Socially, 2020 poised itself to be the year of the struggle as the vacations, reunions, festivals, backyard fun, and parties we planned to live out our best lives canceled and rescheduled due to the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Most countries’ governments issued bans that prevent social gatherings of 10, 50, and more.
In the Black LGBTQ community, our annual Black Pride weekends and travel destinations have served as our staple events to celebrate our identities, friendships and cultures. On Saturday, May 25, 1991, Washington DC was the first city to produce a Black Pride weekend, of which it first attracted hundreds of Black gays and lesbians in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The inaugural success and word of mouth across America help cemented the Memorial Day holiday weekend as the official weekend for DC to host an annual Black Pride weekend, as it has attracted more than 40,000 attendees annually in recent years from all over the world.
After DC Black Pride’s growing success annually throughout the 1990’s, major U.S. cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York, started their annual Black Pride weekends around U.S. holidays in order to attract more locals and travelers who look forward to their four-day weekends away from their jobs. Chicago’s and Los Angeles’ Black Prides occupied the Independence Day weekend since the mid-1990’s as their targeted audiences cover the American regions within several hours driving distance around their cities. New York City Black Pride claimed the third weekend of August as the major city Black Pride destination as they attract the Northeastern and Mideastern U.S. residents. Atlanta cemented Labor Day weekend as the major city Black Pride designated weekend, of which is often credited with the highest and most diverse attendance among Black Pride weekends.
As of 2019, there are over 40 Black Prides across North America, Europe, Africa and South America. Many of them represent their city or state region and attract attendances accordingly. There are also the “main” or “big city” destinations that have laid claim to different weekends throughout the calendar and draw far beyond its local constituency and amass attendances in the thousands or tens of thousands. Overall, the Black LGBTQ community knows the following:
- During the final weekend of April, the main Black Pride weekend destination settles in Philadelphia as that city’s Black Pride organizers tie their celebration with their city’s annual Penn Relays.
- During the final weekend of May, the main Black Pride weekend destination settles in Washington DC as that city’s Black Pride organizers tie their celebration with the U.S. Memorial Day holiday.
- During the last weekend of June, the main Black Pride weekends destination settle in Harlem and London as their cities’ Black Pride organizers tie their celebrations with New York City and London prides respectively. London draws attendees from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Harlem draws attendees from the eastern half of the United States.
- During the weekend that includes or follows the July 4 date, the main Black Pride weekend destinations settle in Los Angeles, CA, and Chicago, IL, as their cities’ Black Pride organizers tie their celebrations with the U.S. Independence Day holiday. Chicago Black Pride usually attracts attendees from the U.S. midwest, south and eastern regions. Los Angeles Black Pride usually attracts attendees throughout the western part of the United States.
- During the weekend that includes the first Monday in September, the main Black Pride weekend destination settles in Atlanta as that city’s Black Pride organizers tie their celebration with the U.S. Labor Day holiday.
Do the aforementioned cities own the weekends? Of course, they do not own those weekends. LGBTQ-themed events and travel destinations have been produced and attracted great followings of Black LGBTQ people to serve as celebratory alternatives for those who want to engage other means of fun and adventure that which the Black Pride organizations and weekend festivals have not created specific niches.
Since 2016, I am the media partner to the annual LGBT Music Festival that attracts 200+ Black male and female travelers to rotating Caribbean/Central American destinations during Memorial Day weekend. Chicago’s International Mr. Leather convention draws hundreds of Black American and European men in Onyx organization chapters and into the leather scene every Memorial Day weekend. I attended three times throughout the mid 2000’s. DR Takeover, which followed the defunct InfernoDR, brought hundreds of Black American men to Dominican Republic during Labor Day weekend. Sizzle Miami has attracted thousands of men to Miami during Memorial Day weekend for the past 19 years. During its earlier years, the Black LGBTQ community assumed Sizzle Miami operated as a Black Pride organization as it attracted thousands of Black gay men. It never operated as such, but rather as a circuit party festival, while Miami remained one of the few large U.S. cities to not host an official Black Pride weekend until recent years.
Those events, among others not mentioned, work well for the Black LGBTQ communities across America as they pose no threats of attracting the same demographics of Black LGBTQ people. Niche events such as LGBT Music Festival and International Mister Leather attract people who indulge in specific lifestyles; whereas, Black Pride weekend events aim to create a “something for everyone vibe.” Black Pride organizers strategically narrow target audiences, for example, women, transgender, youth, etc., to parts of their programming to highlight needs and inclusion of marginalized social groups within the Black LGBTQ community.
