By JUMI RHODES
The founder of UK Black Pride, Rainbow List judge and Stonewall trustee, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah has turned down an award of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) of the Queen of England’s New Year Honours List. The New Year Honours list, which has almost 1,000 names, is drawn up to recognise and reward exceptional contribution to civic life and society in the United Kingdom. The recently-released list has eminent personalities like Blur’s Damon Albarn, Barbara Windsor and James Nesbitt.
On why she rejected the award, the UK-based Phyll Opoku-Gyimah told DivaMag that: “As a trade unionist, a working class girl, and an out black African lesbian, I want to stand by my principles and values. If you’re a member of a minority – or multiple minorities – it’s important to be visible as a role model for others [and] for your successes to be seen.
“An honour is a very public statement that the establishment has decided that you, and what you do, are valued by the wider society. You’ve worked hard, and they’ve actually noticed. Maybe you’ve fought for workers’ rights, or LGBTQI rights, in defiance of those in power, and yet here they are, offering you an award, letting you in. It may help you raise the profile of future work you do. All of these are good reasons for accepting one, and yet, Member of the British Empire?
“I don’t believe in empire. I don’t believe in, and actively resist, colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where – among many other injustices – LGBTQI people are still being persecuted, tortured and even killed because of sodomy laws, including in Ghana, where I am from, that were put in place by British imperialists. I’m honoured and grateful, but I have to say no thank you.”
As co-founder and Trustee of UK Black Pride in 2005 it is safe to say that Phyll is a leading light behind the award-winning celebration for Black LGBT communities to take pride in their ethnicity and sexuality. With her background in the UK civil service, central government she has worked for Department of Works & Pensions and Fraud Investigation Service, Phyll then joined the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) the largest civil service trade union as the only Black female Negotiator in the area of Law and Justice bargaining before being appointed PCS’ Head of Equality, Health and Safety. Phyll’s commitment to workplace equality and social justice led to her election onto the TUC LGBT Committee.
Phyll pride’s herself as an activist who is passionate about what she believes in and works diligently to make people aware of the cause, she has worked tirelessly to build UK Black Pride by bringing together LGBT activists, artists, volunteers and supporters from across the LGBT community. Her efforts were recognised with a nomination as ‘Woman of the Year’ at the Black LGBT Community Awards 2007, as a top-50 entrant in the Independent’s Pink List 2012, a top-100 entrant in the World Pride Power List 2012, a Prime Minister’s Big Society Award nomination in 2012, and invitation to judge the Stonewall Awards 2012.
Phyll has also led UK Black Pride to win Black LGBT Community Awards in 2006 and 2007, the Pink Paper Readers’ Award and the Stonewall Community Award in 2011. Phyll is a strong, a working class family-orientated Ghanaian woman who understands the Twi and Fanti languages which connect her to a rich African cultural heritage that advocates for unity and equality.