The Stonewall Riots in June 1969, which signalled the start of the modern LGBT liberation movement, would never have happened if it wasn’t for three incredibly influential women of colour, two of which were of black descent. Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie and Sylvia Rivera all played a crucial role in the uprising which was triggered by a violent police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan. The riots that followed were pivotal in the struggle for LGBT equality and are also the reason we celebrate Pride month in June every year.
That’s why Black History Month is so important to the LGBT community – it gives us the opportunity to put the spotlight on the black LGBT people throughout history, who we owe so much, and celebrate them for their extreme bravery and courage.
Since 1969, when women like Johnson, Rivera and DeLarverie were being routinely persecuted by the police just for being themselves, we have made huge strides toward equality. But there is still a long way to go. For black LGBT people, the discrimination they face in their daily lives because of their sexuality or gender identity is also compounded by the racism and discrimination they experience because of their ethnicity.
This double discrimination affects black LGBT people’s experiences within both the LGBT community and BAME communities. Earlier this year, new Stonewall research revealed some very troubling findings – our Home and Communities report found that half of black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people (51 per cent) had experienced discrimination in their local LGBT community because of their ethnicity. This number rises to three in five black LGBT people (61 per cent).
The abuse BAME LGBT people face from the community includes feeling excluded from LGBT specific spaces as well as facing hurtful comments. This racist behaviour and language has a devastating impact, leaving already marginalised members of the LGBT community feeling shut out and isolated.
It’s unacceptable and inexcusable that such discrimination exists in a community so often celebrated for its diversity and tolerance. There is very clearly a huge amount to learn from this research, and LGBT organisations, groups and venues have some hard truths to face. However, if the wider LGBT community recognises that this discrimination exists and takes action, there is hope for positive change. An important first step that must be taken is ensuring BAME LGBT people are represented in decision-making structures. Other steps that can make a huge difference include arranging for staff or group members to have anti-discrimination training, setting up meaningful partnerships with local BAME community groups and creating a policy to tackle discrimination of all kinds.
But this research also demonstrates how important it is that we create spaces where BAME LGBT people can come together and celebrate who they are, free from abuse and discrimination. For this very reason, Stonewall’s BAME and POC staff network group recently organised their first Diaspora Showcase – a unique event featuring inspiring voices from the BAME/POC LGBTQ community, including activists, performers, poets and writers. It was solely created by and made for BAME/POC people as a celebration of our identities, and included discussions and performances centred around the experiences of marginalisation within society.
At Stonewall we also run free BAME role models programmes for people of colour who identify as LGBT. These initiatives give participants the opportunity to reflect on what being a person of colour and LGBT means to them. They also explore how individuals can play an active role in creating the positive change they want to see in their own communities. It’s vital that LGBT people of colour have visible role models in their schools, workplaces and places of worship and are given the chance to see celebrations of difference and diversity. We know there is lots of work to be done, but even very small changes at a local level are a really crucial step forward and may make a huge difference to a young person who is struggling with their sexuality or gender identity.
If we want to live in a world where everyone is included, we must make sure the wealth of different identities within the LGBT community are not only fully represented but truly celebrated. Only then can we achieve acceptance without exception for all LGBT people.
By Sanjay Sood-Smith, Director of Empowerment at Stonewall