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How this Pride event celebrated queer and trans people of colour in Vancouver

‘A lot of us, including myself, are not feeling safe at Pride anymore,’ says organizer of 2SQTILGBiPoC Pride Celebration

Imtiaz Popat co-organized the 2SQTILGBiPoC Pride Celebration.
Imtiaz Popat co-organized the 2SQTILGBiPoC Pride Celebration on Aug 7, 2017. Credit: Rainer Oktovianus/Xtra

About 40 people gathered to reclaim Pride through an evening of music, poetry and performance celebrating queer and trans people of colour, whose voices event organizers say often go unheard at mainstream Pride events.

The 2SQTILGBiPoC Pride Celebration, which took place at the Carnegie Community Centre on Aug 7, 2017, provided a space for people who wouldn’t necessarily feel heard or comfortable at the Pride parade, says organizer Imtiaz Popat.

“A lot of us, including myself, are not feeling safe at Pride anymore,” Popat says. “It’s just not a welcome space.”

While there are various Pride events that are alternatives to the Sunday parade, it’s vital to hold an event that intentionally centres queer, trans, non-cisgendered Black and Indigenous people of colour, says attendee vanessa bui, who spells their name in lowercase and uses the pronoun they.

“This specific re-centring is why this event is here,” bui says. “Not only do some people perhaps not feel comfortable enough to go [to other Pride events], or safe enough to go; even if you do go . . . it’s still predominantly white, not only is it just in attendance, but in terms of who’s performing and who’s organizing.”

The 2SQTILGBiPoC Pride Celebration began with a French poetry reading by Roger Brouillette, with Steven Lytton reading out English translations, followed by a performance from two-spirit musician Norine Braun. Her set included “Another Kiss is Taken,” a song featured in a compilation by Warriors Against Violence for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“It’s kind of sad; I wrote this 20 years ago and it’s still relevant,” Braun told the attendees.

Musician Norine Braun performs.
Norine Braun performed at the 2SQTILGBiPoC Pride Celebration. Credit: Rainer Oktovianus/Xtra

The open mic portion included musical performances and spoken word, including by Lama Khalid who read a piece called “I am lucky to have a Syrian passport” by Syrian activist Marcell Shehwaro, translated by Lara Al Malakeh.

Attendees came and went, dropping in for a coffee or tea while taking in the performances.

Co-organizer Tami Starlight says the event creates a space to celebrate community away from the mainstream Pride parade, where police still march in uniform and corporate floats are still prominent.

She says this event is a continuation of last year’s successful Pride march for two-spirit, queer, trans, intersex and bi people of colour.

Challenges of time and money meant this year’s event was downsized to be held at the Carnegie, she says, but its goal was to create a similar space. “We want to organize as a community to talk about these issues . . . people of colour, non-cis people, disabled people, low income people, celebrating Pride in their own way,” Starlight says. “We are super low income, somewhat marginalized members of the community, working on a shoestring, to make it all happen.”

Popat says organizers decided to host a performance/open mic event this year, since Black Lives Matter already reclaimed Pride in June with a march through Vancouver’s Davie Village.

And holding the event at the Carnegie Centre in the Downtown Eastside is important, Popat notes, “because people here — two-spirit, people who live down here, who are people of colour — don’t fit into the West End. They don’t fit into the East Side either, so [it’s important] to hold a space here as a safer space.”

This event also centres the interconnectedness between Pride and other issues — like housing and poverty, bui says.

“So yes, we need to celebrate and find time to be together, and be really happy and be really proud of where we are and who we are,” they say. “At the same time, we also have to recognize that there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, and it can’t just stop here.”

“We have to keep moving forward,” bui says, “because if we don’t push it forward then no one else will.”