This year the acute discrimination Black people face has been brought to the forefront.
Black LGBT people have been severely affected by the global pandemic, as well as the trauma of systemic racism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia experienced by the entire community. Now more than ever, we need allies to step up and take action.
We know that many people have looked to find ways to support the Black community during this time of immense pain and uncertainty. Sometimes this allyship can be positive and other times it can be misguided. Allyship is not a single step, it is an ongoing journey. It takes work, self-reflection and making that conscious decision over and over to step up until it becomes embedded in how we behave.
This Black History Month, some of Stonewall’s Black LGBT staff have discussed the most effective ways to be an active ally to Black LGBT people.
1. Listen to us
The last year has provided some much needed opportunities for Black LGBT people to be heard in spaces where they have been traditionally silenced or overlooked.
It's so important that your first step as an ally is to listen to and believe us when we tell you what we’ve experienced. Trying to ‘explain away’ racism is harmful and makes you complicit in upholding a racist system. Listen even when it is difficult to hear. It’s a lot harder for Black LGBT people to be open about their experiences. No matter how well-intentioned you thought you were, understand and accept when you have made a mistake.
It is also important that you do not take one Black LGBT person’s story as the only story. This risks allies treating us as one homogenous group. In fact, the Black LGBT community has a vast array of identities and experiences that must be recognised.
2. Do not ask Black LGBT people something you can learn yourself
We need you to listen to us, but we do not always have to be the ones supporting your education. Repeatedly explaining the realities of racism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia by people who actually experience it, is exhausting.
This blog and the resources on our Black History Month hub are only the beginning of your journey. There are so many great anti-racism resources that you can read and begin to learn from and grow a greater understanding and empathy for the challenges Black LGBT people face. Make sure this reading takes an intersectional approach to our experiences and are written by Black people. We would encourage you to build on this learning through discussions with other allies, so you can learn from each other.
It’s not Black LGBT people’s responsibility to relive our trauma or justify our existence. Rather than place emotional labour on your Black LGBT friends, educate yourself.
3. Recognise and use your privilege
The reality is that society is set up to benefit some people more than others. When you benefit from a certain structure or environment, you have a privilege. White people, cis people and straight people are inherently advantaged in certain ways by how society is structured, despite their own efforts, income, or background.
Acknowledging your privilege does not mean you have not worked for what you have or experienced hardship. It simply means that you have not been discriminated against due to certain aspects of your identity.
Once you can acknowledge your privilege, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, you can use it to centre and amplify the experiences of others who may not have been afforded the same advantages as you. This can be giving up a seat on a panel to someone with a particularly underrepresented identity, or using the fact that people listen to you in meetings to insist on input from marginalised communities. It is important to consider this in all areas of your life as this will look different for everyone.
4. Speak up
Once you have done your research, you need to use your platform to speak up about the experiences of Black LGBT people. It is not enough for Black people to call things out, we need allies to speak up too.
Use your platform to educate others. Make sure you do not use your platform to speak over Black LGBT people or take credit for their work. Rather than take up space, centre Black LGBT people in the conversation. Amplify Black voices by directly sharing information created by Black LGBT people.
Be careful not to be performative in your allyship. Do not just speak up when our experiences are ‘trending’, make sure to keep up the momentum.
5. Your allyship is not inclusive if it does not include Black trans people
The lives of Black trans people were painfully overlooked this year in the Black Lives Matter movement – and always have been. This fails to highlight the higher levels of discrimination and violence that Black trans people face compared to Black cis people.
Being an ally to Black LGBT people means understanding the experiences of Black trans people in how their oppression is compounded by being Black and trans, and speaking out against transphobia.
Where you are able, support fundraisers for Black trans people’s transistions and housing needs. Black trans people suffer disproportionately from unemployment, pushing many into poverty, precarious housing situations and limiting access to essential healthcare.
6. Call it what it is. Anti-blackness
It is important to understand that racism impacts different races in different ways. Anti-blackness is a specific kind of racial prejudice towards Black people. It is inherently rooted in colonialism, the legacy of slavery, and eugenics.
Racist attempts to 'rank' races in order of value or worthiness have consistently placed Black people at the bottom, leading to a normalisation of anti-black across many cultures. While non-black people of colour often experience racism, anti-blackness can still be rampant in those communities that have a history of perceiving themselves as superior to Black people.
By acknowledging that the experiences Black LGBT people face are anti-black, and that racial discrimination can disproportionately affect Black people, we can take a step towards dismantling white supremacy.
7. Use the right language
Terms such as BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) and PoC (people of colour) offer a limited and simplified understanding of race, often holding white people as the norm, and maintaining a eurocentric view of the world. They can suggest a homogenised experience for all people who aren’t white, when this is a dangerous oversimplification of reality. Within these communities, colourism and misogynoir are common experiences, and it's important to acknowledge that there are varying experiences caused by differing levels of privilege across these communities. Acknowledging and discussing uniquely Black experiences as those specific to the community, allows us to understand the particular steps and actions we need to take to drive forward tangible change.
If you find yourself needing to describe an individual’s race or ethnicity, and you know that they describe themselves as Black, Latinx or Brown – to name but a few – always use those terms rather than contentious umbrella terms.
8. Showcase Black LGBT people
We cannot overstate the importance of seeing yourself in positions of power in areas like the workplace, media, and education. It is validating, inspiring, and proves that people who look like you can achieve success in those areas.
In your workplaces, consider making D&I targets that do not just cover BAME, but also Black people explicitly. Not only are you supporting Black LGBT people in employment, but having our perspectives in decision making rooms only benefits your projects and external outputs. In fact, Forbes found in 2017 that diverse teams make better decisions in the workplace 87% of the time. However, in your effort to include Black LGBT people, take care not to fall into tokenistic practices. For instance, do not recruit Black people to positions of power but retain the authority or simply use them to excuse your organisation’s own racist and discriminatory behaviour.
The importance of Black LGBT representation in the media is vital, but it is important to consider who is creating the content. So often stories about Black people and Black LGBT people are full of hurtful stereotypes and misconceptions where Black LGBT people are reduced to only parts of their identity. Consider the opportunities you have access to, which perhaps Black LGBT creators cannot access, and how you share them. If you can’t tell Black LGBT stories right, then let Black LGBT people tell them.
9. Create spaces that are inclusive of Black LGBT people
Too often Black LGBT people must access spaces, especially LGBT spaces that claim to be safe, that perpetuate anti-blackness. Challenge racism vocally and ensure that your spaces do not perpetuate barriers to inclusion for Black LGBT people. Think about the touchpoints and obstacles where you are. Do they prevent people from accessing that space?
10. Support Black-owned businesses and fundraisers
Many Black LGBT people are simply not afforded the same opportunities as white people, and can suffer numerous inequalities in areas of housing, employment, healthcare, and education to name a few.
By supporting Black-owned businesses as part of your day-to-day purchases, you can support the community and help to begin to bridge these gaps.
For a lot of Black businesses likely to be smaller with less access to funding, supporting them will not only better them financially but provide opportunities to employ more Black people, provide more access to specific services that Black people need, and uplift the community.