As awesome it is to be a person of color, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that you still face racism in the form of micro- and macroaggressions on a daily basis. Especially on a college campus, ignorance can run rampant as students of color try to deal with the prejudice in the best way they can.
However, what happens if you’re facing double the discrimination as a queer person of color (QPOC)? You’re most likely facing a lot of specific issues that are unique to this intersection of identities. Here are some problems that might come up if you are a queer person of color and how to solve them!
Issues that occur specifically in the QPOC community
You fit in neither the POC community nor the queer community
Fitting in on campus can be hard when you’re at an intersection of two identities that are so significant to who you are that they’re inseparable. Sheltreese McCoy, a social justice educator at both the LGBT Campus Center and the Multicultural Student Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that a lot of issues for QPOC stem from not feeling like they have a place to belong, seeing the Multicultural Student Center as a primarily straight space and seeing the LGBT Campus Center as a primarily white space.
“In my experience, there can be a lot of homophobia in people of color communities,” says Jelani Rivera, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I’ve expressed viewpoints on what it is like to be gay or gay rights or what it’s like to come out, and I’ve often been shut down or told that racial equality is more important.”
On the other hand, for Renee’ Vallejo, a junior at Tufts University and a self-identified gender nonconforming gay Brown boi/womyn, there is a noticeable divide in the LGBTQ+ community on their campus.
“At Tufts there is the LGBTQ+ community (aka the white LGBTQ+ community) and the QTPOC community,” Renee’ says. “This racial dichotomy within the community is clear. My experience as a QPOC is invalidated and challenged by white LGBTQ+ folks every single day because my experience does not fit into their schema of what it means to be queer and navigate the world. They want further explanation, justification, which makes me feel like I am hard to respect because of my identities.”
People read your gender presentation in all the wrong ways
Not only do you feel like you don’t belong in either community, but it is also possible that neither of these communities has tried to accept you for who you truly are. McCoy agrees that there are micro- and macroaggressions that occur in this manner on both sides of the identity for collegiettes.
“If you happen to be a gender-nonconforming student and you were assigned female at birth but dress in a very masculine-presenting way, people [of color] can and often misgender you by calling you sir, brother or little brother,” McCoy says.
She also mentions that femmes face these types of issues as well, but in the queer community. A femme queer woman of color tends to have her queerness completely erased by people in the queer community who might just assume that she’s straight.
Your queerness is looked down upon in your culture
As far as specific communities of color, McCoy says queerness is often looked down upon in African-American, Latina-American and Asian-American communities, but still acknowledges that she could potentially be leaving other cultural communities out. She also points out that this is in United States cultural and social context.
McCoy says that for African-American culture, if you’re fighting for civil rights, you might be told by your family and peers directly that if you are queer then you don’t want to have children.
“So the equation becomes you’re not straight, you’re queer, and you’re not producing babies, which is a specific female-assigned-at-birth conversation,” she says. “And if you’re not producing black babies, then you’re anti- the race.”
She also mentions that Catholicism is embedded in the Latina community; whether the family is practicing or not, it is immersed in the culture and does not acknowledge LGBTQ+ identities. This is also layered with the idea of machismo and what it means to be a “real” man, as well as the oppression of anything feminine or going against that binary.
“Within some Asian cultures, while realizing Asian is a huge culture, ranging from the Filipino/Polynesian community to Chinese/Japanese/Taiwanese etc., some things I have seen include just an actual unwillingness to talk about sex and sexuality,” McCoy says. “Those things are considered taboo and private.”
Coming out as a QPOC is different from coming out as a white LGBTQ+ person
When you’re a QPOC, coming out might stray from the typical story that you hear from your white peers.
“For me, the big difference I’ve recognized is disclosure,” McCoy says. “Disclosure of one’s sexual identity can vary across space and time for queer students of color. So students who are here on campus and very active and almost ‘super queer students of color’ and highly engaged in the community will often go back home and not be disclosed to their family or will only be disclosed to a certain number of friends, and that’s how they navigate their lives.”
McCoy also notes that for queer people of color, coming out can trigger a different type of danger in comparison to white queer communities.
