Why are Black voices drowned out within the LGBT community?

By Kevin Maxwell

Like most people, I felt genuinely sick when I heard about the mass shooting at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Not long after the news was played out on the television I telephoned a gay white friend and told him how it was mostly LGBT people of colour and allies that were killed and injured.

I knew that Black and Latinx LGBT people frequented the club because Pulse and I follow each other on the social media platform of Twitter. Despite this, my friend was very quick to dismiss what I had said, suggesting instead that it was (just) a “Latin-themed” night. In my mind this subtle gesture, made without malice, underplayed the significance of the colour of the people affected.

This got me thinking about the wider issue of race within the LGBT community. I know it is something that I have written about a lot over the years. Often I pose the same question: why are the white majority of LGBT people so quick to drown out the voices of those who are African, Arab, Asian or Caribbean, and just as importantly, why do we, as LGBT people of colour, allow our voices to be racially erased?

The fact is that 90 per cent of the 49 people who were killed in Orlando were non-white. I emphasise this point, not to diminish the value of the 10 per cent of victims who were white, but to make clear that this was not just an attack on the LGBT community, but on a particular part of it too.

The question needs to be asked: why did the killer choose a club frequented by so many LGBT people of colour? Was there a racial motivation in his act of barbarity?

On Monday, vigils took place across the UK to remember those lost. In Manchester, London, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow, Cardiff, Birmingham and Brighton. All were well attended and I, too, was in solidarity with them. On Tuesday, however, I learned that in Vauxhall, South London, the Latino community held their own vigil organised by local Latinx groups. This provoked some further questioning from me: did the Latinx community really feel excluded from the predominantly white vigils that had taken place a day earlier in most major cities? Yes, was the answer that I was later given, some felt that London’s Soho vigil and others were part of a whitewashing experience, just as some have called out the hetero-dominated ‘straightsplaining’ that followed in the days after the Orlando massacre.

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I want to be clear that, in my view, the threat which LGBT people face from homophobes and fascists shows no sign of abating. On the contrary, I see a troubling spike in LGBT hate crime across communities. Therefore, there is no room for any advocates who defend LGBT rights to fall out with one another within the LGBT community, or among our allies. We must move forward in a common endeavour to eviscerate the scourge of homophobia in all walks of life. However, I believe that we do have a responsibility to speak up when things are going wrong and inclusivity becomes an increasingly important issue.

Following the Orlando atrocity, there was a much talked about on-screen spat between The Guardian columnist, Owen Jones, and the Talk Radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer. During a Sky News newspaper review, Jones alleged that Hartley-Brewer and the Sky News presenter, Mark Longhurst, weren’t acknowledging that what took place in Florida was a hate crime against LGBT people, as well as an act of terror. Jones may have been right to walk off the set in protest, but my question remains: where was the recognition that this was also an attack against a predominantly Black section of the LGBT community? And who was speaking out on their behalf?

I have been struck by the fact that I have not heard any Black voices being given the opportunity to speak out post the Orlando attack. What also surprises me about this problem, which has existed for quite some time, is that we have a rich panoply of Black LGBT voices across organisations, public institutions, the arts and media. So why weren’t any of these Black LGBT voices called forward to speak?

For as long as I have been open about being a mixed-race gay man who is Black, I have also known other people of colour to struggle, within the LGBT community and Black community, for their voice to be heard.

Over many years I have written extensively about the racism that exists within LGBT social circles, from dating apps, pride events and clubs, etc. There remains a profound concern that things still aren’t any better. And when the majority white LGBT community say that things are ‘okay’, it is an indication of this.

On Tuesday, I asked Black friends and acquaintances why they thought that their voices were not being heard, and the answer was overwhelmingly clear. Most felt excluded because their voice was not deemed worthy enough or equal as white voices – the embodiment of a problem of racial bias.

As I have advocated for the past six years, there is a clear and necessary reason for UK Black Pride to exist. It remains as important as ever that Black LGBT demand that our voices are heard, uncompromisingly and unequivocally, without fear or favour, so that others can truly understand the intersectionality of our experiences.

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.

Kevin Maxwell is a writer, advocate and former detective of both the Greater Manchester Police and London’s Metropolitan Police. He was born in Liverpool, spent a decade in Manchester, and now lives in London. His debut memoir, Blue, about discrimination and depression in the police force is out soon. He tweets @kevin_maxwell


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