As Pride Month draws to a close Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s, reflects on ‘love and rage’ the theme for this weekends UK Black Pride event.
Picture: KCL LGBT+ Staff Network ‘Proudly King’s’ attending a pride march
I am currently reading Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez – its been on my list for while and it is a happy coincidence that I am reading it during Pride Month here in the UK. I haven’t finished it yet, but its central character is a black, gay man in his early 20s. Its set in the early 80s and he is from the Black Country (that’s in the Midlands for those not familiar with English geography). Jessie was raised within a Jehovah’s Witness community. I am finding it both fascinating and also feel quite detached from it. I have had to reflect on this as it is unusual for me. I generally feel absolutely immersed in these kinds of personal narrative novels. I love Zadie Smith, Bernadine Evaristo, Andrea Levy and Meera Syal novels for example – what’s the difference? I am assuming that the stories and characters in those books spoke to me more directly. I felt like I was the characters or knew them. I feel more like a spectator or tourist in Rainbow Milk – maybe that is the writer’s objective? It is something that has caused me to really think deeply as I write to support our King’s College London Pride Month and in particular UK Black Pride.
To honour this particularly difficult year for so many in our communities, UK Black Pride’s 2021 theme is “Love and Rage”.
Why has that theme been chosen? I feel it is because for so many their identity and their love have to be hidden. That being black or brown in this world – certainly in this country is hard. You then layer other intersections into someone’s identity – different forms of gender expression, loving within the same gender and those challenges multiply – unless we do something to stop that.
UK Black Pride says “We are also raging, disappointed and tired. Our communities continue to be overlooked and undervalued, tokenised and discarded. From constant gaslighting to this country’s steadfast refusal to address and redress structural and institutional racism, we have a lot to be mad about.
Our anger is righteous. Our love is righteous.”
2020 and 2021 has seen many find their voices in a far more determined and collective way. It has opened the eyes of many who have allowed themselves to be sleepy in relation to discrimination and exclusion.
Pride has become, for many, synonymous with a big party, glitter, dancing, music etc. Certainly, when I had the pleasure of going to Mardi Gras in Sydney many years ago, I know I didn’t consider the deeper meaning and messages. I didn’t fully understand or appreciate why my friends felt so happy and free at this event. I, as someone who has only relatively recently understood the breadth of my own sexual orientation and bisexuality have lived my life with the protection of heterosexuality. Living as a heterosexual I never really had to explain my choices of partner or expect any backlash.
This month and every day we all need to challenge our selves to hear and understand other people’s stories which is why I am grateful to Paul Mendez and many others for writing books like Rainbow Milk. We need to examine our own behaviour and consider how we react. As always Shonda Rhimes (one of my absolute heroes) has recently given me the perfect words (Station 19, Season 4, Episode 10) Travis (has recently discovered his father is ‘in the closet’). He and his father are gradually working through understanding this about themselves and each other.
“Travis: Did you know that for most of my life I thought that it was my fault that you hated me, that I had done something wrong. For you to never come to any of my wrestling matches or meet any of my friends, not coming to my wedding and making mom follow suit. I just I couldn’t figure out why you hated me so much.
Paul: Travis, I could never hate you.
Travis: I know. I mean I know that now. You actually hate yourself. I just wish it didn’t take you so long to figure that out because that night with the soup, I could have used a dad that loved me, who loved himself, but instead, you just walked away.
Paul: I didn’t know what to say.
Travis: You should have said, ‘You’re loved. You’re supported, and the way you feel and how you love is valid. It’s important. You are important. And whoever you love or whatever path you take, I’m gonna be here for you without question or pause or judgment. I’m here for you, and I love you.’”
This short but powerful scene captured the complexity of the society that we are all contributing to that prevents people being able to be themselves and the levels of impact that has for individuals and families and helps explain the ‘Love and Rage’ theme.
I can’t say it better than Shonda Rhimes –
for everyone –
Please know that you are supported and that your love is valid. I work every day to create an environment where you can feel that without question or judgement.
Happy Pride Month everyone.