It was the last thing I expected to see. On Sunday June 12, while sat in a tiny two-man tent at a festival, I took a break from watching The Cribs to scroll absentmindedly through Twitter. It was then I learned about the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where—we eventually heard—49 people died. Like so many others stunned to silence by the story, I struggled to process what I'd read. I was in utter disbelief.
The timing, in particular, shook up members of the LGBTQ community. June is Pride month, and I imagine many of the victims would have been making plans with their friends for which mainstream, black, or Latin pride event they'd be attending this year.
People fill streets and public parks globally for LGBTQ black pride events, many of which take place in the US. But in the UK, since 2007, we've been lucky to have UK Black Pride, a day when black and minority ethnic (BME) people can celebrate their layered identities.
"UK Black Pride promotes unity and co-operation among all black people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and Latin American descent," reads UK Black Pride's official statement, "as well as their friends and families, who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender." It's a mouthful, but an important way to give people a home for the intersection of the ways they're likely to be "othered" in the UK as both LGBTQ and non-white.
UK Black Pride, like the LGBTQ magazine 'AZ' that I edit, was born out of necessity with a similar concept: improving the visibility of BME LGBTQ people in the UK. A 2012 report by Stonewall and race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, based on extensive interviews with 50 BME LGBTQ people, found that "our participants understand that the media provides an important opportunity to promote positive portrayals of gay people. They are therefore disappointed and dissatisfied with the fact that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are rarely portrayed in the media, and that black and minority ethnic lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are rarely portrayed at all."
You only need to step into your local bodega or bookshop to realize that the big-name LGBTQ magazines still ascribe to limited ideas of who a cover star can be. Of the last 12 issues of Attitude, the UK's biggest-selling gay magazine, two non-white cover stars were featured. It is frustrating to be consistently represented by people who look nothing like you.
I understand how people would argue that black pride promotes segregation within the LGBTQ community, and separates where it should unite. But events like UK Black Pride exist—for the time being, at least—because BME members of the community feel they're needed. Racism is rampant within the LGBTQ community—just see Grindr profile "no blacks," "no Asians" discrimination couched as "sexual preference"—so it's only fair that we create spaces and platforms where BME LGBTQ people can feel comfortable to express themselves without being treated as outsiders.
Being a minority within a minority can feel alienating while being mentally and physically challenging. According to the Health and Wellbeing of Lesbian, Gay, and Trans Londoners report, "compared to the general LGBTQ community and the wider population, minority LGBTQ populations have: significantly higher rates of suicide, self harm and mental ill health and higher rates of reported domestic violence." Microaggressions and real aggression all take their toll, and that's just in one of the most diverse cities in Britain.
Even in the face of adversity, the BME LGBTQ community can unapologetically celebrate our multiple identities at UK Black Pride. That feels especially important when we might otherwise have to hide a part of who we are. Living can feel like a balancing act, juggling two identities—"both of which are disparaged; many BME LGB people experience dissonance between their cultural/religious and sexual identity," stated an NHS Department of Health briefing on life for LGBTQ people of color in the UK. "Some feel pressure to minimize their cultural identity in LGB spaces and their sexual identity in BME environments."
But at UK Black Pride, we don't have to hide. We don't have to shrink ourselves. When I attend Black Pride on Sunday, I'll look forward to feeling a sense of belonging in one part of a community that still has to work harder to eliminate its lingering prejudice from within. The theme of this year's event is "transforming our community," and that is exactly what we are endeavoring to do.
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