Like most events, Pride month looked different for many of us this year.
There was no parade, no outdoor festival, no community gatherings. Many of us look forward to these annual events to publicly celebrate our LGBTQ+ community, spend time with like-minded people, and simply enjoy the party and spectacle of it all.
Others, however, have a different experience when it comes to mainstream Pride.
The advancement of LGBTQ+ rights is inextricably linked with the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan — an uprising led by Black and Latinx activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Stormie DeLarverie. They countered a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gathering place for LGBTQ+ folks.
Police brutality has been an everlasting issue for both BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks. The ongoing protests in the U.S. and beyond in the wake of George Floyd’s murder earlier this year shone a spotlight on this issue.
As of this year, Vancouver Pride no longer welcomes police to join the annual parade. When reached for comment, a Victoria Pride Society (VPS) board member said that while they do allow police to march in the parade, the only police in uniform in recent years are those who are proud to be out in their workplace.
“We didn’t want to have that disconnect with police like other cities, like Toronto and Vancouver… the [local] police force is working on their reconciliation and on providing that service to the diverse community.”
Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is a majority white city within a country that has a history of racism and anti-Indigeneity. These are societal issues that persist to this day, and the LGBTQ+ community is not immune.
“Largely invisible or tokenized”
Bear Henry is Two Spirited and Hul’q’umi’num’ Coast Salish. They are working towards a Social Justice Studies diploma at the University of Victoria and describe themselves as “a mediator among Indigenous communities,” protecting and preserving First Nations territory.
They describe living out their identity as “nerve-wracking,” and feel little comfort in the majority of Victoria’s “LGBTQ+ friendly” spaces.
But they’re also acutely aware of how their identity makes them “different” from the community on their reserve. That level of disconnection makes peace and comfort with their gender expression all the more difficult to achieve.
While visiting a frontline camp, Henry said they heard community members say things like “all these Indian men, white ones too, trying to be women,” openly mocking trans folks.
Henry says that not only does this hurt at face value, but also speaks to the damage that colonization has done to Indigenous culture and communities.
“Pre-colonization, transgender and two spirited peoples were revered and respected, often our healers and chiefs,” they said.
Overall, Henry feels unsupported by local organizations and nonprofits, saying that trans and two spirited people are “largely invisible or tokenized.”
Noel Kossman is a Black and gay student who moved to Victoria from Smithers B.C. to study psychology and sociology at UVic. Born in the U.S., he was adopted by his family as an infant and grew up in Northern BC. His siblings are also adopted and Black, while his parents are white.
Kossman says that he and his siblings were “able to connect through just being Black” in a largely white town. He says he subsequently finds more comfort in Black spaces than queer spaces.
“I was always pretty academically inclined, so I was [going to] go to school anyways, but me wanting to go somewhere bigger and just more diverse was definitely a driving factor as well.”
Both Kossman and Henry found queer spaces in Victoria like Paparazzi Nightclub, UVic Pride, and the annual Pride festival to be unwelcoming.
Henry found that UVic Pride largely catered to white gay men and even trans-antagonistic queer folks.
As the only Black person present when visiting Paparazzi, Kossman says he felt “uncomfortable” and “tokenized.” He has also found the dating scene fraught with racial sexualization and fetishization, and is acutely aware of being “one of the only Black gay people on the island.”
Finding more inclusive alternatives
Henry prefers the less mainstream Alt Pride, an event that runs separately from Victoria’s Pride Parade and Festival.
They find it to be much more inclusive, accessible, and family-oriented than Victoria’s Pride, which, in their experience, “holds prejudices against trans folks and largely is covered in rainbow capitalism.”
In a statement to Victoria Buzz, VPS clarified that while they do take on corporate sponsors, the parade and festival itself are volunteer-run. They also acknowledge that, due to the size of their events, they cannot ensure everyone’s safety and comfort to the extent that smaller gatherings can.
Existing organizations haven’t provided the aid or inclusive environment Henry needs, either. While working for a local health care provider, Henry brought up concerns of safety for LGBTQ+ clients as there was no clear signage or information denoting their space as inclusive, but were quickly shut down by their cisgender boss and told there was nothing to worry about.
Intersections of race, gender, and orientation
Henry wants to start their own nonprofit, Purpose House, in order to “create a space safe for two spirits and other Indigenous LGBTQ folks.”
We Matter, an organization dedicated to supporting Indigenous youth, has created the Two-Spirit Dictionary, “a collection of definitions celebrating two-spirit diversity and expression.”
The intersections of race, gender, and orientation play off each other in myriad ways. Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, refers to the unique experiences, challenges, and societal consequences faced by people with overlapping marginalized identities.
The term encompasses the idea that oppression experienced by one marginalized group does not mean they will be automatically welcoming of all marginalized identities.
A study from the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health states “LGBTQ-POC are adversely affected by cumulative discrimination and social exclusion, including racism from the LGBTQ community, and homophobia and heterosexism within their racial/ethnic community.”
This speaks to the need for concrete allyship in order for BIPOC to be genuinely welcome and supported in LGBTQ+ spaces.
The BC Teachers’ Federation defines allyship as “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people.”
Henry stresses the importance of universal support and taking people as they are. “Sometimes people expressing themselves comes off as anger instead of sadness, or rage instead of confusion. Why us, why now, why is it still ongoing?”
White discomfort and guilt can lead to cherry-picking “happy” Indigenous people over “angry” ones. Henry notes that this “ultimately recreates spaces of exclusion for Indigenous people.”
Kossman’s recent experience with Victoria’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests originating in the U.S. has been mixed.
“With everything that is going on, all the rallies that were held in Victoria, I’ve definitely seen a lot of genuine allyship, people who I know for sure… have done the work,” he said.
“Like posting about it, and actually communicating with their peers on their thoughts and opinions, and just really taking the time to accommodate other people’s perspectives and learn to reflect upon their own histories, [whether] negative or positive, in regards to race.”
“I’ve also been seeing a lot of people posting [in support of BLM] on their social media who I know for a fact have condoned racialized behaviour, have not called out their friends, who’ve said the N-word, who hold a lot of prejudiced beliefs… it makes me feel really, really gross.”
For Kossman, it boils down to what’s in your heart and how you act on it.
“Do you believe that all races should be treated equally? Do you believe that police display bias in every single practice that they practice? Do you believe that there is institutionalized racism in our current society? What are you willing to fight for?”
Pride was never just about a parade. The movement has included BIPOC from the very beginning. It needs to include them now.
UVic Pride and Paparazzi Night Club did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.