This weekend Love Intersections co-hosted the first of two community gatherings called “Done with Diversity: Reframing the future for Indigenous and Racialized Artists”, in collaboration with several Indigenous organizations and other artists of colour, including Full Circle: First Nations Performing Arts, Visceral Visions, co.ERASGA, Vancouver Moving Theatre, Britannia Community Centre, and Rungh Cultural Society. The idea for the gathering grew from Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires, which is a multi-year, Canada wide initiative to decolonize the Canadian arts system, led by Indigenous artists and supported by racialized artists, by centering Indigenous arts practices. The central question we gathered around what “What does a decolonized Canadian arts system look like?”. The two gatherings are funded through the City of Vancouver’s “Host Your Own Engagement” program.
“Done with Diversity” is certainly a loaded phrase – and we deliberately chose it because as racialized artists and artists of colour, we are so fed up with the liberal ways that this idea of “diversity and inclusion” tokenizes us through the narrative of equity and equality, but in reality, the systemic barriers remain in place. We want more than just tokenistic gestures: we want to work towards decolonizing the Canadian arts system (and Canada) through centring Indigenous arts practices. Below are some of my thoughts from conversations at our gathering on Saturday, and some questions that opened up from our conversations.
I left the gathering on Saturday with a deep sense of gratitude to be amongst black, brown, yellow bodies (and allies) in a facilitated space that allowed us to speak, to be present, and to be our whole selves. It was such a power space to be able to talk about the traumas of systemic racism, and the impacts of colonialism to Indigenous communities, in a space that allowed us to be vulnerable, scared, angry, and make mistakes, without fear of retribution.
Several themes emerged from our gathering on Saturday. We talked at length about the need to connect, to have space to share, build solidarity and relationships. To have the time, energy, and resources to work together is deeply impacted by systemic barriers, and is a racialized issue. How can we find ways to get together more, to imagine new possibilities – new worlds – outside of the colonial paradigm?
The notion of relations and relationships was also a key theme that emerged from the discussions on Saturday. Neoliberalism is a deeply pervasive systemic issue, that dictates much of our lives, particularly in the arts community, where values are placed on production (literally). When “what you produce” is the key factor on how artists get rewarded, what other impacts get left out when the metrics are governed by neoliberalism? What happens when we centre right relations, with our communities, with our ancestors, with our future generations?
These ideas and conversations that we had on Saturday are only the beginning of what we hope will be a future of working together towards a decolonized Canadian arts system.
It has now been over a year since UBC’s rainbow Pride flag was burned down during the university’s annual OUTweek in February 2016. OUTweek is meant to bring recognition to students of diverse sexuality and gender identity backgrounds, and the burning of the rainbow Pride flag brought to the forefront a grim reality: not everyone agrees with what the flag stands for.
According to UBC student Brooklyn Fink, a transsexual woman who burned the flag down, “I intended in burning the flag only to illustrate my displeasure at the university’s failure to come to an agreement on the fact of the flag’s offensiveness.” As Fink stated in a VICE article, “I would like it if transsexual wasn’t included in LGBT.” What was clear in her motivation behind burning the flag — whether or not such an action was justified — is that Fink wished to express her disagreement in having her trans identity grouped together with the rest of the LGBTQ2+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, two-spirit) community.
Considering UBC’s rainbow Pride flag burning, some of you may be familiar with a more recent controversy within the LGBTQ2+ community regarding the rainbow Pride flag once again. There has been talk about adding black and brown stripes to the current rainbow Pride flag.
The addition of black and brown comes from Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, which unveiled the new Pride flag this month after saying, “It’s a push for people to start listening to people of colour in our community, start hearing what they’re saying, and really to believe them and to step up and say, ‘What can I do to help eradicate these issues in our community?’”.
On the other hand, disagreement to the addition of the black and brown stripes has stirred concern. One article from the Truth Revolt argues, “but wait, where’s the white stripe? Is the flag — which now also has to represent skin tones — now discriminating against Caucasians?”
Since Gilbert Baker designed the original rainbow Pride flag in 1978, multiple interpretations of Pride flags have been created to reflect the nuanced identities within the LGBTQ2+ acronym. Take for example, that the colours blue, pink and white symbolize transgender people; pink, purple and blue for bisexuals; and black, grey, white, and purple for people who are asexual. Adding new colours to the Pride flag is not unprecedented – only this time black and brown are being considered to be added to the mainstream rainbow Pride flag rather than as a separate flag.
Vancouver City Hall raising the blue, pink and white transgender flag in July 2015. Arlen Redekop/The Province
As a member of the LGBTQ2+ community, I personally have no issue with this.
I have no issue with adding black or brown because I acknowledge that right now, black and brown bodies are facing a disproportionate level of backlash within the LGBTQ2+ community for trying to make Pride parades political again by addressing the needs of their members who have not reached full equality yet. I know, controversial stuff, but I am siding with whichever groups of people currently continue to face ongoing systemic discrimination.
