When I learned of the closing of an iconic gay club that flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, the Ubangi Club, I couldn't help but think about how many times I've walked the very same pavements that great figures such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Claude McKay, Angelina Weld Grimke and others walked. Living only 15 minutes away from Harlem and working a short walk away from the historical Stonewall Inn, I'm truly amazed when I think of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) icons that have came before me and made history here in the Big Apple.
I'll never forget the very first time that I stepped foot in New York City, visiting my first girlfriend, whom I had met on MySpace, in the days before Twitter and Instagram. I had always been aware of the Harlem Renaissance and its importance in relation to African-American history, but I had no clue how queer it was or that some of my favorite poets and writers were queer like me.
Looking back, I laugh when I think of how my mother initially thought that my desire to relocate to New York City from Detroit was because I could be gay and liberated here. I remember thinking that her assumptions were so asinine, but now not so much. I still don't think that I can only be liberated in New York City, but I must say that there is no comparison with the "gay experience" here. Being a writer and filmmaker (regardless of sexual orientation) in the mecca of the arts is amazing, period, but being amongst so many beautiful, talented people who are also queer and living their dreams is even more amazing.
When I'm out and about in NYC or at a party amongst my peers, I often can't help but think of the parties that James Baldwin created in his books, like in Another Country, or the ones that Nelson Sullivan captured in his video work back in the Club Kids days. I think about the queer spaces that are being created today. And I think about what history is being made today and who is going to share it when my peers and I are long gone.
I often wonder whether someone is going to write about the awesome, twerk-filled "HAM" parties that Helen Harris throws in Brooklyn. Who's going to talk about how she's created such an incredible queer hip-hop space? Who is going to write about the time that House of Ladosha opened for LA Chat? Who is going to talk about the time that a myriad of queer men and women danced the night away at Santos Party House until Eve graced the stage and performed alongside a glittery penis? Who's going to share how Henrietta Hudson has been one of the most diverse clubs serving the lesbian community?
I wonder if the LGBT icons I learned about in my "Queer New York" class at the New School will be replaced by people like DJ Mary Mac, Laverne Cox, The Artchitects, Janet Mock, Isis King and many others who are currently shaping queer New York.
There are so many people making history, some very publicly, and some on the fringes and outside the spotlight. Who is going to be the next LGBT icon of the 21st century? I'm trying to do my part as a journalist, writer and filmmaker by documenting and sharing these important stories. I hope that others will join me too, for I would hate for our experiences to just fade into the gritty streets of New york and never be told.