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What Will You Do Now?

by Reuben,

I have been watching the Task Force meetings on YouTube and was struck by one of the most recent sessions. A presenter asked "What are you willing to do? What are you not willing to do?" This stuck with me for multiple reasons, but first I want to give you some context.

When we talk about intersectionality, we aren't just referring to the discrimination that women of colour experience as both women and as coloured people. We are also referring to the other areas of life in which white supremacy acts and dominates the narrative, because white supremacy does more than simply tell us what skin colour is best. Indeed, other 'isms' - sexism, ableism, etc. - stem from white supremacist notions of what the ideal person looks like, acts like, talks like, etc.

Homophobia and transphobia are also a part of white supremacy. The idea that men and women must act and behave in very gendered and different ways, and the idea that the gender binary is absolute and cannot (and must not) be crossed or blurred, is a distinctly white, European idea. Many cultures throughout history, both ancient and modern, have had looser gender roles and identities. Indigenous cultures have two-spirited people who are valued and respected, as just one example. The Tang Dynasty endorsed women loving other women, as another. Many African ethnic groups had rituals for men committing themselves to other men, similar to the European ritual of marriage. The list goes on and on.

To impose the idea that men must be 'masculine' and women must be 'feminine', and that one must be only a man or a woman according to one's identified birth sex, is to say that other ways of being are invalid, are backwards, are not welcome. European colonists attempted to erase two--spirited people through residential schooling. Nazis killed gay and trans folk alongside Jews and Roma and Sinti people because they were deemed inferior. Missionaries to Africa tried to convert ethnic groups that accepted queer behaviour to fundamentalist Christian beliefs, which claims that queerness is against God. The fact that homophobia and transphobia exist in Africa, in North and South America, and in Asia, is a direct result of colonization and white supremacy. The fact that other racial groups are held to white standards of gendered behaviour, and that the former's cultures are treated as backwards for having embraced queer people and queer behaviour, is evidence that white supremacy is not just limited to skin colour.

I mention all of this because the people on the Task Force have listened to stakeholders say that safe space is needed. They have listened to queer presenters, and one of the members is openly queer. At a glance, it looks like this Task Force knows and understands that queer people cannot be left behind in the fight against racism, because the two are inextricably linked. Yet I also know that at least one person who sits on that Task Force believes that to identify and live as a queer person is to live sinfully, and there may be more, as not everyone has overtly weighed in.

As someone who has suffered violence from people who were taught 'hate the sin, not the sinner' - because when one lives as who they are, but that way is seen as fundamentally wrong, how else do we expect people to react other than with disrespect, dehumanizing campaigns against our rights, and violence? - I ask each Task Force member the same thing they were asked before: what are you willing, and not willing, to do?

You say you would treat me, a PoC, as you would a white person. But would you treat me, a queer person, as a non-queer person? Would you still tell your children that my 'lifestyle' is wrong, and thereby contribute to the systemic problem of homophobic and transphobic violence? When you make safe space and programming for my fellow Black community members, will you (un)consciously turn down my volunteer application after you see me holding hands with my partner? When you fight for schools to punish those who jeer at girls who wear hijabs, will you fight for schools to punish those who jeer at a boy for wearing a dress? When we talk about our successful careers, will you treat me as a 'model minority' who seems so 'normal' despite being queer? When I ask to read a picture book to children at the library about a family headed by two Black women, will you take me aside and tell me that the book is 'too political' for kids? Or will you counter my reading by offering one the following week that emphasizes that only a man and a woman can be together? At the end of the day, will my Blackness be OK so long as I adhere to other white supremacist ideas of being?

I applaud you all for the work that you are doing, be you white, Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, queer, non-queer, etc. The work you've volunteered to do is not easy, but it is necessary, and for that I thank you deeply. My words above are not meant to break down, but to lift up - lift up the veil that you all agreed to take off, the biases that you all agreed need to be called out. You all pledged a commitment to unlearning and relearning - to know better and then do better - and I'm holding you to it. What will you do now?

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