With that being said, is backlash to adding black and brown to the rainbow Pride flag in response to a certain demographic of LGBTQ2+ people who are seeking to assimilate into mainstream society? Does this assimilation include a resistance to political fragmentation?
According to Amin Ghaziani, associate professor of sociology at UBC and Canada research chair in sexuality and urban studies, we are living in a “post-gay” moment.
In a press release, he stated that our modern era is “characterized by a rapid assimilation of gays into the mainstream, not to mention the assimilation of straight culture into queer cultures as well.” In Ghaziani’s research of Princeton University’s LGBT student organizations’ name changes over a 38-year time-span (1972-2010) showed that LGBT student organizations gradually started to name themselves as more aligned to being as expansive and inclusive as possible — names like “Pride Alliance” replaced student organization names that had previously been more about distinct identities such as with the “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alliance.” I don’t think it is a coincidence that UBC’s very own “Pride Collective” follows this cultural shift too.
By moving towards an “Us and Them” rather than an “Us versus Them” logic, the change in LGBTQ2+ student organizations reflect the LGBTQ2+ community moving towards assimilation and inclusivity. No longer do some members within the LGBTQ2+ community see a need to distinguish themselves as separate from mainstream society. By understanding this important cultural shift in our society from Pride parades to LGBTQ2+ student organizations, how might we make sense of adding black and brown stripes to the rainbow Pride flag?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became the first Prime Minister to March in Vancouver’s 2016 Pride Parade. Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press
While considering the addition of black and brown to the rainbow Pride flag, Ghaziani raises an important point to consider from an interview previously conducted by UBC: “Pride parades have become more community celebrations than political statements … [in which] concerns arise about the viability of distinct queer culture.” These “distinct queer cultures” are visible in the annual Vancouver Dyke March, Vancouver’s Queer People of Colour march last year, Winnipeg’s first-ever Transgender March this month and more recently the March on Pride in Vancouver in response to the police presence in Vancouver’s larger upcoming Pride parade this year. What these marches all share in common is a shared queer culture that is significant enough to be made into a separate march distinct from the annual Pride parade. Similar to how there are different types of Pride flags for transgender, bisexual, and asexual, there are different types of marches that signify contextually unique political needs.
Vancouver’s March On Pride held on Sunday, June 25, 2017 centered Black and Indigenous LGBTQ2+ voices. Janet Rerecich/DailyXtra
If there are multiple iterations of the annual Pride parade through separate marches, how might these help make sense of the controversy of adding black and brown stripes to the rainbow Pride flag? I think that as long as discrimination towards racialized black and brown queer people exists, the need for their existence must be acknowledged in the additional colours of the flag to reflect the most contemporary cultural issues in our society.
Just like how many of us make an effort to recognize and acknowledge that we are on unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh land here at UBC as a form of activism until Indigenous rights are achieved, I see the additional colours to the Pride flag as a similar move — to soar with pride until racialized discrimination ceases to be an issue within the queer community.
So where does UBC proceed from here? Does UBC consider adding a black and brown stripe to the Pride flags they fly during their annual Pride week? Or does UBC consider raising the additional transgender flag, bisexual and asexual flags too? Such questions have no easy answers and should invoke deep critical thinking about the meaning of inclusivity within the LGBTQ2+ community.
In an ideal society, I would think that one symbol — which has undoubtedly been the mainstream rainbow flag — should represent and include everyone. But if it takes adding black and brown to the rainbow Pride flag to spark a discussion over the needs of racialized queer people, I am all for conversation starters about fighting against racism in the form of two additional black and brown stripes. Whether or not UBC chooses to add black and brown to their Pride flags next year, I hope that a conversation has precipitated over the fact that racialized issues are indeed relevant to the LGBTQ2+ community and are deserving of their own political rights.
We spoke with Kai Cheng Thom – Artist, Activist, Therapist, Performer – about her journey being queer, trans, Asian, her relationship with feminism, amongst many other things! Here is a sneak preview of the clip:
”[…] When we can talk about being loved, and when we can talk about loving our bodies, and loving other people’s bodies outside of how much they are valued sexually – then we can talk about equality.”
A few months ago, we spoke with Kira about her journey coming out, and she generously shared with us her life and her dreams. As a Trans* woman who came out and transitioned in adulthood, Kira explores some of the things she went through, and what it meant to come out later in life.
It may be hard to admit for some, but I believe that had “Mohammed Sharaz” been “Matthew Smith,” it would have not peaked the VPD’s interest and the media would have sensationalized it as they did. Many people have said that this incident should be blamed on the media and not the authorities as the authorities were simply making sure “people were safe,” but they are missing the point in how the authorities felt the safety of shoppers was at risk in the first place. This racialization of suspicion is not something that is new- nor is this an isolated incident- and as a brown Sikh man with a beard and a turban, I know that all too well.
