We’ve Been Here: Notable QBIPOC
In many cities and spaces, Queer BIPOC folks still face erasure from their cultural community as well as the mainstream Queer community. There are Queer BIPOC folks who have made significant contributions to our history whose very presence are erased from the recollections of history, and there are those that are making strides in their fields and living and loving who are never given the recognition they deserve.
In this intentional space however, we exist. We remember. We hold this space and honour individuals in our community. We remember the work that has been done and we are inspired to do the work that lies ahead. It is incredibly important that members of our community of all ages see themselves reflected, and to have hope that change is possible.
But most of all, we are reminded that we are not alone and we have always been here.
Notable Queer Folks
Aiyanna Maracle (1950 - 2016),was a Haudenosaunee, trans, multi-disciplinary artist, scholar, educator, story-crafter and storyteller. Maracle was actively involved in the merging of Ogwehoweh art and culture into the Euro-centric world and consciousness. For 20+ years she sought that same inclusion for herself and other gender-variant folks by offering an alternate framework to the prevalent Euro-centric view of gender.
“There is no mirror for who I am. From necessity I became the mirror for all the younger ones.”
Describing herself in her article “A Journey in Gender” as a “transformed woman who loves women,” Aiyyana’s work steered people towards a decolonized understanding of gender and sexuality. Through her work she argued that in most traditional Indigenous cultures gender identifications fall outside the strict confines of the gender binary and are recognized as both socially and spiritually integral to the culture. Her one-woman show, Chronicle of a Transformed Woman, detailed her use of traditional medicine rituals for transitioning genders while struggling under colonial rule.
Aiyyana’s work, which reflected her various transformations in relation to her ongoing process of decolonization, received numerous honours and recognitions. She’s believed to be the first Indigenous person to be awarded the John Hirsch Prize, a national award for the most artistically exciting new director in Canadian theatre (1997). In addition to performing across Ontario and Chippewa territory, in 1998 she exhibited an installation and a performance piece at the Second International Transgendered Art Festival in England. She is the author of the book, Chronicle of a Transformed Woman (2000), and many articles.
Today, the University of Victoria's Transgender Archives holds a collection of her legacy and history. Maracle's contributions to Indigenous art and the lives of trans women is significant and she remains a trailblazer in the history of our community.
Alec Butler is a Two-Spirit, Non-binary, Intersex activist and an award winning playwright, author and filmmaker, they write, direct, edit and perform in their videos and champions the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and DIWO (Do-It-With-Others) aesthetic. Author of the queer novella Rough Paradise and the plays Medusa Rising, Cradle Pin, Shakedown and Black Friday - which was nominated for a Governor General Award.
Butler is a scholar in Indigenous Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. Their research centres on Two-Spirit Queer Indigenous Literatures, Cultures, Communities and Politics. They are of Indigenous (Mi'kmaq) and Settler (French/Irish) descent originally from Unama'ki (Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia).
Angela James was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010, becoming the first openly gay player, one of the first women, and only the second black athlete to ever be inducted.
Also known as "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey", she amongst many other achievements led the Canadian women's hockey team to four world championships (1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997).
James has been a dominant force in promoting and inspiring women and young girls in sports, each year the CWHL awards the highest scoring player the Angela James Bowl. In 2009 the city of Toronto renamed her hometown hockey arena the Angela James Arena to honour her contributions and work within the local community.
Angela Robertson is an activist working with black, women’s and LGBTQ communities. She is widely respected and recognized for implementing life-transforming programs for women in Toronto. Angela is currently Executive Director of Queen West - Central Toronto Community Health Centre. She was previously Director of Equity & Community Development at Women’s College Hospital and Executive Director of Sistering – A Woman’s Place which is an organization that offers practical and emotional support to homeless, under-housed and low-income women in the city.
She was an editorial member of ‘Our Lives’, Canada’s first Black Women’s newspaper produced by The Black Women’s Collective and the Women’s Educational Press managing editor for five years up until 1992. In that role, she gave racialized and queer-identified women representation in the arts and politics through the publication of Canada’s first oral history of African and Chinese Canadian women. She later co-edited ‘Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-Racist Feminist Thought’.
Angela has been a board member of Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention and Houselink Community Homes. She is currently a member of the Stephen Lewis Foundation boards.
Backxwash is the stage name adopted by Ashanti Mutinta who is the first transgender female artist to win the Polaris Music Prize, which is known to celebrate diversity and to support up-and-coming Canadian artists. Her winning album God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It uses many references from metal bands and horror films, such as distorted samples of Black Sabbath’s singer Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin and David Lynch’s film Eraserhead.
