Pride is ‘for everyone to enjoy themselves,’ Q&A with Pride Toronto’s International Grand Marshal Lady Phyll
Pride Toronto's 2022 International Grand Marshal Lady Phyll is seen in this undated photo. (Pride Toronto/Corrine Cumming)
Published Saturday, June 25, 2022 2:46PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, June 26, 2022 6:06AM EDT
After two long years, Toronto’s Pride Parade is back on Sunday where members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and allies will march along downtown streets to celebrate diversity and protest for equal rights for everyone.
One distinguished guest who will be in attendance is this year’s International Grand Marshal Dr. Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, widely known as Lady Phyll.
As the co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride and the the executive director of human rights charity Kaleidoscope Trust, Lady Phyll is a renowned advocate for the 2SLGBTQ community worldwide.
In January, Lady Phyll received an honourary doctorate from London South Bank University for her work in the fight against homophobia, sexism and racism in the U.K. and globally.
Toronto Pride is Lady Phyll’s first pride event after the global COVID-19 lockdown, but this is not her first time being honoured with a prestigious role. In 2019, she was the grand marshal at New York’s World Pride.
CP24.com spoke to Lady Phyll about being Toronto Pride’s international grand marshal, her accomplishments in human rights advocacy and what work needs to be done to achieve equal rights for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
CP24: Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to work in human rights advocacy?
Lady Phyll: “I guess I've always known that I was different and I've always asked questions, been really inquisitive about justice and social justice. I went to a school which was predominantly white. And, you know, we were taught everything about the Battle of Hastings 1066, Christopher Columbus, but we were never taught enough about our histories and ‘Her’stories. So I think I dug deeper, I wanted to read about Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, James Baldwin. And I also came out and had a greater understanding of self and wanted to dig deep and know what have our communities looked like in the past? What hasn't been done, what activities do we do to amplify ourselves? So that has been that whole trajectory and I've also been a really staunch trade unionist. So you know, workers rights have been incredibly important to me and when you connect and intertwine all of that it just makes for all the ingredients about moving forward where social justice is concerned.”
CP24: Can you tell us about UK Black Pride and Kaleidoscope Trust?
LP: “I lead this amazing international LGBT+ organization called Kaleidoscope Trust, which works to uphold human rights for LGBT+ people across the globe, primarily in the Commonwealth. I’ve been in that role for three years now and I have the fortunate pleasure of working with some of the most amazing activists.”
“With UK Black Pride, it's been in existence since 2005. We are really about that education piece; that love, hope, joy, celebration and protests and understanding the different intersections where our communities meet. So from Black and brown peoples, who are looking at race, gender, class, religion, faith, belief, maturity, and our young people looking at housing and all other aspects of what 2SLGBTQ+ people really, really want to focus on.”
CP24: When did you find out about being Pride Toronto’s International Grand Marshal and how excited are you?
LP: “I think I found out about three months ago and when I was told by the executive director of Pride Toronto I literally jumped off the chair and I started screaming with excitement. Because to be the international grand marshal is not just sending a message of solidarity, but it's connecting all of the work around the world and bringing love, joy, hope, the elements of being part of this wider global movement of 2SLGBTQIA+ people. It's just thrilling.”
CP24: Have you been to Toronto before?
LP: “I've been to Toronto before. I've seen some work out here, working with activists and leaders, and grassroots community activists, I should say, around global Black pride, and we're speaking about a human rights conference that will be coming to Toronto in July.”
CP24: What do you like about the city?
LP: “The people. You know, I'm single so I can actually mingle with beautiful people, beautiful energy. The hospitality is just so on point. I haven't actually been to other places and felt this much love. And it's not just because I'm the international grand marshal. I think people genuinely, especially after this lockdown period where we haven't had a pride (event) for two years, haven't been able to connect. It just feels like it's meant to be.”
CP24: What pride events are you attending this weekend?
LP: “I'll be making sure I'm present at the trans rally. I'll be there at the Dyke March. I'll be there at the main stage. But also just connecting with as many people as possible through the parade, seeing families come out for the first time, meeting young queer people who this may be their first experience of pride and also finding time to eat and breathe as well. That's quite important.”
CP24: Are you familiar with past conflicts between Pride Toronto and Black Lives Matter Toronto? How do you think the organizations should collaborate going forward?
LP: “I guess this is not about me being familiar with the history of Black lives matter here in Toronto, but it's being familiar with the issues that face Black people and Black queer people. So if there's anything that Pride Toronto and organizations like Blackness Yes and Blockorama should be doing is working collaboratively and understanding the nuances and complexities and the beautiful nature of how our organizations and individuals should be able to coexist together.”
“I would say there's things that need to be addressed and looked at, and this could be the ways in how structural, systemic issues play out for for Black queer people in terms of housing, education, in terms of poverty. And some of that has to be looked at in line with how MPs take forward their work, how communities are well resourced and well funded. And more importantly, what visibility and amplification of the great work that they do takes place.”
CP24: What does pride mean for you?
LP: “I guess pride means so many different things. It can mean a home, it can mean chosen family, it can mean love, it can mean solidarity, it can mean togetherness, it can mean connecting. I think what this pride is going to be showing us today is the power of movements. And the power of movements when we come together and we turn up the volume on society. It means it makes it absolutely impossible to ignore us, erase us and to forget about us.”
“I just like to add that I think that we've got to understand pride is a movement and it's a process and it's one that has to be celebrated with so many different people because that's what makes our movement strong. It's not just for one particular group, it is really for everyone to enjoy themselves and that's exactly what I'm gonna do.”
CP24: What other projects are you working on?
LP: “We have UK Black Pride which is Sunday the 14th of August. As you know, everyone is welcome. It's going to be a beautiful celebration and protest of, you know, Black and POC (People of Colour) queer people celebrating themselves, loving on one another, enjoying the space that's been created for them and by them.”