This past Friday- January 15, 2016- an article posted by a popular Vancouver-based social media outlet went viral in local and national spheres on the internet. The piece featured images that had been leaked from the Vancouver Police Department of three men that had been deemed “suspicious.” The title of the article (which has since been changed) sparked a reaction that is all too familiar in today’s post-9-11 society: “Vancouver Police searching for 3 Middle Eastern men videotaping Pacific Centre Mall.”
People immediately began jumping to conclusions about the probability of another terrorist attack in North America, and several other news articles shared the news and added to the frenzied fear-mongering. However, as we all know, the three men in question ended up being innocent after all, and an article released later on Friday night explained the not-so-sinister motives of the group.
The frenzy has since died down, and the rash Facebook posts made by people have been deleted, but this event has opened up a “Pandora’s box” of issues that Vancouver, and Canada at large, has often denied or has avoided addressing. Racism is a problem that is thought to have been long gone, but that is unfortunately a myth. When racist events occur, the public reacts as if this is something out of the ordinary, and as Manisha Krishnan outlines in an article from Vice, the way these events are addressed never acknowledge the systemic racism that has always been in place.
However, people of colour across North America know too well that these occurrences are simply and physical manifestation of the underhanded discrimination that occurs daily. While Friday’s incident was not violent like the pepper spraying of Syrian refugees on the evening of January 8th was, the incident brought attention to something that is a daily occurrence, is very vicious, and enables attacks like the one we saw on Syrian refugees- microaggressions.
The Racialization of Suspicion
In a manual from the University of California’s Office of the President (UCOP), microaggressions are defined as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
Whether we like to admit it or not, these snubs are very much a part of the Vancouver landscape, one only needs to ask around to see how these racist undertones thrive as we continue to ignore them. It’s these microaggressions that set the stage for what Mohammed Sharaz and his two companions went through on Friday. It’s these microaggressions that painted a group of visually-impaired men, who were snapping pictures of landmarks in order to make it easier to find their way around Pacific Centre, as “suspicious.” It may be hard to admit for some, but I believe that had “Mohammed Sharaz” been “Matthew Smith,” it would have not peaked the VPD’s interest and the media would have sensationalized it as they did. Many people have said that this incident should be blamed on the media and not the authorities as the authorities were simply making sure “people were safe,” but they are missing the point in how the authorities felt the safety of shoppers was at risk in the first place. This racialization of suspicion is not something that is new- nor is this an isolated incident- and as a brown Sikh man with a beard and a turban, I know that all too well.
I became observant in my faith a few years ago, and I began keeping my beard, let my hair grow out, started wearing a turban, and became an Amritdhari- “baptised,” or “initiated”- Sikh. While this transformation changed the way I viewed my life and the way I viewed the world, it also changed the way that the world viewed me. The first thing I noticed was how I was getting “randomly” selected for checking more while crossing the border to meet family, or while flying. While on the Skytrain, I have seen this racialization of suspicion manifest, as people shift uneasily when I walk onto the train, or when the seat beside me is often left unoccupied, despite the fact that the everyone in the train is packed in like sardines and people are left standing and struggling to keep their balance. An acquaintance I knew from my clean-shaven days in high school once asked my cousin why I have “gone Al-Qaeda,” and once an elderly woman on the bus told me that it wasn’t good to keep my people, as “my people” had beheaded James Foley in Raqqah.
The stories go on and on. In Ontario, two day after the horrific attacks that took place in Paris, a couple erected a sign asking Muslims if they were “sorry for the slaughter of innocent people by [those] whom represent your religious beliefs.” In December, Valerie Kaur, a renowned activist in the Sikh community, was asked to present her breast pump to be searched “to prove she was not a terrorist” by passengers and staff on a flight home to Los Angeles. While Brazilian-American comedians Nick Giassi and Jobson Chaves were filming a video in Florida, a woman drove by and began yelling racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic obscenities at them. Lastly, this past September, Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim high schooler from Irving, Texas, was arrested for suspicion that the homemade clock he brought to school was a bomb, and a month ago Armaan Singh Sarai, a Sikh high schooler from Arlington, Texas, was arrested and forced to remain in a juvenile detention for three days after a bully made a false accusation that Armaan had a bomb in his backpack.
It is quite interesting to see how there is a pattern of brown, black, Muslim, and perceived-to-be-Muslim people have been continually marginalized in the name of security and safety. Therefore, it can be seen how dangerous these microaggressions truly are, as they aren’t mere opinions, but rather they provide the platform for racial profiling- despite the fact that authorities constantly deny that it takes place. However, while authorities keep doing what they do, it is the everyday public that has the most impact on how microaggressions affect people of colour. Thus, it is imperative that the information the public receives is not sensationalized or used to trigger the witch-hunt syndrome we all saw Friday night.
