Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services

Flower Power

#flowerpower at UAlberta Pride Week 2018

For Pride Week 2018, organizers and volunteers have chosen to celebrate the beautiful histories and presents (presence) of LGBTQ2S+ communities at the U of A by giving away flowers. Each flower is affixed with a message that speaks to ongoing LGBTQ2S+ political struggles and activism for justice.

Whether you received a flower from a volunteer, or you saw the purple carnations popping up all over campus, or you got to this page some other way—read on to learn more about #flowerpower!

Why Flowers?

Carnations are hardy, and purple carnations are symbols of capriciousness. While capricious can mean fickle or inconsistent, we can also understand it to mean flexible, or creative: these are words that accurately describe LGBTQ2S+ people throughout history. These communities endure with beauty in the face of circumstances that can be extremely hard to cope with, and it’s important that we celebrate that beauty while recognizing the unfairness of being asked to endure so much. The flowers and each of the messages affixed to them represent both these elements of Pride.

Why Power?

Our Pride Week community recognizes and embraces the origins of Pride as a political struggle for the rights, safety, and acceptance of LGBTQ2S+ people, many of whom live at the intersections of multiple forms of marginalization by virtue of not only gender and sexuality, but also race, class, disability, neurological experiences, citizenship, age, religion, place of origin, and more.

What does it mean when we say that the origins of Pride are in political struggle?

Pride parades often take place in June to mark the occasion of the Stonewall uprisings that took place in 1969 in New York City: these original demonstrations were about about pushing back against existing power structures that marginalize LGBTQ2S+ people.

Power structures are patterns we see in society: they involve the socially supported mistreatment and exploitation of groups of individuals. Power structures result in some people having power over others, and because of this, power structures interfere with our ability to have power with each other.

Power over means the capacity to control resources, ideas, and or other people. Power in this sense is based in systems of oppression that construct some ways of being as more valuable than others. Value means that these certain ways of being are considered more common or more normal, or that everyone should want to be this way, and that if you don’t exist in that way there’s something wrong with you.

Power with is associated with sharing our knowledge, with helping each other self-reflect, and with growing, with changing the status quo if the status quo is grinding people down. It’s about consent—how can you say yes to something if you can’t say no to it out of fear?—and about feeling joy for one another when we find ways of navigating the world feeling safe to assume the best in ourselves and others. It’s about knowing we are deserving without feeling entitled, about self determination and community affirmation, and about figuring out the ways each of us has been unfairly given power over and figuring out how to cede it.

Each of the messages affixed to the flowers are calls to think critically and act in ways that acknowledge, address, and dismantle power over and transform our ways of relating into power with.


#flowerpower Messages

If you are interested in learning more about any of these topics, make sure to look for the links and or “Further reading” suggestions for each section!

  1. Nous vous souhaitons une fierté qui persévère
  2. No pride on stolen land: This campus is on Métis, Saulteaux, Nakota Sioux, Blackfoot, Dene, and Cree land, and this land is only currently known as Edmonton
  3. We're here, we're queer, we want mental health resources
  4. Climate justice is social justice! End environmental genocide and guarantee competent reproductive health care for people of every gender and body
  5. Gender roles < pizza rolls
  6. Imagine if gender and sexuality were something infinite to grow into
  7. Individual rights won't end the power structures that make life easier for the most privileged at the expense of others
  8. LGBTQ2S+ people can experience discrimination because of gender and/or sexuality AND race, class, disability, neurodivergence, citizenship, age, religion, place of origin, and more
  9. Black gays, here to stay
  10. Roses are red 
    Violets are blue 
    The gender binary is fake
    And the sex binary too
  11. Down with pinkwashing: no diversity without divestment
  12. Guessing someone's gender or pronouns based on appearance? Sounds cis-picious to me
  13. Support queer community, not gay capitalism
  14. No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us

1. Nous vous souhaitons une fierté qui persévère

We wish you a persevering Pride!

