We’ve Been Here: Queering Black History Month
The histories and struggles of QIPOC communities and their contributions are frequently erased and missing from the mainstream narratives. They are often buried in the files and boxes in the homes of the individuals who participated in those activities. For Black History Month, we celebrate the legacy of black lives but we somehow don’t celebrate the legacy of black queer lives—as if we have not been part of a larger struggle.
For Black History Month this year, we celebrate the affirmation of a community’s ability to thrive despite attempts at its erasure. Over the next few days we will be profiling various Queer and Trans Black community members across Turtle island and continue to speak to the lives of those of us who live and love on the margins in an effort to not be erased and disappeared.
Syrus Marcus Ware
Artist - Activist - Educator
Syrus Marcus Ware is a visual artist, community activist, researcher, youth-advocate and educator. He is currently a facilitator/designer for the Cultural Leaders Lab (Toronto Arts Council & The Banff Centre).
As a visual artist, Syrus works within the mediums of painting, installation and performance to challenge systemic oppression. Syrus’ work explores the spaces between and around identities; acting as provocations to our understandings of gender, sexuality and race. Syrus is part of the Black Triangle Arts Collective (BTAC), a visual arts collective dedicated to exploring disability, racial and economic justice.
Syrus has co-edited a book chapter (with Zack Marshall) about disability, Deaf culture and trans identities in Trans Bodies, Trans Selves(2013) and co-authored "It Cannot be Fixed Because It Isn’t Broken" in Disability Incarcerated (2014), a chapter about the experiences of disability, racism and the Prison Industrial Complex. He is the author of Love is in the Hair, part of Flamingo Rampant’s 2015 book series.
Syrus is a core-team member of Black Lives Matter-Toronto. For 14 years, Syrus has worked with Blackness Yes! to produce Blockorama (the black queer and trans stage at Pride), and other related events throughout the year. Syrus is also a founding member of the Prison Justice Action Committee of Toronto and a founding member of the Transparent-cy Working Group at The 519 Community Centre. He helped to initiate the Trans-Fathers 2B course- the first course for trans men considering parenting in North America. Syrus is also a member of the Gay/Bi Trans Men’s HIV Prevention Working Group for the Ontario AIDS Bureau and one of the creators of “Primed: A Back Pocket Guide for Trans Guys and the Guys Who Dig ‘Em”.
Activist - Poet - Community Worker
Visual artist, poet and manager of children, youth and adult services at Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Community Health Centre
McFarlane was a founding member of a number of Black queer groups and organizations in the early ’80s and ’90s — such as Zami, Sepia, AYA Men — that provided voice and visibility for Black LGBTQ2 individuals and issues. This activism in many ways laid the foundation for events, organizations and movements addressing Black LGBTQ2 communities today. He has also been on the board of the Toronto Inside Out Film Festival
He is also currently curating an exhibit at Toronto’s BAND Gallery called Legacies in Motion: Black Queer Toronto Archive Project as part of the Myseum Intersections festival 2019. This exhibit seeks to unearth the stories of the vibrant period of political organizing and cultural activism from Black LGBTQ2 communities in Toronto in the 1980s and 1990s. Drawing its diverse exhibit materials from personal archives, which feature images, documents, videos and visual art, Legacies in Motion directly challenges the common narratives within mainstream LGBTQ communities that often render the history and contributions of Black queers as invisible and marginal.
MacFarlan has published works in MÃKA Diasporic Juks: Contemporary Writing by Queers of African Descent by Debbie Douglas, Courtnay McFarlane, Makeda Silvera and Douglas Stewart and Plush: Selected Poems by By Sky Gilbert, Courtnay McFarlane, Jeffrey Conway, R. M. Vaughan, David Trinidad, Lynn Crosbie and Michael Holmes.
Activist - Community Worker
Douglas Stewart is a gay rights activist and was the founding Executive Director of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention. He works mainly within Black communities to provide awareness and support to issues around gay rights.
Douglas has worked as an equity trainer, dispute resolution officer and as Chief Human Rights Advisor at Centennial College. He has a long history of commitment to youth development, regularly providing training and organizational development to many youth empowerment agencies such as SERVE! He has also worked with the Toronto District School Board on anti-discrimination initiatives and in alternative school programs.