Seeing the bigger picture…
While it is questionable why the VPD found the three men suspicious- and we should be critical of the methods the police have used to identify a possible threat- the social media outlet that leaked the information is also to blame. The chief editor of said-outlet refused to acknowledge what they did as fear-mongering and claimed that they simply believed that the public should know what was going on. That would be absolutely believable, but their choice of language and the way in which they used by-lines which blatantly grabbed people’s attention, while feeding into existing microaggressions that paint brown men as suspicious, only fueled the fire of fear-mongering that we see plaguing North America.
What happened on Friday has gone by, and I am sure we all know what we can learn from this now- how dangerous microaggressions are, particularly the racialization of suspicion. However, there are things that you can do today to ensure that this does not occur again:
Hold media sources accountable for delivering unbiased information without sensationalization, or the use of microaggressions.
Be critical of methods used by politicians and authorities to determine or deal with a threat, be it Harper’s Bill C-51, or the use of racial profiling in the police.
If you shared the original articles online, make sure you take them down, and tag every person who liked or commented your post and let them know what had actually happened.
Don’t be a bystander! Way too often we hear people making off-handed comments and we let it slide, but don’t do that! Address the issue if you feel safe, or offer your help to someone who just faced that awful treatment.
Learn to unlearn racist behaviours. We all say or do things that can be oppressive, and many times we have no idea we are doing anything! Be mindful, and try to catch yourself when you clutch your purse when a black or brown man walks by, or ask yourself why you shift uncomfortably when you see a man with a turban or a woman in hijab.
It was awful what happened to our new neighbours from Syria, and it is sad to see how three men who were visiting Unceded Coast Salish Territories were given such a rude welcome, but it is important to not see these as two isolated events and two address the underlying issue. “This is not Canada” does not do justice to the microaggressions that have been festering in our communities for years. We must be introspective and realize how the institutionalized racism in our combined thoughts and actions, and the lack of acknowledgment thereof, has enabled these events to happen. People of colour often feel muzzled from voicing their concerns, as people use the existence of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to refute lived experiences that many of us face. However, that must stop. The only way we can truly move on and solve this problem is if we allow people to be heard, and acknowledge the problem exists in the first place.
In these first few weeks of January, my faith community worldwide observes Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Gurpurab — the anniversary of the incarnation of the tenth Sikh Guru — and during these days we reflect on Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s teachings. In one of his writings, Guru Ji addresses us and says, “Maanas Ki Jaat Sabhai Ekai Pehchaanbo,” which translated to “Recognize the human race as one.” I believe that this line immortalized in Guru Ji’s works can teach us a great deal of how we can move on, and I pray that we contemplate, live, and breathe these words so that we may see a more equitable society.
The Visibility Campaign hopes to increase the visibility of queer people of colour, including people
from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. This year’s campaign has different movie poster themes, and some of them are currently being displayed in bus shelter ads across Vancouver!
Love Intersections is excited to be partnering with Our City of Colours on their 2015 Visibility Campaign!
The Visibility Campaign hopes to increase the visibility of queer people of colour, including people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. This year’s campaign has different movie poster themes, and some of them are currently being displayed in bus shelter ads across Vancouver!
Love Intersections has also teamed up with Our City of Colours to share stories through video of people walking different experiences in the queer community. We will be rolling out these video’s in the next few months, so be sure to stay tuned!
The posters are currently also being displayed at Heartwood Community Cafe at 317 East Broadway, Vancouver BC, Unceded Coast Salish Territories.
One of my favourite ways to explain the importance of allies, is something that I heard from Jen about allyship in the queer community. It’s this idea that while it may be challenging at times, queer folks can (and do) navigate the world on their own…but having an ally can make it easier, and more fun, to navigate the world together.
Allies are also critical to the queer movement, because allies can often access spaces more easily (and safely) than some folks, and can therefore advocate or do work in those spaces.
When we heard about Jay and Joella’s story, we were excited to capture and share this brother and sister relationship. After watching a documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So” on how five American Christian families dealt with their family members coming out, Joella was inspired to make a film about her own Filipino Roman Catholic family and when Jay came out to them. Though the film deeply resonated with Joella, she found that there was a lack of diverse representation of a person of colour’s experience coming out to their family (out of the five families, only one was a family of colour). This influenced the creation of their film “It Runs in the Family”, which documents Jay, his relationship with family and religion, and along with his sister traveling to the US and the Philippines to meet their other queer relatives. They have intimate conversations on how they have reconciled their Roman Catholic faith with their sexual orientation while maintaining their family ties.
“It Runs in the Family” produced by OUTtv Network and directed by Joella Cabalu will have a festival run starting late 2015 with a broadcast television release next summer 2016.