Montreal’s fifth annual event for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender ethnic minorities, queers of colour, Two-Spirited people and their allies starts Friday and runs through Sunday with a full schedule of workshops and celebrations.
This year’s theme is AffirmAction. Co-coordinator Alan Wong explains that it came about as a play on the idea of affirmation. “It had to do with positive feelings and pro-action, and really doing something about these issues.”
The issues, Wong explains, can sometimes be about not fitting in anywhere as a queer person who is also a racial or ethnic minority.
“A lot of us feel invisible,” he says. “The LGBTQ community is often read as white. Within ethno-cultural communities, being queer is seen as a white phenomenon, so it doesn’t affect them. [Holding these events] helps people feel they’re not alone.”
Wong says the goal is to provide a forum for queer ethnic and racial minorities to have an event that is focused on things that are really meaningful for them.
“If you take that intersectional identity, it’s a pretty large group. It’s hard to have themes that suit everybody,” says Wong, “but we try to have panels that are broad and reach lots of interest areas, so that everybody can see somebody they can identify with.
AffirmAction events will fill the Association Sportive et Communautaire Centre Sud (2093 de la Visitation) from 10am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday. All events are free (though donations are appreciated). Participants will even be offered free daycare and lunch.
Dr. Louis-Georges Tin, who founded International Day Against Homophobia in France, will be in Montreal to deliver Sunday’s keynote address. He will discuss the intersections of homophobia and racism. Tin will launch the English edition of The Dictionary of Homophobia Sunday evening.
Panel discussion themes include: Trans Sex Workers of Colour, LGBTQ Refugees and LGBTQQ Ethnic Youth in Society and Schools.
At the same time, there will be a community fair featuring 20 groups promoting their activities, and two photo exhibits, “Visualizing the Margins: Experiences of Queer People of Color” and “Women in Love in Colour: Photos by Vanessa Dorvily.”
There will also be film screenings throughout the day Saturday, featuring works by Atif Siddiqi, Richard Fung and many others.
Organized by Ethnoculture, the event was started in 2005 by Montrealer Nada Raphael, who was president of Lebanese queer group Helem at the time. There was a film screening, a panel discussion and lunch.
In 2007, the event had a theme for the first time: In/visible identities. By 2008, Raphael’s last, she and other organizers had built the event into a long weekend of events with a loyal following.
A look at the schedule reveals the organizer’s efforts to include as many people and backgrounds as possible. Saturday afternoon, for example, features a story circle where people will share stories of their experiences concerning their sexual or gender identity and how it has affected their relationships with their families.
There will also be a caucus space for people who want to “network and possibly establish new LGBTQ organizations centred around specific ethnocultural communities.”
Of people new to the queer community who come to AffirmAction, Wong notes “a lot will be closeted in their lives, or they may be out but their sense of the community has been the mainstream LGBTQ community and that’s the image in their head. Maybe this is a way to meet people and discover what it means to be a double/multiple minority. Maybe it will help them deal with this in a different way.”
Wong knows that AffirmAction can’t be everything to everyone, but he says it’s worth trying to represent as many people as possible, and at least make sure they know there’s room for them at the table.
“I’m Chinese,” he says, “there’s Haitians, Moroccan, Koreans, Anglophoness, Francophones, South Asians&mdasha real mix of people who know and understand what it’s like to be an ethnic person, a queer person of colour, a Two-Spirit person. We just want to have an event that is by and for people like us.”
The weekend begins with a dance party Friday at 10pm at Club Tools in the Village (1592 Ste Catherine St East, downstairs). The music will include hip hop, bhangra, Bollywood and world beat.