Toronto
3 min

Natural selection

Is there a connection between queer & environmental issues?

HOMO HEROES. If we don't save the planet, we might be the first tossed off it. Credit: Mia Hansen

After a night of drinking and dancing, my friends and I stop at a fast food restaurant. One of my companions purchases beef-on-a-bun and eats it in the car as he drives. When he’s finished, the wrapper goes flying out the window.



The incident made me think that gay people are some of the worst litterbugs. But there are some who claim queers have a special affinity with environmental issues.



Boo Watson, one of the founders of the group Queer By Nature, thinks that, at the very least, homos should be greener than everybody else. Watson says that, since queer folk are generally more accepting, we’d be the ones to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.



“There’s a thing called the ‘lifeboat ethic,'” Watson explains. “What do you do if there’s not enough to live on? Who gets tossed off the boat? That’s a very dangerous attitude to have on a homophobic planet. Homos have a vested interest in making sure there’s enough to go around.



“It seems to me it’s smart to say, ‘We better not throw out the queers because they’ve taught us we don’t need to throw out anybody.”



Some of the connections Watson makes between environmentalism and queer issues could ruffle a few feathers.



“The whole transgendered explosion could be environmentally related,” Watson says. “All the shit we’ve put into the ecosystem might make it difficult for our genes to produce clearly male and female organs. People are afraid of this issue because it implies they’re freaks of nature. But I like to point out that everyone’s a freak of nature.”



And on the leather scene: “We don’t own it, but it’s prominent in our community. The process in making that black leather we’re so fond of is just toxic.”



Watson became interested in saving the world when she was 12, living out in Ottawa Valley. She dropped out of school after grade nine and left home at 15. She decided to go back to school at age 30, taking theoretical physics, then environmental sciences at the University Of Toronto.



These interests blended with her interest in lesbian issues. Ten years ago she was an environmental columnist for Quota, the lesbian-only newspaper in Toronto back then.



The Queer By Nature effort was born at Pride 2000.



“A couple of women and I were walking around grumbling,” Watson says. “And we decided to do something about our grumbles. We were grumbling about the commercialism, the lack of green space and the lack arts and culture. Rather than point the finger at the Pride organizers, we decided to create what we were missing.”



Over the last year, Queer By Nature has attracted 30 members. They’ve planned a solar-powered stage at Grange Park on Pride weekend, as well as a marketplace and movie house.



Watson’s group isn’t alone in making the connection between queer and environmental issues. Eco-Queers is also trying to make an impact.



“It actually came about because of research we had done of queer youth,” says Janis Purdy, coordinator of Eco-Queers. It’s a program of the city-sponsored Supporting Our Youth. “We found that environmental activism really resonates with them. One member, who grew up on an organic farm, once said, ‘I never had the opportunity to bring together my two worlds.’ It felt good for her to combine her environmental awareness and her being lesbian.”



Eco-Queers was formed a year and a half ago (it meets the third Wednesday of every month at the 519 Church Street Community Centre). Within the group, one subcommittee is working on a Pride recycling program, another arranges speakers and a third is devoted to educating people about community and rooftop gardens.



Before Eco-Queers, Purdy says she had good intentions, but not a lot of information.



“I was a person, like many of us, who didn’t understand the connection between my lifestyle and the environment. I was excited when SOY got this project off the ground because it offered me a chance to grow…. It’s designed with youth passions in mind, but it’s for everyone.”



Eco-Queers member Tema Sarick joined the group four months ago. She sees it as a national extension of her environmental studies at York University; She’s doing her master’s thesis on the relationship between the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and nature.



“Nature is unstable,” Sarick says. “That’s the thing about playing with gender and sex. It’s very natural and very queer.”



Tammy Hinsche is helping coordinate Eco-Queers’ Pride recycling effort. They’re putting out 80 big blue bins to collect drinking containers during the Pride weekend.



“I remember walking around last year and seeing all this garbage and wondering why someone wasn’t doing something about it,” says Hinsche.



The one constant among these activists is the opinion that our struggles have made us more environment-conscious.



“I know I’m making a sweeping generalization here,” Purdy says, “but queer youth are sensitive to oppression and exploitation. This translates into understanding of how that works in a broader way; exploitation of people, animals, land. That is my sense from working with these young people.”



Queer By Nature takes place Sat, Jun 23 and Sun, Jun 24 in Grange Park (behind the Art Gallery Of Ontario on Dundas St). Details will be posted on www.queerbynature.org. To help with Eco-Queer’s Pride recycling effort, e-mail taraouskie@yahoo.com.