Saturday, 6 August 2011

Queer Peepal Pride

Thomas Glave of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) doesn't see himself as an activist. Dorothea Smartt takes umbrage with the assumption that she's heterosexual, that because she's black she must be homophobic and that because she's a black woman who speaks out, she must also be angry. She doesn't consider herself an activist either.

I have never considered myself an activist, although I am undoubtedly political and involve myself regularly with politics and pro-human rights activities. You only have to see my Twitter feed to see that.

But I think it's important for queer people, and black people, to speak out. That's why I decided there should be an event that catered for people like me, like Dorothea, and like Thomas at this year's Manchester Pride Fringe.

In the last year, we've seen members of the LGBTQ community murdered abroad just for being queer. Gay magazines still prefer to put white muscle Marys on their covers over skinny black guys. And there's always been a level of uneasiness around women who speak out, whatever their sexuality or ethnicity. My mother, although straight, used to get accused of being a dyke all the time, simply because she stood up for what she believed in and had a shaven head. It's hardly any wonder she became good friends with the outspoken Julie Bindel.

But speaking out doesn't always mean shouting and cussing, standing in the street waving placards or performing a citizen's arrest on morally dubious heads of state. We can speak out in more subtle ways. For example, Rommi Smith's appointment as the only ever Parliamentary Writer-in-Residence was a seminal moment. There was a queer woman of Nigerian descent, writing about political matters, from inside the establishment. It was a moment when British politics allowed people like me to speak out in the most public of arenas. It's something that makes me proud to be British.

Rommi's forthcoming sequence, Mornings and Midnights, tells the tale of an African-American soul diva who strives for a comeback but instead gets the opportunity to speak for and about herself in an industry that has seen others take credit for her own work. It speaks volumes, in a fun and deliciously musical way, about the empowerment had by speaking for yourself, no matter who you are.

Seni Seneviratne's Yorkshire accent is something that sends delight coursing through me every time I hear it. Her poems in Wild Cinnamon and Winter Skin deal with the unique perspective of a queer woman raised in Leeds (my own hometime) by an English mother and a Sri Lankan father. Her tendency to sing traditional English ballads is juxtaposed by the poems of life from another culture. She is both British and Asian, and the two things are inextricable. They cannot be separated, because both elements inform each other. And in doing so, they speak out for difference and togetherness and all the spaces between. She reminds us that whether we're queer or we're black, we're all in this together. We're all part of the same world.

These writers speak out in various ways, combining music, politics, passion, food, sex, fashion and love, and that's what I wanted to show. I wanted people to see that our community is wonderfully diverse, and that you don't have to be Peter Tatchell or Ben Somerskill, or even Nelson Mandela, to make a stand for what you believe in. There are little ways, lots of little ways, that we can make a stand every day, and the words of these fabulous writers can help us celebrate that.

Adam Lowe is a writer, publisher and journalist from Leeds who now lives in Manchester. His novella Troglodye Rose came out in 2009 from Cadaverine Publications and will be reissued in an expanded novel-length edition from Lethe Press the other side of the Mayan Apocalypse.

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