Past. Present. Pride. 2021
In honour of Pride month this year, we turned to members of the Browns community, asking each to nominate a pioneer who has inspired their own work and activism. Below, each guest editor tells us more about these incredible unsung heroes, and their vital work in the fight for LGBTQ+ visibility and liberation.
Alongside naming a chosen pioneer, we also asked each of our guest editors to nominate a charity close to their heart, to which Browns will be making a donation to commemorate their essential work.
Omari Douglas On David McAlmont
Omari Douglas is a British actor best known for his role on Channel 4’s groundbreaking mini-series It’s A Sin, an account of the AIDS crisis in Britain. Here, he discusses singer, songwriter and art historian David McAlmont (formerly of 90s duo, McAlmont & Butler).
“There was a moment many moons ago when I came across a song called Yes by McAlmont and Butler. I’m slightly too young to have remembered it when it was first released in 1995 but still, I was thrilled to have even discovered it at all. It struck me because there’s an unbridled joy in it - defiant lyrics, all sweeping strings and guitars colliding; an anthem in the truest sense of the word. But leading it all is this euphoric vocal that made me sit up and go: ‘who is that?’ - that was David McAlmont. Curiosity led me to YouTube which led me to a Jools Holland performance of the same song and I was able to put a face to the sublime voice. There was David swishing effortlessly with his locs and impeccable style, elegant but kind of punky.
I was so elated by what I saw and still am today, as I revisit the video pretty often. Up until that moment, I’d been led to believe that the Britpop zeitgeist was anything but Black and queer, and yet David was there just doing his thing. Of course, David’s prominence both precedes and succeeds this particular moment and I find myself watching his videos for hours, listening to his voice and being inspired by his unique style (Diamonds Are Forever from 1997 is another mesmerising highlight). The seemingly small act of just being present is also huge, in David’s case it gives people like myself and generations of other queer, Black people a reminder that you can be yourself, no matter what space you occupy. We are limitless. Thank you David McAlmont for paving the way.”
Omari’s chosen charity is Unmuted Birmingham, who provide safe spaces for Queer Trans Intersex people of colour to connect, grow and explore their identity.
Amelia Abraham On Juno Roche
Amelia Abraham is a London-based journalist and writer who explores LGBTQ+ identity politics in her work. Her debut novel Queer Intentions was released in 2019 and this year sees the publication of her second book, We Can Do Better Than This: A Personal Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture. Here, she discusses writer and campaigner Juno Roche.
“Juno Roche is a writer and author, trans rights campaigner, and HIV awareness activist. Juno also used to be a teacher, and set up Trans Workers UK and the Trans Teachers Network. They write about class, trans identity, queer futures and much more.
I encountered Juno’s writing when I worked with them as an editor. We met up on a hot summer’s day in Soho around 2015 – I remember instantly thinking “I could listen to Juno’s voice all day” and I did. We sat in Soho Square, Juno telling me stories from their life (which they’re currently writing about in a memoir), from overcoming addiction to finding their queer family in London's club scene, to the dawn of the AIDS crisis in Britain, whirlwind love affairs, and more recently, their decision to move alone to the hills of Andalusia.
In the years since Juno moved to Spain, we sometimes meet up when they visit London, and they have just written an essay for a book I edited called We Can Do Better Than This. It’s about the importance of caring for our LGBTQ+ elders and reminded me how vivid and emotionally raw and honest their writing is… funny, but also wistful; it sweeps you away.
Recently, my sibling, who is transitioning, told me they went through my stuff (as younger siblings do) and found Juno’s book, Queer Sex. They said it made them feel incredibly hopeful. This is the core of what Juno does – in Queer Sex and their books Trans Power and Gender Explorers. Juno fights transphobia with stories of positivity, empowerment and queer joy. While it’s important to talk about the difficulties we face as queer people, putting positivity into the world is one of the most powerful acts we have. I am constantly inspired by Juno's dedication to this cause.”
Amelia’s chosen charity is We Exist, an organisation who provide directly available funds for trans people to pay for vital healthcare in the face of ongoing failings from the current government and health service.
Ebun Sodipo On Matthew Blaise
Ebun Sodipo is a London-based writer and visual artist. They create immersive installations and video works centering around themes of identity. Here, they discuss non-binary LGBTQI+ Nigerian activist and community leader Matthew Blaise – co-founder of the Oasis Project which offers mental, legal and housing support to queer Nigerians.