“As an angry trans woman, I don’t know any other way I can rap.” - Backxwash
Growing up in a religious family in Zambia, she started making hip hop beats as a teenager before moving to Canada in her late teens to live with her siblings. She studied computer science before exploring Montreal’s live music scene and going back to expressing herself through music.
“My existence itself is political. My livelihood is political, and the livelihood of my sisters is political. We just want rights, and we have to go through so many hurdles to do that, and I feel very connected to that struggle.” - Backxwash
Visual artist, poet and manager of children, youth and adult services at Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Community Health Centre
McFarlane was a founding member of a number of Black queer groups and organizations in the early ’80s and ’90s — such as Zami, Sepia, AYA Men — that provided voice and visibility for Black LGBTQ2 individuals and issues. This activism in many ways laid the foundation for events, organizations and movements addressing Black LGBTQ2 communities today. He has also been on the board of the Toronto Inside Out Film Festival
He is also currently curating an exhibit at Toronto’s BAND Gallery called Legacies in Motion: Black Queer Toronto Archive Project as part of the Myseum Intersections festival 2019. This exhibit seeks to unearth the stories of the vibrant period of political organizing and cultural activism from Black LGBTQ2 communities in Toronto in the 1980s and 1990s. Drawing its diverse exhibit materials from personal archives, which feature images, documents, videos and visual art, Legacies in Motion directly challenges the common narratives within mainstream LGBTQ communities that often render the history and contributions of Black queers as invisible and marginal.
MacFarlan has published works in MÃKA Diasporic Juks: Contemporary Writing by Queers of African Descent by Debbie Douglas, Courtnay McFarlane, Makeda Silvera and Douglas Stewart and Plush: Selected Poems by By Sky Gilbert, Courtnay McFarlane, Jeffrey Conway, R. M. Vaughan, David Trinidad, Lynn Crosbie and Michael Holmes.
Diane Rowe is an Anishinaabe two-spirit Judge and is a member of the Micmacs of Gesgapegiag Band, in Gespe’ge’wagi, the seventh district of Mi’kma’ki.
On June 9, 2020, Diane Rowe was sworn in on the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Before joining the Nova Scotia Department of Justice in 2002, Rowe practiced general civil litigation and acted on behalf of Indian Residential School claimants in several provinces. Rowe also helped to form the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance.
“I think most of us were just excited to be in a room with people who have experienced the same sorts of challenges in our home communities, challenges in the gay community too...”
Rowe has also engaged in volunteer advocacy work on behalf of Indigenous Peoples, equality rights, refugee claimants, and the LGBT2Q+ community.
Dionne Brand is one of Canada's most renowned, honoured, and bestselling poets, novelist and directors. She won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the Trillium Book Award for her 1997 collection Land to Light On. Her collection thirsty won the 2003 Pat Lowther Award. Her novel What We All Long For won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2006. She won the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize for Ossuaries.
She was Toronto's Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2012, and in 2017, she was named to the Order of Canada.
Her work often explores themes of anti-racist and anti-capitalist activism and diasporic life as well as queer relationships and erotics. In addition to being a writer, Brand is a social activist. She is a founder of the newspaper Our Lives, is past chair of the Women's Issues Committee of the Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and does work with immigrant organizations around Toronto.
Douglas Stewart is a gay rights activist and was the founding Executive Director of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention. He works mainly within Black communities to provide awareness and support to issues around gay rights.
Douglas has worked as an equity trainer, dispute resolution officer and as Chief Human Rights Advisor at Centennial College. He has a long history of commitment to youth development, regularly providing training and organizational development to many youth empowerment agencies such as SERVE! He has also worked with the Toronto District School Board on anti-discrimination initiatives and in alternative school programs.
He was a founding member of Zami, the first Black queer group in Toronto. Founded in 1984 and named after an East Caribbean word for lesbian sex, Stewart was one of the first people in Canada to speak out publicly against the exclusion and racism that queers of colour faced from the overall queer community. In 1986, after The Body Politic enraged queers of colour in the community after publishing an advertisement from a white gay man who was seeking "a young, well-built BM [Black Man] for a houseboy," Stewart wrote a letter to the magazine that said racism among gay men "forces gay men like me to prioritize my concerns...Black gay activists define themselves first and foremost as Black and as gay second."
