Source: Canva design by Allegra Morgado. A graphic with a black background featuring text in the top left corner in white and green which reads “PRIDE is ART”. The simplified Moyo HCS logo is seen at the bottom of the graphic in white.
Allegra Morgado, 2SLGBTQ+ Special Projects Coordinator
As we begin another year stuck inside, I feel that it’s time for us to highlight something that has been keeping many of us going over the past ~23 months: art.
Whether it’s popping our headphones and singing along to a queer artists’ tunes as we go for a walk, cheering online at a virtual drag show, diving deep into our new favourite trans poet’s body of work or trying out a new craft, art has been keeping many of us going during these challenging times. With that, it’s time to celebrate the ways in which 2SLGBTQ+ communities use art to process the challenges we face and have faced for decades, whether or not they are related to our identities.
With that, let’s get into some of my favourite 2SLGBTQ+ art as of late!
Arielle Twist, Disintegrate/Dissociate
As a big reader it’s hard for me to pick just one read, but this book took my breath away in a way that not many books do. A poetry collection from Arielle Twist, a Nehiyaw, Two-Spirit, Trans Woman originally from George Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan and now based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, this collection introduced me to Twist and left me begging for more.
Miss Chatelaine (Iron Hoof Remix) by k.d. lang and Orville Peck
Although I’m about 30 years late to the original version of this song, this updated 2021 version was definitely my “song of the summer” for 2021. A bit of cowboy swagger coming from gay country musician Orville Peck peppered on top of the soulful sounds from lesbian k.d. lang makes this song a bop you can sing and shimmy along to whether you’re dancing around your room or walking your dog in the chilly January weather.
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Although I kept it current for my first two recommendations, I had to throw it back to recommend one of my favourite movies of all time to this list. But I’m a Cheerleader is a camp classic about a conversion therapy boot camp that takes on so many tropes about what it means to be queer it’s hard to keep them all straight (yes, that was intentional). Starring Natasha Lyonne and featuring a stellar cast including Clea DuVall and RuPaul, this film will make you laugh and warm your heart. MUNA and Phoebe Bridgers even made a music video inspired by it (check it out below)
Have you been engaging with 2SLGBTQ+ art to get you through the pandemic? What are some of the books/songs/musicians/movies/shows/performers/etc. that have been helping you through? Let us know in the comments on Instagram!
And remember, times may be tough but we as a community have faced challenging times before and created through it all. We will get through this time too—together.
With the late fall chill in the air, Pride celebrations of this year may be the last things on our mind—but that doesn’t mean we can’t look back at the exciting things we did this past spring and summer!
To continue our #Pride365 discussions of Pride all year round we want to share a video one of our 2SLGBTQ+ Collaborative of Peel Region members participated in earlier this year to highlight some of the needs of 2SLGBTQ+ communities in the Region. Check out the video from the City of Brampton’s Pride Spotlight below:
Source: Graphic from @mossthedoula on Instagram. | Description: Graphic with a light green background and darker green heart in the middle. In the heart is a trans masculine person with short hair and a beard chestfeeding a baby. Over the bottom of the heart is a red banner that reads “RESPECT TRANS PARENTS” in light green font.
Zan Thompson, Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator
November 7th is Transgender Parents Day. There are regular challenges when one embarks on the adventure of parenting, but there are additional challenges one might face when becoming a trans parent.
If you aren’t trans you might wonder, what are the challenges of becoming a trans parent? This blog will lightly explore some of the challenges I have heard about or encountered in the trans community when a person decides to become a parent.
Trans men who don’t want to carry their children must adopt, find a surrogate mother or a partner who wouldn’t mind carrying. Adoption is an important option that I don’t want to understate.
Childbearing has lost its popularity. Nowadays, people are becoming parents at older ages than previous generations. Finding someone to settle down with sometimes takes just as long as finding someone to bear a child. What are the chances that those two things happen simultaneously?
I know many trans women who want children of their own. Trans women cannot carry children of their own, so they have to either adopt, ask their partners to carry or co-parent as a stepparent. Before I heard the words co-parent and adopt my life was so dismal.
Even though I have not yet had the opportunity to adopt children or find a surrogate mother—both of which are currently above my pay grade—being able to watch my trans friends raise their children has been fulfilling.
I see the challenges they encounter and am impressed when I see them turn out these beautifully intelligent, strong-willed children.
I recently attended a collaborative artist workshop on zoom. While participating in art therapy, the facilitator spoke about mourning the life experience loss of having no children. I thought to myself, “Wow, maybe I should be doing that. Maybe I should be thinking about the fact that I have not met someone whose life plans aligned with mine and I haven’t adopted yet.”
I moved to Canada and of course I now have more possibilities and more opportunities when it comes to finding a sperm donor, artificial insemination or undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment, but earning enough money to afford parenting doesn’t happen right away and for some marginalized communities, it never happens.
Since I was a teenager, I always spoke to my grandmother about wanting to raise a son. She recently asked, “So when are you going to have this son?” I told her that I was not financially ready yet. She told me something very important that I will never forget. “If you are waiting for the perfect time to raise children, it will never come. You have to trust that your love will be good enough.”
