West Virginia Black Pride Foundation seeks to create a safe space for the Black LGBTQ+ community
Historically, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans have been oppressed through harmful laws and prejudice in all spheres of public life. According to a report from the National Public Radio (NPR), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, more than half of LGBTQ+ Americans reported they personally experienced slurs or other offensive comments about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It only gets worse from there. Half of all the LGBTQ+ people surveyed said they, their friends or their family members “experienced violence, threats, and sexual harassment,” because of their identity. One in six LGBTQ+ people have delayed medical care due to discrimination.
Black LGBTQ+ individuals, in particular, face higher levels of discrimination than their white counterparts A 2020 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress found this discrimination spurs many Black LGBTQ+ people to alter their behavior to avoid dangerous situations. For instance, the survey found that 1 in 3 Black LGBTQ+ people avoid entering certain public spaces, like stores or restaurants..
The disparities between Black and white LGBTQ+ people can be seen in almost every area of life, including from police interactions, to mistreatment in the workplace and frequent discriminationfrom health care providers. The pervasive discrimination that Black LGBTQ+ people face has led to large-scale economic disparities and significant mental and physical health concerns.
In states like West Virginia, where both LGBTQ+ and Black individuals are a minority, Black LGBTQ+ folk, in particular, have struggled to feel seen and heard in our Appalachian community.
“Especially in West Virginia, we have so many LGBTQ+ people of color that are afraid to be themselves, that are afraid because of the stigmata that they would put on each other here,” said Kasha Snyder, founder and president of the West Virginia Black Pride Foundation.
The West Virginia Black Pride Foundation was founded in December 2021 in Charleston, WV, to illuminate the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of color in West Virginia and provide them with a safe space for fellowship.
“I started off in the LGBTQ community as a drag queen and entertainer, and I saw the need for representation of people of color in the LGBTQ+ community in West Virginia, not just in Charleston, but all around. But then I also saw the need for community and fellowship,” Snyder explained.
According to the WV Black Pride Foundation website, the organization is focused on making the maximum positive effort for all POC & Trans POC in the LGBTQ+ community. They seek to provide the momentum that aids in effecting change by offering solutions to make a long-lasting difference. The foundation aims to create visibility for Black people within LGBTQ+ spaces and seeks to create visibility for LGBTQ+ people in predominantly Black spaces. For Snyder, it is imperative that the Black community of West Virginia recognize and support the experiences of their LGBTQ+ members.
“The Black community is so divided because we choose to be. We choose to put this stereotype on ourselves that we have to be this certain way….You could be anything and be forgiven in the Black community. The one thing you can’t be forgiven for is being gay, and definitely not for being transgender. So that’s why we need this. We walk the streets every day, we do wonderful things for the community, we’re doctors, we’re lawyers, we’re activists, we’re running for mayor, we’re school teachers, we’re all in the community, and we should not be looked at no different, and we should be celebrated and praised just like everybody else…So when it comes to trying to bring us together, it’s something that is needed… Because if the LGBTQ community and the African American community was coming together, just think about how powerful we can be,” Snyder said.
The foundation is currently run by a small team of individuals, including Snyder, Vice President AJae Flemming, six volunteers, and six members. Even though they may be small in numbers, they are significantly impacting the Charleston community. From donating outerwear to local elementary schools to hosting a free Easter egg hunt and cookout for neighborhood kids, the WV Black Pride foundation has been working hard to establish itself as a resource for the community.
“We try to give back to the community as much as we possibly can. And our goal and our vision is to have a safe place, for LGBTQ+ black people to come together and fellowship, maybe work, maybe live if they don’t have a place to live. Maybe we can house them and things like that. Maybe show them a transition, teach them financial literacy, also work with them on basic life skills and things of such nature. We have our work cut out for us, but they didn’t think we was gonna get this far. And we’re here now,” Snyder explained.
The foundation features a life liaison program where individuals can seek the support of a peer in times when they may feel vulnerable. If you need a gentle listener or a reliable companion, the life liaison program is designed to give Black LGTBQ+ West Virginians peace of mind in knowing that there is someone they can call when they need support.
“With this program, we want to make sure that if you call WV Black pride… let us know… I need somebody to talk to that is like me, that can understand me, you can reach out to us, and we will be there for you. We’ll help,” Snyder said.
In addition to their other events and outreach programs, the WV Black Pride Foundation is looking to host the Black Pride Pageant. The pageant will crown a king, queen, and gender-inclusive titleholder. Initially scheduled for May 6, the pageant has since been postponed to a later date to garner more support and interest from the community. Details on the rescheduling of the pageant have not yet been made available.
When discussing the purpose and significance of the Black Pride Pageant, Flemming said, “To show that there’s different people with different colors and you know, our allies as well, just come together and have a good night, and just to show that we’re out here, and you don’t have to be afraid to run for a pageant.”
When it comes to the organization’s future, Snyder and Flemming have high hopes that the WV Black Pride Foundation will continue to make a positive impact in the Black and LGBTQ+ communities of Charleston for many years to come. According to Snyder, the goal is to one day open a community center for LGBTQ+ people of color.
“We’re looking for sponsors and donations so we can get our dream off the ground… We want to have a place and establishment to help people, a community center for the LGBTQ+ people of color; we can do this. And we know that our community will help if we just get our people together,” Snyder remarked.
For Flemming, the main goal is to make their presence known in the community and be a safe space for Black LGBTQ+ folk.
“We want to stand out. We want to be a company, like I said, for the people of color to just be an outreach, you know, that is known in West Virginia. For us to unite, not only just our people but with the white LBGTQ+ within West Virginia,” Fleming explained.
The WV Black Pride Foundation encourages anyone interested to join their efforts in increasing the visibility of Black LGBTQ+ individuals in West Virginia. Whether you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, Snyder and Fleming urge you to get involved.
“Welcome to the West Virginia Black Pride Foundation because we’re going to love you. We’re going to be a family. You’re going to be our sis. You’re going to be our bub. You’re going to be our niece, our nephew. Whatever you want to be, but, first and foremost, you’re going to be welcome,” Snyder exclaimed.
For more information on the West Virginia Black Pride Foundation, send an email to WVBPfoundation@outlook.com or Kasha@wvbpfoundation.com. Also, make sure to visit their Facebook page @WVBPFOUNDATION and Instagram @wvbp304.