PHYLL OPOKU- GYIMAH

Diva (UK) - - Welcome | Contents - PHYLL OPOKU GYIMAH ON THE ORI­GINS OF UK BLACK PRIDE

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

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