That is the perspective I have held onto ever since. Yes, I want a biological son and/or would like to adopt, but if none of these things ever happen, I have to trust that the love I already experience in my community will be enough.
Toronto Public Library – “A January 1991 Yonge Street protest of the Gulf War organized by gay activist groups. Stonewall and the bath house raids opened the door for activism both during and outside of Pride Week. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.“
Allegra Morgado, 2SLGBTQ+ Special Projects Coordinator
As we’ve wrapped up October, it’s time for us to take a (belated) look back at 2SLGBTQ+ histories. Instead of focusing on historical moments, such as protests or acts of heroism from the queer and trans figures of the past, we decided to focus more on local history—or histories.
To celebrate 2SLGBTQ+ History Month, we spoke with two members of the Peel community about their own experience growing up as part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, reflecting back now as middle age and older adults. Check out their answers below and learn a bit more from those who have come before us and continue to fight the good fight for 2SLGBTQ+ rights and freedoms.
Note: answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What was your self-discovery process concerning your 2SLGBTQ+ identity like?
Rosalyn: I grew up an age when we did not have the internet, that cell phones were communicators on Star Trek, the original series.
Not knowing who I am, not knowing if I were the only one, not knowing if there was something wrong with me, not knowing if I were normal…these are questions I did not really have the answer to.
It was lonely, isolating and a very self destructive period of time that took me a long time to get out from.
Will: Growing up during the 70s and 80s in small town blue collar Northern Ontario, there was little to no representation/role models to emulate. The language of ‘trans’ was not yet a part of the nomenclature of 2SLGBTQ+. We were not visible in mainstream culture.
Although I was quite sure I was a boy who was attracted to girls, my embodiment betrayed me. So I donned the identity that made the most sense at the time – lesbian. During university I discovered feminism and the label of lesbian became dyke as a political stance against patriarchy and the misogyny both within and outside 2SLGBTQ+ communities. During my work in the Violence Against Women movement, I came into contact with trans women and realized that opportunities to change my physical embodiment to be more aligned with my felt sense of self as male, was a possibility. So at the age of 40, I began the process of socially, legally and medically transitioning.
What is one of the biggest changes you see in 2SLGBTQ+ youth today versus your own experience growing up?
Rosalyn: The ability to find community, resources and support.
Will: The decreased constraints/ increased availability of identity categories and the fluidity of sexualities and genders.
Is there anything you believe you benefited from growing up as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community during your youth that youth today don’t?
Rosalyn: No not at all. The one thing that I suppose prepared me was the fact I already faced bigotry as a young black person.
Will: The politics of being queer and how my identity, whether as a dyke or trans man, has always been intrinsically tied to the ongoing fight for our safe existence. Marches, sit-ins/die-ins, in many ways, galvanised our communities -as well as created fissures within. I feel my generation of 2SLGBTQ+ folks are very aware that our identities and the legislative rights created to provide protection, can be taken at any time.
What’s your favourite part of being part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community?
Rosalyn: This is an interesting question. I don’t know how to answer this part. I believe for everyone everywhere the best part about being alive is to be able to be completely and as openly every part of yourself inwardly and outwardly.
Will: Strong sense of community care. Having been part of the early years of HIV/AIDS, I learned the importance of mutual aid/networking/advocacy and a reliance on community in looking out for and after one another. In all of the ways that the mainstream social service industrial complex continues to fail us, community continues to fill in the gaps/crevices. And although I often felt a strong sense of support within the queer community, being part of trans communities has only increased those feeling of connections.
Do you have any advice for queer youth and younger folks today?
Rosalyn: Yes. Gather, reach out and find community, learn from the past, understand the laws that are now there to protect and support you and continue creating more. Understand that you are not the only one like you but at the same time you are a unique perfect you.
Don’t allow others to tell you who you really are.
Will: Do not become complacent. Do not allow your privileges-whiteness, class, gender-to box you into a homonormative standard/viewpoint. Do not become the ‘palatable’ queer/trans person that does little to disrupt cisheteronormativity.
Continue to make room for the most marginalized within our communities to have a voice at the table. Legislative rights only protect a very small portion of our communities. We need to build stronger alliances with other grassroots movements whether it be disabilities movements, Black Lives Matter etc. Together we can move forward in ways that leaves no one behind. The police state is and always will be antithetical to all progressive movements. Support the defunding of the police state.
It is important in October and beyond to create intergenerational relationships within the larger 2SLGBTQ+ communities as so much can be lost without them. Will and Rosalyn were gracious with their time and allowed us to learn more about their own personal experiences which are part of the fabric of the larger queer and trans communities in Peel and beyond. Without them, and folks like them, our existences and experiences would not be what they are today.
Community care, as both made note of, is paramount. We must come together and focus on collective care today and everyday as there are unfortunately often moments when some of us only have each other.
