a Black woman. Learning how to live in my authenticity as exactly who I am and showing up as myself, my full person,” said Clemons.
That is a growth Shannon has now reached.
“The pictures of me just being proud, being a bi-sexual woman, wearing the colors that people know she maybe in the LGBTQ…That’s what my pictures show. Picture can speak a million words, but I’m so proud in who I am now,” said Shannon.
She said if she could speak with her younger self, she would tell her she is safe now.