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Tipping Points: A History of Racism

Part 1

Editorial Staff January 27, 2021

In 2020, North America' attention was focused on the issue of racism, and that conversation carried into the Queer community with varying degrees of success. But what do you know about the ongoing racism within our community? Here is just a couple of some of the many, many incidents that our queer community has been part of. Please keep in mind that there countless other incidents that take place within the queer community on a regular basis. This is part one of an ongoing series to ensure that when BIPOC members of our community speak out in frustration, anger or fear, our collective history remembers that these feelings were not sparked by one incident, but instead is contextualized in an environment of ongoing discrimination. This a call for the community and a reminder that to move forward, we first need to acknowledge the harm that has been caused.

Body Politic (1985)

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The Body Politic began in late October of 1971 as a “radical tabloid born of political conviction and a hunger for change” (Ed Jackson and Stan Persky). It quickly became one of the most important queer periodicals in North America and was known for its ongoing erasure of Queer BIPOC folks who were creating and mobilizing movements within the community. In 1985, one of their publishing decisions, sparked an politically charged moment that divided the LGBT2Q+ community at the time and raised to surface the issue of racism in the queer community.

In the February edition of the Body Politic, an ad was printed for a “handsome, successful gay white male looking for a young well built black man for houseboy”. The personal advertisements submitted to The Body Politic were not automatically published, but had to go through a review process before a decision was made to print. At the time, Philip Solanki, the only person of colour working at The Body Politic, along with several others reviewed the ad and deemed the racial/sexual characterization inappropriate and should not run. However,despite these concerns, the personal ad was still published to the stunned outrage of the Queer BIPOC community.

In the following months, meetings both internally within The Body Politic and in the community were held to discuss the acceptability of the ad, the decision to publish, and the culture both within the collective and the queer community in general which led to it. One of these meetings was held between The Body Politic Collective with representatives of Zami, Gay Asians of Toronto and Lesbians of Color. At this meeting, Alan Li, one of the community representatives noted that "at the meeting we were made to feel that our arguments were non-representative, our objections hysterical, and our feeling defensive." As the meeting continued, the personal ad controversy was cast in a clear light, one which queer people of colour perceived as a choice between ‘gay’ liberation and the politics of anti-racism and racial identity, a choice that they were both unwilling and unable to make. For queers of colour, these weren’t a choice but were intrinsically wrapped together.

“For black queers, we live and love in the ruins of the aftermath of The Body Politic, not because of it, but in spite of it,” - Rinaldo Walcott

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The Body Politic then published a collection of memos debating the issue in the April edition of the tabloid. Within the collection were letters written by members of the collective, and from community members. While there were a couple letters from queers of colour and allies that challenged the racism of the ad, many of the memos written included racist stereotypes and language furthering the alienation of many queer people of color from the community.

This politically charged moment exposed the racism that was prevalent in attitudes particularly those of white gay men and led to debates both around the racism that was ongoing in the Queer community and challenging the politics of desire and race. It is not surprising to note that in the 1980s and early 1990s many more queer people of colour began to organize as a way of creating spaces where they finally felt included and challenging the whiteness of the queer culture, making people of colour visible and present. Sadly enough, in spite of increased community representation and advocacy, these communities remained only marginally represented in The Body Politic and the issues in 1985 remain just as relevant today with these racist attitudes still perpetrating harm to queer communities of colour.

Pride Toronto (2016)

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In 2016, the Pride Toronto parade slowly wound it’s way across the parade route until the honoured group - Black Lives Matter Toronto slowed down as they neared College and Yonge so that Indigenous drummer could come forward to form a circle and lead them in a staged sit-in to protest the treatment of Queer Black people by Pride.

This politically charged moment did not come out of nowhere. It was only after numerous calls for change to increase representation and address anti-blackness went unheard that they disrupted the Parade from within. Black Lives Matter - Toronto were using their position in the parade to ask to be afforded the opportunity to be their full queer selves at Pride. They were asking for safety from police that represent a clear and present danger to many queer, Black, Indigenous and people of colour, including queers living in poverty, sex workers and people with disabilities. They were asking this in a way that made it difficult to continue to ignore the issues and silence the community.

 

This moment drew lines in the sand that made visible the divide within the Queer community - those who believe that discrimination against queers no longer existed and those who understand that discrimination was ongoing especially against Indigenous, Black POC, Trans folk, sexworkers, those who are disabled, homeless and more.

"Pride Toronto, we are calling you out! For your anti-blackness, your anti-indigeneity," - Alexandria Williams

The protest was born out of many issues the Queer BIPOC community was facing. Many of the members of Black Lives Matter - Toronto, were part of the Queer community and had first hand experience of these problems. They were also not alone in the sit in, instead, joined by many other groups such as Black Queer Youth, an organization for LGBT people under the age of 29, that had its stage moved farther away from the main crowd and was struggling against having its voice silenced; indigenous people who also boycotted pride and its erasure; and Blackness Yes, the community organization that hosts Blockorama, Pride Toronto’s oldest exhibit, which has also faced some of the largest budget cuts.

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The sit-in lasted for 30 minutes before Pride Toronto agreed to a list of nine demands for Pride, including increased funding and support for Blockorama and Black Queer Youth and the reinstatement of the South Asian stage. There were demands to address the ongoing anti-blackness of Pride as well as a call for Pride to stop allowing police floats and booths at the festival. Queer Black folks of all ages stood unrelenting in the face of loud jeers, items being thrown and threats of violence in a bid to finally be listened to. Asking to be recognized instead of ignored on a day that was meant for community. A community where they should have been equally included but were instead constantly relegated to the outskirts.

The parade then continued amongst a palpable anger in the air, mostly from white queers who were angry that “their” parade had been stopped. Many attempted to erase the queerness of Black Lives Matter - Toronto as a way to distance them from the queer community and being listened to as a queer issue that mattered. By Monday Pride Toronto had already began to renege on their promises.

In the weeks and months to come, intense conversations and debates took place across the entire country with this moment being a catalyst that gave Queer BIPOC folks a moment to be able to have their voices heard and to speak out against the issues they were facing while exposing the mostly white queer attitudes that Queer BIPOC folks do not belong to the queer community.

Queer BIPOC folks took on the work of trying to make others understand that they were part of the community too. Many reminding others of the history of the queer community and pointing out that the very attitudes of white gays against queer people of colour fighting for equal rights and an end to racism was part of the problem.

The fight to be seen as part of the queer community and for equality continues onwards today.

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