Reading Time: 5-10 Mins
Category: Queer
Author: Steph Elhadid & Rukmini 

The overwhelming presence of white queerness in the media, along with the existence of queer spaces that often exclude people of colour, creates a culture where queer representation mainly mirrors white experiences, rendering the experiences of QTPOCs as abnormal or overlooked in the broader narrative of queer culture. As we celebrate Queer History Month (QHM), it’s important to explore both past and present queer stories with a critical eye, ensuring that we recognise and celebrate the diversity within the queer community. 


QHM began in the UK in February 2005, spearheaded by educator-activists Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick. This initiation coincided with the abolition of the Section 28 clause, which prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities. This month-long observance aims to disseminate knowledge around queer resistance, joy and lives within the UK and globally. QHM’s primary goal is to amplify queer and trans* voices, stories, and lives that have existed, exist and will continue to exist in the future. Acknowledging and challenging this hegemony of white queerness in media representation and queer spaces is pivotal for QHM to evolve toward decoloniality. By centring the narratives and experiences of QTPOCs within QHM, we can disrupt the prevailing colonial structures that uphold white dominance in queer “cultures”, fostering a more inclusive and equitable commemoration that reflects the diverse realities of queer individuals across racial and cultural spectrums.


How do coloniality, post-coloniality, and decoloniality relate to this month? What do these terms mean here? And does the pride parade, supported by major corporations involved in questionable practices like racial employment discrimination, arms trading, and migrant detention, play a role in this discussion?


The answer to these questions is both complex and simple. Queering British History inherently requires a decolonial approach. As a theoretical framework, decolonialityis a way for us to re-learn the knowledge that has been pushed aside, forgotten, buried or discredited by the forces of modernity, settler-colonialism, and racial capitalism.” Let’s examine the history of queer legalities in the British Empire. We’ll find them rooted in fear of the unknown and a racist perception of non-white bodies, often depicted as barbaric and sexually unrestrained. This perception, discussed by many scholars including Edward Saïd’s ‘Orientalism’, sheds light on the biases ingrained in historical narratives.


In India, section 377 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) effectively criminalised homosexuality and likened it to all “unnatural” sex practices, including bestiality. As a BBC article notes, “Lord Macaulay…believed the IPC was a “blessing” for India as it would “modernise” its society.” Linking this back to Queering British History and why it must inherently be decolonial, is because these racist caricatures were brought into the folds of ill/ legality and criminality in the colonies by using the same sorts of legal conditions that existed for queer people in Britain. It was not until 1861 that the death penalty for homosexuality was repealed in Britain, and not until 1967 that homosexuality was decriminalised. Two more decades later saw the advent of the Local Government Act that “banned the promotion and teaching of homosexuality in schools.” The same gay agenda rhetoric has recently been brought back into the legal sphere through section 28. It was only in 2014, four years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India, that the UK legalised same-sex marriage.


Queering the British Contemporary 


By saying this, it must be acknowledged, however, that “the metaphorization of decolonization makes possible a set of evasions, or “settler moves to innocence”, that problematically attempt to reconcile settler guilt and complicity, and rescue settler futurity.” Tuck and Yang remind us that treating decolonisation merely as a metaphor shifts focus from repairing resources to granting philosophical forgiveness to colonial settlers. However, despite acknowledging this reality, we must weave multicultural global realities that carry with them an everyday desire to restructure/re-narrate an existing history through a more expansive lens of resistance. As long as trans* people live every day, the colonial-capitalist construction of gender is disrupted, and this is an embodied decolonial practice – to refuse gender, and as an extension, gendered expectations of race adherence, labour acceptance, and aesthetic performance. It is a mundane blow to a mundane routine that churns a large machine of unjust practices. 


Travis Alabanza uses theatre, art, and poetry, to talk about a lived experience of racism and queerness in the UK. As Alabanza was walking down the street one day, a passerby threw a burger at them while hurling transphobic slurs. This inspired their debut show Burgerz, in 2020. In this performance, they delve into “how trans bodies survive” despite everyday violence. This became the central point of departure for questions they posed through art. This act of violence by the passerby is in itself an act in colonial continuity – the premise of colonial violence being an irrational fear of difference, a fear that manifests into irrational disgust, which then leads to bigoted violence. A black body, already out of place in a racially constructed White country, already a ‘queer’ body, is deemed even more threatening due to its transness. A body, as much as it is not the colonial ideal (white, able, cisgender), is deemed unworthy of dignity and desirability. 


