Open letter to Black LGBT people in Britain and beyond ahead of UK Black Pride 2018

On any given day, we experience any number of microaggressions. You’re a little brown boy in Birmingham who doesn’t walk like the other boys.

You’re a Black woman in a workplace in London being told to ‘calm down’ as you do your job. You’re an older Black man in Bradford walking into a bar and getting a look you know so well, the one that says, ‘Why are you here?’ You’re an Arab-looking man with a beard in Glasgow, and people won’t sit next to you on public transport. You’re a hijab wearing woman in Belfast and you’re getting cat calls as you’re trying to make it from point A to B.

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah
Co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride

On any given day, groups of people are debating your existence on the evening news. They’re talking about crimes that don’t affect them in places they’ve never stepped foot in. They’re looking for you to apologise for lives you did not break and may never be able to fix. You’re being judged because you look like what society thinks a man should be, but you’re wearing pink lipstick. You’re being ravaged by words designed to wound from the mouths of people too scared, too ignorant, and too self-absorbed to understand the harm they inflict.

On any given day, someone is telling you to ‘stand up straight and smile’, ‘all eyes are on you’, ‘don’t embarrass your family’, ‘no-one will take you seriously if you talk like that’, ‘you don’t need to flaunt it in our faces, do you?’, ‘you were born with a dick, so you’ll never be a real woman’, ‘go back home’, ‘let me check your pockets, and ‘you should be grateful we allowed you in this country’. Someone is trying to free you from the oppression of Islam, save you from savages who sit in their own shit, or mansplain what feminism means. Someone who’s never read Bell Hooks or Kimberlé Crenshaw Williams telling you intersectionality isn’t a thing, that ‘this isn’t the Oppression Olympics’. That wanting to fight racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia all at the same time can’t be done.

Taking a reprieve from the assault course of life that we know so intimately is the reason we set up UK Black Pride 13 years ago. We need spaces for ourselves. Spaces in which we can let out a collective sigh of relief. Spaces in which we’re free from ‘the gaze’. Spaces in which the only version of ourselves that will do, the only version of ourselves that is allowed, is the truest. Spaces in which we’re protected, fought for, and celebrated. As we all know well, the necessity of safe spaces by us and for us hasn’t waned, either.

The continued growth of UK Black Pride isn’t only because it’s a space away from danger. As we come together and our histories and cultures collide, we learn that we’re not alone. That in our pain is also our joy.

Thirteen years ago, a group of friends and I travelled down to Southend-on-Sea for the birth of what would become UK Black Pride. A bus load of queer Black women alighted to cut eyes and under-the-breath mutterings, and yet, in that moment, even under the watchful and suspicious white gaze, a celebration took place. There, in Southend, a group of queer Black women connected. It didn’t matter that the group was a mix of descendants from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Middle East, and the Americas. There, together, were a group of Black LGBT+ people resisting, laughing, and energising in a safe space under the banner of Black Lesbians UK, or BLUK.

Of course, political Blackness was more clearly defined then, more widely understood. It made sense that non-white people would seek to band together in the face of shared oppressions, that we would unite to strategise our way to freedom, that we would come together in defiance of those who didn’t think we had a right to do so. There was an understanding that our experiences, while so completely individual, were interwoven, part of the tapestry of oppressions and inequalities that permeate every aspect of our lives but cloak us all in silence and muffled demands for justice, equality, and freedom.
Audre Lorde reminds us that we do not have to be each other to know that our fight is the same. And even as some draw the benefits of Black liberation struggles that united the diasporas in the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 00s, it’s important we find a way to reimagine and revive the collectivism that bound us so tightly together at the start of this journey.

Though we’ll always be UK Black Pride. Our name will not change because we understand the legacy and power of political Blackness still needs to be understood and applied in Britain, and across the globe. That’s why, this year, we’ve assembled a powerhouse team of volunteers from across the diasporas we represent to deliver our festival and message that no matter which diaspora you descend from, you’re welcome! You’re loved! And you’re fought for under the aegis of UK Black Pride.
How to ensure everyone feels welcome and knows they’re welcome at UK Black Pride? is something we ask ourselves each year. This year, our expanded team gathered in a meeting room at Stonewall, we deliberated and discussed, before someone said: “Shades of the Diaspora”.

My mind flashed back to the throngs of Black bodies, of every shade, complexion and experience, cheering on Diane Abbott MP’s message of unity against racist and homophobia. Everyone in the room smiled. Shades of the Diaspora. I get it.

Shades of the Diaspora speaks to our ongoing mission to unite Black LGBT+ in Britain whose global roots shoot from Africa to Asia, the Caribbean to the Middle East, and the United States or Latin America. It speaks to the growing number of our diasporic community who show up to UK Black Pride each year. It speaks to the shades of our experiences. It speaks to the complex and interwoven experiences of our asylum-seeking and refugee siblings. It speaks to the hurdles of our gay brothers, the determination of our lesbian and bi sisters, and the relentless attacks on our trans siblings. It speaks to the experiences of our Intersex community whose voices are finally rising in a chorus. It speaks to experiences that can’t be named, those that suffer in silence, those that cannot come out. It acknowledges that all our experiences are not the same, but that we will fight together for a future rooted in freedom and equality.

So, on Sunday 8 July, join us as come together in London’s Vauxhall Park to sing, dance, laugh, cry and yes, protest – for all the battles we must still fight and win. We’ll celebrate those who are here; remember those we’ve lost, and inspire those yet to come. We’ll have intense political debates. We will listen. We will laugh. We will exhale. And when we do, we will expunge those microaggressions, frustrations and unspoken words. And when we breathe in again, our lungs and bellies will fill with the misshapen mass of our Black bodies, and those of our allies in the community, to dance in exaltation. We’ll be reminded that there, in that space, for that moment, on that day, the things that make you other to everyone else, make you perfect to us.

We love, respect and value you, and we can’t wait to celebrate with you.

We see you.

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah
Co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride