I remember the first time I came across someone who was like me, about my age, into similar music according to our Myspace profiles, Black, oh – and gay.
I was 16 and had happened upon this young poet by the name of Dean Atta, he must’ve been about 20 at the time and had, on his myspace page, a voice recording of his own poem ‘Young, Black and Gay”.
Me, a young semi-closeted teenager in Handsworth, Birmingham, who knew of other gay kids at school, but none of them looked like me, was instantly transfixed! Here was a young guy, of my generation, who understood some of the cross-cultural experiences I wasn’t even mature enough in my own thinking to realise it was a thing, or to appreciate that maybe I’m not alone out there.
Black gay people existed, a genuine revolution for me.
Throughout my career I’ve often found myself involved with the staff networks, as I’ve always found them helpful places to both socialise, but also come together and realise there are often shared experiences of the workplace, which aren’t just quirks or your overthinking of a situation, and sometimes it’s meant getting the trades union involved, rightly so. There is a strength in the collectivism of a shared experience, and a shared goal for a better world, which you won’t find elsewhere in your workplace.
From the beginning of my career in civil service, where I joined with colleagues as we attempted to set up the Departmental LGBT Network, to most recently in my current job, where I Co-Chair our Ethnicity and Race Network, leading on key activities the organisation is delivering to tackle racism and other discriminatory experiences across the board.
However, there are still times where my race and my sexuality collide. Where I feel I have to lean into one more than the other, where I feel I have to box the other away, as much as I can, to suit my environment at that time.
I am, nevertheless, proud to say those moments get fewer and further apart, especially as we see more Black LGBT+ people in mainstream media, and even more especially British ones.
For years, we’ve had to look across the water to America when we try to highlight diverse LGBT+ heroes or look for inspiration. Figures I admire, like activist Bayard Rustin, and writers like Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, are no less impressive and inspirational to me now, but it is delightful to have some homegrown British talent we can hold up to the world. From comedy in Stephen K Amos and Gina Yashere, activism in UK Black Pride founder Lady Phyll, or in the House of Lords with Lord Alli, there is a small but growing number of us taking centre stage. Pioneers forging their own paths, but leaving enough breadcrumbs on the trail on way, to become role models for the generations following behind.
I’m now thinking back not too long ago, but to that day in 2005, when I read Young Black, and Gay for the first time. And I’ll remember how excited I was, for the first time, to feel genuinely seen.
The full poem Young, Black and Gay can be read here.
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