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The Je Ne Sais Quoi award

October 2021

Black queer travel guide

“SELFISHLY, THIS IS SOMETHING I’VE ALWAYS WANTED. TO MEET MEMBERS OF MY EXTENDED BLACK QUEER COMMUNITY, GET A GLIMPSE AND THEREBY FEEL AT HOME - EVEN IF IT’S JUST FOR A WEEK.”

The world is your oyster: travel guides prove it. They show that beautiful and exotic destinations across the world are accessible to all. But who are they catering for, really? For Black Queer travelers, some destinations are off the map. There are places where they’re not welcome, it might be unsafe, or their sexuality and relationship are criminalised. And that’s where it all began for Paula Akpan, Founder of The Black Queer Travel Guide. 

Together with her colleague Lorraine Pinto, Community manager, their goal is to make Black Queer travel safe. At least, that was the initial plan. But they quickly realised it was much bigger than that. The Black Queer Travel Guide is more than just a digital resource helping Black Queer people travel safely, it’s also a community, an activist network and a creative platform.

We met up with Paula (online) to talk about their initiative and what it means for the Black Queer community.

The below conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How did the The Black Queer Travel Guide come to life?

Paula: My partner and I wanted to travel to Tanzania, and we were looking for safe advice as a lesbian couple moving through a state where it’s still very much criminalized. And it was a complete lack of resources that led us to think: is there something we could be doing a little bit better? Is there some sort of place where all of this information could be localized? That’s how it started. 

How do you work with local communities to contribute to the guide? 

P: Initially, I did about four months of research with Black Queer activists from around the globe to try and understand more about the way that they organise within their communities. For example, how do you hold an event in a part of Nigeria where you can be sentenced to death? How do you take precautions and look after other community members? 

That research was really informative and helped us set it up at the start. We are so keen to ensure that we prioritize nations that we descend from, but also nations that have been pillaged, with outdated and oppressive laws as the result of colonization. We need to engage with these communities in a trauma-informed way. 

The aim is to have at least one ambassador in each of the cities we’re focusing on. If I’m going to Kingston in Jamaica, I can book time with local ambassadors. They will be paid for their services and essentially act as tour guides, showing me a bar that is frequented by Black Queer locals, a beach hangout spot for Black Queer people and a museum that looks at Queer life in Kingston. Selfishly, this is something I’ve always wanted. To meet members of my extended Black Queer community, get a glimpse and thereby feel at home - even if it’s just for a week.

 

“GOING TO THESE NIGHTS AND MEETING OTHER BLACK QUEER PEOPLE IS SOMETHING THAT’S BEEN REALLY HUGE FOR ME IN UNDERSTANDING MY OWN QUEERNESS.”

What have your travel experiences as a Black Queer person looked like? 
P: For me, some of the positives haven’t even been overseas. The times that I’ve felt most at home has been at Black Queer nights in my local community in London. At BBZ or Pussy Palace, where you know that the floor is going to be filled with Black Queer people just giving it their all and you get to spend hours being enamoured with all of it. Going to these nights and meeting other Black Queer people is something that’s been really huge for me in understanding my own queerness. I looked immediately around myself and discovered so much. Having a few Black Queer people around you will change your life and your understanding of yourself. It did for me. 

That is also something that we would like to facilitate, especially if you don’t have the means to travel far, to know what’s nearby and who you can connect with. We are thinking about a potential mentor angle where we can link older people, or people who have been affirmed in their identities for longer, with people who are just entering this glorious Black Queer world and don’t know where to start.

Your research must put you in touch with many people who have traumatic experiences to share. How do you deal with that on a daily basis?  

P: If we are contrasting myself as someone based in London with someone that I’ve interviewed who is based in Uganda, where there is a very different level of violence. There are so many things that I discovered through these interviews that really shifted my lens. There is an element that they don't even have to contend with, which is to specify blackness. Many of us are first or second generation where we hear about how people speak about queerness back home or the way that homosexuality is viewed. We are constantly submerged in Black trauma and in Black joy. 

How do you think the pandemic has impacted the project? 
P: We’ve had so much time to plan, think and strategise. We’re not operating from a place of knee-jerk reaction. For example, some things that started last summer in response to the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have been knee-jerk, and they end up tapering out as there was not a plan or structure in place.

Within the app that we are currently building, and hoping to launch in 2023, we are thinking about the way that we can engage with users. We want it to be free at the point of download, and when you open the app you will be able to see tips for specific cities or regions. It will be similar to our existing web page, where you can hone in on a continent or city and find out about legislation and all of the standard travel stuff, like language, currency, embassy information. But most importantly, the guide will be pulled together by local recommendations and local reviews.

Make sure to visit the Black Queer Travel Guide here.

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