What happens when one of the major non Black Pride events decides to postpone its well-known weekend fest to another holiday weekend that will compete for the same demographic of attendees at one of the largest Black Pride weekends of the past two decades? We will find out come Labor Day Weekend as Sizzle Miami announced on Monday, April 20, that because of the COVID-19 pandemic causing spring and early summer events to cancel or postpone, that weekend festival will postpone its Memorial Day weekend festivities to Labor Day weekend.
Yes, that the is same weekend as Atlanta’s Black Pride weekend. As far as the population of Black gay men, the crowd that Sizzle Miami has seen annually for the past few years during Memorial Day weekend frequent Atlanta’s Black Pride weekend during Labor Day weekend. Atlanta Black Pride’s nightlife promoters and Sizzle Miami organizers share the same gay adult industry entertainers, Instagram models, booking agents to get reality-TV stars and former R&B and rap hitmakers to perform, and an entire southern region of attendees who view Miami and Atlanta as accessible travel destinations by car or airplane.
To the detriment of Sizzle Miami, Atlanta Black Pride has amassed tens of thousands of Black LGBTQ attendees and a growing positive reputation beyond its physical reach as a Labor Day Weekend destination. Sizzle Miami’s reputation as a must-visit location for Memorial Day weekend for Black LGBTQ people has quieted significantly over the past several years as most of its attendees of yesteryear chose to return to Washington DC Black Pride and their expansive set of events and International Mr. Leather in Chicago and anticipate the annual house music party hosted by the city’s Onyx Men chapter. A few years back, the party promoters of DC Black Pride and Sizzle Miami engaged in an online war over their shared demographics of men during Memorial Day weekend.
I spoke with Black Pride organizers from different regions over their opinion of Sizzle Miami’s move to Labor Day weekend. None expressed positive feelings. Some called it a shady move on Sizzle Miami’s part as other predicted a messy battle to brew between the Atlanta Black Pride and Sizzle Miami promoters. Though I hope a war will not blossom, I would not be surprised when one happens and whether that will carry out to the public on social media.
Nonetheless, promotion and lineup of events will determine how successful the turnout of attendees happen for the Atlanta and Miami events. After the COVID-19 pandemic response loosens up in America, traveling, especially by airplane, bus and train, will not bounce back to what is was like years prior as U.S. citizens will exercise caution on public activities including travel. There will also be much caution around public events. By Labor Day weekend, will the Atlanta and Miami local governments allow events to go forth that host the attendance sizes of Black Pride and Sizzle? So much caution will still impact traveling, clubbing and festival attending worldwide come Labor Day weekend.
Even if the cautions will not impact large events around Labor Day weekend, Sizzle Miami has an uphill battle at attracting the same Black gay and queer male audience as Atlanta Black Pride, as well as the entertainment talents and hosts.
I do see a glimmer of hope for a successful Sizzle Miami that may or may not threaten the success of Atlanta Black Pride among Black gay and queer male patrons. Image rebranding, partnerships/ambassadorships, event strategy, and, most importantly, promotion, could make Sizzle Miami on Labor Day Weekend a success.
Sizzle Miami needs to sell Miami as a place for Black LGBTQ travelers to travel in September to end summer 2020, and express the things to do, places to go, and people to know when not doing a Sizzle Miami activity. It makes the festival more attractive to travel when Miami is shown as a hotspot rather than nothing interesting outside of Sizzle. Sizzle Miami is largely seen as a one-man production without visibility of partnerships within the Black LGBTQ community, and it is time to gather more visibility from Black LGBTQ influencers, who are not porn stars and IG models, to help sell Sizzle Miami. Ring the men who represent big boys, the affluent, and the ballroom. Give Sizzle Miami something more event-wise than porn stars and Instagram models on stage and nightclub strippers as Black gay and queer men love to be entertained with live performances and music. Black LGBTQ people who have a real zest for life are long over the price gouging, water-down alcoholic drinks and party passes just to stand in a nightclub among others. Add daytime culture in the mix for those who are not into the nightlife. Most importantly, market Sizzle Miami as more than just a Black gay circuit party weekend.
But hey, if Sizzle Miami is just a Black gay circuit weekend festival that only sells sexual imagery as entertainment and wants to move to Labor Day weekend to attract the same Black gay audience as Atlanta Black Pride instead of planning a redemptive Memorial Day 2021 weekend, have fun with it. There is still an audience for it, I suppose.