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switchedonSadly, the LGBT community has some way to go before it truly celebrates diversity in every form. GMFA’s Switched On campaign aims to fight the racism within our ranks…


Big Up, a project run by Gay Men Fighting AIDS, has developed the Switched On campaign – a movement aiming to raise awareness of racial discrimination in the LGBT community. GMFA is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to gay men’s health. However, its work isn’t restricted to this particular area. With this campaign, it aims to celebrate ethnic diversity within the whole LGBT community.


Inspired by LGBT individuals who have experienced prejudice due to the colour of their skin, the campaign is all about empowering people and enabling them to tackle the issue and work towards a harmonious multicultural community.


One such individual is Phyll Opoku. Phyll is a lesbian; she is also black. She was racially abused whilst dancing in a lesbian bar just after she first came out. “Many years back…I went to this club and I thought ‘Wow, this is great!’ The women all dancing with each other… hoping that someone would just ask me to dance and… it didn’t happen but I got up and I danced just by myself. And then someone said, ‘You stupid ‘beep, beep, beep’. Why don’t you just get off this dancefloor? You’re in my way’.”


In describing her experience Phyll says, “I realised that maybe that place was not for me; I didn’t see anybody that looked like me, to be able to sit there and feel comfortable with them.” Phyll’s desire to be accepted as a lesbian was challenged by the thoughtlessness of someone who could not accept her because of the colour of her skin. Sadly, Phyll is not alone, and this is why GMFA are encouraging people to get ‘switched on’.


Another inspiration for the campaign is a startling account of racism that occurred during London Pride – a day when the LGBT community traditionally champions acceptance and equality. In this instance, Hanaan Baig was at the centre of some racial tension. “There was an incident several years ago while me and other group members of Imaan (who provide support for LGBT Muslims) were marching at London Pride: other gay marchers came up to us and said, ‘I didn’t know we were marching with terrorists today!’ And that was a Pride day… yet there were other LGB&T people that felt it was necessary or perhaps even humorous to make such comments. It was pretty offensive.”


Hanaan is still proud to be part of the LGBT community, however. He continues: “It’s very important for us to stand together because, at the end of the day, we need to make sure that we’re unified and we show a unified front. We will learn from each other and we will teach other people as well. By interacting with other people, [they] will learn from our behaviour, and from the way we interact with them, about our civility, about our humanity, about our friendship – and about the way we love as well.”


Matthew Hodson, Head of Programmes at GMFA, says: “This is about encouraging a positive approach to racial diversity. We want to bring attention to, and really celebrate, how different cultures and nationalities can all come together and support each other in the LGB&T community. All too often, society discriminates against us for being gay, or different. We know how hurtful and harmful that can be, so why would we perpetuate that within our own community?”


Jaime Sylla, project manager for Big Up, says: “We hope that LGBT people, irrespective of ethnic background, can draw parallels between the experience of homophobia and that of racism, and appreciate that our common struggle far outweighs what we think separates us.” 

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