- Some black, gay, and proud folks (plus an alien friend) come out to play this week.
During happy hour at Hamilton's on Playhouse Square, André Simmons sips his martini, takes a drag from his Camel, and motions to three buddies to join in the conversation at the sleek, mahogany bar. "See all of us?" he asks as he makes a sweeping motion with his hand. "We're black, and we're gay. And we're not ashamed to say it."
Like his gay friends, Simmons doesn't hide his sexual orientation, especially from his parents and eight siblings in his native Tennessee. Since his straight twin brother is in town this week, Simmons will take him to the weeklong Black, Gay & Proud Celebration that's being trumpeted as one of only a few black-pride celebrations in the country to span a full week. "I have no secrets," says Simmons. "If you don't like who I am -- whether I'm black and/or gay -- there are plenty of other folk who do."
In bars, colleges, and churches around Cleveland, more than 1,000 gay African Americans will toast their same-sex lifestyle at a variety of events. It starts with an opening reception (6 to 9 p.m. Monday in Hovorka Auditorium at Case Western Reserve University, 2080 Adelbert Road), followed by premiere movie screenings of Black, Gay & Proud in Cleveland and Black Aura of a Dark Angel (6 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at Case's Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, 11235 Bellflower Road). The next night, the party moves downtown for Harlem Nights, a fashion show and concert starring the Dark Divas of Drag and Sophisticated Gents of Song. (7 p.m. to midnight Wednesday at Sharp's Night Out, 4059 St. Clair Avenue; $5.)
Thursday night's celebration is divided into two parts, beginning with an Art Explosion of African American and "same-gender-loving works of arts and artists," (6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, August 4, at the Wyndham Hotel, 1260 Euclid Avenue) before a "post-explosion" reception (9 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Hamilton's, 1413 Euclid Avenue.) And to ring in the weekend, everyone dresses in crimson for the Red Hott Affair, a sit-down dinner with an open bar and music by Bud McFarland (8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, August 5, at Casa di Borally, 27227 Chardon Road in Richmond Heights; $25).
The talk turns serious the following afternoon at "It's a She Thang," a town-hall meeting with panelists Donna Payne of the Human Rights Campaign and Gail McWilliams of the National Organization of Women (noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, August 6, at Ford Auditorium, 11100 Euclid Avenue.) That night, the dress code switches to ivory for White Fantasia, with dinner, dancing, and music by Terisa Griffin and G-Spot (9 p.m. to 2 a.m. at HealthSpace Cleveland, 8911 Euclid Avenue; $40 at the door or $30 in advance).
The week comes to a close with a Raise-the-Roof gospel service and breakfast (9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Sunday, August 7, at Archwood United Church of Christ, 2800 Archwood Avenue), topped off with a closing party (9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. at Club 2527, 2527 West 25th Street). "Black folk know how to get our groove on," laughs Simmons. "We're here, we're queer, we're black, and we're back."