Meet the woman who is changing the lives of LGBT people of colour
In 2005, Attitude Pride Award winner Lady Phyll (aka Phyll Opoku-Gyimah) took the experience she’d garnered in the civil service and combined it with her passion for black and LGBT+ rights, to co-found UK Black Pride. Back then, a few buses took people to the event. These days, the UK’s only event dedicated to celebrating LGBT+ people of colour attracts crowds in the thousands and organises networking and social events through the year.
After coming out, she found solidarity in an organisation called Black Lesbians in the UK, but the group existed almost entirely online and Phyll wanted to get them together in the real world.
They organised a trip to Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, and it proved a pivotal moment in helping her realise how much a Black Pride event was needed in the UK. “It was so empowering because some of these women had never been anywhere else. Some were asylum seekers who had come straight from the airport into sheltered housing.”
Phyll also cites the lack of visibility of people of colour in the LGBT+ media and at the forefront of Pride events as further reasons to organise a Pride where queer BAME people could feel connected as a community and shine just as brightly as their white brothers and sisters.
“What do you do when you don’t see yourself somewhere? You create your own version,” she says.
When people ask her why there even needs to be a separate Pride, she answers: “In an ideal world we wouldn’t need one. We didn’t have people campaign for equal marriage for the hell of it. We campaign for rights because we want to be treated equally and ethically.” And that’s something that Lady Phyll believes BAME people in the UK are far from achieving, especially those in the LGBT+ community.
That racism is still rampant in the queer community is particularly dispiriting. Having endured so much persecution over the years, you would hope racism would be the last thing on the mind of your average LGBT+ person. And while Phyll is quick to point out that the struggle of queer black people versus white people shouldn’t turn into an “oppression Olympics,” there’s no denying that a hierarchy of equality is alive and well.
“It’s obvious that you and I will have a very different privilege,” she points out. “You [a white male] will be able to navigate your way through certain situations a lot more easily than I would.
“You may face homophobia but you won’t have to deal with racism.” By ensuring that UK Black Pride goes from strength-to-strength and by remaining constantly vocal on issues of race, gender and sexuality, Lady Phyll has proven herself to be a formidable voice in the fight for equality for fightinqueer people of colour.
“I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea,” she smiles, “because I will unpick things and I will never stop talking about colonialism and the racism that’s right in front of our faces.”
Read the rest of Lady Phyll's story in the August issue of Attitude, out on July 20.