Cameron Greensmith on “Queer Professionals and Settler Colonialism” and Pride Month

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Queer Professionals and Settler Colonialism encourages LGBTQ2S+ peoples, organizations, and communities to engage in decolonial work to address longstanding wrongs Indigenous peoples and nations experience,” writes UTP author Cameron Greensmith. Read his full post in honor of Pride Month below:

The month of June marks the celebration of Pride for LGBTQ2S+ communities and their allies. Events bring attention to gender and sexual diversity, celebrate the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ2S+ peoples, and fight to stop the impacts of homophobia and transphobia. Many large multinational corporations participate in Pride month to solicit additional revenue and create brand loyalty – after all, many white gay, lesbian, trans, and queer people have the financial capital to participate in the free market.

While these businesses use Pride month to bolster queer inclusivity, many queer organizations, such as those in health care, education, and social services, are invested in challenging the deeply felt inequalities LGBTQ2S+ communities experience beyond Pride month. While this work is necessary, queer organizations are not innocent, nor are their workers. When these organizations align their services with inclusive queer politics many experiences, identities, and ways of being become omitted. Queer Professionals and Settler Colonialism: Engaging Decolonial Thought within Organizations invites a radical rethinking of queer helping and care within queer organizations in Toronto by arguing that these organizations may not be as inclusive as they say they are.

Queer organizations emerged in the City of Toronto in the 1970s to combat pervasive inequality felt by lesbians, gay men, and trans people, specifically the impacts of diagnoses such as homosexuality, the effects of Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Born Infections, and identity categories such as sexual orientation that were omitted from the Ontario Human Rights Code. Identity politics have played a pivotal role in the success of queer organizations by supporting LGBTQ2S+ people and their experiences of inequality. Queer organizations continue to base their programming and services on how best to care for and help LGBTQ2S+ people.

While queer organizations are grounded in a politics of identity, through my research I have found that the workers (e.g., administrators and frontline workers) hold onto their experiences of sexual orientation, gender expression, and identity as they do queer work. Individual understandings of LGBTQ2S+ identities often shape who is imagined as needing or deserving of care within Toronto’s queer organizations. One participant shared with me, “I want to give back to my community because I realize now more than ever that the queer community is my community, and I am a proud member of it. … I am in this whole [queer social services] area quite simply [to] help the guy who was where I was” (Alex, a 50-year-old white, queer, cisgender man). The identities and experiences of queer workers, particularly around care, often push Indigenous peoples to the margins by imagining queer organizations as white spaces.

Queer organizations are caught in the push and pull of the current order of things which requires discourses of diversity to be used for marketing queer inclusivity. Simultaneously, Indigenous peoples are often erased from queer organizations. One participant shared, “They [Indigenous peoples] do not have a very good relationship with my organization. Maybe they come in inebriated or high on something” (Leslie, a 27-year-old Mestiza [sic] trans woman). Interestingly, for these queer organizations to receive funding, they must claim they are diverse and inclusive, which requires the organizations to include Indigenous identity hollowly, whether in a land acknowledgment or 2-Spirited logo on marketing materials. This reinforces the inequality that Indigenous peoples experience every day – they are only included as symbols and signifiers.

It appears that queer organizations are pivotal in celebrating Pride; however, while this celebration occurs, it is equally important to question the land we call home as founded upon the death and disappearance of Indigenous peoples. Queer organizations and professionals are responsible for engaging in forms of reconciliation and decolonization that meaningfully address Indigenous nations’ calls to action. What is a Pride celebration or queer organization if it continues to relegate Indigenous peoples to the margins?

Queer Professionals and Settler Colonialism encourages LGBTQ2S+ peoples, organizations, and communities to engage in decolonial work to address longstanding wrongs Indigenous peoples and nations experience. One of the main ways decolonization can occur is through LGBTQ2S+ people challenging identity politics within and beyond queer organizations.


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