Being a queer South Asian and the importance of Black Pride
Reeta Loi explains the personal importance of London’s celebration of LGBTQ people of colour, UK Black Pride
Last year was the first year I attended UK Black Pride. I’ve been out to myself for over 20 years and to my conservative Indian family for the last 12, and whilst the festival started the same year I met the woman that would become my wife, I hadn’t even heard of it until 2017.
This year’s Black Pride is themed on the title ‘Shades of the Diaspora’, the idea behind being to celebrate LGBTQ people of colour, across our different heritages.
When I met my wife, a white, English woman I felt unrooted from my South Asian identity. After some years I came out of depression, triggered by this loss of family and culture by starting the journey to find the erased parts of myself. I couldn’t understand why there were seemingly no out queer South Asian women, anywhere in the world that I could look to. Just someone to say “Hey, you’re going to be fine. You’re not alone”. My queer friends weren’t Asian and my Asian friends weren’t queer. But in 2012 I became part of an arts community of LGBTQ Asians that helped me to reconcile the parts of myself.
Minorities of all shades and experiences are feeling the increased levels of racism, homo- and transphobia, and xenophobia in a post-Brexit Britain, and we are forced to reconsider whether or not we’re welcome in the countries and movements we helped build. In times when our future and our freedom seems so in peril, and our historical and present day contributions so disregarded, the importance of spaces like UK Black Pride become ever-more apparent. As co-founder Lady Phyll put in an open letter last year, in response to the blackface scandal, there are important and historical reasons for movements like UK Black Pride:
“In 1970, the first Pride was held in New York to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings. What is not remembered is that BAME LGBTQIA+ people such as Storme DeLaverie, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera sparked Stonewall. Without them, there would be no Stonewall and subsequently no Pride.
“In the last year, we have seen homophobia and racism rise dramatically, and these struggles are connected. They often stem from the same hatred of difference. The repercussions of this have been particularly felt by BAME LGBTQs. We must come together as a community and stand up to racism as well as homophobia so that every LGBTQIA+ person in the UK feels welcome at their local Pride to celebrate their love and lives.”
Last year, I marched at Pride in London with the organisation I founded, Gaysians.org. 100 beautiful LGBTQ people from the broader Asian diaspora danced through the streets of central London behind dhol drummers. It was an experience like no other to feel the support and cheers from a million people lining the streets. However, the sea of faces looking back at us was overwhelmingly white. They were cheering, yes, but they were also marvelling at our Asian-ness and our queerness: we were performing our otherness for them.
The following day, I attended UK Black Pride, which was an entirely different experience altogether. I was free from the white gaze! I saw so many beautiful queer people of colour around me smiling, celebrating, dancing and relaxing. They felt so free to be themselves! I was so overwhelmed, yet I felt so at home. “This is what pride means,” I thought to myself.
In early 2017, I created Gaysians.org as a space for queer South Asians in the UK to find a home. Somewhere we can be ourselves, without judgement and free from the white gaze. Gaysians is an alliance of South Asian LGBTQ charities, support groups and events that recognise that we can do our best work when we work together. Organisations within Gaysians don’t often have the budget to promote themselves, nor do they receive much funding, so it makes it very hard for us to find the support we need. That’s why it takes our community building spaces for ourselves, and that’s why the Gaysians alliance has become so important for so many of us.
If you’re a Sikh gay man in Leicester that wants to meet like-minded people who share your faith, then you can find events and meetups with Sarbat Sikhs. The Naz and Matt Foundation helps parents and their children to better understand one another, especially where religion may challenge their relationship and divide them. If you’re a muslim girl that wants to maintain her commitment to her faith while understanding her sexuality, then Hidayah can help. If you are looking for a cultural event or a night out, you can find details of events up and down the country, including the now-legendary Club Kali. If you’re in need of a confidential conversation and support, we have partnered with Karma Nirvana so that their helpline number is available to us, too. In just over a year, we’ve built a coalition of over 20 partners nationwide and are growing our network in India, Canada and the US.
Lady Phyll, the inspiring and formidable co-founder of UK Black Pride, invited me to join the team to help let South Asians know that the festival is for us, too. UK Black Pride is our place to feel proud. I believe that if we can work together as Gaysians of all faiths, sexualities and gender identities, then we can do this across all of the ‘Shades of the Diaspora’.
This year’s UK Black Pride festival is held on Sunday 8 July in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and is a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ of all shades, from all diasporas. It is Europe’s largest celebration for African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean-heritage LGBTQ people and we can’t wait to celebrate with you.