Saturday 18 August is a significant day for two reasons – not only is it my birthday, but far more importantly, it is UK Black Pride; a day to celebrate the African, Asian, Caribbean and Latin American strands of the LGBT community.
This year’s festival is taking place at London’s Ministry of Sound venue on Gaunt Street in Elephant and Castle. Despite, supposedly, being an active participant in reporting the cultural life of the capital’s gay scene, I only got round to attending Black Pride for the first time last year. I found the experience liberating because it told me a few things about myself; namely that so far I have had a rather sheltered life.
Black Pride was a moment of discovery. It was the first time that I had seen so many non-white LGBT faces in one setting. When you say that sentence out loud, it sounds like an embarrassing social gaff, then again, I soon learnt that I was not alone; the same thought crosses the minds of multiple other people (black and white, gay or straight) who are attending the event for the first time too.
There was a time before I was ‘aware’ of my sexuality, when my ethnicity would have been my main internal barometer to occasionally tell me (through the obvious prism of racism) that I was a bit different to the vast majority of other students at infant, primary and secondary school and through to both periods of university. My mum is from Barbados and my dad is from Glasgow (hence having a Scottish first and surname). I was born, raised (and still actually live) in Brighton. True to its cliché, Brighton is a ‘diverse’ city, but its racial demographics are not comparable to anything like the ratios in some of our northern cities and of course in London. UK Black Pride was a breath of fresh air because it reminded me that LGBT culture does not just stop after the US and Europe.
For a while now, I have noticed a significant number of Pinknews.co.uk readers lament on how much of what we see in our gay magazines, websites and in our bars and clubs all seems to be focusing on a very similar type of customer. I do not want to resemble part of BBC management and treat LGBT reporting like a box-ticking exercise ‘Ok, we have done an LGBT story involving Africa today, can we fix something up for gay Eastern Europeans for tomorrow?’ – but the sad truth is, I along with other parts of the gay media have not always strived to go beyond the rather narrow definition of what is deemed to be of ‘interest’ to the audience.
In journalism, you can often increase your knowledge and understanding of an issue with some memorable encounters. Several of the attendees that I spoke to at UK Black Pride 2011 were LGBT Africans in their twenties and had come to London in the past few years. Most were from countries such as Uganda and Cameroon and it turned out that I already knew some of them from a previous set of interviews.
I shall never forget last summer, when I walked out of Brixton Underground Station and I came across three relatively young women from Uganda. They were standing alongside two other women, who were both holding placards calling for gay asylum seekers to be given legal protection. This was the first time that I had come across the campaign group Movement for Justice.
You can find various alternative anti-establishment protest outfits in action these days, but unlike MFJ, very few go beyond the megaphone and actually make a quantifiable difference to people’s lives. MFJ have played an enormous role in supporting gay asylum seekers and getting the blinked UK Border Agency to see sense on several occasions.
Back to Brixton. Having stuck up a conversation, I decided to do an interview with the Ugandan women about their experiences of coming to London. During 15 minutes spent sitting on a kitchen floor in Camberwell they each told me how they had fled Uganda. All had been physically attacked several times and two had been sexually abused. None of them had escaped the country without being ostracised as soon as their sexuality became known to their local communities. They were all battling to stay in the UK on the grounds that returning to Uganda meant living in fear with the strong possibility of getting seriously injured, or worse, killed.
The rather parochial debate on whether London could do without pride celebrations tends to fall by the wayside at UK Black Pride. For many, it’s a day to try and push away harrowing uncertainties and the sheer belligerence of the UK Border Agency and instead to bond with their fellow peers; enjoying the moment with the hope it can lead to a better future.