The Double Minority Report

In the beginning, the Black Queer Youth group would operate on the ‘down low’ to avoid persecution and backlash. In 2002, Cassandra Lord began BQY as an initiative which would give voice to gay, bi, and trans black youth in Toronto; a group obviously living in fear as interested parties would be screened and notified of the meeting location which changed weekly for safety. Now approaching a decade of existence it has become a drop-in group affecting and improving the quality of life for all those out, curious or closeted who follow in the brave footsteps of those who first started it all.

The weekly gathering of the Black Queer Youth group garners roughly 12 to 30 souls from this double minority to meet for support, community, and safety. The youth comprise of 16-30 year olds from all walks of life. Why haven’t you heard of this group? To begin, there is a relatively small amount of openly gay black youth in Toronto which, for a city hosting World Pride in three years, demonstrates support for this community is lacking. BQY is sponsored and run by SOY (Supporting Our Youth) and operates out of the Sherbourne Health Centre (333 Sherbourne Street). Coordinator Lorelei King and facilitator Adam Ben have succeeded in creating a “safe and social open space for Black, Multiracial, African/Caribbean youth under 29 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual and questioning (to) come chill, learn how to take up space, go on outings, create zines, attend workshops and just socialize with other youth!” Three weeks of the month are spent on productive life-building skills which are decided upon by both facilitators and group members. Once a month the group will cook a meal, watch a movie (most-probably with anti-oppression, BQY-empowering subject matter) and hang out to build/create community.

Former member turned leader, Adam Ben says that people often show up by referral and typically become an attendee of the group for years. Community and a need to be understood are paramount for the human psyche (yes, despite colour and sexual orientation we are all human) so members often find lifelong friendships in this group. Adam has personally met, connected and reached over one-hundred youths during his involvement with BQY which numbers in the years as a member and six months as facilitator. Often members will create friendships that eventually exist outside of the BQY group—eliminating the need for an organized safe-space. Some current members have been attending anywhere from 1 – 5 years and did indeed meet with other members outside of group but still felt they had lessons to learn from the facilitators and group atmosphere.

The room resonates with understanding head nods, heartfelt hugs, and genuine smiles...enough to make one realize that this is one group of individuals who carry a heavy weight 365 days a year. The relief expressed in their bodies as they walk through the door is noticeable as is the slow-unwind generated during ‘check-in’ where everyone introduces themselves and describes their week. This is perhaps the only place where they can simply say, “I am black, and I am queer.” A number of these youth are not ‘out’ to anyone beyond BQY walls while many explain they are only openly gay to a limited number of close friends and their immediate or intimate family members. Simply put by one member, “As a black man I’m supposed to be ‘tough’, so other races don’t expect me to be gay. I’m not a queeny effeminate gay, but there’s an expectation that black guys be macho, basically, not gay.”

What about family members or members of the black community?

“Generally, they don’t like homosexuals. It’s a combination of culture and religion. I haven’t come out to extended family members and my immediate family only found out because I was dating a guy who knew my cousin, so I kind of had to tell them.” This particular member is a 29 years old has only been half-out for one year - 28 years of inner-struggle grappling to ignore his sexuality and still denying it to many people, unable to reveal himself to those he loves.

To be clear, these people are double minorities who have one of their own communities rallied against them. BQY markets their group to potential new members through ads in Xtra! and FAB Magazine. Literature is not distributed among the black community, rather, it is advertised to the gay community in the hopes that any curious or ‘down low’ men and women may read it and come to the group. While a number of the members admit to being a victim of racial-driven bigotry, most negative experiences have come from homophobic persons.

Unanimously, the most beneficial aspect of this group is the anti-oppressive and nurturing safe space it provides. For the quiet and shy, it helps boost confidence; for the curious, it increases awareness; for the closeted it provides a free forum of expression. More groups like this will help raise awareness and support for the BQY community. These orphans of two cultures need a nurturing hand and understanding audience so they may grow and feel safe which is part of the human rights every citizen of this country is afforded.