“I don’t know when it will feel safe enough to return to Nigeria but I know that when the time comes it will be, in part, because of the work of Matthew Blaise. Near the end of 2020, the world watched Nigerian youth collectively bare their anger and shout together, ‘END SARS’. But in the midst of this another refrain sounded, soft and loud, almost unexpected: ‘Queer Lives Matter.’ It was the shout of Matthew Blaise, a young queer student and activist. It was a shout that rightly directed global attention to queer Nigerian concerns and lives. The video and moment of Blaise marching in the street and exclaiming the sacredness of their existence moved my body: my heart beat faster, my chest felt hollow, tingling ran up and down my spine. I was excited. I was so, so scared for them. Watching them, I felt proud to be queer, Black, trans, Nigerian, proud to share kinships with Blaise.
While Blaise is now one of the most visible queer faces of African youth activism, it is the incredible and necessary work they have undertaken using this visibility that makes them a hero in my eyes. Between fundraising for safe spaces for queer Nigerian youth, sourcing binders for trans masculine people living in Nigeria, bringing to global attention queer issues on the continent, they are also co founder of The Oasis Project, which offers mental, legal, medical and housing support for queer Nigerians. Matthew Blaise is sustaining queer life in Nigeria and building infrastructure that is necessary for the transformation of nations and cultures. I am full of hope for the fruition of Blaise’s vision of a safer Nigeria and Africa.”
Ebun’s chosen charity is Bristol Refugee Rights, who run a campaign called Pride Without Borders. Ebun’s donation will go directly to this campaign.
Michael Halpern On Hugh Wyld
Michael Halpern is the founder of eponymous womenswear label Halpern. Here, he discusses actor and performer Hugh Wyld, who is an instrumental figure in the organisation Positive East, and also sets up spaces and events around London to support the LGBTQ+ scene.
“While Hugh is a brilliant performer and actor - a part of the legendary drag troupe DENIM - his work behind the scenes within the LGBTQ+ community and beyond is what inspired me to choose him as my unsung hero. I first saw Hugh perform with DENIM at one of their shows in Soho, and absolutely fell in love with their energy, vigour, spirit. In 2015 he started a creative initiative called HIV Voices — which asks collaborators to harness their creativity in order to express their experiences living with HIV today. These writings have been performed all across the UK, by experienced actors and people who have never been on stage. Hugh has worked with and for Positive East — London’s largest HIV charity — for half a decade, fundraising, performing and running workshops. On a personal level, he is modest and generous. When I told him I’d selected him as my unsung hero, he told me there were far more worthy people; this is exactly the reason he should be celebrated.”
Michael’s chosen charity is Positive East, which has been at the forefront of HIV service and care for three decades, supporting sufferers from the point of diagnosis and into longer-term care.
Lady Phyll On Yvonne Taylor
Lady Phyll is the co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride. Here, she discusses promoter, DJ and entrepreneur Yvonne Taylor, the creator of nightlife spaces for LGBTQ+ people of colour.
“So much of my identity formation happened within spaces that Yvonne curated in the '90s and '00s. We spent long nights, slick with sweat, dancing at Yvonne's club nights, surrounded by heaving crowds of Black and brown lesbians, feeling absolutely anything was possible. She created spaces for us to party. She'd be DJing and hosting nights where Black lesbians would be seen and heard and celebrated. She doesn't seek attention and has been doing the work behind the scenes to create what our communities need: spaces to let go, to revel in our joy and celebrate each other. As we continue to see LGBTQ+ nightlife decimated, and as we continue to see fewer and fewer club nights and spaces for LGBTQ+ people of colour, I long for the spaces Yvonne took such care to create. LGBTQ+ nightlife is so vital to our communities, and I have such enduring respect and gratitude for Yvonne for being such an important backbone in our community. We can still rely on her to offer up spaces for celebration: her Happy Sunday boat parties are just her latest offering to celebrate who we are.”
Lady Phyll’s chosen charity is Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK-based charity focused on fighting for the human rights of LGBTQ+ people across the Commonwealth. They work with governments, change-makers and civil society organisations to effect meaningful and lasting change in the lives of LGBTQ+ people everywhere.
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