You Can’t Spell LGBTQ/2S in BC without BIPOC and BLM

Commentary by Celine McRae-Hamdy

This year, in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic,  Pride Month (June, to coincide with the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, aka “the shot glass heard around the world”, often considered the beginning of LGBTQ/2S community liberation ) overlapped with a global movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd, to reject the systemic racism, particularly systemic anti-Black racism in our laws, societies, and our communities. So, given these concurrences, one might be asking how does systemic racism affect LGBTQ/2S people in Canada?

How does it not?

Given that LGBTQ/2S people in Canada are already marginalized from the broader society and population by systemic discrimination, I think it is essential to address two concepts that may not be assumed to be common knowledge;

The first conceptirst is systemic discrimination, which broadly speaking can be thought of as background discrimination that is neither overt nor explicit. If there are no Indigenous people in your office or organization, even if there isn’t an explicit rule about hiring Indigenous people, nor are your colleagues segregationists, systemic racism can be seen in the result of an Indigenous-free workspace in British Columbia. The important part to consider about systemic discrimination is that’s it’s usually not perceived, but can be understood as the background discrimination of a society or community. As uncomfortable as it may be to hear, similar to an invisible virus, without actively containing it’s spread, we are all capable of spreading systemic discrimination unless we take active counter-measures;  if you aren’t actively working to be anti-discrimination in a space, systemic discrimination almost certainly remains  in that space.

Next I’d like to address Intersectionality, a concept coined in 1989 by Dr. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw as;

“A metaphor for understanding the ways that multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage sometimes compound themselves and they create obstacles that often are not understood under conventional thinking of anti-racism or feminism or whatever social justice advocacy structures we have. Intersectionality is not so much a grand theory, it’s a prism for understanding certain kinds of problems”

To put it another way, intersectionality gives us a way to look at how multiple overlapping forms of discrimination might not have the same effect as they each would individually; the total can be greater than the sum of its parts, so to speak.

If you’ve followed along this far, you’re aware that there are multiple intersecting axis of systemic discrimination, that are so insidious they both permeate our society in every place, and do so in ways we often don’t perceive unless we are on the receiving end. As most of us believe ourselves to be fairly decent people (“I’m not sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/xenophobic!” etc) this is particularly uncomfortable for two reasons; we realize we may not even be able to perceive the systemic discrimination that surrounds us, which we wittingly and unwittingly participate in, and if we can’t even see this systemic discrimination, we have even less idea of how to confront it. So what can one do?

This first thing to do is, simply put, don’t get defensive! It is easy, and common, to assume systemic discrimination is either non-existent or unimportant, if it is so subtle.

Understanding the concept of systemic  discrimination would be exhilarating if it wasn’t so viscerally disturbing; as if learning a new sense, but the only sensation in the world was unpleasant and painful. An important aspect of systemic discrimination to understand is that it doesn’t require an explicit motivation or intent, so looking for an individual to blame isn’t helpful or productive. Part of this can be explained by understanding that since systemic discrimination permeates every facet of our society, the field has already been skewed before we even set foot on the pitch; systemic discrimination occurs in spaces that intersect with yours but over which you have little-to-no access, influence or control. Instead for trying to determine who-did-what-where-when, systemic discrimination can often best be detected by examining the results, not the intent.

For instance, if one works in an office that has never had an executive who wasn’t a heterosexual cisgender white man, or if both the mean and median pay of one’s female employees are consistently and significantly less than the mean and median pay of your male employees, respectively, even without understanding the particular mechanism at work, it can be inferred that systematic discrimination is present in one’s space.

From all of this, it might sound like systemic racism in particular (and systemic discrimination in general) is a very subtle, and therefore minor grievance. If that’s the case, then it likely means that one is from a non-racialized identity; that is to say, a person whose identity and presence in society isn’t flattened to a racial identity, defined by the broader society and community. This is a salient time to bring up the concept of “microaggressions”, which was originally coined by Professor Chester M. Pierce at Harvard, and which he coined as;

“These [racial] assaults to black dignity and black hope are incessant and cumulative. Any single one may be gross. In fact, the major vehicle for racism in this country is offenses done to blacks by whites in this sort of gratuitous neverending way. These offenses are microaggressions. Almost all black±white racial interactions are characterized by white put-downs, done in automatic, preconscious, or unconscious fashion. These mini disasters accumulate. It is the sum total of multiple microaggressions by whites to blacks that has pervasive effect to the stability and peace of this world.”

Microaggressions are now understood as applying to most axis of discrimination, and can be broadly understood as language/behaviour/actions/policies that serve to cause harm to people not deemed to belong to the dominant culture, and remind them that they don’t belong, without being so explicit that the dominant culture recognizes it as discrimination or harm.

At this point, while it might still seem that systemic racism in the LGBTQ/2S community in BC is a very esoteric concern, please consider the following;

For two years, the First Nations Health Authority, the public health authority responsible for delivering healthcare to Indigenous people in BC, neglected to create a communication strategy to inform Indigenous people that they were eligible to receive PReP, the preventative drug that dramatically reduces the risk of an individual becoming HIV positive, for free. Although PReP was not available for free from BC until 2018, a federal program had made access to PReP free to all Indigenous people in Canada in 2016! For want of a communication strategy that internalized combatting systemic racism in the LGBTQ/2S community, an estimated 500 Indigenous people in BC became HIV positive, who otherwise would not have, had they known of a medication that was available to them at no cost. If one can concede that the impact of this one example of systemic racism in the LGBTQ/2S community in BC is neither theoretical, nor imagined, then the magnitude of the total impact of this axis of systemic discrimination can start to be understood, and the challenge of undoing and unlearning can begin. And it it will only be a beginning, as now one can appreciate the breadth and depth of the earlier answer; “How does it not?”

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