“It is not out differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde, provided by anya gwynne
All too often the conversation about LGBTQ issues takes place in a way such that it excludes queer people of diverse racial, social, and linguistic backgrounds.
Our City of Colours is a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization founded by Darren Ho that, according to Ho, “aims to promote the visibility of, and address issues facing LGBTQ people in a variety of linguistic and cultural communities.”
Through promoting positive images of LGBTQ persons Our City of Colours helps “to mitigate the combined effects of racism and homo/bi/transphobia often affecting members of this demographic,” Ho tells Arthur.
“As an organization we have also recruited over 100 members to help us further our cause. Our greatest accomplishment, which we continue to expand on, is getting people to care about the issues facing under-served communities, when it comes to LGBTQ resources.”
In short, the group works to combat the effects of intersectionality. This is a phenomenon wherein social detriments from several identities (such as sexual identity and racial identity) are experienced simultaneously to result in a loss of privilege.
Ho gives the example of a new Canadian who is a member of the queer community who might feel excluded from their cultural community for being queer, and excluded from the queer community on the basis of their cultural background. For people in this situation the two communities they are a member of can feel like opposing forces and they might feel pressure to choose one community over the other.
This can be especially difficult for people who come from nations in which being in a same-sex relationship is a crime. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), same sex relationships are illegal in 76 countries, and punishable by death in five of those nations (and in parts of two others).
Our City of Colours aims to bridge these identity gaps by providing these people with resources such as positive representation in the form of multi-lingual poster campaigns.
The posters (pictured) include photos of smiling members of these communities with short positive messages in both English and the first-language of the person photographed. So far the campaign has included Punjabi, Farsi, Chinese, Spanish, Filipino, Vietnamese, French, and Russian.
Including these languages is important for Our City of Colours because there is a tendency in the queer community to approach issues in a primarily westernized way that can be exclusionary.
“When we think about different LGBTQ issues it’s important to recognize the role that culture plays in it. Two topics that come to mind are coming out, and dating. If we reflect on our own lives, we can ask ourselves how our background culture has played a role in our different stages of coming out, and how our background has played a role in our dating life,” says Ho.
Editor of Absynthe Magazine and Former President of Champlain College Cabinet Caitlin Jones says that a campaign like Our City of Colours that focuses on individual backgrounds is needed at Trent.
Jones tells Arthur “Any of the groups related to race on campus are specifically regional … I come from a slave family, so [some groups on campus] are not particularly relevant to anything I go through.”
However, given the lack of visibility of these groups Jones admits “I’m not sure how many queer students there are with racial backgrounds.”
Regarding the resources that exist for queer black students at Trent, Jones informs, “While [certain groups] have their hearts in the right place I find them to be not particularly accessible.”
President of the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) Brea Hutchinson also mentions that “there is huge room for increases in [the Peterborough community] for being more accountable to racialized and marginalized folks” but points towards the Trent Queer Collective (TQC) and the Community and Race Relations Committee of Peterborough (CRRC) as examples of groups that racialized queer people could turn to.
Vice President Student Issues Tessa Nasca points towards the fact that the TCSA’s Board of Directors includes 10 equity commissioners who specifically address certain issues, “for example Queer Students Commissioner, Anti-Racism Commissioner, Indigenous Students Commissioner, and we’ve seen a lot of intersection happening in those positions. Bringing those voices together around our board helps facilitate conversation.”
While Nasca admits that these positions cannot address every problem each year, “a variety of different intersections get addressed over the course of a few years at the TCSA depending on who fills those positions.”
Prevention Education Worker at the Peterborough Aids Resource Network (PARN) anya gwynne tells Arthur that PARN works with many other organizations to address different intersections.
“Black Cap, Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS), and Two-spirited People of the First Nations are just a few agencies that we connect with and request information and resources from” gwynne says.
PARN is also aware of Our City of Colours and gwynne called it “an excellent initiative,” adding that PARN is “always looking for opportunities to bridge the gaps, reaching out to other organizations working with ethnic and racialized minorities, layering the level of LGBTQ support with the work they are already doing.”
But, for Our City of Colours, the responsibility to enact positive social change cannot be shouldered entirely by these groups—it also has to be taken by those talking about these issues. In other words, the way we approach these issues cannot be exclusionary.
For gwynne, rather than asking “how can we not be exclusionary,” “The question is how can we ensure that we are discussing LGBTQ issues in ways that implicitly include ethnic and racialized minorities?”
Nasca would reply that in order to do this “we need to let those people speak, to tell their stories. If there’s a particular language, or a particular word that somebody wishes to use, use that, listen to that, and respect that.
“Instead of trying to tell stories or talk about people’s experiences, give them that space.”
Hutchinson agrees, and also identifies “that one of the components of a Western understanding of sexual identities is prescribing people words, languages, and experiences, and I think if we really want to challenge that we have to stop that prescribing.”
This idea of letting marginalized folks speak for themselves is the one behind Our City of Colours, especially regarding its multi-lingual component. Some languages do not have words for LGBTQ people that are free from derogatory connotations, so speaking for oneself becomes a double-task in this context.
Although no organization with an equivalent focus currently exists at Trent, many remain positive about the potential for one, and about the ability of existing groups to respond to these challenges should they arise.
Hutchinson thinks Trent is “ripe for so much anti-racist, queer-positive, and anti-homophobia organizing, and we really need to create a group of community and campus organizing that can start tapping this potential and creating positive change.”
Jones tells Arthur that she has been able to find many resources on the Internet, through various blogs, to assist her with the issues she faces.
As for Our City of Colours, Ho does not want to limit the organization to Vancouver. “I encourage those outside of the Vancouver Area to start your own initiatives to tackle these issues of visibility in your own communities, because you know what’s best for your own community.
“Our City of Colours would be happy to support new initiatives that help raise the much needed visibility.”
Ho also notes that Our City of Colours can be contacted by email at [email protected] for digital and print copies of their posters to distribute outside of the Vancouver Area.
Ho tells Arthur, “We’ve gotten interest about our organization from cities all over Canada such as Toronto and Winnipeg, so it’s likely that in the future we will be expanding or working closely with other cities as well.”
As far as Peterborough and Trent is concerned, the consensus seems to be that such an initiative is, as Our City of Colours has been described, long overdue.