Shades of Color: A Rainbow After The Storm

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With Donald Trump running for a second term, #blackfishing and the cancellation of the Edmonton Pride Parade, this year has been difficult to navigate for many minorites, but Shades of Colour provides the support that members of QTBIPOC (Queer, Transgender, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) so desperately need.

Shades of Colour via Facebook

Earlier on this year, Pride Festival Society decided to cancel its annual Pride Parade. The event was cancelled due to “the current political and social environment,” according to Pride Festival Society.

According to the Edmonton Journal, two members of the Pride Festival Society said that they cancelled the festival because they couldn’t meet the demands of LGBTIQ2S+ groups, Shades of Colour and RaricaNow who are advocating for QTBIPOC people. The groups both listed seven demands on their Facebook pages that included additional spaces for people of colour at Pride and more QTBIPOC members on the Edmonton Pride Festival Society’s board.

Screenshot from Pride Festival Society

V Guzman, a co-organizer of Shades of Colour, stated in the Edmonton Journal that “All the demands were negotiable,” and “We were totally willing to have an open dialogue.” Despite the efforts put forward by the two organizations, Pride Festival Society decided that they couldn’t run a pride festival without dividing the community, but that’s exactly what happened after the cancellation of the event.

Edmonton Pride Festival Society

Members of the community were forced to choose sides: to stand with their QTBIPOC friends or stand beside the organization that hosted their beloved parade. Regardless of what side people chose to be on, there was still a lot of blame and hate thrown upon QTBIPOC individuals. Shades of Colour aims to help these community members heal by providing a safe space for QTBIPOC to air their grievances while not fearing judgement, explains Rohan Dave, who, along with Nicole Jones Abad and V Guzman, organizes Shade of Colour.“Shades of Colour is a safe and supportive space for Queer and Trans, Indigenous, Black and People of Colour to access supports, connect with each other, connect with various mental health resources. We engage people in a variety of different conversations that they request and safe spaces for them to do so. We provide people with food, so physical resources, bus tickets, connect people with housing resources—whatever it is folks need and whatever they bring to the space we recognize and we try it.”

Shades of Colour organizers Rohan Dave (left) and Nicole Jones-Abad (right), via Facebook

The cancellation of Pride helped people outside of QTBIPOC capture a small glimpse of the issues that QTBIPOC community members face as they experience the struggles of hate and bigotry everyday.

“Pride is one month out of the year and we’re out here doing work every single day,” Dave says.

Shades of Colour provides a space for the marginalized people to heal regardless of what month it is, as living as a minority in this political climate can be close to unbearable.

“Many of the people who access our service are dealing with a variety of mental health issues such as PTSD, [which] is a big one, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, etc. The thing is we live in a world that tells us we aren’t allowed to exist as we are and without adequate resources and supports, it’s easy for folks to internalize those narratives. As an end result of perpetual queerphobia, racism, classism, sexism intersecting in different ways, marginalized people are more at risk for experiencing mental health issues. So, in terms of emotional benefit, we are people who will listen and support. We’ll hold each other up,” Dave explained.

Molly Stogrin / MacEwan University

New members can gain more than just a counselling session as Shades of Colour provides one of the only safe spaces for QTBIPOC members to congregate free of judgement from people outside of the community.

“They have access to a whole new community. They have people who relate and who they can share their experiences with … People outside of the community, says Dave. “A lot of the time many people who reach out to Shades of Colour have shared that they don’t feel comfortable accessing other spaces and the goal is not that Shades of Colour wants to do all the support work … but as it stands right now, people don’t feel safe accessing counselling or other resources. So, I think the best way to love and support QPBIPOC is to go to trainings and listen to the community. The community is speaking and people need to listen and learn. Dave continued.

Mavi Tolentino is a gender non-conforming Pilipinx immigrant, who faces challenges everyday, especially in this political climate.

