There will be Pride celebrations held from the largest of cities to the smallest of towns across Canada during the month of June. I will be celebrating my first Pride in Waterloo Region this year. It already feels and looks different. To begin with, I have only met one other Black and LGBTQI2S+ identified person since moving here. I know there are more. I have seen them at small events and in Facebook groups, but I don’t know any of them personally.
The other Black person I know expressed the need and desire for our own space, our own events while simultaneously lamenting the absence of Black spaces in the region. It is a conversation I have had in Toronto, in Winnipeg, in Kingston (ON), in Guelph, in Niagara. It is a conversation that African, Caribbean and Black people have been engaged in since slavery.
It is a conversation that splinters as you delineate the layers of vulnerability and identity that exist within a community. If you are Black and heterosexual, you have access to a kind of Black inclusion that a Black LGBTQI2S+ identified individual does not. When a Black person comes out at LGBTQI2S+, they fear losing their Black community. They fear losing access to culture, identity and ancestry. It’s an ironic fear to have, given the work that African, Caribbean and Black LGBTQI2S+ activists have historically engaged in to support the progress of the collective community. We have always been there. We have always put our Blackness ahead of our queerness. I can hide, to my own detriment, my sexuality but I cannot hide my racial identity. I cannot hide being Black. For a point of clarification, I don’t want to.
I live in Kitchener-Waterloo, which has a combined population of roughly 400,000 which means that only 4,000 of those people are Black. When we are gathered in even lesser numbers the need for safe space becomes all that more significant for your community. I’ve joined a group of committed African, Caribbean and Black individuals to do this work. Ironically, it is one of the most diverse rooms representing one community I have ever been a part of. It has me excited and nervous. I have a responsibility that the Black LGBTQI2S+ community isn’t forgotten in the work that we do. It’s a responsibility all Black LGBTQI2S+ people carry whether there are 4 of us or 4 million of us. I walk around armed with the names of Black and queer activists, who have done and are doing the work to validate my right to exist, thrive and contribute to these spaces. I want to say to straight Black people, “you owe us!” You owe us this inclusion. You owe us the best plate of ribs at the barbecue because Black queer people with nothing to lose have been putting it on the line for this community since before the civil rights movement. A cursory reading of Black Lives Matter founders and activists across the world will show you that those with the least are doing the most work.
Less than a week ago, a Black trans-identified youth living in the Waterloo region died by suicide. The news hit me hard. I was working to find a Black LGBTQI2S+ identified mentor for them. They were of Caribbean descent. They were rejected by their family. They had a crippling fear of heterosexual African, Caribbean and Black individuals because of that rejection. Yet, they yearned for Black community. This isn’t unique to the region. It is happening in Black communities all across Canada and every straight, Black person who chooses silence as tolerance is complicit in the death of a Black LGBTQI2S+ identified person. It’s a tough pill to swallow but it’s a fact. If you’re pretending that your sibling who came out to you didn’t, you’re complicit. If you keep wondering when [insert person here] will get over this phase, you are complicit. If you’re teaching your children about Black liberation, freedom fighters, civil rights, equality and equity but you don’t include Black and queer individuals in that lesson, you ARE complicit. If you are offended by this article, you are complicit.
In moving to a smaller city and joining a smaller movement, I have come to accept how much work we have to do as a community for our intra-communities. We are doing a disgustingly terrible job of supporting the most vulnerable Black people. There simply aren’t enough of us to exclude any of us. If you aren’t including for Black LGBTQI2S+, the disabled, people living with HIV, youth in care, incarcerated, Muslims, refugees, and all the intra-communities fighting for a voice; you are complicit. This Pride month, I’m rooting for everybody Black.
Teneile Warren is an artist with her hands. A chef and a playwright; she believes our words and our food are more intertwined than we think. She is the co-owner of nyam Revival Kitchen and a community advocate. She lives in Kitchener, ON with her wife and three “furbabies”. Pronoun: she/her Follow Teneile on Twitter.