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On Race in the LGBTQ Community, Black Lives Matter, and How We Can Do Better

On Race in the LGBTQ Community, Black Lives Matter, and How We Can Do Better
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Rafiki

Trans people of color are after thoughts, and that needs to stop. INCLUDE US in your processes. Hire us… And don’t just hear the same people – hear a multitude of people. Listen to infinite stories. They will all be different.. The only way to ensure trans people of color are heard is to listen.

First of all, when you saw the headline, “Black Lives Matter Toronto Briefly Halts Pride Parade,” what was your initial reaction?

My reaction was, “Oh my god, that’s amazing!” Pride has always felt weird for me. So hearing that BLM actually got people to listen to that was incredible.

One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the conversation – whether in support of or opposition to BLM’s pride demonstration/demands – seems to be dominated by white, cis guys (myself included). Why do you think that is so?

People listen to cis, white guys. That’s why. Our society is literally build from whiteness. “Pride” was appropriated and stolen by cis white people, although it was black and trans women of color who fought for queer rights. I am not black, nor am I a trans woman and it is not my place to speak on those experiences. As a middle class brown trans man, I am extremely privileged, and I myself do not feel safe or included at most ‘pride’ related events. It’s like hey. I am so glad we are all talking about our experiences, but I don’t relate to this at all.

It feels pretty shitty, and that is with lighter skin and trans male privilege. At the women and trans festival here in Edmonton, an individual who is black and non binary by the name of Lynx hosted an incredible workshop for QTIPOC individuals, and that was the most incredible “pride” event I have ever been to. I think I finally felt as though my experiences were legitimate somewhere at ‘Pride’.

What can allies do to best support queer people of colour? Is it capacity building? Is it “leaning out” to make room for QPOC leaders? What are your thoughts?

I think allyship looks different for different people, as not all QTIPOC people have the same experiences. For me, my white friends listen to me talk about my experiences and support me through them. This is being an ally.

On a broader scale, we need more QTIPOC people in leadership positions. That whole “there can only be one” bullshit you hear in activist circles? POC groups hating each other because capitalism makes us all compete for resources? ERASE THAT out of your minds. There can be many.

There are so many rich histories and experiences and stories. Take the time to listen, and give people opportunities to share. Find ways to compensate people. Not all POC’s  are the same. Not all POC’s even identify as poc’s. Not all POC’s have the same experiences. These are obvious statements, but you’d be surprised. I think putting POC’s in leadership roles is essential as well so that they are not just accessing services but they are creating them as well.

A lot of people are taking issue with the request to ban police floats and booths at Toronto Pride. I realize this is Edmonton and therefore the context is not exactly the same – there has been a consistent, well-documented trail of the oppression of POC at the hands of some members of the Toronto police department. But from, your standpoint as a queer person of colour, could you try and help some of the people who don’t get the importance of this demand get it?

Not all queer people of color think the same way I do about things. I personally think that police floats are threatening our marginalized community members and they need to go. There is literally zero reason for them to be there. I am a believer of the idea that the police department needs an entire reform though. Punitive measures are ridiculous. What gives other humans the right to control us?

It’s not about “not all police officers” or whatever. OBVIOUSLY not all police officers are bad. It is the system they are working for that needs a reform. That uniform represents a system that is corrupt and needs to go. I am not black, so I cannot speak to that, but from my own experiences, I have had shitty encounters with cops – not physical violence and I am super privileged in that, but I have been screamed at by security guards and police just for existing.

The other day I went into shoppers to look at makeup because fuck gender roles. I was with visibly trans friends and we all got verbally harassed by their security guard. He called us “little bitches”. Don’t go to the shoppers on 82nd ave and 109 street. Literally!

Police do the same kind of stuff. I was charging my phone at Bay station and I got screamed at by a cop. I look different  – AKA I’m not a cis, white man. Therefore, I should be harassed. It’s fucking bullshit. Again, it is the SYSTEM that I am against, not individual cops. I know cops who are actually super awesome people. Not wanting police floats is not the same as them targeting queer people of color, mainly black people. POC’s are not a system, whereas the police force is. So people who chant BLUE LIVES MATTER are privileged enough to be able to do so and I hope we can find ways to educate and raise awareness to these individuals.

I know this year you made a statement at pride wearing a homemade shirt saying that “All bodies are valid. Not just the ones you see at Pride.” As a trans person of colour, do you sometimes feel invisible – or under/unrepresented – in our community?

You remember that! I always feel invisible. I can’t remember a time when i didn’t feel that way. That’s why I wear so many bright colors – hoping I’ll be less invisible! Evolution is okay but it’s not for me. None of this stuff is for me. And even when it says it is, it never is. I read this thing the other day and it was like, we say bike riders can ride on the road. Do we actually do anything to include bikers on our roads? Occasionally there is a super shitty bike line thrown off to the side, but we literally do nothing else. That is how I feel on a regular basis.

Trans people of color are after thoughts, and that needs to stop. INCLUDE US in your processes. Hire us. I am so grateful to work at the Landing. I recognize how powerful that is. And don’t just hear the same people – hear a multitude of people. Listen to infinite stories. They will all be different. I am getting tired of white activists who claim to ‘be supportive of trans people’ and then go ahead and silence us when we aren’t living up to their bureaucratic bullshit standards. The only way to ensure trans people of color are heard is to listen. Again, I am not black so I cannot tell you what black folks need, but I can say what I think my own community needs. As a brown trans guy, the above is what I need.

One of central arguments around not banning police floats and booths at Pride is that the police and the LGBTQ community have made strides in recent year and have a much more positive relationship now. However, we are seeing that it appears as though perhaps that progress is limited to white, cisgender, LGBTQ folks. And even outside of that particular situation, it seems as though a lot of “progress” the community makes can be limited to those with more privilege and power. Do you feel that as a trans person of colour that you’ve been left behind?

I always feel as though I’m left behind. However, I am also super privileged and we need to be aware of that as well. I don’t think I’m police’s biggest fan but I don’t think I’m a target either. So, in essence, I feel like QTIPOC individuals are left behind in many LGBTQ+ spaces, including building relationships with the police. but for me personally, I definitely do not experience this marginalization as much as many POC groups, specifically black folks.

The tone of this conversation has gotten tense and rather aggressive. People have said things in anger. People have gotten hurt. What is one positive thing you think we can take away from this experience as a community?

I think the community is uniting. I think the community, including white folks and non black POC’s are realizing we need to do something. Whether that is educating people in our sphere or attending rallies, etc. I think people realize by standing by and not taking action, peoples’ lives are at stake.

I also think that there are ways to get educated that are not at the expense of black folk’s emotional energy. Getting black people to educate about black lives matter can be super destructive if they do not have the capacity to do so. I think putting out opportunities for education but also recognizing that there are many different ways to learn. For example, I learned a lot from the black lives matter Facebook page, etc. Anyway, I digress. There is going to be a lot of organizing that comes from this, and that is something to take away – a “take away” message.

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