“I feel like I’m policing myself a lot more than I used to. Today I was thinking, ‘How’s my hair and do I pass as this? As that?’ Just like policing my gender expression because it’s scary, it’s scary going out. So I ask myself, ‘How much do I want to feel anxious today? How much do I want to stay visible?’ It’s really hard to find that balance,” they say. “Yes, I have to stay visible and that’s really important like to know that people like me exist as a non-binary gender non-conforming person, but also that self-preservation comes in because I can’t keep doing this if I get panic attacks or get super anxious in the middle of the road or get yelled at or any of these harmful things that could happen to me. So that’s always my daily thought when I dress myself up or just get in a space. How much am I willing to sacrifice for my safety or how much am I willing to sacrifice for my advocacy?”

Mavi Tolentino by Molly Stogrin // MacEwan University

Tolentino credits Shades of Colour for helping to give them space and support necessary to heal from their challenges with racism and bigotry.

“[Shades of Colour] is helpful because you don’t have to wear a different mask or pull different strings of your identity to exist in a space, to feel comfortable in a space. Because I find that in mainstream gay spaces, I always have to evaluate the crowd: who’s organizing it? How many people are there? Are they white? Like what’s the norm, how homogeneous is the crowd? So that I can kind of build my identity around that in that space just to feel safe and just to navigate the space, but with Shades of Colour I feel like I can just be.”

Most of the events hosted by Shades of Colour are solely for people who identify as people of colour regardless of their sexual orientation, provided that they are supportive of the LGBTIQ2s+ community. The reason for this has to do with making their members feel comfortable.

“I’m tired because I have to dig up history. Basic history that I expect or we normally expect other people to expect to know about but apparently not; and that takes away the focus of my voice because suddenly I become a history professor for these people instead of me getting an outlet … If I do a certain thing that is not normal for the crowd that’s in the space I find myself constantly apologizing and then explaining the reasoning behind that gesture or act or behaviour that I just did that they might find different and that’s where the education shows out. I wear the professor hat. I go there to have fun to express myself to not worry and instead I’m there to educate and that’s tiring. I’m not getting paid for that, so like look it up, you know?”

Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skies.jpgRainbow Flag By Ludovic Bertron

Tolentino is a dancer/choreographer who teaches Voguing and Waacking in an attempt to share knowledge and culture with all people. They point out that they feel safer in a space created by people like them, for people like them.

“Everyday I get out of my apartment [and] it’s all about thinking about safety and Shades of Colour provides me a space where I can express instead … I’ve never felt a sense of belonging in the queer community even though I went to Vic, even though my co-workers are mostly queer. I just never had that sense of community and now I have that. No matter what I go through on a daily basis, I know that I have a default, I know that I have a reset button and the reset button is Shades of Colour.”

For people outside QTBIPOC, there are Shades of Colour events that they can attend as an ally.

“In this climate, we can’t focus on educating the outside community because we have to take care of each other in the community. It’s the idea of surviving first before we can do other things and that’s what Shades of Colour is meant to be: to educate but it’s not even getting to that point, which is very sad. Because we constantly need to heal, especially now we’re prioritizing healing ourselves first before educating outside of the community. How are we going to continue to fight for the community if we can’t even patch ourselves up inside the QTBIPOC community?” Tolentino says.

If allies would like to attend, according to Dave, they should “Recognize that this is a space for them [QTBIPOC] and so if you’re coming into this space be the safe person. If someone is sharing their experiences, don’t invalidate that and honour the people who the event is for and honour the fact that you are being invited into a space.”

Molly Stogrin // MacEwan University

At the events, allies can expect to meet some new people and learn about a community whose members don’t always have the chance to openly and safely express themselves.

Dave says that for members of the public who identify as QTBIPOC and are interested in Shades of Colour events, the best way to reach out is through social media.

“We post all of our events on Facebook and Instagram so just follow us on social media. Folks are free to come hangout with us. You don’t need to register or anything. You just show up at the time and the place, and we welcome you and we give you food and we connect you to whatever it is that you need,” Dave says.

For more information on Shades of Colour, reach out to @shadesofcolouryeg on Instagram or Shades of Colour Community YEG on Facebook. Make sure to attend the group’s next dance party at the Aviary on June 30 and the Edmonton Stonewall 50th Anniversary Rally at the Legislature on June 28. Both events are open to all members of the public. If you cannot attend any events but would like to support the group, you can donate to their patreon. Also, follow @thesoyboy_ on Instagram for updates of his dance workshops and to learn something new while benefiting and supporting QTBIPOC.

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