By: Contributing Writer James Drake, Program Coordinator for The Normal Anomaly Initiative
Held on May 3-7, 2023, the Black Queer Advancement Festival (BQAF) was a weekend to remember in Houston, Texas. The 2nd Annual Black Queer Advancement Festival yet again announced to not only the city, but the country at large, that we are here and we are “Blacker and Queerer than ever!” The festival used arts, culture and awareness to reach thousands of people locally and throughout the Southern region of the United States.
This year was our year to expand. In addition to the music festival, our second year added a pageant, crowning Shayla Nicole and Tylee Sanchez, a 2-day forum, and a Sunday service. We really focused on community-based partnerships in a major way, partnering with over 20 organizations around the country including our presenting sponsor, ViiV|Accelerate, and our powered by partner, Change The Pattern. The forum spoke with elected officials about the anti-drag bills being proposed in our legislative sessions, and asked for their support and advice to mitigate the damage of the forthcoming passage of these bills. We also had an empowering conversation with womxn across the spectrum to talk about allyship amongst womxn and a mental health townhall that was filmed by our local TV partner, ABC13, for their Action 13 online news segment.
The forum also included the first ever BQAF Hall Of Fame that honored trail blazers in the Houston Queer Community and beyond, which included a special posthumous presentation for the Dallas activist, icon, founder of Abounding Prosperity, and former President of Dallas Southern Pride, Kirk Myers-Hill. To close out the forum, we hosted a pitch competition between liberators, in front of funders and seasoned business owners, for a prize package of $2500 and a start-up EPK kit; Boogie’s Boiling won the grand prize.
Who are liberators? I’m glad you asked.
Black Queer Advancement Festival is molded around a program that we have implemented for two years: Project Liberate. Project Liberate is a 9-month business and leadership development program in Houston with a custom built curriculum that teaches how to create sustainability for businesses, whether they are for-profit or non-profit, whilst developing leadership skills, advocacy, and innovators for the future of our community. We call folx who engage in the cohort Liberators because we believe one of the key ways to create a trajectory of freedom for Black, queer people is giving people space to develop the future in which they want to engage with.
This leads me to the event in which they launch: The BQAF Music Festival! On top of having an incredible line up that touches just about every part of the spectrum of identity, with headliners such as KenTheMan, Kidd Kenn, and KeKe Wyatt, the liberators were the exclusive vendors. We help develop capstones for their businesses to be introduced, or re-introduced, into the community. For most of the cohort, this was their first time talking about their business in a venue with over 1,400 attendees, and we believe it won’t be their last.
Additionally, our organization received a Certificate of Recognition from Representative Jolanda Jones; the first openly Black and lesbian member of the Texas House. The inclusion of 13 different vendors, a cypher, drag performances, and food trucks truly created an experience for everyone.
Another facet of community in the Southern U.S. that we felt should be collaborated with to experience advancement was spirituality. When we consider the impacts of disparities and trauma in our existence, religion is often a major factor. Our Sunday service really took us to an inclusive, powerful, spiritual place at St. Peter’s United! Tiffany Andrews sang heaven down and Pastor Paul Kristofer released a heavenly word into the hearts of over 300 attendees. And you know when you get the community in church, the fashions come out honey. We do not play about looking our best at church. Everywhere I turned was nothing but fashions. Attendees definitely took “Sunday’s best” to another level!
Overall, this festival is all about enriching our community in every way we can. From launching 13 businesses into the community, to providing a space to express liberation, to being able to worship without feeling the pressure or weight of judgment upon us when all we seek is love, this festival is not us asking for permission to exist. We do not ask for permission to exist. We demand it! We do not ask to be seen. We demand it! Not only the parts that make you comfortable, but every aspect of who we are. Because we are BLACKER AND QUEERER THAN EVER!
James Drake is a Program Coordinator for The Normal Anomaly Initiative. Drake’s goal has always been to be a resource for his community so that they can live the life they deserve. He does that every day by curating programs, digital media and other content to uplift the lives of the community he serves.