Happy birthday, Stonewall! Lady Phyll's Stonewall Gala speech on pride, progress and people

In March 2019, Lady Phyll, UK Black Pride’s co-founder and executive director, gave a speech at the Stonewall Gala to celebrate the progress we’ve made as a community, highlight Stonewall’s on-going work and to remind us that the focus of our movement has always been and will always be people.

Angela Davis says, “radical simply means ‘grasping at the root’”. I think this definition of radical is helpful on an evening when we’re reflecting on the roots of the modern LGBTQ movement. As many people have reminded us tonight, we have come a very long way since that first brick was thrown. We have progressed in leaps and bounds thanks to many of the people assembled in this room. So many in our community have been brought forward, have had their lives improved because of this movement. And yet many more are still being left behind, excluded, forgotten.

It would be very easy for us to just pat ourselves on the back tonight, but as a Black, African, lesbian, mother, warrior woman, I’m not here taking up space to say ‘thank you’ because there are too many in our community who don’t, and haven’t, felt the love. Tonight, as we reflect upon our roots and our progress, let’s also remember what we’re not doing well. We grow from our failures, as well as our successes. We grow when we can look at ourselves as a community honestly and make a commitment to change.

Amber Hikes is here tonight. In 2017, she took a bold step by having black and brown stripes added to the rainbow flag. You may applaud and you may cheer, but we still hear a lot of protest. So many people are up in arms that we, the queer people of colour who have for so long felt so excluded and forgotten, might dirty or sully a universal symbol of LGBTQ pride.

But remember this: The rainbow flag, much like the acronym LGBTQ, is not a replacement for meaningful inclusion. The rainbow flag, much like LGBTQ, doesn’t mean anything unless we remember the people it’s supposed to represent. A symbol is just a symbol unless we give that symbol meaning. For so many of us, this symbol lost its meaning a long time ago, when nightclubs and bars bearing the flag excluded us; when brands who put the flag all over their logo during pride month failed to do any meaningful work in the communities we come from; when the people who wore this flag on t-shirts and bracelets and hats looked at us and treated us like we didn’t belong.

The flag is decorative unless it is underpinned by real, palpable inclusion. Many of you may decide to adopt the new flag in a show of solidarity with queer people of colour and you’re encouraged to, but what matters more is that you do the work to understand why this moment is important for us as queer people of colour and us as a community. In recognising why this flag is so important, we see where the work needs to continue in earnest, where we have let people down as a community.

Since the beginning of the modern LGBTQ liberation movement, queer people of colour have been fighting, and in many cases dying, for the right to be free. Free from racism, misogynoir, transphobia. Free from harassment in the streets for not conforming to the gender binary. Death for daring to live as the person they were born to be, for choosing to live loudly and proudly and without apology. And even in spaces they say are designed for us, we’ve been told to get lost, that we don’t need a Black Pride, that our voices don’t matter.

The negative noise around the addition of the black and brown stripes is an indictment on our community, but it also testament to the determination of queer people of colour who will not give up the fight to be included in this movement. You see, what people seem to forget is that we want to fight alongside you. We want to celebrate with you. We want to embrace you at pride celebrations and dance alongside you in nightclubs. We also want to know that when it comes down to it, when decisions are being made, that we are remembered, that we are brought to the table and that our lives are valued as much as anybody else’s.

What Stonewall have continued to do is demonstrate that we -- the marginalised, the ostracised, the vilified, the bullied and the Other -- can depend on them. That when it really matters, when lives are on the line, they will step into the fight. Importantly, what Stonewall do is work hard for a better future even when no one is looking. And this is why we’ve entered into partnership with Stonewall: because we know that Stonewall is made up of passionate and driven people who are absolutely determined to ensure that we are all accounted for in this community, this movement and this moment.

Tonight, we will raise money. We will make some really great promises and say some really great words. We will acknowledge the great work of Stonewall and the people who make Stonewall what it is.

But let’s also remember the people we lost. Let’s remember those for whom change didn’t come quickly enough. Let’s remember those who have to raise money for Ubers and taxis. Let’s remember those who have to take a deep breath before they leave the house, who have to steel themselves for abuse. Let’s remember those who live their lives in towns and cities around the world where they are not safe, where they are not wanted or loved. Let’s remember that here in the room is assembled some of the most influential and powerful LGBTQ people in the UK and that none of us got here alone.

This movement isn’t about flags and diversity and inclusion initiatives. It isn’t about partnerships. It isn’t about magazine covers and pride marches.

It is about people.

People with hopes and dreams and ambitions far greater than they’ve ever really been allowed to express. People who, with nowhere else to go, turn to this community to find their tribe. People who want nothing more than to love and be loved. People who deserve everything they’ve ever wanted, to be accepted without exception.

Remember them. Fight for them. And fight for all of us, not just those of us you identify with. Not just the ones you “get”.

There is a new generation of LGBTQ people looking at us, depending on us. We had better not let them down.

Josh Rivers