Thank you to Will and Rosalyn for sharing their time with us; I encourage everyone to look for folks 10, 20, 30 years older than you in your community to build relationships with—there is so much more we can accomplish when we learn from each other.
NCOD logo designed by Keith Haring
Zan Thompson, Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator
TW: physical assault
I did not come out to family, friends, or neighbours until I felt safe enough to be open about my gender identity and sexual orientation. I don’t know many members of the black 2SLGBTQ+ community who thought, “today, I think I’ll call everyone I know and tell them what part of my sexual orientation or gender identity journey I’m on.” In fact, the pressure of coming out makes many people feel anxious. All of us don’t experience the same level of safety and support. If we are staying with family, how do we know if we’ll have somewhere to live after we come out?
Coming out is largely a part of life for people who feel safe or secure enough to tell family, colleagues, and other members of the community they are 2SLGBTQ+ identified; however, that is not the way for everyone, whether they choose to come out or not.
In The Bahamas, I remember going to a house party and casually discussing how I got physically assaulted in the parking lot of a LGBTQ+ bar. One of the listeners who was also an LGBTQ+ identified individual told me I was not discreet enough about my sexual orientation. During that time, I didn’t feel like I was as out as I wanted to be. I replied, “I shouldn’t have to be discreet about who I am.”
After seeking protection in Canada in 2012 because I was physically assaulted for being LGBTQ+ identified, my self-acceptance journey progressed. While attending Toronto Film School in 2016, I walked past a class at the end of the hall of the campus near Dundas Square. I remember this person introducing themselves to the class. They told the class their name and then said, “and my pronouns are they and them.” Two emotions rushed into my chest: excitement and regret. When would I take a stand for my transness? After all, I moved to Canada to be protected from violence. Did I feel safe enough?
I remember the day I graduated film school. I stood in my living room, and I cried. I wasn’t busy anymore with photography, editing, set design, or production assignments. I had to face myself. If I couldn’t come out to anyone else, I could at least come out to myself. In my mind, I knew who I was, and I understood why I was afraid.
Since then, my coming out as a trans man has been a challenging journey.
I started working as a video technician after I graduated. It was the closest job I could get to working with cameras. I really love cameras.
I made a choice to identify as he when seeking employment. I regretted not using my preferred pronoun in film school. I was not going to repeat that mistake. I used my biological name because none of my documents had any name changes, but when corresponding by email I was he, and in the interview my pronoun was also he. I was so happy to experience this gender identity liberation.
For everyone, being Out can take on different meanings. Being out can even start from someone admitting to themselves who they are. It doesn’t look the same way for everyone, but I think self-acceptance gives peace of mind and will lead to a happier life.
Source: Canva Pro design by Allegra Morgado | Description: a graphic with text and an image in a circle frame in the middle. The text is slightly rounded around the top of the frame and reads “Bi Visibility Day”. The image is of a white hand in a peace sign with the rainbow Pride flag painted on their wrist. The graphic also features two sets of “cloud”-type graphics in the bisexual flag colours (blue, purple, pink) in the bottom left and top right of the image, 3 sets of stars around the photo in the bisexual flag colours around the frame. The background is a mix of pastel yellow, pink, and blue.
Allegra Morgado, 2SLGBTQ+ Special Projects Coordinator
Happy (belated) bisexual visibility day/celebrate bisexuality day! Although this day (and week!) go by different names depending on the person you’re talking to (similar to non-monosexual sexualities—more on this in a bit), overall this time is intended to celebrate the bisexual and biromantic people in your life and greater communities!
In celebrating bisexual visibility day we’d like to talk about a specific area where bisexual folks tend to face a lot of invisibility—health care.
But first off—what is bisexuality?
Bisexuality can be a confusing identity for those who don’t have bisexual folks in their life or are not bisexual themselves. Bisexuality can also be defined in multiple ways, depending on the person defining it and whether we are talking about the umbrella term vs. the individual term.
First, let’s start with the individual term. One of my favourite definitions, which is pretty all-encompassing, comes from bisexual activist and speaker Robyn Ochs. Here is a quote from her defining bisexuality:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted–romantically and/or sexually–to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.”
If you’re asking what the difference is between this and pansexuality—good question! According to an article from Teen Vogue on pansexuality, “[p]ansexuality means being attracted to all people regardless of gender identity or sex. The prefix pan is the Greek word for all.”
GLAAD also defines the word similarly, noting that pansexuality is part of the bisexual umbrella, including all sexualities that are not monosexual, which means “to be sexually and/or romantically attracted to only one sex or gender,” including heterosexual and homosexual folks.
The difference between pansexuality and bisexuality, simply put, can be that “[w]hile being bisexual means being attracted to more than one gender, being pansexual means being attracted to all gender identities, or attracted to people regardless of gender”; however, it’s important to allow and respect people’s ability to describe and define their own identity in the way that feels best to them, even if it doesn’t perfectly match the definition you’re most familiar with.
