The queer community is a complicated concept to grasp and understand. It’s less one giant community and more like a series of smaller groups or families that, ideally, all coexist under the umbrella term that is queer.
I understand that not everyone that fits under the word “queer” identifies as such. However, for the purposes of this article I have to describe the communities and groups in general as queer in order to connect them, and to differentiate them from the rest of non-queer society. If anyone is offended by this, you have my most sincere apologies.
You see, there’s a problem. For a group of people that has the level of diversity that the queer community has, there is a remarkable lack of diversity in our representation to the general public. Namely, the greater majority of the leading faces in GLBTTQ activism are cisgender, able-bodied, gay men.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Cis gay able-bodied men do tons of good in the area of queer activism. I work alongside them every day, both with PTS and with other organizations I work for. I am often presumed to be one of them – an assumption that, while incorrect (I am a proud member of the bi/pan community) could hardly be said to offend me. Many of them have worked tirelessly to achieve the notoriety they have in the community. However, having one group predominantly represent a community that is so much deeper and more complex is intrinsically problematic. It homogenizes us. It projects an inaccurate image of the makeup of queer society. It also tends to (intentionally or not) place the advancement of cis gay men rights ahead of the rest of the community.
Look at it this way:
This past October, Jamie Hubley, a 15-year-old gay high school student in Ottawa, committed suicide. His death sparked a public outcry against homophobia in high schools that is still discussed today. There was a candlelight vigil at City Hall which was attended by hundreds of people across all demographics of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation, as well as mainstream media coverage.
Flash forward a month. November 20, 2011, was the annual Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which is observed to remember the victims of transphobia and transphobic violence. There was another vigil. Same time, same place. There couldn’t have been more than 75-100 people there, and I swear to fuck that half of them were Carleton Journalism students (we’re a plague). We read off the names of every reported death due to transphobic violence over the course of the year. There were at least 200. It took us like 15 minutes. Each one came with a little bio, including age and cause of death. Some of those causes were FUCKED UP. There was no mainstream media coverage of the vigil. I don’t even know if Capital Xtra was there.
One gay teenager committing suicide causes a media shit-storm, a huge candlelight vigil, and what bordered on a national outcry for change. Two hundred plus murdered trans folks gets next to nothing. You do the math.
Don’t get me wrong. The death of Jamie Hubley was a horrible tragedy. I was at the vigil too, candle in hand and tear on my cheek. But what it does speak to is the lack of equity between the issues of gay men and the rest of the community. I think that is in large part because of the over-representation of the community by cis gay men.
This is where PTS is once again blazing the trail. Our board of directors has diversified greatly in the last year, going from ten gay men and two lesbians (all cis) to five to six men, four women and one or two non binary folks. The people that run the operations at the PTS office are three women of diverse backgrounds. I want to draw attention to one in particular: my lovely and charismatic boss, PTS’s Executive Director Claudia Van Den Heuvel.
Claudia is the embodiment of PTS’s outside the box thinking. First of all, she is a pan-identified woman, which flies in the face of most of the homonormative ideas entrenched in queer activism. It means that she was hired based on her qualifications and the direction she wanted to take the organization in, as well as indicating that PTS is more than willing to go against the grain in their search for the best candidates. She is also a perfect fit for PTS’s policies of sex-positivity, diversity and playfulness. As someone who’s spent several accumulated hours in her office, I can attest to nothing other than the perfect blend of dedication, rhetorical skills, and the ability to switch from business to play and back again in an instant. She maintains a relaxed yet productive atmosphere around the office. Or at least she does whenever I decide to make one of my occasional appearances. She also shows remarkable sensitivity and understanding of issues outside of her own demographics, which goes miles towards reducing the problems I detailed earlier on. She is, in essence, the perfect person for her job.
Claudia does, however, have a lot of enemies. Some would say the number of people she has managed to piss off is indicative of some inadequacy on her part. Not even close. She has enemies for two reasons. First is because of her level of candor: Claudia has absolutely no problem with publicly calling out any person, group or organizations that are doing the community a disservice in the way that they operate. People don’t like to be called out, and they don’t like to be told that they are wrong. Thus, they don’t like Claudia.
The other reason is because Claudia is a threat to them just by existing. In the world of queer activism where the cisgender gay man reigns supreme, she stands as an example of how excellent candidates can come from all different demographics. Her relevance in queer activism is a threat to the hegemony of homonormativity. Because of that, a lot of people who benefit from the hegemony don’t like her.
Claudia, and PTS in general, serve as an example. They show that everyone, regardless of gender, sex, or orientation, has a right to advocate for themselves, or for others. Just because we don’t fit into a perfect little mold, doesn’t mean we have to sit down or be silent. We can all make a stand against oppression. We just have to make it a little louder.
–Riley Evans, head writer/moderator of Queerism