Me, Myself and I: Phyll Opoku-Gyimah

Affectionately known as Lady Phyll, the co-founder and executive director for UK Black Pride would love to go back in time and meet Martin Luther King.

Where are you from originally?

Made in Ghana but born in England. Raised in London and Hertfordshire.

And where do you live now?

I live in North East London with my daughter.

What do you love about London?

London is a city where cultures and histories collide.

What was the first gay venue you visited?

It was a lesbian dive bar in Hemel Hempstead about 18 years ago. It wasn’t a very nice experience.

Why is it still so important to hold UK Black Pride?

As evidenced anecdotally for years, and supported empirically in Stonewall’s recent racism in the LGBT+ community report, black LGBT+ people still face a great deal of racism and discrimination from within the community. But we also face it from society at large – a society that fails to recognise our intersecting identities, and how intersecting and overlapping oppressions result in vast inequalities. From healthcare to education to homelessness, there is still work to do to create the world we deserve to live in. UK Black Pride is also a celebration. Yes, our experiences can leave us battle-worn, but we also share so much joy between us. UK Black Pride is a safe space for us to laugh, cry, twerk and bask in our blackness.

How are the preparations for this year’s event on Sunday going?

Our dedicated team of volunteers are working all the hours God sends to pull off what will be our biggest ever festival. There are so many fresh perspectives and ideas and I’m looking forward to our community celebrating together.

Favourite club/bar/venue in London and why?

I spend a lot of my time going to talks and panel discussions and open mic nights at bars, clubs and venues all throughout the capital. Who is there is more important to me than the name of any venue. It could be a greasy spoon, but as long as there are queer black people sharing and bonding
and celebrating who they are,
I’m there.

What was the last theatre show you saw, where, and what did you think of it?

Girl.boy.child. I’m such a huge fan of David McAlmont and he left me covered in goosebumps. He is such a momentous talent and huge asset to our community.

What has been the highlight of your career so far and why?

The work I do straddles so many different areas. I love fighting for the rights of workers and creating spaces for black LGBT+ people to celebrate, and so I feel very lucky that my career highlights are actually the work I do everyday.

If you could go back in time which year would you choose and why?

I’d love to go back to the civil rights era in the US. To walk across Montgomery Bridge with Martin Luther King, or to school with Ruby Bridges, or hear Bayard Rustin read out demands at the March on Washington.

Best gift you’ve ever received?

My daughter.

What’s the best party you’ve ever been to and what made it so good?

I think it was my 21st birthday. I was a young mother, so my family looked after my daughter for the weekend and I was really able to let my hair down. I remember eating Rolos and Hula Hoops and I had this wonderful sponge cake that my friend had made. Someone gave me a nice little necklace with a P initial.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

My father always says, “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you your character.” And my mother, “We don’t inherit this land; we borrow it from the next generation.” Both are always at the front of my mind.

Who is your LGBT+ hero and why?

There are so many incredible people who have helped shape the way I think, how I view the world, where I go to next, that I couldn’t pick just one person. Growing up, I had to search and search for people who looked like me, and so when I found them I took so much joy in reading their books and hearing their stories. I think of all the queer black women who paved the way for us in the country and further afield, and all the unnamed women who will never be memorialised, but whose lives have been lived fighting and surviving and thriving.

Who are the most entertaining people you follow on social media and why?

On Instagram, @_joshrivers, because he’s always dancing and he always posts these stories that are so insightful and thought-provoking and sometimes slightly shady. My daughter, @ksoulx, because I love looking at her and she’s always making me laugh. On Twitter, I love @joshwillacy, who is always dancing, too; @kelechnekoff because she speaks her mind and is always dancing (OK, there’s a theme here); @galdemzine because everything they do is excellent; and @tanyacompas because she’s always jetting off somewhere and talking about how beautiful she is and how her melanin is glistening in the sun.

Where in the world would you like to visit before you die?

How bleak! I have a lot of life to live yet and on this journey I’d love to visit the Maldives.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

There will be jobs that I wouldn’t get, airports I would be dealt with in a particular way, shops I’d be followed around in, men that would objectify me, people that treat me so differently because I’m black, because I’m a woman, because I’m queer. If I knew that, maybe I would have been bettered prepared for some of the things that were thrown at me.

UK Black Pride in on this Sunday (8 Jul) from midday until 8pm at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, London, SE11 5HL.


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