Bisexual exclusion, erasure & biphobia
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Ontario, “[b]isexual and trans people are over-represented among low-income Canadians” (Source: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer identified People and Mental Health, CMHA Ontario). Research in The Journal of Sex Research and Women & Health has also shown us that bisexual people “often have poorer health outcomes compared to both lesbian and gay populations and heterosexual populations” especially bisexual women (Source: Bisexual Community, Re:searching for LGBTQ2S+ Health).
As a bisexual person, I have seen this in my own community. Folks who don’t identify with the L or the G in our beautiful acronym often face different forms of discrimination, including from the 2SLGBTQ+ community at large. Although heterosexism and homophobia from cisgender heterosexual communities hurts, the discrimination and exclusion can feel even more damaging when it comes from your own community of other 2SLGBTQ+ folks.
What support do bisexual folks need?
In 2015, Planned Parenthood Toronto and research partners conducted research on the sexual and reproductive health needs of young bisexual women in Toronto. This study spoke to 35 participants on their needs and put together helpful information for healthcare providers and bisexual women in providing and getting the care they needed.
From bi-erasure to cissexism, those who answered the survey identified the many ways in which their healthcare providers, as well as healthcare information in general (e.g. pamphlets, sexual education, etc.) often centers monosexual individuals and erases bisexual identities.
Sexual health is also an area where bisexual men face unique challenges, including higher sexually transmitted infection rates than their straight and gay counterparts. Similar to those from the Planned Parenthood study, bisexual men involved in a study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also identified biphobia as a reason why bisexual folks have poorer health outcomes. This study also looked at the ways in which other forms of marginalization such as racism, can further contribute to these unmet sexual health needs.
Both of these studies*, indicate a need to close the significant bisexual knowledge gap and offer more bi-inclusive sexual health (and other health) information that allows bisexual folks to feel more comfortable in their identities.
Saying bye to biphobia
Although we have made great strides as a larger community on inclusion, bisexual folks continue to face biphobia that prevents them from feeling fully comfortable in themselves or in the larger 2SLGBTQ+ community. As we enter October, which is 2SLGBTQ+ History Month in Canada, it’s important to remember that bisexual folks have always been here and will continue to be here.
From historic bisexuals like Frida Kahlo and Freddie Mercury to modern bisexual and pansexual heros like Cheri DiNovo, former Canadian politician and the only woman to sign the “We Demand” document in 1971, and Janelle Monáe, bisexual people are strong, beautiful, artistic, resilient, and loving. It is time to do away with the biphobic notions of the past and celebrate the beauty of the fluid identities in the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
Now, to end us off, let’s check out this music video from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend of the bisexual song “Gettin’ Bi” (please note: this song is a bit binary but bisexuality is and should be inclusive of all genders, including non-binary identities!).
*We recognize that only the Planned Parenthood study was explicitly inclusive of trans and non-binary individuals and that people of all genders can and do identify as bisexual
Source: International Overdose Awareness Day | Description: A graphic with a blue background and the main text in the middle reads “NO MORE STIGMA. NO MORE SHAME.” with the words in white. At the top of the graphic, it reads “31 AUGUST” with words in white. Below that, separated by a hyphen, it reads “INTERNATIONAL OVERDOSE AWARENESS DAY” with the words in white. At the bottom of the graphic, it reads “A Penington Institute Initiative” with the words in white.
Caitlin Monteiro, Community Development Worker
International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) takes place every year on August 31st “to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.” This day also brings awareness to the ongoing issues and barriers experienced by people who use substances.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2SLGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to use substances than other groups, and often face more barriers in accessing harm reduction services. High substance use rates in the queer community can be attributed to trauma, prevalence of mental health issues due to stigma and oppression, minority stress, party/drug culture and the lack of 2SLGBTQ+ friendly healthcare services (Edgewood Health Network).
Historically, society has viewed people who use substances as well as those in the queer community as social deviants, marginalizing those who did not conform. These harmful views have delayed and continue to impact the establishment of harm reduction services, costing many lives.
When we look at these communities from an intersectional lens, coupling substance use with queer, trans and/or BIPOC identities, navigating life and service needs can be challenging and isolating. These additional challenges make it especially important for harm reduction services to consider these intersecting marginalized identities in their program development and outreach.
Hearing from community members
To gain a better perspective on the 2SLGBTQ+ experience with substance use, it is essential to listen to the needs of the community from the community themselves. It is only through collaboration that harm reduction services can widen their reach, improve their approach, and better serve marginalized communities.
We spoke to some 2SLGBTQ+ folks about their personal experiences with and opinions of substance use in the queer and trans communities to better highlight their needs. Many folks had a lot to say indicating the pervasiveness of substance use among queer and trans people.
When asked about why folks thought that 2SLGBTQ+ individuals were more likely to use substances, here are some of the responses we received. Please remember that these responses are reflective of folks’ individual experiences and should be respected as such:
“I truly believe that conspicuous consumption* and capitalism has a lot to do with it, as well as it being ingrained in the culture of being queer, like since the AIDS epidemic. I find that because of the AIDS epidemic, there was this lifestyle of like, live fast, die young, because you don’t even know if you’re going to be here that long. I feel like that never really left the core of queer culture.”