2. No pride on stolen land: This campus is on Métis, Saulteaux, Nakota Sioux, Blackfoot, Dene, and Cree land, and this land is only currently known as Edmonton

Unless we are First Nations, Métis, Inuit, or Indigenous, our relationships to the University involve benefitting from colonialism. Colonialism is the ongoing process by which non-Indigenous people and governments expropriate the land and resources of Indigenous peoples through violence and assimilation, facilitated by the settlement of Indigenous land by non-Indigenous people—this involves renaming land!

Colonialism targets Indigenous people who are considered “deviant” because of their gender and/or sexuality. This is because, to create a single country where one did not exist before, European settlers had to impose values about what kinds of people and families are considered normal and make rules that made life a little bit easier for those people at the expense of others. Settlers also needed to ensure reproduction, to make sure that there were always people “like them” to defend the land from Indigenous people, who have always been and always will be resisting colonialism. These settler priorities mean that cisgender people and heterosexual people were established as standard at the expense of people perceived to be deviant because of their gender and or their sexuality.

Pride is an occasion that is about ending homophobia and transphobia: how can we celebrate when the roots of homophobia and transphobia are in colonialism, and colonialism is still happening?

Further reading:

Martin Cannon, "The Regulation of First Nations Sexuality." The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 17(1): 1-18. 1998.
Qwo Li Driskill, "Stolen From Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic." Studies in American Indian Literatures. 16.2. 50-64. 2004.
Sarah Carter, The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building in Western Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press and University of Alberta Press, 2008.

3. We're here, we're queer, we want mental health resources

The stigma associated with having genders and sexualities that are considered deviant comes with a host of correlated health issues. Mental health wise, LGBTQ2S+ people are subject to frequent othering and curiosity, which can translate into being treated with suspicion, surveillance, and physical violence. The statistics on LGBTQ2S+ mental health are sobering, especially when it comes to youth:

  • 68% of trans students, 55% of LB (lesbian and bisexual) students and 42% of GB (gay and bisexual) students reported being verbally harassed about their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation
  • 20% of LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed or assaulted about their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation
  • 49% of trans students have experienced sexual harassment in school in the last year
4. Climate justice is social justice! End environmental genocide and guarantee competent reproductive health care for people of every gender and body

Resource extraction is related to a host of negative impacts. Large scale resource extraction sites are often correlated with “sexual and domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, murders and disappearances, reproductive illnesses and toxic exposure, threats to culture and Indigenous lifeways, crime, and other social stressors.Justice in accessing healthcare for LGBTQ+ people means ending these kinds of harm, including the harm caused by climate change.

People of every gender and every body deserve competent healthcare in the face of these harms, but transphobia is often present in healthcare settings because of false beliefs and assumptions about people’s bodies and relationships. For example, many healthcare professionals assume that they can tell a person’s gender and pronouns just by looking at them, or that people’s gender complies with the gender binary, until a patient tells them otherwise. We must work to get to a point where people’s relationships and gender don’t determine the quality of care they receive.

5. Gender roles < pizza rolls

Gender role nutritional content:

  • Only two?
  • Based on fake science?
  • One is supposedly better than the other?

Pizza roll nutritional content:

  • Infinite varieties of cheese
  • Can cook with convection, conduction, or radiation
  • Can share with as many people as you want

The choice is clear!

6. Imagine if gender and sexuality were something infinite to grow into

We live in a world obsessed with trying to force people into boxes when it comes to gender and sexuality. Cis supremacy is the system of oppression that tells us that it’s possible to tell what gender a person is just by looking at that person, and transphobia is a symptom of this system. Heterosupremacy is the system of oppression that tells us that it’s possible to tell someone’s sexuality just by looking at a person, and homophobia is a symptom of this system. It’s not true that you can tell someone’s gender or sexuality just by looking at a person, because both gender and sexuality are galaxies: there’s no such thing as opposite genders, and there are so many ways to experience relationships and connection with people. People ought to be able to grow into these infinite possibilities without the pressure of being asked to conform to a specific kind of gender or sexuality first.

