PHYLL OPOKU- GYIMAH
Phyll returns to the beginnings of UK Black Pride
Pride season is upon us so I have decided to use my column this month to talk about UK Black Pride – its origins, why it exists, what its organisers (myself among them) want to achieve and, also, how you can get involved.
UK Black Pride’s mission is to promote unity and co- operation among all black people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American descent, as well as their friends and families, who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex. We are committed to producing an annual celebration of Black Pride, as well as organising a variety of activities throughout the year around the UK, which also promote and advocate for the spiritual, emotional and intellectual health and wellbeing of all related communities. Our aim is to foster, present and celebrate black LGBT culture through education, the arts, cultural events and advocacy. UK Black Pride works closely with Paris Black Pride as well as showing solidarity with Black Prides in the US and Canada.
First, a little bit of history! A while back I was an organiser for a brilliant online group called BLUK – Black Lesbians In The UK. BLUK was trying to take activities offline and create an atmosphere that fostered positive networking and a sense of community for black lesbians and bisexual women. In August 2005, my ex and I arranged a social outing to the sleepy seaside town of Southend- on-sea in Essex. What began as a minibus trip to the sea quickly developed into three coach-loads of lesbian and bisexual black women making a long and proud journey that has since grown in size and stature, and is all about inclusivity. Yes, Black Pride was created by a black lesbian and bisexual women – not many people know that.
During the build-up to that one incredible outing to Southend the concept evolved, and we began planning an annual UK Black Pride event the following year, where black and Asian LGBTQI people could foster a sense of pride in our identities.
In 2005 – amid a surge in electoral support for far-right political extremists on the back of their racist and homophobic views – members of the black LGBTQI community in Britain decided the time for waiting was over. We needed full support from the black/ BAME and the LGBT communities and we needed it immediately. And so it was that UK Black Pride came into being with a mission to combat endemic racism and homophobia inside and outside our communities, as well as tackling other expressions of discrimination that touched our members.
It was also about not seeing ourselves in the mainstream LGBTQI movement, and at Pride events around the country in cities like London, Manchester, Brighton and Birmingham. Of course, it is better in some ways now. Things are changing. But back then it really felt like those events didn’t reflect the diverse communities that we were. Pride didn’t speak or feel like us, nor was it reflective of the real issues we needed to discuss. In some cases, that is still true today. So what
do you do when you don’t see yourself somewhere? You can go into a dark, soul- destroying place or you can create the change you want to see.
As one of UK Black Pride’s directors, Pav Akhtar, says: “To us, Pride isn’t just a celebration. It’s a political event to try and force change and create a better, more just society. We didn’t really feel or see that place for black people, within the mainstream Pride events, so we said, ‘ Right, what are we going to do about this?’ There was no point in moaning and saying, ‘Oh look, the white people who run Pride aren’t making it nice for us’. So we said, ‘Ok, let’s try and create a space of our own’.”
On 18 August 2006, with the help of a brilliant team, I ensured the event was etched into LGBTQI history as the leading celebration of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American LGBTQI people from Britain, Europe and beyond. It also set the foundations, ensuring that UK Black Pride became a permanent feature on the annual calendar of Pride activities.
We have gone from strength to strength over the years because UK Black Pride has continued to secure the confidence, respect and support of the community, our friends and families. I certainly believe that we have maintained the core essence of being the only Black LGBTQI community Pride event to be genuinely designed, delivered and led by the full diversity of LGBTQI people of colour. This is something I am immensely proud of.
Whilst this all sounds so positive, it hasn’t been easy. As the co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride, I was never under any illusion that this would not cause some sort of controversy. But my gosh, I wasn’t ready for the anger, displeasure, division and hate thrown my way for creating a platform for BAME people and their friends to celebrate who we are as well as challenge racism within our own LGBTQI community, and to challenge homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia and other forms of discrimination that hurt our communities.
There have been tears, heartache, stones thrown and a lack of respect from certain quarters of our own LGBTQI communities. UK Black Pride members were told to “fuck off” out of meetings and “go back to where you’ve come from”. Companies offering sponsorship to big Pride events wouldn’t even give us the crumbs from the table. Mainstream LGBT media would not cover our activities and we were called “racist, separatist and discriminatory” for creating an event to ensure we could celebrate who we are in a safe, not-for-profit, non- commercialised event led by the community for the community.
The pain I have felt through being rejected by the wider LGBTQI community – mainly white gay and bisexual men, who don’t see their privilege whilst blocking Black Pride’s visibility – is difficult for me to explain. You see, I have carried this and tried to shield our community, while fighting tooth and nail against those who don’t see that racism is a weapon of mass destruction. It’s almost laughable that these activists – who have been part of a liberation struggle, fighting to be seen and heard, to take pride of place in society as LGBTQI people, who say loudly that they are a community of people who understand oppression and marginalisation – still choose to ignore the struggle and adverse challenges LGBTQI people of colour face. It feels like sheer hypocrisy. Being from a group that has been discriminated against doesn’t make you exempt from being racist, sexist, biphobic, transphobic, disablist or agiest. To these people I say: please check yourself!
Twelve years on from that first event, UK Black Pride has attracted support from around the world and a cross-section of society, including Members of Parliament, trade unions, black and LGBTQI community and voluntary groups, and providers of public services, like the police and primary care trusts, as well as young people and students. Most importantly though, UK Black Pride continues to be supported by the community it serves to ensure the principle of “Pride before Profit” and to guarantee that UK Black Pride remains an inclusive event for all in our community.
I’ve always said that in an ideal world we would not need Pride, and in an ideal world we certainly would not need a Black Pride. But we do not live in an ideal world. Whilst we find ourselves being tortured, persecuted, criminalised or even murdered because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, or because of the colour of our skin, our ethnicity, our HIV status, our religious belief, our class and refugee or asylum status, UK Black Pride will continue challenging and working from inside and outside with grassroots campaigners, trade unions and organisations such as Stonewall and UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, among others.
On Sunday 9 July, UK Black Pride will take place in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, supported by Pride In London and other sponsors, where we will have activities to guarantee even stronger and more active participation of LGBTQI people of colour, alongside some of Britain’s hottest DJS, dance acts and performers, including an awesome headliner bringing down the house. There will be plenty of food and drink, and trade unions and welfare providers will showcase their vital services in a market of information stalls, plus much, much more.
The blogs and hateful Twitter posts by trolls and keyboard warriors can hurt. But my personal plea to DIVA readers is this: please do not stay silent. Show solidarity, be a good ally and not a bystander. Remember: our unity is how we overcome oppression, make history and build a better future.
In an ideal world we would not need Pride. We would certainly not need Black Pride