“I was traumatized by my high school experience being a queer POC who is also feminine presenting. I was bullied and blackmailed and even physically abused in the halls of my high school. I turned to marijuana and since September 2018 I have smoked consistently and abused my use of marijuana.
If there were more conversations about how queer folks need protection when I was younger, I wouldn’t be in this place to desire an escape from the heteronormative societies that I’m forced to be a part of every single day.”
“It’s easier than confronting what you need to do or want to do. I can smoke in minutes and be done but working on confronting my emotions is so much more work.”
“I think it’s directly linked to stress and other mental health issues. Most people turn to drugs because of stress and queer people are nearly ALWAYS stressed. As a bisexual non-binary person who’s not out, I’m literally worried everyday about my sexuality and gender identity.”
“I can speak from experience when I say that substances often replace the love of a family or community. When acceptance is hard to find, addiction easily slips into its place.”
“Most accessible and identifiable queer safe spaces are bars which subjects queer people especially young queer people to be in situations surrounded by substances. Queer youth make up a large portion of youth homelessness which puts them on the streets. That plus the increased likelihood of them suffering from mental health issues means they’re more like to turn to substances for escapism.”
We also asked the individuals we spoke with about their experiences with harm reduction services; here are some of the responses we received:
“For harm reduction services queer substance users need to have a safe judgement free environment to sort themselves out without the pressure of living up to a certain standard.”
“I find that a lot of the times harm reduction services tend to be shoddy, but that’s not for no reason. Obviously, use of certain substances that would require these harm reduction clinics and services are unfortunately criminalized. On top of that, being queer and/or trans in that same space, it’s like you already have all these barriers off the bat.”
“I think when it comes to harm reduction sites, there needs to be more trans-inclusive and accessible areas. There definitely needs to be more awareness on how substance use in queer communities is directly linked to other factors like homelessness, job discrimination and poverty so it makes it even harder to break cycles of addiction. I think we need to incorporate inclusivity of queer people in harm reduction to actually reduce the harm.”
“Fostering a sense of community is so important for queer people battling with substance abuse. If they are afforded the patience and care that they lack but wholly deserve, there is a lower need to mask or numb the resulting pain. Therefore, harm reduction services that are aware of this link between marginalization and substance abuse will be more effective at curbing addiction. Specific care is crucial to saving the lives of 2SLGBTQ+ people.”
Where do we go from here?
Reviewing the various perspectives from community members can help us understand how to better support queer and trans people who use substances going forward. Creating community-centered programming requires us to connect with diverse community members and ensure services are meeting the needs of those who hold different intersecting marginalized identities.
After speaking with community members, some of the key themes that emerged from the interviews were:
- Harm reduction services and education, as well as mental health support for 2SLGBTQ+ youth in schools, can support folks prior to them developing a reliance on substances and help them through mental health and emotional challenges.
- Training for health care workers and educators can ensure 2SLGBTQ+ people can access essential services in a safe, comfortable environment, without fear of discrimination. As well, 2SLGBTQ+ history and anti-oppression being taught in schools can reduce learned biases and misinformation which will help queer youth have a more accepting school environment.
- 2SLGBTQ+ safe(r) spaces where people can socialize and meet each other without the pressure and environment bars typically induce, will avoid the promotion of excessive substance use and give access to queer youth as well.
- 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive, confidential, and penalty-free harm reduction services for criminalized and decriminalized substances can encourage more people who use substances to reach out to these services. Additionally, offering continued support to people who use substances can help them stay safe.
- Subsidized counselling and therapy for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals can increase accessibility to these services and allow for 2SLGBTQ+ folks to work through their trauma and challenges.
In acknowledging International Overdose Awareness Day and sharing some queer experiences with substance use we open up the conversation for the advancement and development of harm reduction services. We also aim to end the stigma around substance use and encourage support.
Talking about overdose could save a life. Keep the conversation going.
Check out these resources to learn more about substance use in the 2SLGBTQ+ community and harm reduction services:
*Conspicuous consumption: the purchase of goods or services for the specific purpose of displaying one’s wealth. Conspicuous consumption is a means to show one’s social status, especially when publicly displayed goods and services are too expensive for other members of a person’s class. (Investopedia)
Source: @liberaljane on Instagram | Description: Digital illustration of a woman with brown skin and curly black hair. She is disabled and is sitting in a grey wheelchair looking at the viewer. The woman is wearing a cream color linen dress, pink and blue flower print go-go boots, pink and blue pom pom earrings. There’s a text bubble that reads, ‘ people with disabilities STILL do not have marriage equality’
Allegra Morgado, 2SLGBTQ+ Special Projects Coordinator
In his seminal text on the subject, Robert McRuer looks at how able-bodiedness and heterosexuality are connected, leading him to discuss the association of disability and queerness, finding the ways in which these identities interact with each other and can (and should) be analyzed together (Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability). Despite Crip Theory being released in 2006, and additional writings by McRuer on the subject dating back even further, queer communities are still often exclusive of queer and trans folks with disabilities.