7. Individual rights won't end the power structures that make life easier for the most privileged at the expense of others

Lots of the time, we think that changing laws so that discrimination is illegal, for example through human rights law and hate crime legislation, is the only way to make sure that people don’t experience duress because of their gender, their sexuality, their race, their ability, their religion, and many more forms of marginalization. It’s true that the law can sometimes be a useful tool in the name of this goal. However, these laws usually only secure individual rights by establishing precedent in cases where a few people have been discriminated against, rather than examining the broad social conditions that enable discrimination.

Dean Spade, legal scholar and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Projectoutlines why discrimination laws like these are a problem in a 2009 keynote address:

  • They conceptualize the harm of oppression through the very narrow victim-perpetrator dichotomy, which asserts that the fundamental scene of oppression is that of a perpetrator who irrationally hates people on the basis of their race and fires or denies service to or beats or kills the victim based on that hatred.
  • They individualize oppression, or say that oppression is about single bad people with singular bad intentions who make singular bad choices and must be punished. This limited understanding of what is a violation, or what can be considered oppression, makes us think that the status quo of society is morally neutral, which it’s not.
  • They cover up the historical context of oppression. We think of discrimination as an action where, in making a choice, a person takes into account a prohibited category, but this definition does nothing to account for whether the decision-maker was treating a historically maligned group with either benefit or harm. The perpetrator perspective’s assertion that any consideration of marginalization is discrimination means that any loss or gain based on the category is considered harmful and creates inequality, pretending that the playing field is fair, which again serves to normalize the status quos of racism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, settler colonialism, and more.
  • Individual rights based on discrimination law and its insistence on the perpetrator perspective results in a false belief that any previously exploited group is now equal and fairness is a universal condition (after all, perpetrators are exceptional). This declaration of equality covers up the many disparities that are, unfortunately, usually considered a normal or natural part of life.
  • Advocates for inclusion in individual rights based anti discrimination law often focus only on people who are considered deserving of inclusion based on other characteristics—like their ability, education, and class—that would have guaranteed them success in workforces if it weren’t for the allegedly unfair exclusion that occurred. Why should anyone have the kind of power that would entitle them to determine whether another person is worthy of not being treated poorly?
8. LGBTQ2S+ people can experience discrimination because of gender and/or sexuality AND race, class, disability, neurodivergence, citizenship, age, religion, place of origin, and more

Intersectionality is a method of analysis that examines how forces like racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and more, all interact. This term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Black feminist legal scholar and professor at Columbia Law School. "Intersectional" is not an individual identity term, but people can and do exist at the intersections of multiple forms of marginalization. It is these marginalizations that intersectional analysis can illuminate: how they have been invented and entrenched in society, how they are related to each other, how they inform one another, and how their interactions mediate peoples’ existence in the world.

9. Black gays, here to stay

Race, gender, and sexuality are tied together in intricate ways. Black people’s genders especially have never “been used to indicate a shared womanhood or manhood with people within white society, but to highlight how Black people are out of step with womanhood and manhood. Black gender is always gender done wrong, done dysfunctionally, done in a way that is not “normal.”” This is because homophobia and transphobia are fundamentally related to racism, and all three have their roots in colonialism. In the same way that heterosexuality and the sex and gender binaries are inventions, European colonists invented the concept of whiteness, linked it to intelligence, purity, and rationality, and shifted the limits of who is white and who is not-white as grounds for establishing norms across the world. The way that whiteness is set up in opposition to not-white relies on the logic of anti-Blackness. The set of anti-Black ideas responsible for racism tries to tell us that white people are “standard” because they are more common, more attractive, more rational, and more deserving than Black people, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour. Racism as a set of values is about power over, not power with: racism validates the entitlement to land, labour, and bodies, and racism informs the stealing of Indigenous land as much as it informed the intentional displacement and stealing of Black people behind the slave trade. Despite all this, Black LGBTQ2S+ people continue to exist and love and affirm one another.

