Rhammel O’Dwyer-Afflick, Deputy Director of Communications for Pride in London writes on intersectionality and racism within the LGBT+ community.
Throughout Black History Month month I’ve tossed between feeling lots of anger and feeling so proud of the black LGBT+ people who are finally getting recognition. It would be nice if during Black History Month black people in the UK could catch a break. Instead, we’re reminded of the structures in place to demoralise, demonise and alienate us systematically. It seems ironic that I glanced at Grindr whilst writing this only to see a non-black person of colour with the bio ‘whites to the front’ quoted in his bio. It’s just preference, some people would profess.
It can be disheartening talking about the same issues repeatedly. Particularly when black LGBT+ people have been vocal about the solutions for so long. I’ve been openly bisexual and present in LGBT+ spaces for a long time and yet we still face the same problems. It’s one of the main reasons I’m not always convinced by #BlackLivesMatter being present in a Twitter bio, or organisations which are overwhelming white-led making an effort for Black History Month. It’s great to see some increased visibility but allyship should be consistent and uncompromising.
Being an ally requires deep self-reflection. Many people are mistaken for thinking about this last, but you can be willing to call out someone else’s problematic behaviour and still be oblivious to your own behaviour. This becomes particularly frustrating when even the most progressive LGBT+ organisations or seemingly anti-racist individuals speak out on behalf of black LGBT+ people when it’s convenient to them not realising they’re erasing legitimate black LGBT voices in the process. Just because you have the opportunity to voice your concerns on something it doesn’t mean you’re best placed to comment. It’s increasingly sad that people will weaponise racism within the LGBT community when it’s convenient and yet when it matters the silence is deafening.
More recently we’ve also seen prominent LGBT voices downplaying racism. The funniest part is, these people would never admit to being racist and yet their actions suggest deep-rooted denial about the true state of racism in the UK. If you’ve ever found yourself suggesting ‘racism isn’t that bad in the UK’ as a response to people vocalising the racism they’ve experienced, just know now that your behaviour is far from allyship. We can’t afford to downplay an issue with such awful ramifications.
No one can never kid ourselves into pretending the conversation about racism is easy, but why should it be? There appears to be a misguided suggestion that black people should be grateful for the spaces they’re afforded and therefore they should do their best to make the conversation palatable. This kind of mindset reinforces the notion that black LGBT+ voices are less legitimate despite the fact they’re deserving of equal air-time or on some occasions more air-time throughout the year and not just during Black History Month.
It seems important to point out that all of this has a huge effect on black people’s mental health and well-being. There are plenty of people out there, some of them prominent and others just minding their own business, who put on a brave face in response to repeated microaggressions and the more overt abuse which sends you into disarray. We know that mental health can be notably bad among those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/ or transgender so imagine how it feels to be ostracised in a community that should understand your position.
Intersectionality is a word people through around whiningly but more often than not it is at the fringes of our community that we find the most vulnerable people and in order to empower everyone the LGBT community must recognise the importance of repeatedly striving to include those people — promoting not just their visibility but their voices too.