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Queering Black History Month

Why Queering Black History Month...

We recognize that in many cities and spaces, Queer Black folks still face erasure from the Black community as well as the mainstream queer community. In this 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. But most of all, we are reminded that we are not alone and we have always been here.

House of Anansi

Black History Month, celebrates the legacy of black lives but we somehow don’t celebrate the legacy of black queer lives — often forgotten, as if we have not been part of a larger struggle and story that has shaped the queer community we all experience today.

The histories and struggles of QIPOC communities and our contributions are frequently erased and missing from the mainstream narratives. Deemed unworthy of saving or even recognized by society, they often remain buried in files and boxes in the homes of the individuals who participated in those activities or fade out of memory. This loss of memory threatens to erase us from the history of the Queer community and it is vitally important that this space is reclaimed and held. 

Each year for Black History Month, Queer Events, with help from the folks of House of Anansi, will mark February with an Awareness Campaign that will focus on Queer & Trans Black community members and the projects, spaces and initiatives created.

2020 Awareness Campaign

Holding Spaces: Queering Black History Month

 

For Black History Month 2020 we turn our focus to the projects, events and spaces created by Queer & Trans Black community, QE will be profiling these projects and initiatives to hold their space in the history and foundations of our LGBT2Q+ community.

In contrast to many ‘queer and trans’ spaces that centre white realities, these initiatives - that often remain unarchived and unrecognized - open up alternative visions of what queer space and community might look like and often put forth radical re-definitions of space, safety and collective care.

Blockorama

QueerEvents.ca queer history - blockorama
Canada
Creators: Jamea Suberi
Contributors: Angela Robertson, Camille Orridge, Junior Harrison & Douglas Stewart,

The Story...

Any QPOC who attends Toronto Pride usually knows where, when and who's performing at Blockorama. It is a space when you enter, you immidiately breathe a sigh of relief as you feel that sense of belonging. For many, it's the one space in which that lingering feeling of homesickness is finally pushed back. As we document the spaces, places and initiatives that were created by queer and trans black people, Blockorama is an essential one to remind everyone of it's place in queer history.

In 1999 Blockorama made its appearance as the very first black queer space in the Toronto pride festival in a parking lot across from the Wellesley subway station. Today it is an all day dance party and stage during Pride to celebrate Black Queer and Trans history, creativity and activism.

The idea for Blockorama came from Jamea Suberi, a Trinidadian lesbian, feminist, educator and activist in 1998. Suberi felt that the Pride parade bore a resemblance to Trinidad Carnival with its vibrant colours and colourful costumes but it lacked the presence of people of colour. She reached out to her friends Angela Robertson, Camille Orridge, Junior Harrison and Douglas Stewart, with the idea to create a Carnival type section in the Toronto Pride Parade called 'Pelau'  made up of primarily queer people of colour. This idea was shelved but it was determined by the group that this would be the year that there would be a larger more visible presence of Black Queer people at Pride. Then, Suberi brought the idea of a Blockorama, an all-day party with drag, steelpan, drummers, dancers and DJs, fashioned after a Trinidad 'Panorama' event.

In 1999 they formed a coordinating committee called Blackness Yes! This committee was made up of queer activists and feminists who were active in the women’s, anti-racism and wider LGBTQ movements in Toronto. They were part of a community who had marched against racist police violence, fought racism in the women’s movement and challenged sexism and homophobia in the Black community.  The Blockorama space was a way to reinsert Black diasporic queerness into Toronto Pride. 

""As Black diasporic queers, we have always occupied multiple spaces but have often experienced these spaces as restricting, invisibilizing and undermining of our Blackness and queerness."

Jamea Zuberi

Blockorama is an event that exists at the crossroads of intersectionality and it's an important reminder why visibility, inclusivity and safe spaces around the black queer community are not only worthy of protecting but are intrinsic and necessary to Toronto's queer black culture.

"Blocko shows us that we are not alone, that we are resilient and [that] we know how to have fun in a [world] where we were never meant to survive".

