Ottawa LGBT History: Queer People of Colour

Like anywhere, queer people of colour in Ottawa are an intersection of minority groups and may face racism in the LGBT community, and homophobia or transphobia in their ethnic community. Visibility of queer PoC in the LGBT community has been lacking for the majority of the gay liberation movement, perhaps because people may have felt unwelcome in queer organizations at the time.

A notable exception is Lyle Borden, who moved to Ottawa in 1981 with his partner and got involved in queer organizations almost from the jump. He started offering self-defense workshops to gays wishing to protect themselves from gay bashing at GO, and also volunteered at PTS, Egale, the Ottawa Senior Pride Network and Swirl and Twirl over the years, among others.

In recent years, young queer people of colour have been demanding a place at the table, and a recognition of their rights, their issues, and also the issue of race within the LGBT community.

When a beautiful mural in front of the remains of Somerset House at Bank and Somerset was painted by Kalkidan Assefa to commemorate murdered trans women of colour was repeatedly defaced in 2015, it shone an ugly light on the often unspoken racism that unfortunately still exists in Ottawa. The mural was eventually repainted and permanently installed high up on the McNabb Community Centre to avoid further defacing.

In 2017, they, among others, successfully lobbied the Capital Pride parade during their public consultations to ask police officers to forgo wearing their weapons and uniform in that year's parade, to great controversy. The ensuing dialogue was heated and often combative, especially on social media, and often without consideration or understanding of the feelings and opinions of the other side of the issue.

Clearly, this is an issue that the community will need to continue to address, hopefully diplomatically and with equal respect on all sides towards a positive outcome, that addresses all concerns on all sides, in the future.

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