Challenging The Mainstream- On Being A British Asian Bisexual Man

The so-called “mainstream” safe spaces designed for LGBTQ+ people are failing to serve some of the most vulnerable in our community and, therefore, are no longer fit for purpose. Work needs to be done to challenge the “mainstream” LGBTQ+ spaces in order to create change.

Living authentically as a queer person of colour can be incredibly challenging when you don’t have a space to embrace the entirety of your identity at once. Being a queer person of colour within a person of colour community often results in being rejected or ostracised, making it difficult to embrace your culture and heritage. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ spaces are often white dominated and people of colour are often subjected to racism and fetishisation, making it difficult for them to get the support network they need.

As mentioned in the previous piece, there are spaces created by queer people of colour for queer people of colour. Spaces such as Hungama, The Bitten Peach and UK Black Pride work to create a space where queer people of colour can exist freely. However these communities don’t receive as much funding as other spaces, don’t often get coverage and, worst of all, don’t hold a permanent space.

This means that, outside of these events, there isn’t a space where queer people of colour can go to feel safe. The so-called “mainstream” safe spaces designed for LGBTQ+ people are failing to serve some of the most vulnerable in our community and, therefore, are no longer fit for purpose. Work needs to be done to challenge the “mainstream” LGBTQ+ spaces in order to create change.

The “More Colour, More Pride” flag aimed to do exactly that. Created by Amber Hikes in 2017, it was designed to create a conversation around racism within the LGBTQ+ community, specifically in Philadelphia where she was working as the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for LGBT Affairs. Philadelphia is a majority Black city and yet, Black queer people were being subjected to racist attitudes, such as discriminatory door practices at LGBTQ+ bars and clubs. After an owner of an LGBTQ+ bar was caught on camera laughing whilst repeatedly saying the n-word, it was clear something had to change.

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Unveiled during Pride Month 2017, the flag was used as a symbol to unite queer people of colour, highlight their unique struggles and push for change. In Philadelphia, the symbol was embraced. However when the flag went viral, the context was lost in the process. The narrative changed. Instead of a new symbol created to start a conversation, it was seen as a replacement for the existing Pride flag, which was never the intention. The lived experiences of queer people of colour were dismissed as the community erupted in a fury, one which only proved why the “More Colour, More Pride” flag was so necessary.

When Manchester Pride announced in January 2019 that they were adopting the flag, this point was proven yet again. A couple of weeks after this announcement, a drag queen by the name of Peggy Wessex announced their next show at Barpop, entitled ‘taste THE rainbow show’. The poster that circulated had an image of a rainbow along with the show name and, under this, a unicorn which was vomiting the black and brown colours. Peggy posted this on their Facebook with the caption ‘how it should be’. This despicable act was only the tip of the iceberg as the community showed their true colours with their racist and dismissive comments, instead of engaging with the issue at hand.

However, there was also genuine concern from queer people of colour over Manchester Pride using this flag. Some saw it as nothing more than mere tokenism, an empty gesture to fake inclusivity without undertaking any real work to tackle the issues queer people of colour are facing in the community. This is a concern I shared and I hope Manchester Pride understand that adopting this flag should mark the beginning of change, not the end of it. With Pride being the most important event within the LGBTQ+ community, it is important that we address the issues around racism, diversity and inclusion at Pride.

Stonewall helped bring this topic to the forefront in 2018 when they publicly announced that they were withdrawing their support from Pride In London. They cited the issues with diversity at Pride In London as their reason and opted to support UK Black Pride instead. The relationship between Stonewall and UK Black Pride has grown from strength to strength, with the organisations announcing a partnership in February 2019 with the aim of empowering queer people of colour communities. Further to this, the two organisations partnered up to march at Pride In London in 2019.

Creating the ‘Together in Pride’ bloc, Stonewall and UK Black Pride were joined by Imaan, FTM London, Mermaids, Sparkle, Level Up and ParaPride. These groups represent people that are often underrepresented in our community and are experiencing higher levels of discrimination, both from outside and within our community. It was an important and powerful moment to see such a diverse group of people being proud of their identity and making themselves visible.

This is the same approach Gaysians had with Pride In London. Whilst there were a lot of desi queers doing incredible work, they weren’t getting the recognition they so deserved. Their aim was to create a movement, to bring all of these people and groups together and insert themselves into spaces they aren’t often seen. This helped push these marginalised groups within the LGBTQ+ community to the forefront, which helped spark conversations that weren’t being had.

However, this sort of work can be exhausting. LGBTQ+ spaces are supposed to be spaces safe from hatred, and yet queer people of colour find themselves continually rejected and marginalised further. Forcing yourself into these spaces to try and create change is incredibly taxing as it is often met with backlash. Many queer people of colour withdraw themselves from these “mainstream” spaces as a result.

The work I have been doing with Rainbow Films aims to highlight all of the issues I have spoken about in these pieces. Together, us volunteers have created an insightful documentary called ‘Pride & Protest’. ‘Pride & Protest’ shows our community reporters in a variety of different situations, from religious anti-LGBTQ+ protests to UK Black Pride. Along this journey they encounter a number of queer people of colour activists and creators, gaining intimate insights into their lives, their struggles of managing intersectional identities and the work they are doing to create change. Our reporters, who are dealing with their own similar struggles, learn from these visionary people, grow from these new experiences and are inspired to create change themselves.

It is important that we continue to fight back against the “mainstream” LGBTQ+ spaces. That we continue to take up space, make ourselves visible and ensure our voices are heard. If these spaces aren’t going to change, we must demand that they do. We need to reform these spaces so they are fit for purpose, truly inclusive and able to serve the most vulnerable in our community. Queer people of colour, and other marginalised groups within our community, shouldn’t have to deal with the minefield of navigating these spaces, trying to find a place in which they feel safe. It is with hope that those who come after us won’t have to. That they can exist in peace.

About the guest author

Vaneet Mehta

Vaneet Mehta is a bisexual Indian man born and raised in Southall, West London. His day job is working as a software engineer, but outside of this he writes on various topics, including LGBTQ+, and volunteers within the LGBTQ+ community. He recently had a his coming out story published in a bisexual anthology called “The Bi-Ble: New Testimonials”, volunteers for Rainbow Films and Middlesex Pride, was featured in GMFA’s Me. Him. Us campaign and run a YouTube channel called “The AmBIssadors”.
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