Kyisha Williams, event organizer

Blockorama has grown tremendously since 1998 and throughout those years, Blackness Yes! continued to host several events that traced Black diasporic queer and trans histories that affirmed and celebrated our visibility and activism. Blockorama has not been without its struggles to keep its place in Toronto Pride as for many years the space was undervalued, underfunded and shifted further and further away from the main hub of Pride festivities. The committee and community has tirelessly fought to keep this space as part of Pride and today, Blockorama remains a declaration of Black queer fearlessness, resilience, desire and power.

 

Sources:

R. Cassandra Lord in conversation with Jamea Zuberi, Blackness Yes! Blockorama: Making Black Queer Diasporic Space in Toronto Pride. Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer. 2017

Patrizia Gentile, ‎Gary Kinsman, ‎L. Pauline Rankin. We Still Demand!: Redefining Resistance in Sex and Gender Struggles. 2017

 

Zami

Community Initiative

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - community intiatives zami
Canada
Creators: Debbie Douglas, Sylmadel Coke, Douglas Stewart & Deryck Glodon

The Story...

If you trace back the histories of most of Toronto's black queer and feminist organizing you will find that 101 Dewson Street is the common root. One of the many initiatives born there was ZAMI, the first organized black queer group in Toronto.

Walk into the 519 Centre on a Thursday evening in 1985 and head downstairs to the Pine Room. There you would have found a group of Black and West Indian queers creating an inclusive safe space for themselves at a meeting of ZAMI.

Started in 1984, ZAMI was founded by lesbian activists: Debbie Douglas, Sylmadel Coke, and gay activists: Douglas Stewart and Deryck Glodon. They took the name Zami, a West Indian Creole word for lesbian, and it went on to became not only a support group but also the visible Black queer organization in the city. They took part in Pride Day marches, held social events, and were the black presence in lesbian and gay community events.

"We had all just met each other and we began thinking of other folks like us who didn't have a space to have this conversation and to get to know each other... we wanted a group that could speak to gay and lesbian issues in the black community and to issues of blackness and racism within the lesbian and gay community."

Debbie Douglas

Over time, while women remained involved, ZAMI became a largely men's group while the women became more involved in organizing around black feminist issues, working across intersections of gender, race and sexual orientation forming the Black Women's Collective. For black gay men however, ZAMI had become one of the few spaces where they didn't have to deal with the racism of white gay spaces. Many of ZAMI's members eventually became involved in starting the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention in 1989 and ZAMI eventually ceased to exist in that same year.

101 Dewson St Commune

Community Space

QueerEvents.ca - queer history - creating spaces 101 dewson st toronto
Canada
Creators: Makeda Silvera & Stephanie Martin

The Story...

This large house on Dewson Street in the west end of Toronto was owned by a lesbian couple from Jamaica, Makeda Silvera and her partner, Stephanie Martin. In 1983 they leased and transformed this house into a Caribbean feminist commune that was the starting point for black and Caribbean lesbian and gay organizing in the city.  The organizations that emerged  from the house on Dewson Street were formed in response to rejection by their families and respective communities as well as feelings of alienation from the white gay and lesbian community.

"The house was traffic central, with folks dropping by to borrow a book, drop off flyers, attend late-night meetings about a protest or rally, or an editorial meeting for one of the many feminist publications at the time. We talked about how to discuss gay and lesbian issues within the Black community - very serious conversations about how to open up spaces in organization like the Congress of Black Women and other Black, women of colour, and immigrant women's organizations. Some of our politically active older folks doing Black community organizing were not open or tolerant of those of us who they saw as going against Black community values as they existed at the time."

Debbie Douglas.

Looking for more? QE will add to this collection as we progress through February 2020. Check out the 2019 We've Been Here: Queer Black History Month series below.

 

Connect with QIPOC Community's Events, History & Culture with QE's QIPOC Hub.

2019 Awareness Campaign

We've Been Here: Queering Black History Month

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What Does QIPOC Mean? And why we use it...

Queer Tip...

Queer Indigenous and Queer People of Colour (QIPOC)

QIPOC is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed people of color who have been minoritized.

 

Do you know the origin of the term POC?

The term POC or People of Colour, originally WOC or Women of Colour was created by Black and other minority women of color in 1977 during the National Women's Conference, the origin of this term is pretty interesting, Loretta Ross can be heard speaking on the issue in the video.

 

When: 1977
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