Canadian Caucus for Two-Spirited and Queers of Colour, Egale Canada
amir baradaran, email@example.com
“”If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”” ---Lila Watson, Aboriginal Australian
The conference entitled Rainbow Visions: Building a Pan-Canadian Queer Agenda that was organized by Egale in May 2003 is historically significant for many reasons. One reason is the formation of a focus group that was created by a number of conference participants, who recognized the need to formally address issues that consistently emerged throughout the conference proceedings. These participants, who identify with various ethnic communities, realized the imperative to assemble such a group in order to highlight these issues, discuss them, and evaluate their significance and relevance to queer people of colour in an effort to articulate the limitations of the conference for this segment of the queer community in Canada. Following the conference, it was endeavoured to follow-up on the recommendations of the focus group resulting in the creation a formal National Caucus for Two-Spirited and Queers of Colour. Egale’s Intersections Committee and its board of directors re-endorsed such endeavour and approved the creation of an ad-hoc committee (2SQCCaucus) to this end. Egale also approved to create a listserv, as a first initiative to provide a “safe” and open space for the 2SQC communities. Egale Canada was approached to serve as an umbrella for the 2SQC Caucus, given that it recognises the “intersectionality” of identities (race, class, age, abilities, place of origin, gender, sexual preference, etc.) as factors that play an integral part of who we are. Moreover, Egale is committed to positive and progressive change internally and externally.
Two Spirit Vision
The indigenous peoples of the Americas possess many unique world views because of our historical geographic isolation. Even today, our cultures remain distinct from that of other societies and civilizations around the world. Despite brutal attempts by colonialists to erase these dynamic ways of life, the heart of the people continues to resist assimilation and extinction. Although Canada is one of the leading democratic countries, we still experience huge disparities in employment, justice, economy and human rights. Essentially, the 5.3 million indigenous peoples in Canada and the US are surrounded by 300 million non-Aboriginals who barely know we exist. Contemporary Canadian society is modelled on a Euro-centric way of life, which devalues our beliefs about sexuality and gender. This is not surprising because the success of European colonization depended upon the creation of an artificial gender hierarchy which enabled men to be all powerful. Under this kind of oppression, Aboriginal cultures were forced to hide and denigrate the diversity which flourished among them. Through the centuries, racism, poverty, and homophobia virtually made Two Spirit people invisible. The term Two Spirit is used to describe gender and sexual diversity among Aboriginal cultures. It was adopted around 1990 by Aboriginal gays and lesbians who chose to affirm their spiritual, cultural, and social rights within their communities, and to make themselves distinct within the queer community. We are now liberating ourselves from the silence, invisibility, and violence that have been imposed upon us. We are coming out and advocating for our rights as indigenous people, queer people, family members, political constituents, and international citizens. In this time of self-empowerment, we are seeking allies who are engaged in decolonization processes, and promoting their pre-colonial cultural values which celebrate gender and sexual diversity.
Current Issue/ “Problematique”
In the West, the existing perception of non-Western cultures, including those perceptions of members of our own mainstream queer organizations, remains tinted by Orientalism. The legacy of colonialism has meant that First Nations, ethnic Canadian communities, as well as their countries of origin have become bereft of an indigenously effective mechanism for reclaiming traditionally accommodating values that foster an “authentic” version of queer identity on their terms. Moreover, imposed foreign values, through the historical process of colonization, have become internalized, and in turn, they shape the cultural and societal definitions underlying sexual politics today in these communities. Consequently, the internalization of queer-phobia continues to persist among many of the diasporic communities of colour living in the West. For people of colour, these conditions implicitly impede them from successfully mobilizing along the political fault lines of their ethnic and queer communities respectively. The general queer and ethnic communities fail to provide adequate representation for them or their issues and to endow them with the necessary means and resources to self-actualize along the intersections of their ethnic and queer identities. These conditions and attitudes that are maintained, and at times irresponsibly - even if inadvertently - encouraged, affect the social and political fabric of Canadian society and the health of queer politics operating through and within it. The dire need to draw attention to, and address, these conditions would be a timely endeavour that has long been overdue. (recommendation report by the initial focus group)
The purpose of the two-Spirited and queer people of colour (POC) Caucus is to provide a space for these groups to identify and discuss issues that affect their communities in a “safe” and “open” environment. This committee would provide a space for these groups to develop and address issues of systemic discrimination based on race, ethnicity and cultural background from their experiences.
The listserv will aim to facilitate networks between Two-Spirited, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ‘queer’ identified communities of colour and promote dialogue and debate about concerns and events taking place in these respective communities. Ideas and suggestions provided by its membership will then be assembled by the Caucus to account for specific needs of our diverse communities, and possibilities of specific actions as to how to address the very issue of colour in an intersectional approach within the larger queer organisations/movement in Canada.
Vision Capacity Building
It is necessary to encourage existing mainstream organizations to adopt more affirmative representation in order to assist them in their effort to represent and account for intersecting issues. The drive to “mainstream” issues of intersections into a pan-Canadian agenda maximizes capacity building that is arguably needed to facilitate outreach programmes; with the exception of a few cases, these programmes have failed to deliver to a more diverse audience. Lack of knowledge and/or familiarity with other cultures and traditions and a lack of adequate representation of people of colour have contributed to their marginalisation, one that is often conflated with international issues and concerns. Finally, the prevalence of hegemonic and racist discourses characterizing many of our Canadian queer organizations have hindered their efficiency in establishing dialogue and creating trust bridges with communities of colour, bridges that are much needed during these precarious times to create a solid collective with a truly pan-Canadian agenda.
The creation of the 2SQC Caucus is also a step in launching a wider initiative to galvanize 2-spirited/QPOC in the country to advocate for their rights and on their own terms. It is crucial to be reminded of the danger of compartmentalisation of the colour issue, insofar as it might be used by the dominant epistemologies for further exclusion. Hence, the necessity of empowering our communities of 2SQC in addressing the issue of colour and sexual preference in a bilateral organisational and rhetorical manner. This strategy will require coalition building and sensitization with both of the communities where marginalisation is experienced: larger Canadian communities of colour as well as the dominant GLBT communities.
Moreover, the Caucus will monitor very closely the new world saviour interventionist endeavours in discussing queer international issues, and adopting tendency to externalize a “Western-style” queer rights discourse. The adoption of imperialistic undertones in discussing queer international issues underscores the tendency to become oblivious to the cultural and historical nuances operating in international queer communities. This approach attempts to mask a “world-saving” attitude with a disingenuous benevolent empathy. It is disheartening to perceive the current state of a post-colonial landscape that has historically deprived these international queer communities from otherwise traditionally open and accommodating approaches to the plurality of sex, gender and sexuality, as it, meanwhile, ironically re-enters this landscape to “empower” such communities with the very notions, ideas and tools that it had rid them in the first place, albeit this time in its own image, in characteristically colonial fashion. (recommendation report by the initial focus group)
Email Discussion List
For subscribing to the listserv, or further inquiries, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a brief paragraph as to your reasons for joining this list. Please self-identify your racial and/or ethno-cultural background, as well as the organisation you represent (if applicable).
Coordination Team 2004
amir baradaran, Albert McLeod, Chris Khong
Coordination Team 2003
amir baradaran, Elizabeth Hall, Chris Khng
amir baradaran, Chris Boodram, Elizabeth Hall and Chris Khng
The initial Focus Group on Intersections Theme included Elvis Anber, Julian Awwad, amir baradaran, Elizabeth Hall, Monica Lee, Cynthia Lon, Tony Navaneelan, Adrienne Sefton. (Rainbow Vision Conference, May 2003)