People of Colour don’t need tokenistic brown and black stripes, they need institutional support and respect, writes Roj Amedi.
By
Roj Amedi

25 Aug 2017 - 2:16 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2017 - 8:47 AM

Following the precedent set by Philadelphia in the USA, the Victorian Pride Centre has added brown and black stripes to the current recognisable rainbow flag. Unlike the Philadelphia flag, the brown and black stripes are added to the bottom of the logo—symbolic of the after thought.

The inclusion of these stripes has been part of an effort to showcase the continuing contribution that People of Colour make in the queer community and the consequent erasure of that contribution by white people. Queer communities can still feel incredibly unsafe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and PoC, not only due to outright racism, but also due to cultural appropriation, the centring of white homonormative narratives, the policing of brown and black bodies, and the silencing of political activism that focuses on the plight of brown and black queer people.

It’s easy to forget that the first step in any LGBT+ civil rights movement was putting the queer experience to distinctive language. Without adequately and boldly having difficult conversations about the communities human rights, emancipation and liberation would have and can never been achieved. The same can be applied to the continuing need for advocacy by ATSI peoples as well as PoC at large. 

And yet, the inclusion of the brown and black stripes often feels like a bogeyman of sorts, distracting us from advocating for structural and institutional change desperately needed to make queer communities safe and inclusive of ATSI peoples and PoC.

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Nayuka Gorrie, a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer, tells SBS; “I found myself defending the stripes, not because the stripes are the best thing to happen since Marsha P. Johnson, but more because we need to acknowledge that these predominantly white spaces are not safe for particular communities.” She goes on to note that the backlash towards acknowledging and creating space for PoC is often because “white people feel like they have missed out on something”.

“It’s not symbolism that matters to me, it is method and action,” she concludes. 

Muhammed Taha, the co-chair of RMIT’s Diverse Genders, Sexes, and Sexualities Working Party, reflects on the gesture of adding the stripes without proper consultation with a broad range of PoC groups, telling SBS that “we don’t need to be validated by our white peers. Queerness has always existed in the world before it was painted white.”

And yet, it is in the initial developments and decisions of the Pride Centre that highlight this continuing negligence. Consultations have been mired with racism, transphobia, ableism and whorephobia. Any stance to stamp out these issues have been futile at best, with the board stating that they will follow the often inadequate principles set by the Equal Opportunity Act and their organisational values. And yet without any Aboriginal representation on the board, and only one PoC, it is evident that its shortcomings are inherent to the design of the institution.

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It is at this juncture, and with half of the design brief nearly complete, that the Pride Centre has an obligation to include all communities, lest it fall for the same structural oppression that many of its members already experience in mainstream society. Central to that is prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBT+ peoples in decision making roles and including them in not only the institutional design but the architectural design too. As Yuir woman and architect Linda Kennedy has stated in her manifesto, there needs to be a “shift in design process, design thinking and design practice to place value on Indigenous ways of knowing and doing as an integral priority whereby Country and community come first in all projects of design within the built environment.”

Tarneen Onus Williams, a Yigar Gunditjmara, Bindal and Torres Strait Islander community builder and advocate, advises that the VPC should include already existing organisations lead by Aboriginal communities rather than reinventing the wheel. “They're obviously not consulting with community and if they do decide to consult with community, they need to provide people with the resources to attend. Too often Aboriginal people give their time to white organisations for free but our voices need to be valued and need to be paid for,” she reflects. “You can't call it the Victorian Pride Centre if it's only for privileged white folks.”

Inclusivity in the Pride Centre evidently cannot be achieved by tokenism, but rather by centring, platforming and consulting with integrity and respect. Allowing both ATSI peoples and PoC to be able to define their experience on their terms.

Every time a white queer institution ridicules this push for active inclusion and support for PoC, one less queer PoC reaches out for support and gets a chance to express their gender and sexuality in a safe way, prejudice only compounded by the racism they continue to experience in all corners of society. 

Roj Amedi is a queer Kurdish writer and editor based in Naarm/Melbourne. Her work involves cultural criticism, political analysis and community building. Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @roj_ame