London’s nightlife and club culture have been celebrated as a crucible for fashion and art for decades. But, for just as long, we’ve been ignoring the role queer people of colour played in this time. The new documentary Beyond: There’s Always A Black Issue, Dear wants to change.
Even though homosexuality had been partially decriminalised in 1967, the anti-gay policies of Thatcher and tabloid sensationalism of the Aids epidemic meant British attitudes to race and queerness were still particularly brutal. The stereotypes of minorities, pervasive in light entertainment, set the tone. This lack of representation also forced queer people of colour to create their own image during their teens, which in some cases was defiantly camp: accentuating behaviour that was once mocked, challenging society’s heteronormative behaviour and playing a crucial role in British cultural history. Yet this is the first time they have been photographed before.
Music and fashion were an escape from small-mindedness and even as early teens the fashionable disco and punk clubs were the laboratories of choice. Claire Lawrie’s documentary interweaves the stories of people with tales of growing up, coming out and family, contextualising the time period with archive footage and a score by Robb Scott (who features in the film) and reggae superstar Dennis Bovell. It features people from those decades, a zenith for London nightlife, who were born out of clubs including The Jungle, Pink Panther, Michael and Gerlinde Costiff’s Kinky Gerlinky and Europe’s biggest gay club, Heaven.
Although the arts is becoming more diverse, it will be refreshing to show that queer people of colour are not just designated as flavour of the month, but seen as integral to cultural life in a progressive United Kingdom. Black and brown queer visibility still has a long way to go. Black gay club nights such as Bootylicious, Happy Days and Asian/Indian Club Kali have been running successful nights for years, focusing on new generations, and UK Black Pride, cofounded by Lady Phyll, inspired more than 10,000 to descend on East London’s Haggerston Park this summer, with long queues snaking out the gates up to the early evening. Such is the demand for their free annual event that they have recorded a vast increase in numbers. Black Pride is a mixture of Notting Hill Carnival and Pride and a reminder that, even though gentrification and high rents may have squeezed out a lot of gay spaces, platforms such as Black Pride can still galvanise us to create create events, spaces and places where queer people of colour can feel free to be themselves.