Lady Phyll – Grasping at the root: the fight for Black queer equality

Lady Phyll

The School of Arts have teamed up with WoWFest2021, with students from across the School previewing events from this festival of radical writing, taking place throughout May. 

Yumi Li-Vi (year 3, Communications and Media with Sociology) previews Lady Phyll – Grasping at the root: the fight for Black queer equality’, Tuesday 11 May, 7.30 pm. Tickets £10/£5 concessions

It can seem that everyone and their mothers have become obsessed with establishing their “woke” credentials. Whether signing a petition against police brutality or sharing a black square on your Instagram feed, many of us want to be seen as warriors for social justice. Of course, it is great to see that people have become more aware and passionate about world issues, but are we doing enough? Are we doing enough to really educate ourselves and others on these important topics for the long run or do these bursts of political action just become more posts on the giant pile of temporary slacktivism?  

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Lady Phyll, a British activist who is the co-founder of UK Black Pride and the executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust (an organisation fighting to uphold the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world), is going above and beyond to help tackle deeply rooted societal issues around race, gender and sexuality. As a Black lesbian woman, she has gained widespread recognition and awards for her activism that have promoted unity, raised issues within the Black LGBTQ+ community, as well as stressing the importance of intersectionality. Despite attempts to fight against systemic prejudice from movements such as Black Lives Matter, she believes there is “still a long way to go”. For things to change, we need to unlearn, address, and unpack why Black people continue to face extreme injustice every day. 

On 11 May 2021, Lady Phyll will be joining WoWFest for a discussion titled ‘Grasping at the root: the fight for Black queer equality’. She will be educating us on the ‘root’ of these issues and enlightening us on how we can further our efforts to bring about positive social action for the Black queer community. If you’re like me, sat behind a screen feeling frustrated and helpless whilst watching new stories flood in every day about the injustice that these communities face, then I’d highly recommend popping along to this discussion. These themes have never been more relevant than now.

We are living in a time where hate crimes are increasing annually. According to the 2019 CSEW, race accounted for 76% of hate crimes. Sexual-orientation hate crimes increased by 25% in the UK. Also, considering the pandemic, it is evident that Coronavirus has disproportionately affected BAME communities. But issues of homophobia and racism are far from new. They are so deeply rooted throughout history and there are colonial-era laws in places such as Jamaica and many African countries that criminalize homosexuality. 

One way of viewing the emergent sense of ‘wokeness’ is to see progression in society with more inclusive representations in mainstream media of Black queer characters and actors. But we have barely touched the surface in terms of achieving equality. Even last month, the rapper, Lil Nas X – a Black and out-gay man – was excoriated by the media for his ‘camp’ provocative music video promoting so-called “devil-worshipping”. We all know that if he was a White heterosexual female, the opinions would be completely different. It is time we addressed the intersectional relationship between Blackness and Queerness. 

As a media and sociology student, I am constantly analysing representations of marginalised and minority communities within the media and applying wider contextual societal issues towards them to uncover why things are the way they are. Eager to expand my learning on these discriminatory ideologies, I am massively excited by this event. It is going to be extremely interesting and useful to hear Phyll discuss where she believes these problems have stemmed from and how she thinks progression can occur. In universities around the UK, many have reported racial profiling and mishandling of racist complaints, so these types of issues are closer to home than many may think. By learning about issues that the Black queer community face, we will be able to understand individuals’ experiences and hopefully find out how to become better allies in the future.

UK Black Pride is “run by us, for us”, says Lady Phyll, and this is why her perspective on this topic will be so fascinating. We need to listen to those such as Phyll who have been active in the Black queer community and can speak to the marginalisation and oppression faced both in the UK and other contexts. It is still both baffling and upsetting that, in the 21st century, people are being made to fear for their lives just by simply being who they are. I can’t even begin to imagine how tiresome it must be to have to constantly justify your existence to the world and I will try my best to take inspiration from Lady Phyll and the thousands of brave others fighting for this cause. Anyone else who wants to join me is more than welcome to!

Part of WoWFest21: celebrating 21 years of radical writing. Check out the full programme here