The first time I went to the Black Lesbians United Retreat, I was days away from turning 21. I didn’t have much of a lesbian community in my life at the time, so I was eager to experience BLU. I also didn’t have a driver’s license yet, so I roped my friend Mika into driving us. What I experienced that weekend was nothing short of transcendent. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t in the minority as a lesbian in a Black space or as a Black person in an LGBT space. There was no need to downplay any aspect of my identity because the BLU Retreat was made for me.

Mika and Ashley in infancy

BLU has had a special place in my heart since I first attended their retreat in 2016. This past weekend in West Hollywood, the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives hosted an event that was dedicated to showcasing the history of BLU and ULOAH (the organization that came before it). I was fortunate enough to be in attendance and to learn more about the women who came together 35 years ago with the purpose of making the world safer for Black lesbians.

History of ULOAH and BLU

1989: After noticing that there was no real discussion of lesbian issues during the 1989 Black Gay Leadership Conference that took place in Los Angeles, a group of Black lesbians were inspired to focus on the needs of their specific community. They wanted “a space for Black women who loved other women to gather, discuss our commonalities, explore our differences and empower each other.”

1990: “In August of 1990, United Lesbians of African Heritage (ULOAH) was born – to promote Black Lesbian visibility, unity and empowerment through grassroots organizing and activism, economic independence, education, spiritual expression, ethnic culture, and the Arts.”

1991 – 2005: During these years, ULOAH put on an annual Black lesbian retreat called Sistahfest. Thousands of Black lesbians and bisexual women flocked to the hills of Malibu to attend these retreats. Workshops on relationships, spirituality, achieving financial freedom, and more were held. The Couples Validation Ceremony was a signature element of the retreats, and it gave women who were partnered with other women the opportunity to have their relationships acknowledged at a time when same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in the United States.

2005: “In 2005, ULOAH’s governing body split and the organization disbanded shortly after.”

2009: Five Black lesbians came together to carry on the legacy of Sistahfest. Yolanda Whittington, Jeannette Bronson, Queen Hollins, Sunshine Daye, and Lisa Powell put on the first annual Black Lesbians United Retreat at the same site in Malibu.

Since 2009, the BLU retreat has been hosted annually (save for a three-year hiatus that came as a direct result of the covid pandemic). In the absence of in-person gatherings during those years, BLU pivoted to “virtual activities that… created a sense of connection while quarantined and provided crucial support during a period of widespread civil unrest following George Floyd’s murder.” The in-person retreat returned last year in all of its glory.

In addition to the retreat, the women of BLU and ULOAH before it have always been involved in activism. From protesting against Pete Wilson’s veto of AB 101 (a major gay rights bill in California) back in 1991, to rallying on the Simi Valley courthouse steps following the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. They have also marched in Martin Luther King Day parades, supported Outfest and the Pan African Film Festival, and collaborated with organizations such as Sistahfriends and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

“Continuously evolving and passionately committed, BLU stands as a beacon of empowerment, solidarity, and celebration for Black lesbians everywhere.”

The BLU retreat is just as important to me today as it was when I first experienced it eight years ago. I’ll leave you with this video from last year’s retreat.

Learn more at:, donate to BLU here

Source of quotes: “Our Story” by Jeannette Bronson, Yolanda Whittington, and others