October is officially Black History Month, and whilst it’s quite rightly, a celebration, reflection, and recognition of the contributions of people of African and Caribbean heritage to British society. It fosters a much-needed understanding and highlighting of Black history, reminding us all of the vital contributions of black British LGBTQ+ individuals , which are often overlooked.
As Black History Month officially comes to a close we wanted to highlight some of those icons, pioneers and trailblazers we love.
Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, or Lady Phyll, is an absolute force to be reckoned with. A tireless political activist who is rightly celebrated for her work in racial, gender and LGBTQ+ equality. She’s also the co-founder of Black Pride and Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a non-profit that works to ensure LGBTQ+ righty, freedoms and equality internationally, particularly in countries that with high levels of discrimination. Lady Phyll continues to inspire in her work and empowering online presence, particularly in the fields of diversity and inclusivity.
Jason Okundaye is a respected journalist and author who recently made waves with ‘Black and Gay, Back in the Day’, a digital archive that documents black LGBT life in Britain since the 1970s. The fascinating online gallery is co-curated with Marc Thompson (See below) and Okundaye believes that lifting black British gay history out of obscurity is a mission of urgency. He’s also the writer of the upcoming book Revolutionary Acts: Black Gay Men in Britain, chronicling the lives of black gay men in London over the last fifty years.
Edward Enninful was the first black editor-in-chief of British Vogue, and was lauded for modernising the title in terms of diversity, both in the editorial and with its staff. Under Enninful, the publication increased the ethnic minority talent on its team from zero to 25%. His memoir A Visible Man tells his story of going from a working-class lad to the heights of the fashion industry
Jide Salami is best known as the fabulous drag queen Son of A TuTu. Born to Nigerian parents in London, Salami performs razor-sharp humour in traditional Nigerian dress, and uses his act to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ rights in Nigeria, and the discrimination and dangers that still exist there for queer people. All wrapped in a warm, funny, unique package. There’s genuinely no-one like her
Marc Thompson is an activist, has been at the forefront of HIV activism and prevention since his own diagnosis in 1986. He’s the co-founder of prepster.info, a community-based programme that educates and champions the use of PrEP internationally, the co-founder of Blackout UK, a movement dedicated to building safe spaces for black gay men. His tireless work has helped stamp out HIV
The lead singer of the legendary band Skunk Anansie has not only been tearing down boundaries as a black female rock singer, and the first black singer to headline the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, she just happens to be cool AF. Skin is also a passionate LGBTQ+ activist and has used her fame to highlight inequalities in race, gender and sexuality for decades.
The multi-faceted Rikki Beadle Blair is not only an actor, writer, director, dancer, choreographer and more, but one of the first black gay performers to hit the mainstream at a time when visibility and diversity was scarce. He’s been using his talents to creating honest, challenging and transformative art across numerous platforms and fearlessly tackling LGBTQ+ issues for years.
Munroe’s journey of self-discovery and empowerment from London’s gay scene ‘drag queen’ to international trans model, writer, and activist has been inspiring. She was the first trans person to appear on the cover of both Cosmopolitan and English-language Rolling Stone and consistently uses her platform to raise awareness of issues that affect the trans community, particularly transgender rights and mental health awareness. She has been an inclusivity and diversity advisor and ambassador for a number of big-name corporations and institutions and honoured as a trailblazer by numerous publications.
We would be amiss not to include the late footballer on a list of black British queer icons. Justin Fashanu was an absolute ground breaker at a time when LGBTQ+ rights and attitudes to our community were nowhere near as advanced as they are today. A truly skilled, high-profile footballer, Fashanu literally changed the game when he came out as gay in 1990 – something still fairly uncommon for active players to do over 30 years later. His suicide in 1998 was devastating, but his legacy lives on with the Justin Fashanu Foundation, launched by his niece Amal Fashanu to tackle mental health, racism and homophobia in sports.
By Lee Dalloway on behalf of Gay London Life.