Community feature: Black, Out and Proud serves the most marginalized in LGBTQ community

Erica Thompson
From left: Letha Pugh, Eboni Partlow and J. Averi Frost

It's been a turbulent 18 months since the Black Pride 4 blocked the Columbus Pride parade to protest, in part, violence against and erasure of black and brown queer and trans people. The activists were arrested, charged and sentenced; Stonewall Columbus' Executive Director, Karla Rothan, resigned; and Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus (BQIC) hosted the first-ever Community Pride Festival, a direct boycott of Stonewall's 2018 Pride celebration.

And there were countless more after-effects in the community. For example, two weeks after the protest, Letha Pugh called a meeting of a dozen or so black people in the LGBTQ community.

“It was just to vent,” said Pugh in an early-December interview at Bake Me Happy, which she co-owns with her wife. “We know how it happened, but what did we want to do about it? Those were the very beginning discussions around: Do we do something formally?”

Pugh and company decided they should, founding the Black, Out and Proud (BOP) collective, which promotes pride among the black LGBTQ community.

“I think, historically, the white LGBTQ community has tapped into the same black people over and over to the point where they're burned out,” said Pugh, who serves as the group's treasurer. “There's all these other people in the community. … Sometimes it just takes asking someone to step up.”

Since 2017, BOP has worked toward its goal of fostering empowerment, visibility and safety for its community, hosting meetings, happy hours and other events. 

The collective is also striving to partner with black institutions in the city.

“We have to educate them, and then we have to build relationships so that they know who they're serving and how to best meet their needs,” said BOP Vice President Eboni Partlow.

BOP has also worked with other organizations in the city, participating in United Way's LGBTQ census and hosting a drive for Student Success Stores, which provides free supplies and products to children in need. And BOP has plans to mentor and volunteer in schools in 2019.

It's not only about the act of service, but being visible to young people.

“We're normal, contributing people of society, just like everybody else,” said BOP President J. Averi Frost. “We have families and we have businesses.”

BOP is transparent about its willingness to partner with all organizations, including Stonewall Columbus. Pugh, Partlow and Frost said they support the new executive director, AJ Casey, and BOP will even host its upcoming fundraiser at Stonewall's new community center on Friday, Dec. 14.

“It's been contentious,” Pugh said of their decision. “I spent a lot of time [working] at Stonewall. I was there for five years. … On more than one occasion, I've been like, ‘Hey, I see some deficits here.' But, honestly, they provide a lot of services to people of color.”

Pugh, Partlow and Frost said they are encouraging the community to take ownership of the community center, give the new leadership a chance and hold them accountable.

“If you're not present, your voice can't be heard,” Frost said. “Let's have the conversations and make sure that the programming is what we want.”

The ladies are especially concerned about programming to protect the most vulnerable within the LGBTQ community.

“We recognize the level of privilege that we have … particularly within the black LGBTQ community as cisgender persons,” Partlow said. “And so we have the privilege of sitting at tables that our trans and [gender] non-conforming counterparts don't have. … It's important to not only be inclusive, but to bring their issues to the table. … I think that's where some of the division has been, and we have to be honest about that.”

BOP would like to add more voices to the collective, or simply see more people come out to events.

“I want people to know that if they're looking for people to hang out with that are open-minded, that are like them [and] that they can just be themselves [with], they can come hang out with us,” Frost said.

A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that BOP was a host of "The Hate U Give" screening and panel. Alive regrets the error. 

Stonewall Columbus

7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14

1160 N. High St., Short North

Red Velvet Holiday Fundraiser Party