June in London is a makeshift kaleidoscope. For the 30 days of Pride month, the capital blossoms into a giddy maze of rainbows, feathers, glitter and discarded G&T cans, quickly swept away on July 1 until the next year’s celebrations adorn the streets once more.
However for many in the UK’s LGBTQ community, June’s festivities are relatively inconsequential. For them, it is not until July, or this year, August, that their Pride begins. Born out of a day trip to Southend-on-Sea by members of the online social network Black Lesbians in the UK in 2005, UK Black Pride is now a staple event in the LGBTQ calendar, and Europe’s largest celebration for queer people of colour. A mixture of joyous revelling and pained protest, this year’s event in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on August 14 is set to be the biggest yet, having outgrown its previous Vauxhall Gardens home.
Despite its unquestionable status and popularity, however, there are some, within and outside of the LGBTQ community, who question its importance, and even claim its very existence is divisive. In its early days, co-founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, known to the community as Lady Phyll was even infamously told to “f**k off” and go to “normal pride” by a room full of white people.
While probably a passing outburst, this idea, whether consciously or subconsciously held, that June’s Pride celebrations are “normal” – the default – speaks to the heart of why Black Pride is so necessary. I adore Pride in London, but, for anyone who hasn’t attended, apologies for the spoiler: the event is very white. While it’s certainly improved in terms of diversity in recent years, for LGBTQ people of colour looking for a somewhere to feel completely at home in their identity, it’s often hard to feel that it’s another space where we feel excluded, just in a different way.
On top of this, London Pride has been subject to a slew of damaging allegations of racism over the last few years. In February 2021, the most senior black team member at Pride resigned over concerns about racism within the organisation. Rhammel Afflick quit as director of communications after seven years with the group, alleging that they had turned a blind eye to bigotry and black volunteers had been ostracised. The following month, the entire community advisory board of the organisation behind the event also resigned, citing “bullying, gaslighting and marginalisation” of volunteers – particularly those who were black or people of colour.
None of this was particularly new – older Black people had been speaking about racism within the LGBTQ community for years – but it confirmed at a systematic level what many within the community had experienced personally: that a marginalised group can still hold prejudices, and still, unfortunately, weaponise them to exclude others.
More than ever queer people of colour are heralding the importance of spaces which recognise the intersection between their ethnicity and their queer identity. For us, Black Pride is home – it is grounded in community, taking funding from corporations without bowing to them, while staying connected to the groups it represents.
Being a minority within a minority carries a certain extra burden, and preserving a space where that weight can be alleviated, even just for a day, is precious.
Top picks for Black Pride 2022
Dréya Mac headlining
You would need to have been living under several rocks piled on top of each other not to have heard Dréya Mac’s indelible lines “I ain’t never been with a baddie”. The verse and dance she came up with for her “Own Brand Freestyle” single took over TikTok, ultimately being used in almost eight million videos. And now UK Black Pride has announced that the 22-year-old West London rapper will headline this year’s event. The viral music star will bring plenty of fresh energy to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as she is expected to perform to a crowd of thousands for the special event.
International Beyoncé impersonator Aaron Carty is back with a vengeance. The ex-police officer turned drag queen has performed at countless Pride events in London and across the world, but this year is sure to be something special. After Beyoncé’s earth-shattering album release last month, Aaron’s performance on the main stage will certainly bring the house down.
After two years of virtual events, Black Pride had to make their physical return bigger and bolder than ever. This year, they are partnering with none other than the iconic Pxssy Palace and Nazar to present their very own Official Afterparty at the historic Fabric nightclub in East London.