Dwayne Steward reflects on a once-inclusive space within Stonewall Pride

While the Black Pride 4 brought awareness to the erasure of people of color from Stonewall's Pride festivities, the problem preceded the protest. Several years ago, 10 community members met at Zanzibar Brews — now Lincoln Cafe — to address the issue.

“We just all were feeling like the Columbus Pride is the biggest one in the Midwest, but there seems to be no specific attention towards people of color,” Dwayne Steward said in a phone call from Boston. “The mission originally was just to really create events and space during Stonewall Pride. … [But] it became a year-round endeavor.”

The group created Columbus Urban Pride (CUP) in 2012. The organization was officially added to the Stonewall Pride Guide in 2013. Flipping through old programs reveals myriad social and educational events, including happy hours, gospel services, brunches and film screenings. An ongoing series, “At the Intersections,” explored topics like gay marriage, health care and trauma. In the 2014 program, CUP committee members were quoted on the organization's importance.

“It provides a space where LGBT people of color can celebrate their unique stories,” Terrence Brooks wrote. “There are times when these experiences can feel isolating; having a network of individuals and groups to offer support is truly amazing.”

“It's an opportunity for people of color to celebrate being both a person of color and being gay,” James Blackmon wrote. “Often LGBTQ people of color feel overlooked by the LGBTQ community, and shunned by our communities of color. Urban Pride allows us to be completely both without fear of rejection.”

While CUP was supported on a “shoestring budget” culled from out-of-pocket funds and local agency sponsorships, the organization's events eventually drew about 500 people. But when its leaders — including Steward — moved out of the city or on to the other opportunities, the organization fizzled in 2016.

“There wasn't really a strong leadership team of folks to keep it going,” Steward said. “[And] unless we were stepping up and pushing Stonewall to be inclusive, they weren't necessarily taking ownership.”

“I think we made some great strides,” former Stonewall Pride and Program Coordinator Lori Gum said. “But it just never felt incorporated enough with Pride, and that was probably my failure as much as anyone else's.”

“I think we laid the groundwork for a lot of the work that's happening today in Columbus,” said Steward, who, coincidentally, is moving back to Columbus during Pride weekend for a job with Equitas Health. “I'm most proud of the fact that, for the time that we existed, we provided a space where LGBTQ people of color could thrive.”

“For part of that time, Stonewall and Columbus Urban Pride, we were partners,” he continued. “I think if we can create it once, it can be created again.”