This past weekend saw most of central London shut down for a spectacular 3 hour long London Pride procession. A day after the main London Pride parade, Pride in the Park with UK Black Pride occupied Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for a day tasked with celebrating intersections of the LGBT community normally overlooked. As this year’s London Pride offering passes us by we look back to its history to better understand its importance, identifying the significance of UK Black Pride’s placing of blackness at its centre in a space of LGBT celebration.
The history of Pride far predates the birth of UK Black Pride, it is as rich and nuanced as the community it caters to. In its present form, the Pride parade’s celebratory nature is clear, with attendees bedazzling their faces and customising outfits in the same way one might at a music festival. However, the very first Pride wasn’t a party. It was a riot.
The fight for gay rights has been a fraught one and still is yet to be entirely achieved. The Stonewall riots mark a pivotal point in Pride’s history, leading to the beginning of Pride as we know it today. The riots were a series of spontaneous and violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against a police raid that took place on June 28 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, New York. These riots were led and organised by the poorest and most marginalised members of the LGBT community such as butch lesbians, drag queens and black trans women. They will always be remembered as one of the key moments within modern LGBT history; a driving force for organising LGBT Pride marches on a much wider public scale.
Moving back to contemporary times, it is interesting to see how corporate Pride has become. London Pride, to point to an example, enjoys such corporate sponsors as Barclays, Smirnoff and Virgin Atlantic. In being open for public consumption, a space has been created for businesses to essentially pander to the LGBT community by changing their logos into rainbow colours; or by sticking their brand names on a float and parading down Oxford Circus. This is known as performative allyship. Companies can project the image that they are accepting and supportive of the LGBT community by these simple and often meaningless actions. Their actual treatment towards the LGBT community can sometimes reveal the opposite however.
Perhaps a further critique of Pride is how alienating it can make People of Colour, who also identify as part of the LGBT community, feel. As a black lesbian, I have to combat potential prejudice that I might face because of both my race and sexuality (not forgetting to add my gender). Whilst the overall atmosphere of London Pride was overwhelmingly beautiful, I could not shake the feeling of not belonging. It is this collective feeling of alienation that birthed Black Pride.
Launched in 2006, UK Black Pride was started by a hand full of black lesbian and bisexual women, including its now Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah. The concept behind UK Black Pride was to create a safe space where Black LGBT men, women and trans people could foster a sense of pride within their identities. It follows that UK Black Pride does something that Pride does not. It focuses on the intersections within a Black LGBT person’s identity. Pride seeks to unify; while UK Black Pride seeks to acknowledge the differences within one’s identity and find beauty within each intersection.
The role of UK Black Pride remains important as whilst the fight for gay rights has progressed throughout time, white gay men have undoubtedly been the main recipients of these benefits. That is not to say that they are not oppressed as direct result of their sexuality, it is more to push home the point that people of minority origin need representation within the LGBT community too. UK Black Pride is a vessel in which gay, bisexual and trans black people finally feel like the spotlight is shining on them. Being catered to truly is one of the best feelings. Especially when you have felt unimportant for your whole life.
My experience of UK Black Pride was enjoyable. It offered a day full of activities, music and food. There were stalls from major LGBT organisations such as Stonewall and DIVA, and food trucks with Caribbean and African cuisine- a personal highlight of mine. The sounds of afrobeats, funky house and dancehall filled the park and contributed to the amazing vibes of the day. There were a variety of performances too from spoken word by Melz and Imani to musical displays from the likes of Karnage and Stooshie. Near the beginning of the day, we listened to a speech from the first black female MP, Diane Abbott, which really set the tone for what the day was about. Seeing black LGBT people being carefree and enjoying themselves impacted me more than I thought it would. Spending this weekend at both Pride and UK Black Pride just made me even more proud to be part of this community. It also taught me a few things. Mainly that there is beauty in diversity. There is diversity in Pride.
It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. – Audre Lorde