by Kenzie Wass
We have to acknowledge the ways in which the queer community was shaped. Historically in Canada queer spaces prioritized white middle class gay men. In the 50’s and 60’s that was the demographic of most spaces, not just queer ones. Come the 70’s lesbians made more headway and women’s rights were flourishing, gay and lesbian rights joint forces. While the 70’s brought a lot of racial protest in North America, there was a huge gap in rights afforded to people of colour, especially queer people of colour. During the 80’s queer organizing tried to respond to racism in the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. It was at this time organizations like Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS) and Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) were born. It was finally being recognized that there was a larger context of explicitly linked issues of race and sexuality in relation to belonging, identity, citizenship and power. The association of the gay identity with white middle class ideals was a deeply held root of the community, this normalized whiteness in community spaces. In the 90’s cuts to public funds wiped out a lot of community resources. It was in this time that the Sherbourne Health Centre rose and provided a lot of care for youth, especially BIPOC youth. While these services have been putting in work for decades, but there is still a lack of safe spaces for queer people of colour. What little does exist generally exists in city centres. As someone who grew up in a small town in Ontario my heart aches for QTBIPOC youth in my hometown. In this modern context, the pandemic has made it so more people are stuck in homes that are unsafe. Many queer people face challenges with expression in their homes and they are cut off from physical spaces they are used to occupying. There is already a limited amount of queer BIPOC space and without access to these spaces people must limit their expressions due to pressure from peers and/or religious and cultural communities.
My peers heard that their work is valuable and should be visible; that they deserve to be heard and do what they love. I had to be comfortable with the cards I was given, I was to take a back seat and listen, stay respectful and presentable. Any wavering from that line could lead to me without a job, housing, or my life. How am I meant to lead, to make change, to be given opportunity, when this is my foundation? All I wanted someone to look at me as see me. I wanted someone to tell me that I have worth and that when I speak people will listen, that I deserve to be heard. That’s why safe (r) spaces are necessary. Having informed young people who value themselves and others is powerful. While I believe that shared experience is not everything, having community care, sharing in things with people who respect and value you is so important. Somewhere you don’t have to justify or explain, you can just be. As my identity and language has shifted over time there were limitations in my community whether that was a lack of understanding of trans-ness or racism. There is no allyship we need to challenge this idea because everyone has stuff to unlearn, no one is free from this work. No one can be well versed in all things, but we must try our best to hold space for different experiences and walks of life, that’s community care.
This work is hard, but it’s necessary and it’s doable. I recognize the labour that this work entails. When discussing burn out we must provide care for folks and not judge the limitations in their work. Not for lack of wanting to do the work, but for physical and emotional stressors.
This way we can create more resilience in folks’ emotional capacity. It is not easy to be well versed in social issues, it is exhausting and sometimes depressing. That is hard on anyone, not just minorities, but especially so. Self care is often prescribed as the solution to burn out, but this is individualistic in nature, we must focus on collective community care. We all find our moments of slippage, again, because we all make mistakes, we all have things to learn. It is in those moments we must focus on providing support because we have all been there. Not critiquing or allowing folks to slip into isolation, that downward spiral hurts everyone. I believe that all people can embody someone who cares, someone who tries their best to grow and change, that’s what makes communities safe. Safe communities create beautiful beings who know who they are because they are told that who they are is unique and valuable.
Wabanaki 2S Alliance
Two Spirited People of Manitoba Inc
Kenzie (they/them) is a Black nonbinary settler in tkaronto. They hold a masters of social justice and community engagement and focus their work on aiding the Black queer community.
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