Oral history interview with Sheila Alexander-Reid

Description

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Abstract

This is an interview focuses largely on Ms. Alexander-Reid’s work in putting on parties for members of the lesbian and gay community, especially people of color. A precursor to this work was her experience throwing parties with her brother while her parents were out of town, during her teenage years. Later, after she came out, she attended and held house parties within the community. She also attended dances at black gay and lesbian clubs Eventually, Ms. Alexander-Reid, along with Lisa Thornhill and Chris Viera, formed VTR Productions, a business which organized parties. They started out specifically holding women’s parties, but eventually also put on parties for mixed groups. Their first co-ed party, around 1989-90, was a fundraiser for an owner of a bar (Encore) who, as result of a car accident, needed to have her house made handicapped-accessible. They also put on parties at Tracks, a predominantly male black gay and lesbian bar. Because Ms. Alexander-Reid has a marketing background, she took on all that part of the business’s work and burned out. After a break of a year, she started her own organization, Women in the Life, in 1993. She is, by preference, the sole head of the organization, but has a few employees. Women in the Life came to the attention of the community when it threw a big, unofficial party for the March on Washington in April 1993 which attracted about 1300 women. Later, she started a newsletter, also called Women in the Life, which eventually became a magazine. Ms. Alexander-Reid has national ambitions for the publication and wants to add editorial staff. She is trying to transition the business from profit-making to non-profit status, because it has been doing a lot of charity work. Since she finds, as she grows older, that she is less interested in partying, she also wants the organization to become less event-oriented and more focused on other approaches, such as the magazine, being a health resource, doing advocacy, etc.

The interview also touches on a number of topics only indirectly related to VTR Productions or Women in the Life. One of those topics is local bars, including Hill Haven, The Phase, the Encore, Tracks, the Mill, the Delta, the Hung Jury, the Blue Penguin, and Chaos. Part of the discussion focuses on which bars had Ladies’ Nights or Drag King Nights, as well as the fighting and police involvement (associated with a decline in patron age) at some venues which eventually led to the end of some of the events. The interviewee also expresses her desire to do a mixed-race women’s Pride, as she thinks that Pride events are segregated racially. Ms. Alexander-Reid believes that her experience growing up of first attending a majority-white, but integrated, school, and then belonging to the only African-American family in her neighborhood and attending other, almost entirely white, schools left her with a sensitivity to divisions between different groups of people and an interest in coalition building. Ms. Alexander-Reid also comments on other groups in the community, including DC Black Gay Pride, whose board she was once on; BLSG, for which she has done fundraising and with which she has co-sponsored events; the Coalition; and the Maunter Project. She discusses being part of an ongoing tradition of black women doing work and putting out publications in the community. Finally, the interview includes some information about Alexander-Reid’s personal background. For instance, there is brief mention of her childhood, her college career, her coming out in both black and white lesbian communities, her Catholic background, and her current participation in non-homophobic churches. She discusses her marriage to Lois Alexander at somewhat greater length.

Date

Relation

In 2007 Sheila Alexander-Reid was named a Community Pioneer. Read her online biography.

Coverage

African American lesbian experience, Roadwork, social events, 80s-90s

Transcription

No, not yet transcribed. Summary, courtesy Anne Patricia Lafferty, 2017.

Original Format

Yes, recording available

Files

Alexander-Reid, Sheila notes.pdf

Citation

“Oral history interview with Sheila Alexander-Reid,” Rainbow History Project Digital Collections, accessed May 30, 2024, https://archives.rainbowhistory.org/items/show/1275.

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