Last Wednesday, Rhammel Afflick released this article detailing why he left his post as Pride in London’s Director of Communications in February. He writes: “As one of the most senior Black volunteers at Pride, I felt it was incumbent on me to make sure that the most marginalised communities were represented in our work. Calling on an organisation to take us, Black communities and our humanity seriously was exasperating and in the end, I had to prioritise my own mental health and wellbeing.”
Rhammel’s resignation prompted the entire Community Advisory Board (CAB) to follow in his footsteps on Thursday. Founder of the BAME LGBT charity and former CAB Chair, Ozzy Amir, speaks to AZ about the issues impeding progress at Pride in London, stating that: “There was bullying… there was systemic racism against Black and Brown voices and gaslighting.”
Rhammel was not the first Black volunteer who quit due to this toxic culture, and when this was raised with the board of Directors, Ozzy says they were met with superficial responses: “We’re listening, we’re learning, diversity and inclusion strategies… All the buzzwords that you would expect to hear but no meaningful engagement.”
The CAB were appointed to advise on and scrutinise board decisions, as a voice for people at underrepresented intersections of the queer community. This seemingly straightforward job became an uphill battle for the team who gradually realised that, despite Pride in London’s public pledge to anti-racism last summer, their concerns were falling on deaf ears. According to Ozzy “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for most was the Pride in police decision; the board ruling that the Metropolitan police will be allowed to take part in future Pride parades.
Ozzy says that CAB research on the matter included extensive consultation of community groups so that “the advice centred Black and Brown voices”. In November, they presented the findings to the board which culminated in the “unequivocal” recommendation that no police participation should be permitted- a seemingly obvious conclusion given the history of police violence against communities of colour and the very police brutality that inspired Pride’s show of black-square-solidarity, amidst last year’s BLM protests.
In ignoring the CAB’s counsel, Pride in London’s board proved that the organisation is increasingly detached from its origins as a radical movement. Pride may be a celebration but it is first and foremost a protest of those who wish to stifle the freedoms of LGBT+ people. To invite the police, while Priti Patel’s new Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill looms (promising a major expansion in police powers against protestors), is to spit in the face of all patrons, especially visibly Trans, Black or Brown Pride-goers, who are already traumatised by disproportionate police hostility towards their kind.
“It was the justification that [the board] gave which was really demoralising… It didn’t acknowledge the racism that exists within the police or that exists within Pride in London” says Ozzy. He goes on to say that the CAB had warned the directors already of the lack of credibility the organisation has in Black and Brown communities. Their continued ignorance of this serves as an uncomfortable reality check “to those of us in the LGBTQ+ community who think that the same racism that exists in wider society isn’t replicated within our communities, organisations and structures.”
For most queer Black and Brown people, this realisation comes as no shock but is peppered by the homophobic and transphobic sentiment that is rife in too many anti-racist organisations. The pain of being overlooked consistently in spaces designed to advocate for our personhood is a burdensome one and makes it that bit more important that we hold wayward organisations to account and uplift those with intersectionality at their heart.
In a statement to the Independent, organisers of UK Black Pride say: “The problem is bigger than Pride in London. Since our inception, every single leader of London’s flagship pride celebration has stood in our way and told us we are unnecessary and divisive. So while we stand by those calling for leadership change and an investigation by the Mayor’s office, we also know that unless the issues raised, over and over again, are meaningfully dealt with and with the seriousness these allegations deserve, we will continue to bear witness to a pride celebration that marginalises large swathes of our communities without consequence.”
In the wake of last week’s events, five Pride in London directors have stepped down, including Co-Chairs, Michael Salter-Church and Alison Camps. The organisation has also created the new position of ‘Diversity and Inclusion Director’ in hopes to combat the problems highlighted by the CAB, who called for the resignations of all the directors. Ozzy is pleased that there has been such an immediate impact saying: “It’s really validating to have people believe you”. He isn’t sure, however, that these new changes will be effective and says: “We’ve heard a version of this story play out elsewhere with diversity and inclusion teams and new plans and new policies but at the end of the day, actions speak louder than any individual appointment would.”
Symbolic diversity and inclusion training is the order of the day in businesses and organisations across the country but very rarely do they yield tangible results. In the case of Pride in London, transparency and greater accountability around racism is needed to rebuild the trust of marginalised queer communities. The actions of Rhammel, Ozzy and their colleagues have thankfully meant eyes will be on the organisation for a while to come. Ozzy says: “the future of Pride needs a radical rethink” and may this be a mandate for us not to take our feet off Pride’s neck until such change is achieved.