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Interview: Queering613’s Dillon Black (Part 2 of 2)

By Lee Pepper on March 27, 2016

Queering613 describes itself as “a volunteer-run grassroots community love project committed to connecting LGBTQ+ folks to Ottawa’s queer & trans cultures, organizations & issues. We want to be a community space for connecting, getting together, making, amplifying & learning about Ottawa’s LGBTQ loves & faves, its exciting happenings & the issues nearest & dearest to our hard-loving/soft-shelled queer hearts.”

You can read Part 1 of our interview with Dillon Black, and check out Queering613’s upcoming events, here.

Learn more about Queering613 at their website, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Queering613 is a collective of people from diverse parts of our communities that represent different identities and bodies.

One of the first Queering613 blog posts gave some background on the queer history of Ottawa’s Lord Elgin Hotel.  As a fellow LGBTQ+ history nerd, I was really stoked about this.  Why, to you, is knowing about & sharing LGBTQ+ history important?

When I was in my undergrad I took this job on the side transcribing interviews for a graduate student. The job was mildly tedious & didn’t pay the greatest, but I had this amazing opportunity to listen to these interviews with older generation LGBTQ+ folks, & learn some of Ottawa’s oral queer history.

Photo by Dillon Black.

Photo by Dillon Black.

I was amazed at the richness of Ottawa’s LGBTQ+ culture & history & I was surprised to know that nobody else was talking about this! During our Queer & Questioning Trivi-UH night I had some questions about Canada’s version of the Stonewall Riots (the We Demand Protests) & the infamous Fruit Machine developed by a professor at Carleton University & nobody knew about these. I was devastated to say the least. I think part of being queer means understanding where we come from & the political & activist context of what it means to be LGBTQ+.

Queering613 will be looking back at snapshots of Ottawa’s queer history because it is important for us to know where we came from before we can really understand where we are going. The community is so fractured & doing inter-generational work is so important for knowledge & resistance building. I want young queer people in Ottawa to know that queer activists handcuffed themselves to the banisters in the House of Commons in the 1970s; that underneath the Rideau Centre there was a popular queer bar called the “Coral Reef; that in Centretown there was a safe house that queer people would meet in secret to support one another; that in the early 90s a group of lesbians did some amazing research & community work on lesbian domestic violence; or that during the construction of the canal there was a heck of a lot of queerness happening; or even how colonialism has affected society’s construction of gender. Our queer-story is such a huge part of our stories & it’s not accessible. Queering613 wants to change that. I mean, look up Canadian LGBTQ activists on Wikipedia there’s only like a handful and that does not reflect what actually happens here.

Do you have any thoughts on how & why queer community is moving away from bars? 

This is a great question! Broadly: Vice did an amazing short doc on this exact phenomenon sweeping queer communities across the continent. I think this is definitely true for Ottawa- over the past decade we have seen many queer bars pop up & close down just as quickly (interesting note, an Ottawa bylaw states that downtown new bars can only open where old bars/clubs existed).

There were definitely some more institutional ones like the Icon, the Lookout & even the Edge. There were also some more temporary ones that I can remember like Club Soda, Pink, Flamingo, etc.

But as it stands right now there is only Centretown Pub and the Lookout which is super troubling in many ways. We have queer nights at different straight clubs, but barely any queer bars left. Why are we losing some of our most cherished spaces? The answer is complicated & uncertain at best.

Historically, bars have been some of the only spaces to meet other queers safely. I mean even the location of the bars told us a lot. Most queer bars were hidden, in basements, in alleyways, discreetly above things but as time has gone by these spaces keep disappearing. I think some people think this is because society has become more accepting & there is no longer a need for these spaces- you know, because you can be queer anywhere! Or that heteronormative spaces are becoming more inclusive of LGBTQ+ folks so there are more options for queers to go out- or there is apparently more visibility in society, which I think might actually lead to less visibility for queer & trans spaces in a way.

Also, I think the advent of the Internet has created a whole new space for queer folks to meet & connect but I think it’s a more complex answer than that. I think it has some to do with assimilation & erasure. It’s definitely not for lack of queer folks wanting to dance: queer folks always want to dance! But one thing I do notice with having been involved in the Queer Mafia is queer & trans people want much more than that too. They want more than just the bar scene & dance party culture. They want diversity & options rather than the same events/ parties at the same places with the same people.

I think it has to do with moving away from seeing these spaces as community spaces versus drinking/hooking up spaces. I think it has to do with economies of sexuality, gentrification, changing neighbourhoods & the cost of rising rents & lack of accessibility in bar & dance party cultures for queers who are so often living precariously. I mean it’s not just gentrification at work- I really do think gender, race, ability & class play a huge role in this. I think misogyny, sexism & transmisogyny play a huge role in this that is hard to capture in the supposed universal experience of what it means to be LGBTQ.

Photo by flickr user David Carroll, under Creative Commons license.

Photo by flickr user David Carroll, under Creative Commons license.

It is NOT a coincidence that places like Centretown Pub feel so unsafe & dangerous for non-binary folks, queer women & trans folks. It’s not a coincidence that I can’t stand going to the Lookout because of the immense amount of misogyny at play. It’s not a coincidence that only like two spaces in Ottawa are ACCESSIBLE, or that social justice oriented groups have sliding scales & PWYC options. Let’s call a spade a spade- in Ottawa everything is WHITE or the only nights with metal detectors are hip-hop nights.

We need to be seriously talking about how gender shapes our experiences more broadly. I think these are the types of conversations & questions Queering613 wants to explore.

What is Queering613 doing to include folks who have traditionally been excluded from, or marginalized in, LGBTQ+ communities?

Photo courtesy of Dillon Black.

Photo courtesy of Dillon Black.

First and most importantly, Queering613 is going to recognize that it isn’t perfect & it will mess up but that it’s open to learning, growing & collaborating. I think this is important because no organization is perfect, or a one size fits all & shouldn’t claim to be.

There isn’t any formula or equation to achieve diversity or inclusion, but there is definitely intention & choice that’s meaningful. Queering613 is a collective of people from diverse parts of our communities that represent different identities and bodies. It’s a tension space that everyone is navigating doing this work, we know this. We want to be intentional without tokenizing & we want to bring visibility to issues & people we care about. We also want to do what we do well & amplify others in what they’re doing best too. We want to be inclusive in many diverse ways that extend beyond just identity politics.

For example, take the issue of misogyny, as a non-binary masculine of centre person, I know my experience I know that it’s different how others who are femme, cis, indigenous, trans, living with disabilities, or HIV might experience misogyny. But we ALL do. I want to know how the experience of misogyny touches & shapes every[body] differently in our spaces. Queering613 want to have THAT conversation that bridges across difference & we’re hoping others do too.

Whether it’s about creating new spaces & events, telling stories in diverse ways, getting people together to have a conversation from many different perspectives, it’s all about growing & building partnerships through an empathy centered place while recognizing communities, bodies & identities that are so often marginalized & excluded from spaces & positions of power. Queering613 won’t represent everyone & everything, which is important because we need more organizations & people doing this work from many different positions & we are committed to amplifying & connect to each other.

Are there any LGBTQ+ people or organizations doing work in Ottawa that you’re especially excited about & want to give recognition to?

Photo by Dillon Black.

Photo by Dillon Black.

SO MANY!

If you could invite 5 LGBTQ+ public figures, current or historical, to dinner, who would you choose?