“When you look at the stats across the board, trans women of color, and specifically black trans women, are more likely to be murdered or killed in some sort of homicide,” she says.
Another issue is that some students of color might be first-generation, low-income students who are at the university on scholarship, and their family is very important to how they want to live their lives.
“The whole notion that you can just come out to everybody and if they don’t like it, you can just not communicate with them anymore or cut them off and move to a more affirming neighborhood is not an option for queer students of color,” McCoy says. “It’s not the standard that queer people of color come out and move into ‘gay-borhoods’; it’s just not. We typically stay in our own neighborhoods, so that means negotiating how we can be ourselves, even if that means we’re not out.”
Renee’ also points out that because they feel like they have been pushed to the sidelines of the LGBTQ+ community, the coming-out process never stops on their campus.
“Every day is a coming-out process for me to show that I am here—present in all areas of my existence,” they say. “Those who fit into the neat, white boundaries of queerness are validated, whereas the complexities of my identity and expression are questioned every day.”
How to Deal
There will be many times when you’ll have to deal with the issues that come with being a queer person of color. Here are some ways you can deal on your college campus!
Find a queer people of color community on your campus.
While your community might be small, if there are more queer people of color than you, that is a community! McCoy created an initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison called Crossroads in order to address this very specific need of bringing the community together.
“This is a place where queer students of color don’t have to mediate those spaces to feel authentic to who we are,” she says. “We are no longer asking students to bifurcate between their sexuality and race by having Crossroads.”
Try finding a space similar to this in order to come together with the QPOC community on your campus, whether it be through a student organization, a discussion group or even just a social group. This will not only help you begin to build community with other people who have had a similar experience to you, but also help you find your voice and be able to become more empowered.
If you don’t have a group on campus formed already, you might want to think of starting one yourself. You can get a group together by putting the word out through student email listservs and putting up flyers around campus about where people can reach you. Getting more people on board will help get the planning process started.
Renee’ not only cofounded but also co-facilitates Loving Ourselves as Queer Students of Color in Action, or LOQSOCA, a discussion group for QPOC at Tufts University.
“In this group we provide a space, both physical and communal, where the multifaceted identities of students who are queer and who express all gender identities of color can be validated and loved,” they say. “In this space, I am surrounded by other QTPOC who feel the weight of invalidation and marginalization on campus.”
Find nearby meet-ups and conferences for QPOC
It is always great to meet other people off campus, so make sure you take note of whenever there are conferences and meet-ups going on in your area. If you live near an LGBTQ+ friendly city, there’s bound to be events going on at various times of the year. Find times where queer people of color are getting together. Conferences, meet-ups and gatherings in nearby places could be a fantastic resource for meeting your fellow QPOC and finding that community that you so greatly strive for.
Read blogs and articles for queer people of color
If you go to a smaller school, there might not be as many queer people of color on campus to build a community with. However, McCoy says that there are plenty of folks that you canconnect with online.
“There are lots of beautiful Tumblrs and Facebook groups and all the other newfangled technologies that you all have to connect with youth of color, students of color, all around the world,” she says. “So that’s one way by finding blogs and articles that speak to you and your experience.”
Mia McKenzie’s Black Girl Dangerous is a very popular blog with queer female writers from a bunch of different racial backgrounds. If you’re feeling particularly motivated, McCoy also suggests that you create your own blog and write about your experiences.
“It would be great to see a blog of a queer person of color at an Ivy League or a queer person of color at a Big Ten [school] expressing what their lived experience is and sharing that with the community,” she says.
While being a queer person of color can be difficult to deal with at times, this should never stop you from living your life. You deserve to live exactly the way you want, no matter what the haters all around you might be saying.
Renee’ says they are proud to push the boundaries of gender, expression and sexuality every single day.
“Every day I acknowledge the experience of living a sexual and gender duality, but this active role that I have taken on in my life has encouraged me to think beyond the confines of what society and my own body have afforded me,” they say.
The cultures that you represent are unique and are totally special. Make sure you’re doing everything necessary to live the life you want to the fullest!