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Interview: Queering613’s Dillon Black (Part 1 of 2)

By Lee Pepper on March 26, 2016

There’s a new queer collective in town, and they’re combining activism and advocacy with fun and glittery social get-togethers.

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.”

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, there are several events coming up that Queering613 is involved in:

  • image7April 1: Queers & Beers, a get-together for those who love craft beer but not the sexist & heteronormative culture that often comes with it, at Mill St. Brew Pub.
  • April 9th: PROMdemonium, “the radical, community-oriented, gender-bending, enviro-humping, queer positive, bike loving, slow dancing, big dress wearing PROM you never had in high school”, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne.
  • April 20th: Swap Til You Drop, a clothing and accessory swap with board games, snacks, and coffee, hosted at AIDS Committee of Ottawa.

Apt613 interviewed Dillon Black, one of Queering613’s founding members, by email.  This is Part 1; you can read Part 2 here. This interview has been edited.

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

I see people constantly being isolated or pushed out of spaces & communities. Amazing community groups fractured or breaking. I see LGBTQ+ folks treat not always treating one with love or gentleness, & I ask myself what is this about.

What motivated you & the other Queering613 folks to start this group?

To add context to my answer, I grew up in & around Ottawa. The 613 has always been & always felt like home to me. I was born here, I went to school here, I came out here & I’ve invested in this community, which isn’t as common as one would think of queer folks in O-town!

Queering613 has been an idea that had been brewing for me over the past year or so. Honestly, it is simple in all its complexity. I felt disheartened by meeting new people who were constantly telling me that Ottawa was a boring & dry government town lacking any queer community or culture. I also think Ottawa is such a transitional city in the sense that people come & stay a few years only to leave again. It was like we were constantly losing amazing & brilliant people to ‘bigger & more happening places like Montreal, Vancouver & Toronto.

Photo by Dillon Black.

Photo by Dillon Black.

The vision for Queering613, for me at least, has been to tell the story of what it means to be queer & live ‘queer’ with our whole hearts in Ottawa; what are queer & trans experience like in Ottawa; whose stories are being told & whose stories aren’t being told; how do we change that; what are the issues & barriers queer & trans people are facing in Ottawa; what kind of rich history do we have in this city & how is that relevant to our lives today; why are our queer & trans communities so invisible, etc. I’ve been here for so long & I feel like there is SO much queer history/presence here, I am constantly surprised to hear people who have lived here for years yet have no real understanding of Ottawa’s layers upon layers of queer culture & communities. I think it’s such a shame that our lives & stories are buried & I want to ask what we can do together to build on that, amplify one another & push back to make real change happen.

This is my perspective, my vision. As the collective at Queering613 is being formed, that meaning & vision takes on bit of a different flavour with each collective member. Queering613 is about telling our stories & amplifying our communities through a multi-faceted approach, whether we are creating new spaces & events, highlighting movers & shakers, doing some digital story-telling, amplifying community work & organizations or even just talking out loud about the issues we are all facing.

You’ve been involved with both Queer Mafia and Queering613: could you talk about the connection between these two groups?

Photo courtesy of Dillon Black.

Photo courtesy of Dillon Black.

I was involved with the Queer Mafia since the beginning as one of its co-founders. Recently however, I decided to take a step back from the Queer Mafia. It was a tough choice for me since I had invested a great deal into it over the past four years, but it was time for a change both for QM’s direction & my own vision of this work. I have been doing community building & activism for a long time & I really wanted my focus to remain on grassroots community building, which is the hope for Queering 613.

QM really was a life changing experience for me in so many ways. We were a network of individuals doing something edgy & avant-garde & at the time we didn’t even really know the impact of what it meant to bring a social justice lens to the bar scene & event-party culture. I think QM has been doing some really great work regarding creating more inclusive events & spaces in the city. We re-imagined event promotion & the bar scene through a queer lens, we carved a new space for ourselves. The Queer Mafia will always hold a special space in my heart. Queering613 is not connected to Queer Mafia but both organizations will support & amplify one another’s events & visions to expand what queerness means in the 613.

