An anti-discrimination educator on creating queer spaces for people of color
Queer spaces are often run by white members of the LGBTQ+ community. Here's how one activist and educator defines queer spaces and what they could look like.
There are a lot of community events and meet-ups geared toward queer people in the greater Tampa Bay region. But few of them are run by Black, Indigenous, or People of Color — which is often abbreviated as BIPOC.
In the next installment of our occasional series on "Queer Spaces," WUSF's Daylina Miller speaks with Sam Obeid, an Indian poet, lesbian, activist and anti-discrimination educator.
What does queer space mean to you? And where do you see queer spaces working in the community?
"As a queer person of color, it is important to me that any queer space that I specifically enter into is also led and operated by queer people of color. For a long time, mainstream queer communities, aka white communities, have owned — not necessarily led, but owned and operated — the only queer spaces that have been available to queer people of all colors. And for me, a truly queer space, as an individual, is one that is owned by people who are in fact in the margins, right?
So BIPOC folks, queer BIPOC folks, queer trans BIPOC folks, indigenous folks, queer immigrant folks. In addition to that, a space that is safe, a space where your identity is never questioned, a space where your story is always welcome, a space that is non-surveilling, a space that is open to conversation.
Queer folks are not monoliths by any means. People of color are not monoliths, by any means. Nobody's a monolith. And so being able to have conversations across queerness, across color, across identity, across belief — those are truly safe spaces, and therefore those are truly queer spaces."
"Off the top my head, I can probably give you two queer BIPOC spaces that exist. It does not mean they don't exist, it might just mean that I am not aware of them. And that in itself should tell us something about how the queer BIPOC community feels about its existence and how protective it needs to be."Sam Obeid
Where do we stand in the Tampa Bay area when it comes to queer BIPOC spaces?
"We have some, but we don't have too many. The ones that exist are few and far apart, the ones that exist with very specific communities, rightfully so. I mean, a lot of BIPOC humans are very protective of their communities. And absolutely, they should be.
Off the top my head, I can probably give you two queer BIPOC spaces that exist. It does not mean they don't exist, it might just mean that I am not aware of them. And that in itself should tell us something about how the queer BIPOC community feels about its existence and how protective it needs to be."
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How do people who need these events, these spaces, find them? And how do people who can't find them create them?
"If you can't find that space, there's a high likelihood that it is not meant for you. And if that space does not exist, then how to create them is a whole other question altogether. Yes, you can create that space. But because no space is a monolith, there's no single formula for how to create it either, right?
As an Indian human, I haven't necessarily found a lot of queer Indian spaces. They exist. I've seen them in D.C. I've seen them in New York. I haven't seen them in Tampa. So then that led me to believe that if I couldn't see it, maybe it's not for me, right? I think those are the questions that we should be exploring. If I don't see it, is it meant for me? And if I don't see it, and it's not meant for me, how can I create it is a very specific, subjective question."
How would you begin to create a space for you?
"I'd start with myself. When I was a young human living in India, coming into my gender, coming into my sexuality, there was not another Indian human that I could look at, an older Indian human that I could look at and say, 'that's somebody that I can talk to about this.' And of course, you have like 1,000 questions, you know, regardless of where you live, right?
Now, research shows us across the board, that any young human, with any sexuality and any gender, if they have an affirming adult in their lives, are much more likely to be safe than not, right? I think that I would begin by making myself a safe queer space. I think safe space begins with you."