Graphic by Saachi Kotia
The plight of the marginalized is a battle not fought alone. We only advance through unification and community. But how do you fight a war when your own team isn’t on your side? Queer people of color experience this dichotomy between two or more held identities every day. The LGBTQ+ community has been historically exclusionary of people of color within its ranks—and white queer people have not done much to stop this ostracism. How do the progressive values that the queer community is supposedly built upon falter the moment a queer person of color needs acceptance and support? This rejection of diversity demonstrates the modern preservation of white supremacy and anti-Blackness, even in so-called progressive spaces. It is necessary that white queer people step up to combat this racism within our ranks, as most turn a blind eye to the inter-communal oppression against their queer siblings. We need to uplift and promote queer people of color and their concerns, otherwise, the community that they built will no longer exist with its integrity intact.
Historically, there has been no singular issue heralded by the queer community, but the accomplishments and needs of our Black and brown members have never been treated as principal. The Stonewall riots of 1969 started as a result of frustrations over gentrification and police brutality towards queer people of color (POC) in New York City. Because these issues largely affected low-income POC (and still do today), there was less acknowledgment paid to them by the white queer population. Though it was trans women of color (most notably, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera) and drag queens that led the movement, the events have been whitewashed in the media. In the 2015 film Stonewall, a white man was depicted as the most integral part of the riots, ignoring who was actually on the front lines. If it’s not whitewashing, it’s another form of erasure. Events like the Stonewall Riots and other POC-led queer history have been routinely erased from history books. This has created mass ignorance of these hugely significant events in queer history. The only queer history being taught is that which bolsters a faux public image of a white-only queer population.
This omission of persons doesn’t just happen in history books; it happens in real queer spaces. During the Toronto Pride Festival of 2016, Black Lives Matter activists interrupted the parade to raise awareness about the presence of police at Pride. Black and brown bodies are the most impacted victims of police brutality and violence, but that fact has largely been ignored by Pride coordinators, with police often supervising and/or marching in various parades. This blatant disregard of the fears and concerns of queer people of color shows how insignificantly these worries resonate with white queer people. If we as white people are the ones in the community with the most societal power, why are we not using that sway to fix these issues? Unfortunately, many white queer people continue to choose their socially profitable identity of whiteness over their queerness, therefore turning a blind eye to those whose intersection of race and gender/sexuality cannot be so easily separated.
Queer-centered spaces have always been integral to the preservation and celebration of our community; however, so many of them actively exclude and alienate queer POC. Dating apps like Grindr and Tinder provide spaces for romantic and sexual connections, but profiles that boast racist “preferences” such as “no Asians” or “no Black people” are disgustingly plentiful. In physical spaces, like gay bars or clubs, queer people of color, especially Black patrons, have experienced poor, racially-based service, even been refused service completely. Many white queer people have not mentally confronted this contrary experience that is commonplace for their Black and brown counterparts, which, in turn, discourages white queer people from opposing these discriminatory events in real-time.
Exclusion has been the norm of queer spaces for decades, and it’s time that white queer people actively oppose this racism. If queer spaces are not accessible to all, then we are embracing the exact bigotry we claim to be against. We have a responsibility to every ethnic minority in our community to combat this racism in the moment and head-on. This starts on a micro-scale—principally, not turning a blind eye to racist incidents while they happen. Too often, white queer people act as bystanders to this bigotry, often viewing the commotion as a disruption to their fun. This is because many still don’t see queer POC as equals in their spaces, only intruders. But almost all queer spaces exist because of queer people of color, so who should be viewed as the invaders?
There are always indicators of an exclusionary space, and white queer people need to work to actively recognize these. Are there queer people of color in leadership positions? Are there events that are specifically catered towards queer people of color? Are there actions organized around issues that are relevant and important to queer people of color? Whether it be a dating app or a community group, intersectionality needs to be a primary focus, and the needs of queer POC need to be sincerely addressed.
As queer college students, we are usually the ones partaking in queer spaces, not the ones creating them. But as we all gain influence within our local queer communities, we amass more power to create increasingly inclusive spaces and experiences for queer people of color. We are actively perpetuating racism within our ranks by ignoring racist and discriminatory incidents and we cannot continue to silently absolve ourselves of our guilt. We must recognize and atone for our racist past and present. We must take initiative to make our queer siblings more comfortable within this community. White people have not been holding ourselves accountable for decades. It is time we did.