Zami was just one of dozens of groups formed in the 1980s to combat problems from the “queer establishment."
Faith Nolan is a singer/songwriter with a deep history of queer, women’s and anti-poverty activism. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, her parents and extended family were coal miners in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia of African, Miqmaq and Irish heritage. She later grew up in Toronto's working-class Cabbagetown. Her commitment to social justice comes from her life experiences and the people she grew up with, and she works through the cultural tool of music. Her music is her political work, a politics firmly rooted in her being working class, a woman, African Canadian and queer.
Faith is the founder and director of three different choirs in Toronto, Singing Elementary Teachers of Toronto; CUPE Freedom Singers , the Women of Central East Correctional Centre; Sistering Singers. produced a film, Within These Cages, about women in prison; and continues to fight for a better understanding of how poverty has created a disproportionate representation of poor women, especially black and First Nations, in Canadian prisons.
John R. Sylliboy is L’nu (Mi’kmaq) from Millbrook First Nations in Nova Scotia and is one of the co-founders of the Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance (W2SA) in 2011 alongside Tuma Young. The W2SA helps to build support and awareness of Two-Spirits in Mi’kma’ki and Canada.
He is also a consultant, researcher and policy analyst, for his own company, JRSylliboy Consulting and works in social and cultural development, health and education policy, and research for Atlantic Indigenous communities, especially for Two-Spirits and Indigenous LGBTQ.
Kiley May is Hotinonhshón:ni, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) and Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River territory, and is now rooted in Aterón:to (Toronto). She is a two-spirit Indigenous transgender multidisciplinary artist and storyteller, a writer and author, an actor, an emerging screenwriter and a filmmaker. Kiley is also an activist and educator, committed to equality, representation, diversity and inclusion.
I want to shift the narrative of transgender representation from what historically has been tragic and victimizing to one that’s thriving and about love and happiness.- Kiley May (Interview with Fashion Magazine)
As an actor, Kiley has a recurring role as assistant pathologist River Baitz on on the hit CBC show Coroner and has appeared in IT Chapter Two, Woman Dress, and The D Cut. As a screenwriter, director and producer, she is creating scripts and roles for Indigenous and transgender women, focusing on positive, empowering and authentic portrayals. Including representation and narratives for Queer identities and histories. Kiley is one of the winners of the Magee TV Diverse Screenwriters Award, presented by the Toronto Screenwriting Conference.
A writer, community organizer and activist, Makeda Silvera has been part of the cornerstones of Queer Black community in Toronto. In 1983, along with her partner Stephanie Martin, she established the 101 Dewson Street collective house. Many activist organizations can trace their history back to beginning from conversations around the kitchen table at this house, including Zami, Lesbians of Colour, Blockorama and the Black Women's Collective.
In 1985, she co-founded Sister Vision Press, a pioneering Canadian indie press devoted to publishing writing by women of colour, and has authored, published and edited a number of books including Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology — the first anthology of its kind to be published in North America.
At the time, we were in dangerous territory as a house for LGBTQ people, [...] We also came up against racism. I was coming home once and the neighbours called the police because they weren’t accustomed to Black people owning a house in this neighbourhood.
Monica Forrester is a Program and Outreach co-ordinator for Maggie's Toronto Sex Workers Action Project. Since 1999, she has worked in various agencies to educate and make services accessible for trans* folks. She actively works to promote awareness and visibility of trans women. From living and working on the streets to being instrumental in creating a drop-in and an outreach program for transpeople at the 519 to her current work as a program coordinator for Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, Forrester has long advocated for transgender people in Toronto. She was also part of advocating for trans women to be allowed into women’s shelters and in creating policies to prevent shelters from discriminating against trans women.
Dr. Myra Laramee is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. She brought the Two-Spirit name to a sharing circle at the 3rd Annual Gathering of Native American Gays and Lesbians. It was received through ceremony and adopted by the community afterwards.
Myra spent over 35 years in education as a teacher, counselor and administrator. Her research is in Indigenous Knowledge and Practices as they relate to teacher education. Her thesis explored the acquisition, utilization, research and writing of Indigenous Knowledge and was titled, Teaching and Learning as an Act of Love: An examination of the impact of seven traditional Indigenous teaching practices in a teacher education and on teacher's classroom practices.
QE Blogs & Posts tagged with QBIPOC
Food for Queers
Stay Safe. Not Hungry
Providing support for 2SLGBTQ+ folks experiencing food insecurities within the city of London