For me personally something was still missing regarding my own vision of what is still needed in Ottawa. I want to create something that could tell our stories & build community while we were at it. I want to dive into the messiness of it all & highlight being queer & queer culture beyond just dance parties & bar culture which is what LGBTQ folks experiences are so often reduced to. I want LGBTQ+ people to know what amazing work is being done here, who is doing that work, & why. I want people to know what issues & barriers queer & trans people are facing in Ottawa & how do we rally as a community to advocate and support one another? I want to create more safer & inclusive spaces as well as more community building spaces as well as dry space for our friends in recovery. I want to get together with other 613 queers & talk about the issues we care about.

What do you see as some of the most pressing issues facing LGBTQ+ folks in Ottawa right now?  Or some of the most exciting changes & opportunities?

It’s hard for me to really capture what the most pressing issues are because I recognize the diversity of experience & identities in Ottawa but I definitely have noticed a few trends in working with different community organizations in Ottawa:

Over half of the youth population experiencing homelessness in Ottawa identify as LGBTQ+, this is a huge issue for so many reasons. It reflects the need for capacity building within families, school boards, housing & services on issues such as homophobia, transphobia, mental health, etc.

Building capacity & resources for trans & non-binary communities. There is a seriously lack of visibility, spaces, conversations & services for trans folks. There are amazing initiatives & people working on these issues but it is not enough- particularly for trans women, trans feminine folks or feminine folks with trans histories. We need more support & resources related to medical transition & access to hormones, for example between the time a trans person decides they to medically transition & accesses those services they are 8-10x more likely to complete suicide. This is a huge issue. & trans people & non binary folks lives are so much more than just access to health care.

There are currently no specialized services, support or resources for queer or trans people experiencing intimate partner violence in Ottawa.

Racism is an issue & barrier queer & trans PoC in Ottawa face. As a White Settler person this is not my experience but I definitely have listened to many of my friends & have witnessed this violence many times. This was indicative during Pride this year with the racist & violence defacing of the Sandra Bland mural & the mural for murdered trans women of colour that were organized/supported/commissioned by #BlackLivesMatter Ottawa & BlakCollectiv. The erasure of identities & experiences of queer & trans PoC in Ottawa is a huge issue that needs to be lead by & center these communities.

Photo by Dillon Black.

Photo by Dillon Black.

There is definitely an issue of racism & homophobia in Ottawa’s bar & pub scene. Many pubs & spaces in Ottawa have this unspoken homophobia.

A recent example is when we booked a Queers & Beers event at a popular spot on Sparks & they rescinded their offer of space upon finding out who we were unless we agreed to a $25,000 spend minimum. We also know of some bars & clubs in the city that have an unspoken a limit/restriction on the number of people of colour they allow into their spaces.

Ottawa is in desperate need of all gender washrooms.

Ottawa is in need of shelters for trans/nonbinary/queer folks.

Ottawa has one of the highest rising rates of urban indigenous folks & there is a lack of services/spaces/events that centre these communities.

HIV Criminalization/the OPS responses to this issue.

Misogyny & transmisogyny in queer spaces (“lesbro” culture & femme invisibility in Ottawa).

Pinkwashing (ex: Capital Pride being complicit in this by trying to make Ottawa Pride more corporate-sponsored, more business-oriented, more showy, more white, more expensive & less about the grassroots/community feel that we’ve always loved about Ottawa pride).

The fracturing/competitiveness of queer communities. How marginalized communities can sometimes be cruel to one another because it is easier to lash out at one another then at these systems oppressing us. What does it mean to build hope & community across difference? There are so many ways of being queer & trans & so many diverse experiences & how to we capture all of these while recognizing the pain & trauma in our communities? How do we heal & build hope?

I think this is a huge question for me. I see people constantly being isolated or pushed out of spaces & communities. Amazing community groups fractured or breaking. I see LGBTQ+ folks treat not always treating one with love or gentleness, & I ask myself what is this about. There is a lot of divisiveness in this community and we need to learn how to work together across difference. I really do believe that we rise by lifting others, so Queering613 really wants to explore this. It is disheartening & painful to watch people hurting one another whether it is because they are exhausted, in pain, hurt, frustrated, don’t have the ability to understand one another. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I do think this is part of those systems meant to hold us down.

Read Part 2 of this interview here.