This past weekend, the Washington State Convention Center was home to Gender Odyssey, a conference building community for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. One thing that became immediately apparent: Most of the conference attendees were white.
Non-white LGBTQ people are a "multiply marginalized community," a study from the National Institutes of Health stated. As a result, these individuals are regularly faced with racism within LGBTQ groups and heterosexism within their own ethnic communities, the study found. The Stranger met up with eight queer and trans people of color to hear more about their experiences navigating white spaces and their ethnic communities.
Darius (Seattle, Wash.): I think there's a definite lack of representation, so it can kind of feels like you're lost when there's literally no one who looks like you or when you feel like you have to speak up on every issue because there's no one else but you to talk about it," said Darius, who has been attending Gender Odyssey for the last five years. "I like to include myself in the main group, but I also like talking to POC people about POC issues. I want a balance of both. [I've been talking] with people about how being a person of color in LGBTQ+ community is different than being white in the same community. There's not a lot of resources for people of color. [There should be] a place for everyone to talk about things. It's kind of hard for me to talk about POC issues in front of white people because I don't want to offend people."
Bodhi Alarcon (Chicago, Ill.): "As an Asian-American [genderqueer] person, in the community, there's an expectation of cis-men or people who are more masculine to have that masculinity removed from them," said Alarcon. "There's definitely a lot of push-back with familial stuff. There's a lot of wanting to understand and trying to understand, but there's a barrier that I haven't been able to push through yet in terms of Asian American spaces. I'm in university, so on campus, there's a lot of resources for me to find community. Finding understanding and community in those Asian American spaces and have the ability to empathize with others having similar experiences has been very empowering and soothing."
Sophia Lee (Seattle, Wash.): "Not only am I a person of color, I'm an immigrant, too. My family moved back and forth between Korea and here, so I'm like a 1.5 generation kid because I grew up in both places. Race has impacted me a lot," said Lee, a board member for Gender Justice League. "I'm still hiding [that I'm trans] from my family. I'm currently only out to my sister, her husband, and my mom. And that's something that affects me a lot. Being Asian, there's a lot of emphasis for doing good for the family. There's very little space for taking care of yourself a lot of times. A lot of transitioning is [focusing] on yourself and coming out is very much viewed as a selfish thing sometimes in Asian communities. The family would ask things like, 'Why would you do this to us?' I carry that with me."
Feral Rizvi (Vancouver, BC): "I identify as a trans-masculine, Pakistani queer Muslim. As a Pakistani Muslim, I feel like I'm very disconnected from my culture because a lot of the times, immigrant cultures have this pressure to conform," said Rizvi. "I think the impression is that [being] queer and trans is a typically white cultural trait. When they find their own sons and daughters and relatives identify that way, they feel like they've failed at the mission of bringing up their kids."
"For me, I'm trying to find that community again that I grew up with because that's a large part of me that has been thrown away," said Rizvi. "I have to navigate these queer, trans, white spaces. ... It's like you must assimilate or you're rejected from that group."
Peter Mavia (SeaTac, Wash.): "The Samoan community was more welcoming [of me as a trans-man] than the black community. They accept me for who I am," said Mavia. "When I was a kid, I got made fun of because I didn't look like everyone else. ... I got tired of being dragged to church. God knows our hearts, why they do they care?"
Gio Santiago (Cleveland, Ohio): "Having been to other conferences, the fact that this conference had a POC area, was different for me. I don't have any problem being the only person of color in a space. I understand why people need [that space], but I feel like it can create other issues," said Santiago. "It's important to me to break down as many barriers as I can. But, I will say that I do get get a lot of backlash from other people of color because I feel that way, because I don't feel like I always have to create a fellowship with other people of color."
Pidgeon Pagonis (Chicago, Ill.): "I'm in the LGBTQ community, but I'm in a smaller community as well, which is the intersex community. Our community is very white-seeming on the outside. Recently, I wanted to talk about that with my community and wanting to know people of color's experience in that community," said Pagonis. "I did an interview with two black, intersex activists that I know, which was released as a blog post on Everyday Feminism. A lot of white intersex people pushed back heavily because they didn't appreciate the community being called out for its whiteness. ... But it's a conversation the community needs to have. At a conference like this, I think people of color have come to expect that it's mostly going to be mostly white people. Unfortunately, that's the reality of things."
Matt (Tacoma, Wash.): "In Tacoma, since my mom is part of lots of POC groups and is trying to get us with more people of color, she has really shown me how many people are supportive of LGBT+ people," he said. "So far, I haven't had any bad experiences, but having a tight-knit group is a really good thing to have to hold your back."