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Page last updated at 14:07 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 15:07 UK
'I was the token gay black man'

Ayodeji Oyebade
Ayodeji Oyebade came out at school

Hackney-born Ayodeji Oyebade came out as a teenager and for a number of years he was a prominent activist and face on the capital's gay scene.

Over the years, through his volunteering work, he has met many famous people including the Queen Mother and Princess Diana.

Labour supporter, Ayo, 41, has also encountered political figures such as Patricia Hewitt, Ben Bradshaw and Bernie Grant. He is good friends with his local MP, Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North).

To mark Gay Pride 2009, Ayo, who has had mental health and mobility issues, tells BBC London about his experiences and his thoughts on being both black and gay.


I was about 14 or 15 when I came out. I didn't know what gay was, all I knew was that I liked boys. There wasn't an epiphany, it just happened.

I came out in different stages. I was out at school first and because there were lesbian and gay teachers at the school, I didn't really get any hassle.

My form tutor said 'I've heard what you have been up to, I trust you not to do anything too outrageous.'

I was having an affair with a boy at school, but then I moved onto the next guy and then the next guy… I was quite the tart.


Pride London
London's first pride rally was held in 1972 and attracted 2,000 people

It was a few years later, when I was 19, that I came out to my family.

My older brother saw me on the Section 28 demonstration on television. This was before I told him. He said 'You're still my brother and I still love you.'

I wrote to my dad because my parents separated a number of years ago, when we were quite small. I wrote to my dad in Nigeria and told him. He didn't say much. 'Be a civil engineer [queer] then' he went.

I am quite close to my family and it's not really been an issue; it just never gets discussed. Well, with my brother and my sister it gets discussed but not with my parents. It's the older generation. They'll pass away eventually and I won't have to worry about it… As long as I am in the will!


My first job was at the Department for Social Security, now it is the Department for Work and Pensions. I was a clerical assistant and then a clerical officer there.

I was also working part-time at a doctor's answering service because the pay was so low. I've had a number of different jobs since then.

At the same time I was doing a lot of voluntary work; I was a gay activist for a number of years.

I did a co-counselling course for gay men. After that I applied for a job at London Lighthouse as a telephonist and it was some of the most challenging years of my life.


In 1991 I cracked up at London Lighthouse and was placed on special leave. The issues raised by people dying frequently from HIV/Aids took a great strain on me. When I got back to work nearly eight months later my post had been deleted and I was paid off.

I spent the last 15 years in the mental health system in Islington and I have recovered but I am going to be taking medication for the rest of my life. I've experienced the most homophobia that I have ever had from the other mental health service users in Islington.

I was in a BBC 2 thing called From the Edge looking at lesbian and gay mental health but I only got to say a few words. Sometimes I feel that I have been put up as the token black gay person. The one who goes to all the demos and the one who attends all the committee meetings!


Pride London
Over 500,000 attend the Pride parade

Racism and homophobia have both affected me equally. As I have got older my skin has got a bit tougher. I am able to counter it more easily.

I know that there are legal remedies that I can use, or complaints procedures that I can use. Or if it's in my own home I can take the sanction of banning people!

When I was younger I experienced regular racism within the gay community.

I had a job right through the recession in the 1980s and I was always accused of drug dealing or fraud or ripping people off.

I remember there were a number of burglaries and because there had been parties and I had been present, I was always asked: 'I've just been burgled; what do you know about it?'

I was like, 'I'm so fat, how could I get in your kitchen window?'


The wider lesbian and gay community, and I mean those of Anglo-Saxon descent, say colour doesn't matter. But colour does matter. When you are on the largely white gay scene, you stand out a mile and if anyone wants to pick on you, you are vulnerable because you haven't got the power.

'Why do you need a people of colour tent?'

It is because you made us invisible within the wider lesbian and gay community. It's only a few token people that have been given any prominence.


Gay Pride in London
More people of colour now attend Pride

I wouldn't say there is any more homophobia in the black community than in the wider community.

I don't think that is a particular issue. I would say it comes from the Churches, but even in hip-hop culture there are acts like QBoy.

There is now a very active gay and lesbian black scene out there. People come from all over the country to go to a black gay event in London.


People of colour and sexuality need to be accepted not just in our own communities but also in the wider community.

We congratulate ourselves on London being such a tolerant city, but we need to be accepted, not just tolerated.

Tolerance means 'We will tolerate you as long as we are comfortable with you being here, but as soon as you do something threatening we can kick you out.' With the BNP being in the ascendant I do feel there is that threat.



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I didn't really have any role models when I was growing up. There was the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre project, which was quite a big influence on my life.

For younger people out there today, as was said to me when I was a youngster: 'Remember that you are not alone.'

There is always support out there. Practice safe sex because HIV and other sexually transmitted infections are on the rise.

Because of my mental health problems I haven't been to Pride as regularly as I used to. But I have noticed there is a larger African, Asian, African-Caribbean presence at Pride than there used to be.

I won't be going to Pride this year, either. I was in a car accident and I have got mobility problems. It is almost impossible for me to get there and really enjoy the festivities.

But I'll be there in spirit and I say 'God bless you Pride!'

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