Fostering community has been at the core of the LGBTQ+ rights movement since its inception. We have always understood the power that we have in numbers, the need to have every voice and lived experience represented at the table. This also means recognizing the intersectionality of racial justice and queer liberation; how these two movements are intertwined at their core. It is only when we come together, share our stories and work with one another that we move the needle forward. When we do this, we make meaningful change.
The strength of community was embodied perfectly one weekend in August when we came together from coast to coast to keep the fight for queer justice going — an effort largely led by queer Black and Brown communities. As we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington alongside partners in the progressive movement, we also held the first-ever Equality Ball to celebrate the contributions of ballroom culture in society at large. Joy, resilience, hardship: We experienced them all as we reminded ourselves of how we are stronger when we are together.
The March on Washington was a defining moment in history of the civil rights movement, as activists from across the country gathered in the nation’s capital to call for full equality under the law. As we have continued to celebrate the event’s anniversary, we have also recognized the need to ensure it is reflective of the times we live in. We recognize that racial justice is inherently tied to queer liberation, that our quest to achieve equality for Black women means achieving that same equality for Black transgender women — especially at a time of unprecedented violence.
Bayard Rustin, a proud, openly gay Black man, was one of the leading organizers of the March on Washington. Today, that same march now showcases queer leadership at every level.
As we marched on in Washington, we also steered a new course in Las Vegas at the first-ever Equality Ball. Through partnering with BeyGOOD Foundation, Beeline Productions and Shady Gang, we held an event centered around celebrating ballroom culture and particularly the contributions of queer Black and Brown communities. Ballroom has always impacted the larger culture around it as exemplified in media such as Pose or Beyoncé’s groundbreaking Renaissance album. The Equality Ball provided a space for our community to celebrate the art of ballroom while also reminding us of the need to keep fighting for our rights.
Throughout the night, we honored the legacies created by some of the most formidable ballroom houses out there. House mothers and fathers — the ballroom term used to note those charged with guiding a house — paraded their children around for all to see, showcasing core elements of ballroom such as voguing, runway and more. The Equality Ball was also an opportunity for those newer to the ballroom scene to compete for the first time and show off their authentic selves in a space designed to let queerness and creativity thrive.
We would be remiss to not acknowledge that while ballroom is a celebrated art form, it is also an embodiment of queer expression that to this day still faces discrimination and sometimes even violence. O'Shae Sibley, a Black gay man, was killed in July after teens attacked him for voguing to Beyonce’s Renaissance. His murder is a reminder that while ballroom may be part of mainstream culture now, it does not protect us from hate.
“Ballroom culture is synonymous with the Black queer community — it creates a safe space for LGBTQ+ people at a time when being your authentic self was dangerous. But, let’s not get confused, it’s still dangerous for us — Black and Brown trans women are facing an epidemic of fatal violence,” said Robinson. “The Equality Ball serves as another space for those who feel overlooked to take center stage and let the world know that — as Beyoncé sings — you won’t break our souls.”
That weekend in August was a beautiful reflection of what we can achieve as a community and a testament to our resilience. We are able to balance celebration with sorrow; art with advocacy. As we continue to push for full LGBTQ+ equality, we will also continue to find ways to strengthen the sense of community we need to keep the fight going. HRC is investing in our community by bringing people together so that this movement is truly our movement. We will keep building bridges among queer people — elected officials, creators, advocates, celebrities — so that one day we may gather simply to be joyful.