T he UK Black Pride (UKBP) festival takes place on 8 July in London’s Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, between 12 noon and 8pm. Led by the unwavering Phyll Opoku-Gyimah (otherwise known as Lady Phyll), the team behind this wonderful celebration has swelled to match the diverse intersectional challenges faced by many in the wider community. Fyne Times caught up with Phyll and three of UKBP’s exceptional volunteers to learn more about the history, aims and future of the movement.

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Co-Founder and Executive Director

© Ajamu Fine Art Photography

© Ajamu Fine Art Photography

UKBP is 14 this year. What started off as a small group of queer black women uniting under the banner of Black Lesbians UK, has now turned into Europe’s largest annual celebration for black LGBT+ people. That feels momentous. It also feels surreal. When I have a moment to sit down and think about what we’ve managed to accomplish so far, I get emotional. I keep picturing throngs of black people dancing, smiling, hugging, kissing and celebrating together. There is something so pure about the emotions we share on this journey as a community. I want for people to feel loved, valued and welcome. I want them to feel protected and fought for. I want them to feel like they belong.

The UK Black Pride team is such an essential and positive force for change, and so I’m really thrilled that so many people have stood up to be counted. We have new people across every team, we’ve added some much-needed structure and some new eyes and experiences. When the new team first gathered at a meeting room in Stonewall and everyone went around the table to introduce themselves, I was watching everyone’s awe-inspired reactions: the experience the team has is remarkable, and they’re all giving their time for free. Late nights, early mornings, weekends — I want our community to understand that there are almost 30 people at UKBP who want you to feel loved and seen. We are working on pulling together our best event yet and I’d love for you all to come and celebrate with us.

Pav Akhtar, Deputy Executive Director and Director of Strategy

What necessitates UK Black Pride alongside other similar movements with similar objectives?

pav (3)For some black LGBT+ people, living in a relatively liberal society like Britain presents the chance to be open about our identities and live happy lives. For others, it allows us to be open within the confines of safe spaces, like UKBP events. For others still, it is impossible to acknowledge or identify our sexuality in any sphere.

Paradoxically, at the same time as embracing one’s LGBT+ identity, black people can face pressure from family and friends – as one might in parts of the world from which the black diaspora originates – to conform to heteronormative behaviours. It can therefore be harder for black people to exercise the same rights, to the same degree, as others within the LGBT+ community, because it poses heightened risk of the door to one’s ethno-cultural community being shut, or worse, when you don’t want it to be.

This situation has parallels to the experience of other groups in the LGBT+ community in Britain, and that’s the reason there are a plurality of Pride events in towns and cities, in urban and rural settings, focussing on the needs and experiences of LBT women, young LGBT+ people, and others. Each has a place that must be assured.

Moud Goba – Head of Community Engagement

How has your background in activism led you to work so closely with UKBP?

Moud (3)I arrived in the UK as a lesbian refugee from Zimbabwe. I was isolated, economically disempowered and living in poverty with no support system, trying to find my place in the LGBT+ community. Aware of my own experiences I realised the importance of supporting other LGBT+ asylum seekers and refugees who were fleeing and seeking safety because of their sexual and gender identity. I started to link peer support within the LGBT+ migrant community. Through this work I met a group of grassroots activists who started out as Black Lesbians UK before founding UKBP. I was going through the tough and gruelling asylum system at the time so I took a step back. I later reconnected to work with UKBP in community engagement. My activism in my community made me realise the importance of UKBP. I was passionate in supporting their work, especially in tackling the intersectional challenges that BAME LGBT+ people still experience in accessing space within the wider LGBT+ community. Having worked with marginalised communities, I believe in the crucial work UKBP are doing at the moment to ensure that no one in the community is left behind.

Anick Soni – Communications Assistant

How does it feel to be part of such an enlarged and strong team?

Anick2UKBP has become a platform for those who have historically been left out of the conversation or misunderstood. Our team continues to grow and become more inclusive with each event. It is a true demonstration of the belief that everybody deserves to celebrate who they are and where they come from. As an intersex person from a BAME background, I never expected to find such a strong community as I have done with our team. It is wonderful to be actively involved in the planning of an event which encourages acceptance and champions community values. By volunteering alongside an incredible group of individuals, I have learned so much from their combined experiences and knowledge.

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