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Dr. OmiSoore Dryden: Racism is a queer issue

The Pride flag flies on Studley Campus, Dalhousie. Photo Ryan McNutt

Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies and an associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, spoke at the July 13 Pride flag raising ceremony at Dalhousie University. Published with her kind permission.

I am a Black queer femme and I respectfully acknowledge our collective ancestors – Indigenous, Black, queer, trans, genderqueer, and two-spirit – who were born here, forced here, and continue to make home here. I also respectfully honour Black queer and trans people who have been killed at the hands of violence, including encounters with police. And I honor Black queer and trans people who continue to fight against anti-black racism homophobia and police brutality.

On May 27th, Tony McDade a Black trans man was killed by police, just two days after the murder of George Floyd, yet we know less about McDade. McDade was further harmed after his death by being misnamed (dead-named) and misgendered in the press. As Black people, we have historical experience of having our names taken from us to be named by others for their use and to our detriment. As a Black trans man, McDade deserved dignity in his death and his name and gender respected. On June 8th and 9th of this year, two Black trans women—Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells in Pennsylvania— murdered in the United States. It is important to know their names and demand better for our communities.

Faith Nolan, a musician who lived in the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children for the first four years of her life, has stated that “Along with being queer, we also carry the institutionalized burdens of racism, classism, ableism, sexism and until all of us have full equality, none of us do.”

There is Bayard Rustin, a Black gay man who was a close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin planned the 1963 March on Washington; King Jr. received a lot of pressure to distance himself from Rustin, but King refused. And in this act of refusal, King demonstrated that all Black lives matter.

Professor Angela Davis, a Dalhousie University 2018 honorary degree recipient, a writer, an activist scholar, and former member of the Black Panthers, recently participated in the online YouTube Black Queer Town Hall on June 21, 2020, in which she describes herself as “communist, abolitionist, internationalist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, feminist, Black, queer activist, pro working-class, revolutionary, intellectual, community builder.” Davis, throughout her work as an activist and career as a scholar has dedicated herself to prison abolition and states that the struggle for gender equality, gender diversity, and LGBTQ rights has been championed by trans people who are incarcerated.

The importance of understanding that we live complicated lives is especially important. Audre Lorde, who described herself as a “Black lesbian feminist warrior mother,” was also a writer and activist, and wrote that, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” This is especially important in moments like this. There are actions taken daily (major and minor actions) that seek to perpetuate LGBTQ folks as a single issue. It’s why this flag with black and brown stripes is so important. It’s not enough to look outward and suggested that homophobia is also a single form of discrimination that happens elsewhere in predominately Black and brown countries. We must continue to identify how racist homophobia happens in our own queer and trans communities and workplaces. We must not shy away from the fact that the first time BLM-TO heard screams of ‘all lives matter’ was from white queers. We must not shy away from the fact that BLM continues to be addressed as a non-queer issue. We must acknowledge and be committed to understanding that racism is a queer issue and that there is a necessity to address anti-black racism in queer spaces, scholarship, research, and workplaces.

Perhaps we can focus on why colonialism, racism and anti-black racism are fights that continue for queer and trans folks, be committed in taking actions to combat and disrupt and then, maybe then, we can come together to celebrate.

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