June 21, 2024

No room for black queer women and non-binary people

It dawned on me that whilst my freedom of expression as a gay person wasn’t under attack, my blackness still was. And I later learned I was not alone in my experience.

I read a statistic that around 50% of black people who have attended Pride events have faced racial discrimination. Which to this day, I really don’t find hard to believe at all. I think there is still a reluctance among the white gay community – who largely control large scale platforms of influence – to acknowledge that there is ongoing racial injustice in the LGBTQ+ community. There are intersections that are actively being ignored.

For about four years after that, I avoided Pride. I never really felt like it was something that was there to represent me. I only returned because it is still the only time in the calendar year dedicated to queer people.

I first went to Pride in London when I was fifteen. Though I wouldn’t officially come out until I was 19, I went because I thought it would be a safe space for me. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly feel that way.

It felt like something I was stepping into as an attempt to feel surrounded by an almost familial understanding – yet in practise it just became navigating my way through an extremely white, cis, male crowd.

I grew up in a very white, racist area of Kent and so back then, large groups of white people didn’t feel alien to me. I think I had just accepted that I was often the minority in a sea of whiteness as a norm. But that year at Pride, I was actually racially verbally assaulted. I was called a racial slur by a white gay man who would rather I wasn’t in the space – and likely preferred being surrounded only by white gay men.

But Pride is something that should be accessible to all queer people and be fully representative of all queer people. It has a duty to uplift the voices that are ignored the rest of the year, especially now it is such a widely consumed event even outside the gay community. Unfortunately, it still feels to me that there isn’t a space for black queer people + trans and non binary people to exist at Pride – the same way white cis gay men do.

When I first came out, the obvious gay venues and famous clubs were fun; and felt more comfortable than straight venues, but I soon I began to realise there was a huge dissidence between the music that was being played and the crowd. It was always a very white male crowd rather than an inclusive place for all LGBTQ+ people. There weren’t many women. And there weren’t many women of colour. Being a woman, any woman, let alone a black woman in that space began to feel very heavy. I realised I was constantly being asked to perform by gay men most often : “can you twerk? ” or “can you dance like this? Being touched inappropriately by men I assume were gay – although there are straight men who go to such clubs looking to pick up bisexual women – or straight women out with their ‘gay best friends. ’ It was not OK. It was not a comfortable experience for me.

I had to actively search for spaces that I felt were truly inclusive, that aimed to represent me. I sought out the black gay scene which tended to party in other parts of London than the obvious gay venues.

That was where I started to realise that there were people in the queer community that reflected both my lived experiences intersectionally and, even more importantly, my musical tastes. That’s where my relationship with club culture really began to develop which led to me becoming a DJ.

I’ve spent the last three years DJing a night which prioritises queer people , trans women and non binary people of colour. Being able to facilitate joy as a DJ , authentically has been groundbreaking.

My style of music is ultimately a mashup of so many of my experiences, it’s historical – which is super important to me being a history graduate. I studied history at a London university and my course included British colonialism, race relations in Britain, from the Windrush era all the way to the history of Carnival, which was birthed out of protest compounded by racially motivated torment against the black community in the 1950’s.

I think it is so important not just to learn about these pivotal moments, but also to share and prioritise that knowledge. When we are enjoying these events, like Notting Hill Carnival or Pride, it’s important to remember they were born from riots, from protest. It shouldn’t be that the origins of an event are lost because now it’s fun and now it no longer seems a threat to the status quo. Because when people first went to celebrate Pride and Carnival; their lives and liberties were still at stake- it’s important we don’t forget that.

Because at Pride now, when the parade is done, white cis gay men, assimilate into current society on most occasions. But there are still black, queer, trans, non binary and physically challenged people who are existing in a state of emergency pretty much every day.

Pride has been cis manwashed and also whitewashed for far too long especially considering the origins of the stonewall riots. Marsha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera – were trans women who were subsequently frozen out of their own creation. We must start acknowledging this, and having these uncomfortable conversations about what Pride has become, and bring about real longevity and change. Fragility must be removed from these conversations, because Pride has never been a fragile thing.

Pride should be intersectional, Pride should be radical.

That’s why UK Black Pride events held during Pride month are so important to attend for the black queer community and their allies. And also for their allies to understand they are in a space dedicated to people who often only get this one day a year to express themselves. A lot of the time these people will otherwise have to hide themselves, or are hidden by society.

Going forward, Pride events need to be actively intersectional. The boards need to be more proactive and also reflective of the diverse community we hold. It needs to be creating funds for marginalised communities, or reach out to amazing activists, like Tanya Compas who has created the Exist Loudly Fund and raised over £85k which will go directly to the most marginalised communities within the LGBTQ+.

For me, it has been a cathartic move to take to the stage as talent both in front of my immediate community and outside of it, knowing that someone might be looking up to me and seeing themselves for the first time. More people should have that feeling, and also be able to join me. We have a duty to facilitate that.

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