Another contemporary example is Dr. Ronx Ikharia, who is a trans-non-binary emergency doctor. Their activism is practised through their medical expertise – they believe in making health care accessible to various marginalised people and communities. In an interview, they spoke of visibility to young people who can look at them and be inspired to be themselves, particularly if they are black/brown and trans. Why is visibility important for them as a healthcare professional? Why do doctors need to be trans or/and people of colour? The answer is found, once again, in colonial continuity and racial realities. The healthcare system in the UK, but more broadly, the medical knowledge structure and notions of suffering that the Western world acknowledges is built on a racial, ableist, and transphobic science. While Nature has a longer podcast on Racism in Health, an excerpt from it summarises it succinctly: “Throughout history, racism and biases have been embedded within medical technology, along with the clinicians who use it. 


Cultural concepts of race have been falsely conflated with biology. The way medicine is taught has reinforced flawed stereotypes. Disease itself has been racialised. All of this adds up to barriers to care and worse health outcomes for many people, just because of the colour of their skin.” Similarly, transness and queerness have historically been pathologised and therefore seen as ‘abnormal’ or as diseases that need curing. This has estranged queer people from healthcare infrastructure and continues to prohibit our access to the same. Decolonising queer history in the UK would then also mean decolonising healthcare material realities – to ensure rights to gender-affirming care and the allocation of resources for the same, among other things. 


How then do we help decolonise Queer History Month?


On an individual level, especially as allies, we need to keep an eye out for intersectional queer spaces calling us in and inviting us to read, learn, and participate in knowledge production that centres and elevates the voices of Queer and trans people of colour. We have to make space, in our organisations and social contexts, to employ marginalised people and consider all these diverse experiences as essential to the contribution of the organisational work. However, most importantly, we all owe each other the allyship of knowledge – to learn about queer lives, cultures, and people is to learn more about ourselves and the possibilities of living lives that are richer and more beautiful. It is important for us all to commit to learning about the pain and struggles of people around us, and to challenge colonial continuities as they adversely affect every single person involved in its structure. 


There is a beautiful world of queerness that existed long before Western terminology for it did. Queerness is not a 20th-21st century advent – North American indigenous cultures sometimes use two-spirit for people who fall outside the binary categories of gender. This cannot translate simply to transgender and encompass all of its socio-cultural meanings because transgender as a term fails to do so. Similarly, in India, various groups and communities of gender-diverse people are often linked to specific professions. They are also considered capable of bestowing blessings to newborn children and on important cultural occasions including weddings. One such community is called the Hijra community.
Similarly in Mexico, there are
Muxes, people who live outside the gender binary, and māhū in Hawai’i. The Māori use the term takatāpui to indicate queer sexuality. A very insightful short read on this, and on the refusal of translating cultural queerness/ queer practice, is Manuela L. Picq and Josi Tikuna’s ‘Indigenous Sexualities: Resisting Conquest and Translation’. 

Colonial conquest and violence have enormously shifted our engagement with knowledge production from communities that are not producers of white supremacist knowledge. 


Often, communities produce knowledge outside institutional spaces and are otherwise denied space and consideration as knowledge producers within institutions. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of organisations that wish to be inclusive and diverse to allow individuals from these communities to build on existing resources around LGBTQ+ lives. Building an inclusive and decolonial space is a key foundational advocacy strategy for inclusive human rights advocacy and awareness building. We must look inwards before outwards: how is our organisation doing?


In Conclusion


As we reflect on QHM and its significance in the UK and beyond, it becomes evident that decoloniality is not just a theoretical framework but a practical necessity in our ongoing efforts to honour and amplify queer and trans* voices. Building inclusive societies starts with acknowledging and confronting the colonial legacies that have shaped our understanding of gender, sexuality, and identity. It requires us to actively dismantle systems of oppression that continue to marginalise queer communities, particularly those of colour. This means centring the experiences and narratives of marginalised queer groups, such as Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) communities, in our conversations and initiatives. Strategies for creating inclusive decolonial spaces must prioritise the empowerment and autonomy of these marginalised groups. It involves providing resources, platforms, and opportunities for them to lead and participate in knowledge production and advocacy efforts. Initiatives that support this goal could include funding BIPOC-led organisations, creating mentorship programmes, and promoting cultural competency training within institutions.

As we move forward, let us commit to continuing the work of decolonising QHM and creating spaces where all queer and trans* individuals feel seen, heard, and valued. Together, we can build a more equitable and just world for future generations.

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