Fight Against Racism in Spotlight at UK Black Pride

Participants in the Pride London march in celebration of the LGBTQ community in Trafalgar Square on June 25, 2016. Vianney Le Caer

Fighting racism within and outside the LGBTQ community was in the spotlight over the weekend, as the 11th annual UK Black Pride took place in London. Integral to the city’s yearly Pride celebration and its 43rd annual Pride parade, UK Black Pride provides a prejudice-free platform to celebrate those who identify with African, Arab, Asian and Caribbean heritage.

Vinegar Strokes, a drag queen performing with a seven-piece acapella drag choir, was at both events.

“Being black myself, I think it’s still important to acknowledge that there are minorities within minorities,” she told NBC OUT. “When you are a part of an ethnic minority, there are lots of things that pull you back. Events like these show young people that it’s okay to be black, Asian or whatever, and still be gay.”

Participants in the Pride London march in celebration of the LGBTQ community in Trafalgar Square on June 25, 2016. Vianney Le Caer

Cultural traditions surrounding ethnicity or religion can cause a double minority and therefore difficulties in embracing a preferred sexual orientation, potentially affecting the over 400,000 black and minority LGBTQ persons currently living in the UK, according to 2012 research completed by LGBTQ rights charity group Stonewall.

Stonewall Programmes Officer Vishal Gaikwad recognizes the cultural stigma present within his own Indian upbringing. “In my cultural background, being LGBT is very much tabooed,” he said. “It’s like a white thing and not something that’s in our culture. I think that’s very similar in other ethnic communities.”

Established in 2005, UK Black Pride has grown from a small paid private function to a free public gathering, now included as part of London’s main Pride activities. Eleven years ago, however, the inaugural event was deemed racist, UK Black Pride co-founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah told NBC OUT.

Participants in the Pride London march in celebration of the LGBTQ community in Trafalgar Square on June 25, 2016. Vianney Le Caer

“UK Black Pride was born out of a frustration that people of color were not reflected and represented in the wider mainstream LGBT activities,” said Opoku-Gyimah. “There are different intersections to who we are and Pride is about bringing your true authentic self to the table. But when you look at the platform that we have around, you’ll notice that it’s small in comparison to other Prides, which may be predominately white and even middle class.”

While the UK’s 2010 Equality Act legislates fair treatment to all sexual orientations throughout public services, Stonewall research has shown discriminatory practice toward LGBTQ black and ethnic minorities within healthcare, where assumptions of heterosexuality deter many from seeking out the appropriate services.

Funding cuts under the current Tory government have also resulted in the closure of LGBTQ support services like PACE and Broken Rainbow, but other inclusive groups such as The House of Rainbow – an LGBTQ Christian organization with beginnings in Nigeria - remain.

“We realized that there was a need in the UK to reach out to people of African and Caribbean descent who are also sexual minorities,” said House of Rainbow Reverend Jide Macaulay. “For me, Pride in London is not just Pride in London. We march for inclusion and justice and for people in hostile countries like Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, who cannot march. We march for them.”

A one-minute silence paying tribute to the 49 people killed in the June 12 Orlando nightclub massacre took place on Saturday in London’s Trafalgar Square amid heightened security.

“It was an incident that was very sad for us,” said Macaulay, referring to the attack on the LGBTQ venue Pulse. “I think it had a backlash. We were inundated with phone calls and messages from people in Nigeria, Uganda and Malawi who were saying that there were threats against them in their countries because of this. They are scared.”

Nigeria is just one of the 70 plus countries where homosexuality is illegal, causing many to move abroad for a life where they can safely be themselves.

But an increase in hate crime and racially targeted incidents in the UK following the British referendum and the nation’s decision to leave the European Union have many concerned. Heightened tensions between the two camps post-vote have amplified divided views on immigration policies, causing both EU citizens and non-white Britons to be victims of racism.

“The UK is an amazing place,” said Macaulay, who has lived on British shores for most of his life. “I was quite shocked about the referendum, but at the same time, this is the result, and we just need to take stock and think about what we can do to make leaving the EU better for everyone, including those who voted to Remain.”

On June 23, 52 percent of Britain voted to leave the European Union in the referendum that saw more than 30 million people cast a ballot. The Vote Leave campaign has been criticized for dividing communities through a racially infused rhetoric.

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