By: Michael Dennis
Campus groups joined together during the inaugural Queer History Week to highlight the issues marginalized members of the queer community face and how LGBTQ history has shaped our contemporary political climate.
Organized by the Queer Students Community Centre and McMaster Students Union Diversity Services, Queer History Week hosted a number of events geared toward highlighting Queer history’s role today, and especially the role racialized members of the Queer community have played in shaping LGBTQ history.
The Queer community has had a long, complicated, and often violent past with governments and especially the police. This was acknowledged by the timeline presented on Feb 27, titled A Walk Through Time: Visualizing LGBTQ+ History, which outlines acts of violence committed against LGBTQ folk in Canada, from raids of gay institutions in 1869 to the controversy surrounding the 2016 Project Marie, which many activists felt unjustly and disproportionately targeted gay men in an attempt to police their right to public space.
The week heavily focused on sharing the experiences of LGBTQ people and the intersections of race and sexuality.
“Racialized LGBTQ people are often forgotten in that history, and their contributions aren’t acknowledged, so we thought it was important to acknowledge those people’s work. That is why we feature Black Lives Matter as our keynote as they are one of the largest LGBTQ advocates in Canada,” said the QSCC coordinator.
These keynote speakers, Alexandria Williams and LeRoi Newbold, were activists with Black Lives Matter Toronto and spoke about the halting of the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade by Black Lives Matter.
— Diversity Services (@MSUDiversity) February 28, 2017
On Jul. 3, 2016, Black Lives Matter briefly halted the Toronto Pride Parade with a list of demands recognizing how they believed Pride Toronto was not inclusive to marginalized LGBTQ individuals.
“And a lot of people in the queer community… don’t understand why that was important and why that was symbolic,” said the Diversity Services director.
“One of the more controversial demands was the removal of police floats from pride because police have a very complicated and violent history with radicalized LGBTQ people in Toronto. But for many White or mainstream liberal Queer communities, that’s not really an issue. Not understanding that results in people being moved to the margins.”
Queer History Week also featured two closed events; one where Black LGBTQ individuals could share their experiences, and another where LGBTQ people could discuss navigating through one’s culture, religion and sexual identity.
“We want people to know that [religious LGBTQ] people… exist. They are not an opposite dichotomy; you can be religious and you can be queer,” said the Diversity Services director.
Queer History Week also aimed to refocus where most of the attention towards queer activism has been held.
— Diversity Services (@MSUDiversity) February 17, 2017
“It is very easy to slap a rainbow flag or your storefront and say ‘I’m inclusive’. Let’s go a little beyond that… let’s look at the violence people face on a daily basis, let’s look at sex workers, let’s look at people with AIDS. These are things that are criminalized, and we need to rejig our notions of justice for us really to understand why things are the way they are,” said the Diversity Services director.
Moving forward, the coordinators for QSCC and Diversity Services hope that police brutality towards the LGBTQ community can be brought into the mainstream conversations of LGBTQ activism, and that education reform can bring a historical understanding of LGBTQ history within our school system.
“At McMaster, I think we do a good job at being inclusive,” said the QSCC coordinator. “But that doesn’t mean that when [LGBTQ] students are in their faculties, they still don’t face barriers. Even though people might actively try to be inclusive, those students may still go up against a culture where they are not normalized, and they are seen as abnormal.”