10. Roses are red
Violets are blue
The gender binary is fake
And the sex binary too

The sex binary refers to the idea that our society thinks that there are only two ways of having sex characteristics, and that someone with a certain set of genitals will always have a specific set of chromosomes, reproductive organs, hormone levels, and development during puberty. When people are born, we assign them a sex according to these assumptions, and then we use that assigned sex to assign a person one of two genders. It is not true that there are only two sexes, just like it’s not true that there are only two genders. It also doesn’t make sense to think that you can determine a person’s pronouns, relationship preferences, personality, or interests based on a few people’s glances at that person’s genitals when they’re first born! For a thorough breakdown of how biological sex is a social construct in the same way gender is, watch the video below!

  

11. Down with pinkwashing: no diversity without divestment

Diversity and inclusion are pretty good ideas in theory, but when someone is working to make a group “diverse” or “inclusive,” it still involves a form of expertise, or power over. Who has the magical ability to determine if a group is inclusive or diverse enough? Is it fair to use people as playing cards or check boxes in the name of getting praise for being “inclusive” or “diverse”? Pinkwashing is a word used to describe how corporations and countries will call themselves “inclusive of LGBTQ+ people” (who are usually white and rich) as a way of distracting from other forms of discrimination based on colonialism in the form of resource extraction. Divestment asks why Universities who say we’re interested in having diverse and inclusive campuses would invest in industries involved in the occupation and pollution of Indigenous lands, when “companies and governments continuously infringe upon treaty rights by using deeply inadequate environmental assessment processes to ‘consult’ with First Nations.

12. Guessing someone's gender or pronouns based on appearance? Sounds cis-picious to me

A quick terminology lesson

“Cis” is short for cisgender, which simply refers to someone whose gender is the same as the one they were assigned at birth. Example: When he was born, the doctor and his parents guessed that he was a boy, and it turns out they were right! He is cisgender.

When it comes to gender, there’s a system of oppression called cis supremacy at play, which tells us that being cisgender is the most common and normal way to be. This system also tries to tell us that it’s possible to know what gender a person is based on an assessment of that person’s appearances—this is one of the reasons why the world thinks it’s reasonable to assign a gender to a baby when they’re born based only on a doctor’s assessment of their genitals, even though it’s not! It is impossible to tell a person’s gender or pronouns just by looking at that person, and making these kinds of assumptions falls in line with cis supremacy, which is a pretty harmful—and suspicious, or “cis-picious,” hehe—way of viewing the world.

13. Support queer community, not gay capitalism

Gay capitalism refers to the phenomenon of companies and corporations engaging in marketing campaigns to appear “gay-friendly” in order to appeal to LGBT people. This usually involves the use of rainbow imagery or representing gay couples in commercials, and is also related to industries that specifically market to LGBT people, like specialized tourist companies or nightclubs and bars. The incorporation of LGBT concerns into mainstream economics disproportionately benefits gay, cisgender, white, middle and upper class people, who have the purchasing power to appeal to mainstream norms about what kinds of people and lives are acceptable and respectable. What about those without this desire or capacity?

Queer community exists as one alternative to gay capitalism. Queer communities are collections of LGBTQ2S+ people and their families, both chosen and otherwise, who refuse inclusion into what’s considered "normal" society, because inclusion into what’s considered normal always involves perpetuating discrimination in the form of classism, racism, ableism, and other forms of cruelty against people who can’t, or won’t assimilate.

14. No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us

This phrase, created by artist Micah Bezant during Pride season in 2013, is an affirmation of the fact that it is unfair for LGBTQ2S+ people who have achieved relative stability and security in their lives to celebrate Pride while ignoring the plight of other LGBTQ2S+ people who still suffer because of other systems of oppression.