This is why UK Black Pride matters

Being LGBT is one thing, but being ethnically or culturally ‘other’ is a whole other thing – and reconciling the two is huge

Nadia Gilani
Sunday 09 July 2017 11:27 BST
Diversity isn’t just about stamping out racism: it’s about celebrating what makes us different
Diversity isn’t just about stamping out racism: it’s about celebrating what makes us different (AFP)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

A big memory from my first Pride is sitting on a kerb in Old Compton Street, feeling drunk, vaguely euphoric and wondering how the hell I’d ended up there. The “scene” wasn’t very me, but it was all I had.

I also wasn’t a massive drinker – when you’re brought up Muslim it takes a while to catch up, and every time you ask for a pint, a tiny muscle inside you flinches. But when everyone else’s doing it and you’re questioning who you are, there’s little else to do but get another round in.

My early Prides are a bit hazy because they were so long ago, but I remember feeling incredibly energised and excited. The sense of freedom on the streets was infectious and joyful in a way I hadn’t seen before. I remember digging the noise, the traffic-stopping flamboyance, and empowered fleshy nakedness. The vibe was electric; it charged you up and engulfed you.

But despite feeling an instant sense of longing and wanting to join in, it was also intimidating and slightly alienating. I didn’t feel loud and proud or political about my sexuality. I was still working all that stuff out.

It might sound nuts, but I didn’t identify as a person of colour until very recently. The term felt clunky and I’m still a bit at odds with it, but it is descriptive and inclusive, and anything that intends to do that has my vote.

Growing up, my mum said we were black, like our Jamaican and Turkish neighbours – “because we’re not white” – so I took that on for most of my life until I hit my 20s and found most of my friends, colleagues and lovers were white, and I was reminded of my difference again.

I was used to not seeing many people of colour on the gay scene, so was familiar with feeling a bit like a rogue imposter. It was as though black LGBT people didn’t exist. It’s sad to admit, but I felt I had to discard my cultural heritage for a long time in an attempt to fit in. This obviously doesn’t work for long, or you end up being fetishised for being “exotic”, which doesn’t help either.

I did eventually find a couple of black and Asian-focused club nights that became my thing for a while, and then did the DIY underground queer/alternative/drag side of things for a bit. But it started feeling increasingly less relevant to me. I felt repressed. If there had been a Black Pride back then, maybe I would have felt more at home.

Theresa May wishes LGBT community a "wonderful" Pride

I think when you’re a PoC and questioning your sexuality or identity, there’s so much else going on culturally. There’s food, languages, traditions and when you’re British or at least live here, you’re sort of straddling these two things and burying some of it in order to fit in.

But being with others, even if they don’t share the same cultural background, you see yourself reflected, and you can relax, not have to explain or justify yourself. It’s a feeling of recognition, of shared experience and ultimately a relief not to be in a minority.

Black Pride feels important because being LGBT is one thing, but being ethnically or culturally “other” is a whole other thing, and reconciling the two is huge. It’s also about creating a space for people to feel safe.

Diversity isn’t just about stamping out racism; it’s about celebrating what makes us different. I always find it annoying when people say things like “we’re all the same” – because we’re not. Sure, on a cellular level we’re all equal human beings, but walking around as a “black” person means your experience of the world is different. Every single day.

I really think it’s everyone’s responsibility – particularly if you’re not a person of colour – to remember that.

UK Black Pride is on Sunday 9 July, with events taking place in Vauxhall, London

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