Growing up, I never knew that Black people could be queer. I didn’t have any Black queer friends, let alone know anything about the community. So when I began to question my own sexuality a few years ago, I felt alone. I was unsure of how to find a community and whether I would ever be able to make friends. Fast forward to 2018 and I’m a queer-and-proud mixed-raced woman – and spaces for LGBTQ+ Black Londoners have become home to me. Through them I have found romantic love, I have found support, I have found family and, most importantly, I have found myself. While amazing Black queer events have run in the city for years, recently they have been thriving. They range from alcohol-free meet-ups to cabaret nights for people of colour to the UK Black Pride festival. I always think: If I had known these spaces – and the communities built around them – existed when I was growing up, it might not have taken me 24 years to understand my sexuality and to find home. They are too fabulous to ignore.
Tanya Compas is head of youth engagement at UK Black Pride
AZ Mag is an online magazine for LGBTQ+ people of colour. Its team has become an integral part of my community. Whereas many LGBTQ+ events are centred on drinking or clubbing, the magazine runs AZ Hub, a monthly alcohol-free social space held at The Albany in Deptford. AZ Mag’s online presence is impactful too. Co-founder Akeilah Bennett says that it was important for her to create an online space that people could access daily even if they were unable to physically get to spaces for queer Black Londoners or people of colour. ‘So often POC faces become invisible within the LGBTQ+ movement,’ she says. ‘This is our way of showcasing our stories. We want AZ to feel like home, both online and offline.’
I was introduced to The Cocoa Butter Club after being mesmerised by burlesque performer Demi Noire on the UK Black Pride stage. It’s a space where artists can reclaim and explore their narrative and celebrate what bodies of colour can do. Founded by performer Sadie Sinner, the cabaret night was born out of a frustration at the lack of representation of performers of colour within the scene. ‘It’s important to create spaces in which bodies on the spectrum of not-white and not-straight have their needs not only met but prioritised,’ Sadie says. ‘This notion irks some, but that is because people fail to notice who the world was built by and for.’ I have never seen the bodies of people of colour celebrated in the same way as I have seen at The Cocoa Butter Club.
BBZ was the first queer event I ever went to. I still wasn’t ‘out’ to my family and didn’t have any Black queer friends, so when my friend found a BBZ event on Facebook advertised as a ‘tun up prioritising the experiences of queer women, trans and non-binary people of colour’, I thought: Wow, I need to be there. I was so nervous before going inside, worried about people judging me and whether I would make friends. Little did I know that the moment I stepped inside BBZ, I would immediately feel like I belonged – finally. I was surrounded by Black queer people, skanking to grime and funky house, whining up my waistline to bashment. BBZ has set the standard for what LGBTQ+ spaces should be.
It was at UK Black Pride that I saw representation of the Black LGBTQ+ community en masse – from music to food to performers. It was founded by Phyll Opoku-Gyimah (warmly known as Lady Phyll) and was born in 2005 when she went on a weekend break in Southend with a busload of queer Black women to escape the daily micro-aggressions faced living in London. ‘I was sitting on the beach among other queer Black women, soaking up the energy, the hugs, the laughs, the kissing, the connection,’ Phyll says. ‘I realised that we could do this on a larger scale.’ UK Black Pride has grown into Europe’s biggest celebration for African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean-heritage LGBTQ+ people. As Phyll puts it, it’s ‘a space for us to laugh, cry, twerk and bask in our Blackness.’
Founded by Jocelyn Yeboah-Newton, Our Naked Truths is a series that celebrates the true beauty of women and non-binary people through life-drawing classes and open conversation. ‘Sharing our experiences is impactful and a part of the healing process,’ says Jocelyn. ‘And also an act of resistance in this patriarchal world.’ Jocelyn says that she wants Our Naked Truths to be a space where people feel empowered to share their stories openly. Through the events, I’ve been able to hear from queer Black women and non-binary people. Their stories have validated my identity and have been important for my understanding of myself. This year I even life-modelled for a session and shared my own story. Our Naked Truths has helped me to accept myself in my entirety and for that I am for ever grateful.
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