In September, to commemorate Pride Durham, NC, I wrote a piece for the INDY about the powerful presence of the LGBTQ Center of Durham and the impact it continues to make in the lives of Black and brown queer folks in the community. To help solidify that understanding, members of the LGBTQ Center of Durham submitted pieces relaying their narratives and origin stories.
This month, October, is recognized nationally as LGBTQ history month. So I’m taking this opportunity to magnify one of those stories from last month’s series of Pride narratives and further demonstrate the intentionality that members of Durham’s BIPOC queer community invoke when merging their talents, passions, and daily practices in the pursuit of healing and liberation.
There’s one artist, activist, and wielder of radical love whom I’ve witnessed three-dimensionally embody the totality of what it means to live, celebrate, and memorialize Black queerness. She’s not a triple threat; she’s a trifecta of hope. She’s not just multifaceted; she’s committed to multiple aspects of the struggle and seizes a variety of entry points. She uses her DJing and curation, her visual storytelling, and her service to the community through her daily occupation to create a three-dimensional approach to bettering the condition of Durham’s Black and brown queer community members. She is a culmination of LGBTQ history, the status of the LGBTQ present, and the trajectory and hope for the future of LGBTQ people. She is Durham’s very own three-dimensional phenomenon: Gemynii.
Gemynii made her mark on Durham’s queer art community through paintings, teach-ins, and community gatherings for almost half a decade prior to 2020’s pandemic. Since then, advancements in technology, declining economic conditions, and the intensifying political climate have all contributed to Gemynii’s evolution as an activist and artist.
In cities like Durham, the pandemic exacerbated existing grim conditions for under-resourced communities like those of Black and brown queer folks. Inevitably, when scores of Black and brown queer people were impacted by layoffs and closing businesses, housing and food insecurity escalated. Working-class people were put in impossible positions—negotiating with landlords for payment extensions, promising on the basis of good faith to fulfill financial obligations, searching for alternative sources of income in a seemingly jobless America.
The only reliable constant in the ever-changing landscape of consequential capitalism is the collective commitment to ensure that “we keep us safe.” In keeping us safe, Gemynii, in her role as a DJ, along with her team of Black queer entertainers and curators who birthed the Conjure celebration series, initiated an effort to throw rent parties at Durham’s Pinhook.
Dating to July 2022, the monthly gatherings address the needs for both spiritual upliftment and economic resources. Rent parties are a space where drag culture, dance, and freedom of expression converge to the soundtrack of DJ Gemynii’s intentionally curated set lists. The revenue generated from these events is allocated to providing relief for queer people who just want to live safely.
In 2020, during the intense uprisings and unrest that followed the painful murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, business owners throughout downtown Durham boarded their windows and doors to guard their property. Artists like Gemynii regarded these shields as a wooden medium to create murals for displaying messages of rage and love. This artwork was an extension of her past movement-conscious work, like the Rekia Boyd portrait she presented me with after I addressed a crowd at a rally.
Queer artistry and expression infused with the muse of resistance is a critical dimension of Gemynii. She gives a speech, a poem, a song—a story to every portrait of bold Black beauty that she conceives. They are music icons, community leaders, sex symbols, friends, martyrs, heroes. Their faces and bodies are expressed through thoughtfully intricate and exaggerated proportions, intentionally blended shades and schemes, deep shadows, color theory, and strokes of radical queer love.
The third dimension is Gemynii’s commitment to the holistic well-being of her community. In her role at the LGBTQ Center of Durham, she serves as the director of housing and therapeutic services, bringing together through Project FAM three programming areas: gender resources, advocacy, and support programs; housing and therapeutic services; and services for LGBTQ survivors of sexual and domestic violence. These services are low-barrier, free, and accessible to anyone in Durham and the Triangle age 18 and older. They seek to support LGBTQ people and families in all stages of their lives.
The LGBTQ Center of Durham hosts an ingenious variety of members like Gemynii and programs like Project FAM. As with rent parties, artistically repurposing boarded windows, amplifying queer Black faces and bodies, and through Project FAM, Gemynii compounds her love for her work with her love for her people. She extends an empathetic approach to addressing the pain and deprivation experienced disproportionately by those represented by her own identities. She listens, connects people to services, and applies her personal narrative as a Black queer human as a lens to humanize those she serves.
To celebrate this Gem during LGBTQ History Month is to celebrate the long-standing legacy of queer change makers and storytellers. Gemynii is another in a lineage of wielders of queer Black fiery love, interpreters of the queer Black soul, lifelines for queer Black existence. I have the honor of knowing this human in 3-D, and her impact is part of my own queer testimony. She made me believe that I can be me and just me and not give a damn. This Gem is certainly a treasure. Here, you’ll see evidence of Gemyinii’s activism and her painted artwork. I hope you can appreciate, as I do, the experience of Gemynii in 3-D.
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