How Beyoncé & “bucking” made Juneteenth even more queer

Beyoncé on the cover of her Cowboy Carter album
Beyoncé on the cover of her Cowboy Carter album

Juneteenth holds as much significance for Black Texans as the Fourth of July does for white Americans because it embodies the story of our heritage and resilience.

As a loud and proud Black queer Texan, Juneteenth marks the very day — on June 19, 1865 — when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and informed my ancestors that they were freed from slavery, nearly two and a half years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

But Juneteenth doesn’t only celebrate the freedom of the last enslaved Black Americans in the Confederacy. For Black Texans, it’s a day to reflect on the strength of our ancestors, to remember their greatest contributions to American history, and to have a great time rejoicing in our shared Blackness. And because it overlaps with Pride month, Juneteenth also gives Black queers a chance to celebrate our identities in ways that just can’t happen in our cities’ usual mainstream Pride events.

Growing up, Juneteenth always felt like a celebration of joy, family, and community liberation that is deeply tied to my identity — a time when everyone in the neighborhood comes together to close off the street for a festive block party for both the young and old.

As the holiday rolls around this year, I am filled with memories of barefoot summer relay races run on sizzling Texas concrete at barbecues outside my grandmother’s house, with childhood bellies full of homemade vanilla ice cream, while legendary Texas blues singer Johnny Taylor’s classic “Last Two Dollars” formed the soundtrack for our elders slamming dominoes on foldout card tables. Everyone would share food together, we’d all dance late into the night.

In Dallas, the city came alive with parades and festivals on Martin Luther King Boulevard, the traditional heart of the Black community in Dallas and many other cities with a large Black American population. Thousands of Black spectators would line the streets ready to watch floats pass in vibrant displays of culture, history, and unity.

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) also played a big role — and still do — bringing energy and pride to our communities as they recruited new students and showed off their dancers. HBCU dancers (or “buckers” as they’re sometimes called) are known for their extravagant, colorful costumes — adorned with sequins, rhinestones, and traditional African-inspired patterns — and for “bucking.”

Dancers from Studio 309 perform while walking in the inaugural Ernestine Jackson Juneteenth Freedom Day Parade on Saturday, June 15, 2024 in South Peoria.
MATT DAYHOFF/JOURNAL STAR / USA TODAY NETWORK via IMAGN Dancers from Studio 309 perform while walking in the inaugural Ernestine Jackson Juneteenth Freedom Day Parade on Saturday, June 15, 2024 in South Peoria.

Bucking is a style of dance characterized by dramatic thrusting of the body. It was originally created by the Prancing J-Settes field dancers at the HBCU Jackson State University, but it has been heavily adopted by Black queer men from the South.

High-energy, synchronized dance teams of queer Black men have become a staple at Black Queer Pride events. When teams of buckers hit the dance floor, everyone knows it’s time to clear the arena for intricate, dynamic choreography and some fierce competition. These performances celebrate both Black and queer identities, blending Juneteenth tradition with queer expression.

Two beloved Black queer clubs in Dallas — Elm & Pearl and the Brick — played a significant role in my own Juneteenth celebrations. These clubs hosted legendary Juneteenth parties that provided a safe space for Black queer people — especially Black queer youth like me —to come together, shake our asses, and wear our most revealing, sexiest summer clothes to “catch trade.”

As young Black queer people, it gave us a place to gather, free from the policing of our very beings we were too often subject to at white Pride events. Even though these clubs are gone now, these spaces and their epic Juneteenth parties showed me just how crucial these Black queer spaces were for celebrating Black freedom in our own way.

The queerness of Juneteenth is also increasingly spreading nationwide. In her 2024 song “Sweet Honey Bucking,” Beyoncé — who is from Houston, Texas — proudly references bucking, bringing this dance style to a global audience. Her 2019 cover of Frankie Beverly & Maze’s well-known classic of Black summer celebration, “Before I Let Go,” has also become an anthem of Black Queer Pride. These songs resonate deeply within the community, serving as reminders of the ongoing struggle for Black liberation and queer liberation equally.

As the sun dips on each successive Juneteenth, the festivities roll on with bursts of fireworks, lit music, and partying till the next day — these joyous, unifying moments serving as a profound reminder of our journey from bondage to liberation.

For me, as a young queer Black man in Texas, Juneteenth transcended being just a holiday; it symbolized a celebration of existence, love, and the unwavering quest for happiness. It was a day dedicated to honoring my ancestors and honoring my whole self. It still is.

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