He was a founding member of Zami, the first Black queer group in Toronto. Founded in 1984 and named after an East Caribbean word for lesbian sex, Stewart was one of the first people in Canada to speak out publicly against the exclusion and racism that queers of colour faced from the overall queer community. In 1986, after The Body Politic enraged queers of colour in the community after publishing an advertisement from a white gay man who was seeking "a young, well-built BM [Black Man] for a houseboy," Stewart wrote a letter to the magazine that said racism among gay men "forces gay men like me to prioritize my concerns...Black gay activists define themselves first and foremost as Black and as gay second."
Zami was just one of dozens of groups formed in the 1980s to combat problems from the “queer establishment."
Activist - Editor - Executive Director
Angela Robertson is an activist working with black, women’s and LGBTQ communities. She is widely respected and recognized for implementing life-transforming programs for women in Toronto. Angela is currently Executive Director of Queen West - Central Toronto Community Health Centre. She was previously Director of Equity & Community Development at Women’s College Hospital and Executive Director of Sistering – A Woman’s Place which is an organization that offers practical and emotional support to homeless, under-housed and low-income women in the city.
She was an editorial member of ‘Our Lives’, Canada’s first Black Women’s newspaper produced by The Black Women’s Collective and the Women’s Educational Press managing editor for five years up until 1992. In that role, she gave racialized and queer-identified women representation in the arts and politics through the publication of Canada’s first oral history of African and Chinese Canadian women. She later co-edited ‘Scratching the Surface: Canadian Anti-Racist Feminist Thought’.
Angela has been a board member of Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention and Houselink Community Homes. She is currently a member of the Stephen Lewis Foundation boards.
Activist - Community Worker
Monica Forrester is a Program and Outreach co-ordinator for Maggie's Toronto Sex Workers Action Project. Since 1999, she has worked in various agencies to educate and make services accessible for trans* folks. She actively works to promote awareness and visibility of trans women. From living and working on the streets to being instrumental in creating a drop-in and an outreach program for transpeople at the 519 to her current work as a program coordinator for Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, Forrester has long advocated for transgender people in Toronto. She was also part of advocating for trans women to be allowed into women’s shelters and in creating policies to prevent shelters from discriminating against trans women.
Artist - Activist - Community Worker
Nik Redman is an artist, activist and community worker who was born in Montreal, Canada. Nik grew up in both Barbados and Canada.
He is a member of the GBQ Trans Men’s’ Working Group, part of Ontario Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance; the MaBwana Community Advisory Committee, the Prisoners Justice Action Committee (PJAC) and the Trans Fathers 2B Parenting Course Project Team. Nik was one of the online facilitators for the province-wide HIV/AIDS-themed Stigma campaign. Nik currently works as a Grievance Officer with the University of Toronto’s Local 1998 United Steelworkers Union. In addition, he works doing Anti-Harassment and Human Rights Training for the Union.
An active participant in several communities, Nik volunteers with the LGBT Youth Line, Community One and is part of the programming committee and the Board of the Inside Out Film and Video Festival. He also serves on the Board of Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP).
Poet - Novelist - Documentarian
Dionne Brand is one of Canada's most renowned, honoured, and bestselling poets, novelist and directors. She won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the Trillium Book Award for her 1997 collection Land to Light On. Her collection thirsty won the 2003 Pat Lowther Award. Her novel What We All Long For won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2006. She won the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize for Ossuaries.
She was Toronto's Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2012, and in 2017, she was named to the Order of Canada.
Her work often explores themes of anti-racist and anti-capitalist activism and diasporic life as well as queer relationships and erotics. In addition to being a writer, Brand is a social activist. She is a founder of the newspaper Our Lives, is past chair of the Women's Issues Committee of the Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and does work with immigrant organizations around Toronto.
Singer - Songwriter - Activist
Faith Nolan is a singer/songwriter with a deep history of queer, women’s and anti-poverty activism. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, her parents and extended family were coal miners in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia of African, Miqmaq and Irish heritage. She later grew up in Toronto's working-class Cabbagetown. Her commitment to social justice comes from her life experiences and the people she grew up with, and she works through the cultural tool of music. Her music is her political work, a politics firmly rooted in her being working class, a woman, African Canadian and queer.
Faith is the founder and director of three different choirs in Toronto, Singing Elementary Teachers of Toronto; CUPE Freedom Singers , the Women of Central East Correctional Centre; Sistering Singers. produced a film, Within These Cages, about women in prison; and continues to fight for a better understanding of how poverty has created a disproportionate representation of poor women, especially black and First Nations, in Canadian prisons.
As we progress through February, QE will be highlighting additional individuals. Bookmark this page or follow us on our social media to stay connected and get informed!