One of the first times my eyes were opened to the ableism* in progressive circles was at a protest in Ottawa I attended with some friends and colleagues. As we marched through the wet streets of the city, I ended up near the back of the crowd with a friend of mine and their partner, who used a mobility device, the rest of our group having marched ahead. After noticing this, the two of them told me about how common this was when protests did not put those with disabilities to the front. They also pointed out how the protest was a point to point march rather than a loop, which added to the lack of accessibility in it.
Ace Tilton Ratcliff, a genderqueer disabled writer, consultant, artist, and consulting mortician, wrote about the ableism in queer communities in their article for Bitch Media, “(Un)safe Refuge: The Built-In Ableism in Queer Spaces,” in June 2020. This article details multiple instances of ableism that 2SLGBTQ+ community members with disabilities have faced in queer spaces, such as the Stonewall Inn, and how often Pride events are not accessible for disabled queer people.
Marriage equality is another area where folks with disabilities are often left out of the conversation. Rev. Jeff Rock, the senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, a Christian Church affirming of 2SLGBTQ+ community members, penned an article in January 2021 about how marriage equality is not something offered to disabled Ontarians due to restrictions as part of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) on partner income. His piece is a call to action for us to fight for disability rights in marriage and to recognize who we leave out when celebrating the accomplishment of marriage equality.
Much of these discussions have come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Cynara Geissler writes in The Tyee that “[f]or many disabled and chronically ill people, the options we’d previously been told were impossible before the pandemic — grocery delivery, virtual attendance options, working from home, video calls to doctors — became possible overnight.” With these more accessible events, programs, and services becoming more common during the pandemic, many fear what a post-pandemic world will look like as people rush to reopen and leave a large part of our community behind.
This includes, and is possibly amplified, for those who hold intersecting marginalized identities and who were able to find community in ways they may not have been before. Whether it’s being able to hang with friends from bed when you’re having a bad pain day, working in a role that was strictly in-office beforehand when that isn’t accessible to you, or being able to attend an event where you don’t have to have your camera or mic on to participate in, being forced into a more virtual world has given many people the opportunity to participate in a way they haven’t before.
In Geissler’s article, which focuses on an equitable reopening as vaccines become more accessible in British Columbia, they reference a column in Xtra written by Kai Cheng Thom where the author references a concept spoken about in transformative and disability justice spheres, where the author writes:
“Going slow can be extremely challenging, because when we are working through conflict and harm, many of us want very much to get to the “end” or the resolution, where things feel good or at least okay again. Yet, for better or worse, relationship repair is much more a case of the proverbial tortoise rather than the hare winning the race.”
When it comes to inclusion of people with disabilities in queer communities, the pandemic has given us a perfect place to start. Instead of rushing back to what we felt was the norm before the pandemic began, let’s take this time to recognize how to be better, more inclusive, and more equitable in all that we do.
July is recognized as Disability Pride month in the USA, celebrating the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and this month of awareness and celebration has begun to be celebrated elsewhere due to our virtual world. For those of us who live, work, and/or play in the Peel Region, it is also historically Peel Pride month. As vaccines become more widely available in the Region and we look towards an eventual reopening, let’s ensure we are doing better than before. Whether that’s only holding events in accessible venues, including supports in our budgets for interpreters, or accommodating clients (and employees!) who benefit from working from home, let’s do what we do best—queer all we do and make it better for us all.
We must always remember that there is “No Pride For Some of Us Without Liberation For All of Us.”
Check out these folks & resources to learn more about disability justice:
- Andrew Gurza (they/he), Disability Awareness Consultant based in Toronto, host of Disability After Dark podcast, focuses on the lived experience of disability, disability and queerness, and more.
- Imani Barbarin (she/her), a Black, disabled, and queer woman who makes content online (including TikTok) around her identity, pop culture, and more.
- Zipporah (aka coffeespoonie), a disabled, queer, Jewish, nonbinary woman writer and advocate who makes content online.
- The Black Disability Collective is a collective focused on uplifting and advocating for Black disabled lives
- Hay Smith (he/him/his), Deaf gay writer based in Indiana.
- Ryan O’Connell, American writer, actor, director, comedian, LGBTQ activist, and disability activist; creator of the Netflix show Special based off of his memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves
- Alice Wong, editor of Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century and disability rights activist.
- Cripping Up Sex with Eva – an author and sex educator focused on sex and disability
*Ableism: Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability. (Access Living)
Source: Alex Norris of webcomic name | Description: a 3 panel comic featuring a humanoid pink blob against a blue background. First panel: they are standing beside a sign with a Pride flag with a speech bubble that states “I can’t wait to go to LGBT+ pride”. Second panel: the speech bubble reads “& see all sorts of people celebrating who they are”. Third panel: they are looking at a road with three cars that have “corporation” written on them and rainbow flags on top of them. A banner reading “Pride Parade” waves above it. The speech bubble coming from their mouth reads “oh no”.
