Proud to be … UK Black Pride

Proud to be… UK Black Pride

By Pav Akhtar

It is great to know that so many Black, LGBT and other people will be out supporting UK Black Pride event on Saturday 18 August at the Ministry of Sound in London.

Notwithstanding the change of venue because of the inclement weather, which has impacted on so many other Pride events, the fact is that everyone will be made to feel very welcome in the deluxe comfort of the world famous club setting, with its state of the art facilities, its sleek designs and outstanding music and entertainment. More importantly, however, it is essential to remember why we continue to have a Black Pride event that is both social and political; that is safe and sustainable; that is representative and inclusive.

From its inception in 2005, UK Black Pride has sought to work from inside the Black LGBT community to reach out, to engage and to inspire other Black and LGBT groups to be bigger, better and more inclusive in their activities and ambitions. Seven years since its own first event, UK Black Pride has grown by 700% while retaining its core as a community-led, not-for-profit activity that continues to be run entirely by unpaid volunteers with the support of many individuals and groups in the wider community. This year, UK Black Pride will feature speakers from its platinum sponsor, Stonewall, from Black LGBT community groups, from statutory bodies and Parliament, from the trade unions, and from young people.

After all, UK Black Pride’s raison d’être is to actively reach out and support Pride events in other parts of the country because it sees its own existence as an inter-dependent part of the national and international family of Pride events which serve increasingly visible, proud and diverse LGBT communities.

It is in this context that UK Black Pride encourages a better understanding of the nature and scale of challenges faced by Britain’s African, Asian, Caribbean and Arab (Black) LGBT communities to address these groups’ needs and aspirations.  The challenges are just as likely to surface from within the communities to which Black LGBT people belong as they are from outside.

The internal pressures include chronic under-representation and under-engagement of Black LGBT people in ‘mainstream’ Black or LGBT community activities. This owes as much to an involuntary and historic exclusion – both conscious and unconscious – as well as the lack of effective voice to orientate ‘mainstream’ Black or LGBT activities to accurately reflect Black LGBT peoples’ non-binary reality of race, religion, gender and sexuality. The consequence of this lived experience has been that Black LGBT people, who are touched by both racism and homophobia among other prejudices, are not entirely or effectively reflected in either Black or LGBT mainstream activities on our own terms or in a manner in which we are comfortable. This experience often leads to Black LGBT people being presented with an impossible choice of embracing one aspect of our identity over another at different intervals and in parallel realities.

UK Black Pride attempts to bridge this divide by providing a non-judgemental opportunity for Black LGBT people, friends and supporters, to come together to celebrate multiple identities and experiences with pride and without expectation to own, reject or justify anything to anyone. It permits taking pride in being who we are as determined by ourselves – devoid of the social or cultural stereotypes that are often projected upon groups.

The external pressures include the continuing marginalisation of many Black and LGBT communities; the dismantling of public and private services for Black and LGBT people including access to vital health care and welfare support; the erosion of social and democratic institutions including access to community led and community based groups; and the growing tide of intolerance towards Black and LGBT people in a context of severe economic inequality and financial instability – which disproportionately impacts on Black and LGBT people- These have all contributed to an environmental degradation which has prompted a spike in racist and homophobic hate crime. Alarmingly, this reality has led to Black LGBT people being exposed to greater risk of hate crime from different quarters.

UK Black Pride’s work to support Black LGBT people shows that when statutory and community based support networks are not in place to help deal with this reality many Black LGBT people are left isolated and facing the impossible choice to embrace one aspect of their identity over another or being forced into a soul-destroying closet.

UK Black Pride’s supporters and attendees span every section of society, all social groups, professions, age groups and other identifiers. This is a point of which organisers are extremely proud, as is the fact that the event is a showcase of the best of the Black LGBT community with a strong and powerful voice that projects pride out from inside the community to all those outside: this is a liberating and empowering experience not only for the Black LGBT family but also for the LGBT, Black and wider communities who actively engage and frequently (and positively) confound their own expectations.

What is being sought by the organisation of an annual UK Black Pride festival is social, spiritual and political nourishment that will give succour to those confronting the double-edged bigotry of racism and homophobia.

Pav Akhtar is a Director of UK Black Pride