The mood was festive at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Northeast Washington on Monday as one of the first events of Capital Pride month kicked off, but Stephanie Macleod said the usual celebration was tinged with a new anxiety.
Suddenly, a decade of rapid gains for the gay community seemed under threat all across the nation. Macleod was whipsawed but also said she was all the more determined to mark the annual affirmation of gay life. She was not alone.
“I got so excited when Obama came in, and we got marriage equality,” the 61-year-old said of the former president. “I think we got to a point in this country where we were really rising above our history. It saddens me that we are going back. I thought it was very important to be here tonight.”
Macleod and hundreds of others packed into Busboys and Poets for a night of woman- and queer-centered poetry and spoken word, dubbed “Outspoken.” Any gloom over the political moment was soon dispelled when the host led the crowd in a raucous call and response of “Capital!” and “Pride!”
An artist who goes by the name Beyond Your Definition captured a similar energy with a fiery poem about asserting a queer identity in a hostile world. It featured the line, “Despite them trying to tear every rainbow out of the sky, still you shine.”
One attendee came to the microphone to read a quieter verse “from a boy inside a girl” about grappling with gender identity. The reader broke down at one point, and the crowd responded with a supporting shower of claps and snaps, the classic coffeehouse sign of approval.
Some speakers touched on other controversies engulfing the country, from the debate over abortion rights to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer.
Then a drag king named Cafecito lightened the mood by parodying a strip tease.
Jordan Fason, 24, of Georgia, got a standing ovation for her cutting poem about the strength of Black women and how they are often shortchanged for their work.
“This is a public service announcement on behalf of all Black girls / The bridge called my back is closed indefinitely,” she opened to cheers. She added later, “You try to tame us like we try to tame our tresses.”
Naysheen Collins and Simone Kolysh, an interracial lesbian couple with four children, said the climate for LGBTQ people has led them to consider moving from their home outside Frederick, Md., to D.C. for a more welcoming environment. They fear displaying a Pride flag or a “Black Lives Matter” sign at their home.
But for the moment, Collins said, it just felt good to be gathering with other members of the LGBTQ community. The crowd sat beneath rainbow balloons and banners, and some came dressed in costumes.
“We are being out,” Collins said. “We are just living our most authentic lives … to the people that don’t want us to be doing that.”
Holly Keaton, 23, said she hoped this year’s edition of Pride might serve as a rallying point against current efforts to roll back LGBTQ rights. She also hoped the threat to those rights might renew the radical spirit of the celebration, which she said has become too co-opted by corporate culture.
“I think it’s been easy to kind of forget what the point of these were at the beginning,” Keaton said. “It’s become very depoliticized in a way. It’s very important to remember those roots going into this month, especially with the current political context.”
Capital Pride continues this week with a host of events sponsored by the Capital Pride Alliance, including a pool party and opening party at Echostage in D.C. The events culminate with a parade Saturday, and a festival and concert Sunday.
Hannah Michaelson, a 24-year-old architect from D.C., said Pride had taken on a special resonance for her this year. The fact that the LGBTQ community was coming together at a moment when its rights are under attack felt important in and of itself.
“It doesn’t feel more important for us to be celebrating, but it feels more important for the space to be celebrated,” Michaelson said. “It’s a reminder that we are still fighting these battles. The moments of peace and celebration are the most important.”