Pride not prejudice: why intersectionality is crucial

Among headlines, graphics and tweets about the current height of the Black Lives Matter movement internationally, cries are being heard with an emphasis on the LGBTQIA+ community this Pride Month. (Image source: Parade)

By Helen Karakulak | @Helen_Karakulak

“Black Trans Lives Matter.”

“If your Pride isn’t intersectional, it isn’t real.”

These are pleas to recognise our sexually and culturally diverse siblings as having an equal and equitable place in our conversations about race.

The history of June as an internationally recognised month of LGBTQIA+ Pride has an inherently diverse background. Although it’s debated what they threw to break barriers, without the impact of black trans women and queer people of colour in the Stonewall riots of 1969, Pride as we know it wouldn’t encompass the same barrier-breaking celebrations we’ve seen today. 

Now more than ever, the importance of unlearning institutionalised racism and eliminating overt racism within, and outside, the LGBTQIA+ community cannot be underestimated.

The “double burden” faced by people of colour identifying as LGBTQIA+ has long been recognised, with a 2013 report by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby concluding this was the case for many people from migrant or culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Australian LGBTQIA+ group, SheQu, working to promote women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, recognises that this “double burden” is still a prominent issue.

Communications Coordinator for SheQu, Jasmine Kirk, says that while in 2020 the dialogue around this issue is expanding quickly, it’s an ongoing discourse.

“As women in the queer community still feel the effects of misogyny, or as trans members still feel the effects of transphobia, people of colour feel the effects of ongoing discrimination,” Jasmine said.

Issues of discrimination specific to the Adelaide LGBTQIA+ community have been, and are continuing to be, raised to South Australia’s Uniting Communities organisation, Bfriend.

Bfriend is an LGBTQIA+ support service and resource centre for those that identify as part of this community, as well as teachers, families or anyone with sexually or gender diverse enquiries.

Bfriend community workers Matthew Morris and Riki Owens-Bennett are aware of this ongoing issue, believing it’s their responsibility as allies to listen to diverse perspectives and ensure their service is a place where this can be discussed.

“It definitely exists, there is racism within the community and it’s not always going to be a safe place for a person of colour, but there are specific groups out there to help support and eventually change this,” Matthew said.

This lack of safety, particularly among those that experience such a “double burden”, is emphasised by those advocating for the recognition of Black transgender lives.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that 2020 has already seen at least 15 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally killed by violence so far.

Reports of fatal anti-transgender violence are tracked by the HRC, and its latest data shows that despite differing details within the cases, this fatal violence is disproportionately affecting transgender women of colour.

Such incidents emphasise that the connection between Black Lives Matter and Pride 2020 is one that cannot be overlooked, with leading members of the community and organisations echoing its importance.

“The intersection between race, gender, class, and sexuality cannot be ignored,” SheQu’s Jasmine said.

“Queer people of colour must feel safe from police brutality and systemic racism so that they can participate in Pride, and I think that’s a relationship that both movements recognize.”

The intersections of these movements are often evident in the work created by those directly affected by them, according to Adelaide-based artist and drag performer, Thomas Fonua, also known as ‘Kween Kong’.

Thomas believes in the importance of seeing content by diverse creators across digital platforms improves visibility and representation for these marginalised groups that are often the minority within the minority.

“Most of my artistic practice, my artistic voice and perspective comes from my indigeneity, so all the work I create has a heavy hand in my experience as an artist and as a person,” Thomas said.

“There are so many of us, so we need to occupy and hold space for diversity and really try to push the envelope in terms of these conversations … artforms such as drag and being on stage is our opportunity to express those kinds of injustices and figure out a healthy way to process that ancestral trauma.”

Such art forms and diverse content are important to stimulate conversations and offer a different perspective for those of us that come from a predominantly sheltered background when it comes to race-based issues due to legacies of colonialism and dominant white narratives in our socio-political landscape.

“It’s important for people to see diverse creators and content so they can not necessarily understand because you won’t understand, but you can be able to start understanding why we need to have those conversations,” he said.

The importance of stimulating conversation through seeing and sharing diverse content is not lost on Bfriend community worker, Riki Owens-Bennett, responsible for sharing different perspectives on their online platforms.

“Anything online connected to us is a service, we try to make sure the information we’re sharing is diverse … It’s a steep learning curve, I was probably a bit naïve when I started in this role, but it’s made me aware that we need to make an effort to show that diversity,” Riki said.

In doing so, the Bfriend team navigate sharing and amplifying such content, without making assumptions about the experience of those behind them.

“It’s not something we want to position ourselves as all-knowing in, because we can’t and we’re not, and we’re very upfront about that, but we want to make sure we’re being good allies for folk in this community,” they said.

With such a focus on self-education, the road to allyship isn’t easy, in fact, if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable facing such truths, you’re probably doing it wrong. Bfriend’s Matthew describes a trait of his allyship as being able to “show up and shut up”.

“Very broadly, I think for a lot of white Australian’s it can be uncomfortable to face racist histories … the key messaging I was seeing was the importance of showing up, being there, showing solidarity but not giving space, more so shutting up and recognising this isn’t my fight or my space, I’m here to listen,” he said.

“This is a place of learning for us and we’re going to strive to do better,” Riki said.

“No matter what, it’s so important to talk about these things and be ok to make mistakes and slip up and say the wrong thing and apologise and move forward because this cancel culture and calling out thing is great in some ways, but it’s also harmful because it stops people from wanting to know,” Thomas said.

So, this pride month, when you hear their cries, don’t hit exit, don’t unfollow, and don’t tune it out. Instead, take a page from the gospel of Kong, and lead with love.

“If we lead into how we’re treated and celebrate other people for who they are, I feel like that will be infectious in its own way and create a different energy,” Thomas, ‘Kween Kong’ Fonua said.

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