White queers at Queen’s must do more for our racialized counterparts

LGBTQ+ groups that strive to build community should consider who can access their spaces

Daisy Fraser-Boychuk details where LGBTQ+ campus activism can improve.
Credit: 
Julia Feliz / newprideflag.com

My sense of community in campus activist spaces has starkly changed over my four years at Queen’s in profound ways. These experiences have provided me with a community I’ve never had, based in care and solidarity in action.

My community has also changed in ways that feel difficult to reconcile.

I’m currently one of the co-chairs of the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP). I appreciate EQuIP because it’s been a central part of my time at Queen’s. It provides a platform, (a little) funding, and a name to a pocket of activism on campus.

I appreciate EQuIP, but these things are not what I love about it. I love the people with whom I’ve developed irreplaceable connections—people I’ve developed commitments to, from my heart and my politics.

The best gift I’ve received over the past four years is an LGBTQ+ community on campus that isn’t limited by the boundaries of its acronym. It’s a community that devotes itself to struggles we don’t normally consider within its confines. It diminishes the distinction between queer, intersex, and transgender activism, Black activism, Indigenous activism, Palestinian activism, anti-capitalist activism, having these work in tandem. These struggles are inseparable.

But the broader LGBTQ+ community, as a social and political group, doesn’t definitively look like a community to me, or at least not as cohesive a community as I used to imagine.

Allow me to explain what I mean.

In conversation with my friends Alyssa Vernon and Jenna Huys, we unpacked what we consider the Queen’s LGBTQ+ community to be—or not to be.

“When I hear the [LGBTQ+] acronym, I think of recognition politics […] It speaks toward only the people the community recognizes,” explained Huys, ArtSci ’21 and a member of the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre (LGAC) and EQuIP.

We agreed that many can’t access the ‘LGBTQ+ community’ because of intersections such as race, class, and religion.

“Just saying you accept [the acronym] doesn’t mean you accept Muslim queers or Black queers […] Race and every other part of your identity impacts your queer identity, and impacts your place within the so-called LGBTQ+ community,” said Vernon, ArtSci ’21 and a LGAC member.

“Whenever people say ‘I support the LGBTQ+ community,’ it says nothing because there’s a wide range of things that queerphobia is wrapped up in. Like settler colonialism, anti-Blackness […] [conversations end up only being] about white gay men,” Huys added.

When the community functions focus solely on LGBTQ+ identities, white voices are heard the loudest. And this is exacerbated when white queers don’t push against our privilege—the privilege that allows us to confidently claim the ‘LGBTQ+ community’ as our own.

There’s a distinction between what’s acceptable in colonial institutions like the University, and what’s not.

What makes certain activist spaces unassimilable are activists’ commitments to anti-state, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist values and movements. These values and movements centre the global realities of Black and Indigenous peoples, as well as other People of Colour (BIPOC).

This is what makes certain spaces considered ‘too political’ or ‘too loud’,” as Vernon explained. Acceptance of queerness is less threatening with a face of white respectability. It’s ‘too much’ when queer struggles intersect with anything other than whiteness and class privilege.

“White supremacy is pejorative, y’all […] We value whiteness over everything else,” Vernon concluded. “It feels exhausting because nothing gets done or changes.”

A strong sense of community is difficult to build while simultaneously accounting for the privilege and respect granted to white queers. It’s exhausting to navigate this while also doing activist work. From this standpoint, I asked Vernon and Huys to define their community.

“I would define my community as people who care about the same things that I do, and coincidentally almost all of them ended up being gay,” Huys told me.

Vernon responded, “I would define my community as a group of radical [people] who don’t care about the institution. We’re trying to destroy it and create something else.”

Despite the prevalence of queer, intersex, and transgender members of ‘radical’ activist spaces, ‘LGBTQ+’ doesn’t cut it as a cohesive identifier. Demonstrated by groups like LGAC, the Queen’s Collage Collectives, and, increasingly, EQuIP, it becomes evident how the term “LGBTQ+” whitewashes more than it unites.

Despite the working definitions Vernon and Huys provided, I haven’t yet settled the answer to one question: can we define community?

Community is more than a list of identities. As evident by our discussion, gatekeeping often plays a role in community. It’s political not just in its efforts, but in its formation.

Community also involves responsibility. Fundamental to its moral framework, community is created through devotion to the well-being of others.

I look across campus, and I see people who are fighting for queer and feminist issues that reflect their experiences. This is a good thing. It means people are dedicated to making this University more accessible based on gender, sex, and sexual and romantic orientations.

But this inability to define the ‘LGBTQ+ community’ is significant. It’s significant because I consistently see other white queers failing to value the well-being others. The wellbeing of others who are always BIPOCs exhausted from doing the radical labour we all benefit from.

I’ve seen this in the times where we’ve failed to include queer people of colour in ‘LGBTQ+’ events.

I expect more from other white queers who have also faced forms of violence targeted at their gender, sexuality, and body. I expect from them what I expect from myself—the ability to show empathy for other marginalized folks.

Community may be defined along a number of axes. But I struggle to define the LGBTQ+ community. After we have failed to learn from past enactments of colonial and racist violence and exclusion, unity cracks.

Within institutions rooted in the marginalization of BIPOC folks, it’s appropriate that we unsettle the precedence of whiteness. And it’s most appropriate that white queers take responsibility for that.

Aligning ourselves along the struggles of others is the first step.

Daisy Fraser-Boychuk (they/them) is a fourth-year gender studies student.

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