Midori Kuwahara, Health Promotion Assistant with East Mississauga CHC and Allegra Morgado, 2SLGBTQ+ Special Projects Coordinator at Moyo HCS
Every May queer and trans people can feel it coming. The rumbles of “limited Pride collection” and “fun” takes on the acronym (like Marks & Spencer’s Lettuce Guacamole Bacon Tomato sandwich from 2019) begin, and slowly but surely the logos turn rainbow as every business that wants that sweet queer cash begins to market to the 2SLGBTQ+ community and allies.
If you haven’t seen this phenomenon by now all you have to do is check out the social media accounts of any large company or brand, from Oreo to Shoppers Drug Mart to AT&T, to witness this “painting the feeds rainbow” campaign season in action. Companies like Target take it a step further than others by releasing questionable Pride collections, connecting Pride and capitalism in a way that elicits quite a mix of reactions from the diverse 2SLGBTQ+ community worldwide.
All of these campaigns, whether or not they include just a logo change or a collection that donates a small amount (compared to these companies’ profits) to a 2SLGBTQ+ charity or non-profit, fall under the ever-growing umbrella of a concept some love to love and others love to hate: rainbow washing.
What is “rainbow washing”?
Rainbow washing (or Pinkwashing or Rainbow Capitalism) is “the strategic marketing move deployed by large brands with the aim of selling Pride-themed merchandise and capitalizing off of Pride month” (@soyouwanttotalkabout on Instagram). As 2SLGBTQ+ identities become more and more accepted every year in heteronormative, mainstream societies, more brands hop on the rainbow washing train to capitalize on a celebration that is, in many senses, antithetical to their essences as profit-driven corporations: an uprising against oppressive institutions. To learn more about rainbow washing, check out this video from queer YouTube creator Rowan Ellis:
Video featuring queer YouTube creator Rowan Ellis on “pinkwashing.”
The Bad and the Ugly
When we look into rainbow washing, we begin to realize the varying degrees of it that exist. The most harmful forms include companies who take the month of June as an opportunity to brighten up their logos with a Pride flag, all while continuing to directly support discrimination against 2SLGBTQ+ communities and other marginalized groups.
Other companies simply post #HappyPride, inundate us with colourful products to consume and leave it at that. Through this method of slacktivism, they wrap themselves up in a neat little (rain)bow to present themselves as tolerant and inclusive, but do nothing to really advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ communities and push for much-needed change on an ongoing basis. For many of us, this form of rainbow washing feels exploitative and pandering.
That being said, here are just some of the many companies who call themselves allies every June, but whose year-round political and financial contributions tell us otherwise:
Walmart, McDonald’s, Amazon – Walmart, McDonald’s and Amazon have all been vocal in their support for Pride Month. However, according to an article from Insider, each of these corporations donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians who voted against the Equality Act in the U.S— an act aimed at implementing explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in various sectors.
YouTube – For many 2SLGBTQ+ folks, YouTube has always offered a safer space for us to find community, information and representation. In fact, this year, the platform will be hosting a virtual global Pride celebration and donating to several LGBTQ+ organizations. However, it is still important to recognize that YouTube has a history of homophobic and transphobic censorship, content suppression and demonetization simply for being queer and talking about queerness.
Disney – This month, in typical rainbow washing fashion, Disney released their “Rainbow Disney Collection” with products ranging from backpacks, to mugs, to face masks. They will be donating a portion of the funds to various LGBTQ+ organizations and are even working toward providing more inclusive spaces and policies for their employees. On the surface, this is great! However, as one of the largest media conglomerates in the world worth over $120 billion, it is literally the least they could do. Not to mention, Disney has yet to give us any real, explicit and adequate queer representation. This primarily stems from fear of “rocking the boat” and threatening the promise of profits with heterosexual, cisgender characters.
Home Depot – From 2017-2018, this home improvement retailer donated $1,825,500 to 111 U.S. politicians who actively push for anti-2SLGBTQ+ laws and policies. Yet, in 2017, this same company was named the Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality…we are as confused as you are.
Domino’s – Although this pizza restaurant chain tends to claim full support for the LGBTQIA+ community, its executives and owners have a history of donating to conservative, anti-queer organizations and individuals. In fact, they donated in excess of $445,000 to the Republican Party and candidates for the 2020 Presidential Election alone.
Now, don’t get us wrong. Representation is extremely important and we are so happy to see it. The fact that rainbow washing exists is, in itself, a sign that we live in a more hopeful time. However, time and time again, corporations who commodify 2SLGBTQ+ lives receive high praise for doing the bare minimum for us. We must recognize that we deserve better.
Fortunately, some companies, organizations and individuals resist rainbow washing and actively work to support 2SLGBTQ+ communities in genuine, ongoing ways. They promote positive and diverse representations of the queer and trans experience; offer inclusive products; provide suitable donations to 2SLGBTQ+ organizations; and work directly with queer and trans creators. Check out our list of businesses doing this great work below/The following are some of the businesses doing this great work (bonus: they are all queer-led!):
A queer clothing shop created by FTM transgender activist, Aydian Dowling (he/him). They donate a portion of their proceed to their sister organization, Point of Pride. To date, they have awarded over $130,000 in direct financial aid towards gender-affirming surgery and permanent hair removal services, as well as donated thousands of chest binders and femme shapewear to folks in 57+ countries.
