Voices from Within – Black LGBT community self identity and esteem

I attended my first Pride in London in the year 2007. My fresh-faced 18-year-old self was trying desperately to find a version of myself amongst the crowds.

This was at a time that was just before I went to university. Just before I properly came out to myself and, soon after, to the wider world.

I remember the feeling of sheer relief when I saw the marching parade of LGBT people and the block for the teachers’ trade unions. Until then, I was unsure whether I would be ripped to shreds for wanting to go into the teaching profession as a lesbian person.

I had experienced similar reservations when I attended my first NUS Black Students’ Conference whilst at university. There too, I found some relief in seeing other out and proud Black LGBTI students. Doing their thing, debating policies and sharing good practices, to promote a more inclusive education system and society.

Despite this, there were so many times that I felt a strong sense of conflicted identity, an irrepressible idea that being Black and lesbian just wasn’t a compatible ‘thing’.

What I knew was that I did not want to have to choose a side every time I walked into the LGBTQI community, or into the Black community. It was a heart-breaking set of circumstances to feel that I should have to do this on a regular basis. In the long run it was also emotionally and physically draining.

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It was only in 2011, when I attended my first UK Black Pride event, that things started to change for the better.

When you’ve been used to getting by in a world whose cultural contours and melanin content is a far cry from your own, there’s something very powerful about being able to look around you and see people who proudly reflect a little bit of yourself within them. For me, it was an overwhelmingly emotion experience. Suddenly I felt like I was in a little bubble of beautiful individuals from every walk of life who were united by similar ideals, shared experiences and a steely determination to be accepted for who they were.

UK Black Pride is the only Pride event that I have been to in Britain that strongly retains the politics of Pride throughout – from the themes it picks to the artists it brings to the stage; from the PR work it does around the event about the needs and aspirations of Black LGBT people, to the principled policy work it engages in behind the scenes when meeting decision-makers. UK Black Pride understands the fact that being Black and being LGBT is political because the act of securing justice and equality requires great strides regulatory efforts and social transformations. Those things go hand in hand.

Being able to attend Pride, let alone a Black Pride, is a huge privilege that many people around the globe face discrimination for. The idea that I might never be able to experience the opportunity to live a life with my (future) wife and children in my home country of Rwanda is one that fills me much sadness.

Authenticity is a word that has been used endlessly when talking about equality, but I know from lived experience that this is precisely what UK Black Pride has allowed me to be. My authentic self. A Black lesbian woman is something to be proud of.

Ultimately, for me, UK Black Pride is about celebrating the richness of the black LGBTQI community. It gives a voice and hope to many and, most importantly, it allows us to state loudly, proudly and with one voice that: “we are here!”

With less than two weeks to go until the 2016 event, I hope you’ll join me in being your proud, beautiful, authentic self at this year’s UK Black Pride.

UK Black Pride takes place on Sunday 26 June at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, London. To attend this free festival of music and art, just come along between 12noon – 9pm.

Louise Goux-Wirth came to Britain from Rwanda. She is the Equality and Diversity Officer at the University of Southampton. She tweets @louise_gw

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