Co-founder & Executive Director of UK Black Pride
Lady Phyll, the co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride, on the whitewashing of LGBTQ history, the danger of the ubiquitous call to ‘be yourself’ for QTIPOC and the need for more substantive allyship from within the LGBTQ community.
The modern LGBTQ liberation movement is littered with glittering stories of triumphant white people marching down the corridors of power towards wins in marriage and adoption, but what of those of us for whom marriage was never the goal, for whom access to jobs, housing and the right to live violence-free lives were the priority?
As we continue in what feels like a never-ending fight for our humanity, it feels more important than ever to dig into history to unearth our stories — stories that, while submerged and forgotten, have been fuelling the modern LGBTQ liberation movement.
Being told to ‘be yourself’ is too simplistic; we need more support
Part of unearthing our stories allows for the reshaping of dominant narratives, like the clarion call to come out and to ‘be authentic’. The very idea that ‘being ourselves’ can be a form of activism is steeped in privilege, indicative of life in a white and western world. For Black people and people of colour, particularly our transgender and nonbinary siblings, ‘being ourselves’ is to court violence. For many, ‘being ourselves’ is about daring to exist outside of other people’s ideas of us.
We’re not all fighting the same fight. Sure, we are part of a collective movement, but this movement long ago spouted tentacles and began to slide off in different, disparate and often conflicting directions. We need to keep figuring out how to be better allies to others in our community.
I think what we can learn from the uprising is everything we’ve learned after it: until the most marginalised among us are free, none of us are free.
Discrimination is worse for queer people who are Black or of colour
Marriage equality is good, but does not prevent our Black trans siblings from winding up dead in hotel rooms. Coming out in the workplace is good, if you can get a job in the first place. Being ourselves is daring and it is brave. It is certainly courageous. But when the businesses take down their pride flags after pride month and as people slot back into their quotidian routines, are we safe to be ourselves? Not often.
Angela Davis says: “The importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual, but as part of an ongoing historical movement.” When we speak of allyship, of asking those in positions different from ours to listen and to act accordingly, we can forget that allyship is needed within the community, too.
Prejudice can come from within LGBTQ communities
So much of the violence and discrimination we experience as queer Black people comes from other LGBTQ people. Many in the community applaud when Black people and people of colour are themselves, when that self aligns with who they think we should be, but don’t act in our interests when it really matters. What we see today, writ large, is a continued misreading of history and a narrow view of the present.
When others within our community – but outside our experience – ask us to reflect on 50 years since Stonewall, I see people on the outside looking in. I see the names of our fallen trans siblings and the 49 we lost at Pulse. I see the outrageous transphobia and harassment of people on the streets. I see the clear and present danger that’s always been here. I wonder how much of the insight we provide into what these 50 years have meant for queer people of colour really strikes at the heart.
Queer people of colour are underrepresented
There was so much that led to the Stonewall Uprising. What we’ve seen since then, as queer people of colour, is the erasure of our contributions, the minimising of our experiences and the silencing of our voices. We’ve seen the needs and desires of cis gay white men and women prioritised over all else and the continued violence visited upon the most vulnerable in our communities.
I think, in asking us to look back, we may be wondering where it went wrong — the point of divergence from what mattered for all of us to what was beneficial for a few. I think what we can learn from the uprising is everything we’ve learned after it: until the most marginalised among us are free, none of us are free.