The Phluid Project is all about gender-free fashion, community, activism and education. They also support a variety of TQBIPOC (Trans, Queer, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) brands.
This shop, created by Black, Indigenous hard femme Sabine Maxine Lopez (she/they), offers a gender-neutral, size-inclusive clothing line as well as a podcast, zine, blog and virtual events.
dfrntpigeon is a queer-led social enterprise apparel and lifestyle brand. They work with marginalized youth and support them in developing their creative abilities through paid design work and mentorship. They also collaborate with queer local artists every year.
Bianca Negron (she/they) is a queer gender-fluid Latinx designer and artist who creates stickers, pins, hats and t-shirts to provide representation and visibility. Our personal favourite is their Deaf and Queer line!
The Gaysian sells tees with designs like “Asian, Queer, Proud”, “Trans (Form) Asian”, “Unapologetically Queer,” “Supergay,” and “Gaysian in Distress.” The shop designer, Ann, who is bisexual and based in Malaysia, wanted to make shirts for “other queer Asian people out there who are so unapologetically themselves” in hopes of seeing “at least part of my identity being showcased in different parts of the world through wonderful, brave people.”
Based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sabor a Libertad is a non-binary clothing, accessory and feminist art store aimed at making clothes that represent trans and non-binary people. Their products are designed by Puerto Rican artists and come in both Spanish and English.
gc2b is a trans-owned company committed to providing accessible, comfortable and safe binding and clothing options designed by trans people, for trans people. Over the past 3 years, they have also supported over 100+ 2SLGBT+ organizations and donated over 6000 chest binders.
Flamingo Market is an online artisan market for 2SLGBTQ+ artists, makers, service providers and non-profits. They feature and promote small, queer-owned businesses across Canada.
Tips and Tricks to Combat Rainbow Washing
Here are some tips and tricks to wash away those disingenuous rainbows and create a clear picture of what it really mean to support, advocate and uplift 2SLGBTQ+ communities:
1. Research the company: Do they offer year-round support to queer and trans communities in social, financial and/or political spheres? Do they consistently refuse to support people, policies and institutions that harm queer and trans folks? Are 2SLGBTQ+ communities represented at all levels of employment, including high-level positions? Is the company open to receiving feedback from marginalized groups? Do their policies support intersectional marginalized identities (e.g. 2SLGBTQ+ individuals who have disabilities or are racialized) or do they harm some members of the broader 2SLGBTQ+ community?
2. Look into how the product is being promoted: Is the company explicit and transparent in how they are supporting 2SLGBTQ+ communities? Are they supporting any 2SLGBTQ+ organizations or individuals? Have they indicated how much of the proceeds will be going to them and, if so, is it an adequate amount? Do the promotional materials represent a wide range of queer and trans identities that go beyond images of white, skinny, cisgender and able-bodied people?
3. Check out the product itself: Is it made by and/or for 2SLGBTQ+ folks? Is it inclusive and accessible for marginalized groups, such as 2SLGBTQ+ identities, BIPOC communities and people with disabilities?
4. Take care of yourself: There is already a limited number of organizations making an active and genuine effort for 2SLGBTQ+ communities. When we take other barriers into consideration, such as financial barriers (e.g. many queer and trans folks experience hiring discrimination, hostile work environments and other forms of oppression that make full economic participation impossible) and physical barriers (there are many less options for queer and trans people in bigger bodies when it comes to clothes in general—not to mention Pride-themed clothes specifically), the options become even more limited.
If you end up giving in to rainbow washing, don’t be too hard on yourself. In a world where our bodies and identities are so often mocked, erased, tokenized and harmed, buying that rainbow mug can be a way to validate and take care of yourself. What matters is that we remain committed to being mindful of what we are buying, who we are buying from and whether or not we are contributing to the very issues that make Pride month remain an important and necessary celebration for many 2SLGBTQ+ communities and individuals.
Want to learn more about rainbow washing? Check out some of resources down below:
Progressive Shopper offers a simple, accessible way to find out how companies are spending their money. They provide up-to-date data on the political contributions of major corporations and the individuals working for them.
Who Made My Pride Merch is a social media campaign that asks brands who really makes their Pride collections. They stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ garment workers worldwide.
As we come to the end of Pride month in Toronto and many other places around the world and enter what is traditionally Pride month in Peel, we want to highlight an important discussion that took place earlier this year with two of our Collaborative organizations, Moyo Health & Community Services and the Brampton Library, and a panel of incredible trans artists and activists on Trans Day of Visibility. Check out the discussion, which took place on Trans Day of Visibility this year (March 31st) below!
Content warning: discussions of transphobia, familial challenges in coming out, mental health challenges