From an early age I knew there were other gay men. However I felt I was the only Black gay man in the world. I also remember how this made me feel lonely and isolated. When I come out I found some sense of identity in the gay community.Yet still I felt and was made to feel aware of my race when I was in white gay spaces. It wasn’t until I connected with Black gay men that I really found a true home and spaces where I felt safe and welcome.
I grew up with a sense of social justice and fearlessness very much inspired by my family’s experiences of migration to the UK from the Caribbean. Like so many others, my parents faced racism and when I went into white gay spaces I realised it was the same; though more subtle. When going to clubs in the late 80s and into the 90s there was an acute feeling of being unwelcome and although never said there appeared to be a Black quota in these spaces.
I frequently experienced suspicion by those at the door and the need to prove my gayness with questions like ‘you know this is a gay club?’ So the feeling that I was being excluded by this community was a real blow. I came out at 16; I was diagnosed with HIV at 17. The same stigma and the same issues that my parents faced; that I faced as a Black gay man in white gay spaces; and the way I felt treated and perceived as someone who was positive; were not all that different. The intersection of all these identities really opened my eyes. There was very little for me as a young Black gay man socially and even less by way of specific support for my needs as a Black gay man living with HIV. When I looked out into world there was nothing by way of targeted HIV prevention for Black gay men.
I was inspired by other Black gay men who were my mentors. I was inspired by the reality that Black people have always created what was needed to meet our aspirations and needs. We had to do everything for ourselves; create our own social spaces; and take care of our own physical and emotional needs. I am of the mind-set that if you build it, they will come. So when I think about why BlackoutUK is important for me I recognise that for as long as there have been Black gay men, our stories have needed to be told and heard; and for just as long they have been ignored. We want our existence noticed and our contribution to this human experience recognised and validated. Across music, art, politics, literature, civil rights, dance, pop culture; the contribution of Black gay men cannot be denied although often underestimated.
This is not just about our history; our contemporary narratives and stories are just as important. The general narrative that tells the world about being gay is that of the happy, healthy, white middle class man. We are absent from the gay and Black media unless; we are victims or we are out football players. We are people to be prayed for and ‘delivered from our sin’. The communities from which we originate are always presented as homophobic or overly fundamentally religious. Therefore we are sufferers and damaged. BlackoutUK is important because it gives us a platform to tell our stories and to tell different stories in our own voices.
Our visibility counts. We work, we study, we pay our bills, we party, we play, live and love; indeed we are part of the fabric of many communities. We want to have this conversation; to provide the evidence of our existence; so Black gay people can see themselves reflected honestly and authentically; and so Black gay men can celebrate our past, present and futures. We also want and indeed need to create an intergenerational dialogue so that the baton of activism can be passed to a new generation, so we create a community that is united in all its diversity. We want to create a dialogue between our various tribes – the daddies and the twinks, the homothug and blerd, the conscious brother and the club kid; for we are all of them.