by Sarah Cope, Rainbow Sisters facilitator

For the second year running, Rainbow Sisters, the lesbian and bisexual women asylum seekers’ group at Women for Refugee Women, marched at London Pride. This year we were allotted 25 wristbands, and so our group, which has grown a lot in the past 12 months, took up a good amount of space on the parade.

In the weeks running up the event, we tie dyed t-shirts, (thank you to volunteer Elaine for the excellent idea!). We then hand lettered them (‘RAINBOW SISTERS’) and made placards, bearing such messages as ‘SHUT DOWN YARL’S WOOD’ and ‘WE WILL NOT BE DISCREET’, the latter a reference to what LGBT+ asylum seekers at risk of being deported have been advised to do in the past by the UK Home Office.

Rainbow Sisters paraded through central London, down a corridor of cheers and appreciation. For women who had been taught to hide their sexuality, to be suddenly publicly celebrated in this way was overwhelming.

Olivia N from Uganda said:

“It was my first Pride – I was so excited to see people like me! I couldn’t keep the joy inside myself! I was with my partner and we were happy to express our love for each other publicly.”

Tua from Cameroon expressed it like this:

“For me, it was an inspiration. I feel so open and free. Coming to Pride gives me the encouragement not to hide who I am.”

Lilly from Kenya said:

“I feel that we have a lot of support from the public. The way they were cheering and waving at us, we felt love, like it was from the whole of London!”

The next day, the women donned their Rainbow Sisters t-shirts again, and attended UK Black Pride, which this year was held in Haggerston Park in Hackney. The group took to the Wellbeing and Wellness stage to talk about their plight as lesbian and bisexual women asylum seekers in the UK.

Their message was “We need your support as allies. Asylum seeking and immigration are LGBT+ issues.”

The group then performed their ‘Rainbow Sisters’ song with gusto. Later, they whooped with appreciation when some time was given on the main stage to speak about the plight of PN, an Ugandan lesbian, who was deported in 2013 under the now unlawful ‘Detained Fast Track’ system. Despite being ordered by the courts to return PN, the Home Office are challenging the decision.

Olivia from Uganda said of Black Pride:

“I’ve been amazed by how welcoming everyone is. We look after each other.”

Reflecting on how, last year, on hearing Black Pride founder ‘Lady Phyll’ Opoku-Gyimah speak at Women for Refugee Women about her own sexuality, she herself was able to ‘come out’, Olivia said:

“Hearing her talk about herself made me think about what it meant for me. It felt like she was speaking directly to me. I just sat there, so attentive! I don’t have any regrets.”

Sarah from Kenya said:

“I’ve enjoyed it so much. It was a good experience to come to Black Pride, to see how people celebrate us. They know we can add value to the community.”

Barbara from Uganda spoke for everyone when she concluded:

“I enjoy the fact that we are all one family, and I love the atmosphere in our family!”

Roll on next year!