Consider This: Seeking Liberation for All

"No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us." - Marsha P. Johnson

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"No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us." - Marsha P. JohnsonMarsha P. Johnson

On March 12, 2018, Rebecca Blakey was brimming with a mix of excitement and trepidation as she readied a team of volunteers to help launch U of A Pride Week 2018. Before things got going, she shared her thoughts on how Pride Week has evolved and about the ways in which her work as the Sexual and Gender Minority Equity Advisor for the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services (iSMSS) aims to further liberate those who face discrimination.

How do you approach Pride Week?

Pride Week at the U of A is an opportunity for us to take stock of where we are in terms of the conditions of LGBTQ2S+ people. When it comes to looking around and taking stock, that's a pretty serious process. It's ultimately about self-reflection and it's about learning. I think that those processes can be both fun and exceptionally serious. Keeping those two things in mind during Pride Week is important to me.

Where do you start then?

I think there's a real tendency to simplify Pride movements and to say "oh, this is just a cause for celebration… people are only ever one thing," and so the people who get centered in a lot of pride movements are rich, white, able-bodied - and I don't think that's fair. I think that it's important that we understand that you can be more than one thing. Like, I am a queer Black woman - that's really, really important - I'm not going to let people say "you're only one thing - you're only queer, or you're only Black, or you're only a woman" - no; I'm all of those things.

That's why I don't think it's exciting in any particular way to be like "everything is awesome, everything is perfect! There's nothing left to do!" When we say, "okay, LGBTQ2S+ people face homophobia and face transphobia, and that's the worst, so if we just end homophobia and transphobia, then everything will be great" we have to understand that's so simplistic and it's absolutely not true, because there are racialized LGBTQ2S+ people, there are LGBTQ2S+ people who live in poverty. It's really important that we recognize that all of these things are tied together. We need to end racism; we need to do a better job of equitably distributing wealth; we need to make sure that spaces are physically accessible and universally designed. If your life is made better by people learning not to use slurs, then that's amazing, but there are a lot of other material conditions that impact LGBTQ2S+ people's lives, and Pride is a chance to take stock of and strategize.

Are there any pitfalls that you think should be avoided when planning an event like Pride Week?

I'm very resistant to anyone who is invested in trying to make Pride into this kind of simple happy go lucky event, or who slaps a rainbow flag on something that already exists and is like, "voila, it's LGBTQ2S+ friendly!" That's simply not the way that the world works. And that's something that we see a lot of in Pride movements, is them being co-opted by people who want to keep them extremely simple.

An example of this would be companies or corporations, or governments who say, "we're really inclusive of LGBTQ2S+ people, because we have these people working for us," but then turn around and continue to engage in activities that directly harm LGBTQ2S+ people. For example, if you engage in employment practices that say that it's possible for you to get health benefits, but only if you marry your same gender partner, and if you have multiple partners then that's not okay. Or if you have some other kind of family form that's not recognized as traditional in some way, then health benefits don't apply. I don't think that our genders and sexualities should mediate our access to those things.

What sort of cross overs do you see between Pride and other movements?

I think that fundamentally that Pride movements have always been about looking around and being like "hey, you're crushing us in a particular way." Pride movements originate with Black trans women who are resisting police violence. And the resistance of police violence is something that we see to this day. That's what Black Lives Matter is about, that's what Idle No More is about. Over and over again, I think that people are really getting a wake-up call and are seeing that the criminal justice system serves the colonial system. We imagine criminal justice as a set of rules that are meant to protect us from violent and dangerous individuals, but the reality is that the people who get sent to jail the fastest are people who undermine the project of colonialism, so LGBTQ2S+ people, racialized people, disabled people, poor people, particularly people who exist with multiple marginalized positions like that.

What has the response been like to the intersectional approach to Pride Week?

It's funny, because often some people are like, "oh my god, thanks for saying that - yes, this is how we need to think about this," while other people are like, "this is not fair, you're making this mean and complicated and hard and negative and that's not what Pride is supposed to be." And I embrace both of those responses. I understand.

But, I fundamentally believe that the majority of people in the world have a really keen sense of justice and know that it's hard to think about situations in which we have been harmed by systems of oppression and prejudice in the world. It's also really hard to come into an understanding of the fact that other people are being harmed by systems of oppression and prejudice that maybe we haven't even thought of before. Both of those things are very difficult. I approach having all of those conversations with a lot of generosity in my heart. As long as we're able to take deep breaths be generous with each other, assume the best in each other in terms of where we're coming from and believe people when we talk about instances of extreme harm and prejudices that we face, I think it'll be okay.

In addition to Pride Week, you've also brought this approach to Pride education to the workshops that you offer throughout the year. What have you experienced in that avenue?

I love giving those workshops because people come from all over campus, people come from all over off campus and are just interested to sit down and listen and learn, and I think that that's the coolest thing. I don't ask people to volunteer a ton of information about who they are, where they come from, what subject positions they hold, anything like that, because I don't think that you should have to bare your soul to get education opportunities. I think that you should be able to come quietly into a place, and sit down and learn. Take what you need to take and leave what you need to leave. But the fact that people opt-in so consistently and the fact that people come with an open mind and heart is amazing and heartening to me.

What do you hope people understand about why you've highlighted the complexities of Pride?

I exist in this role to do my best not to perpetuate forms of harm against people, knowing that I'm complicit in every single system, knowing that there's no way to be perfect, and knowing that it's still important to try anyway and hoping that if I make mistakes - hoping that when anyone makes mistakes, they have the grace to self-reflect and learn from them. I'm extremely humbled by the fact there are students who put their trust in me to do this work on campus. It's my responsibility to show them a duty of care.

You can learn more about Pride Week at the U of A, including a full listing of events and initiatives, by visiting the Pride Week website and by reading the latest in the Faculty of Education's online magazine, "Illuminate."Pride Week website and by reading the latest in the Faculty of Education's online magazine, "Illuminate."