Is Queer* History & Culture Whitewashed? by Tim Lo
Updated: Jul 8
This piece is an introduction to my perspective of whitewashing of Queer History & Culture. I hope this will provide a helpful starting point to your learning.
This year marks 50 years since the first Pride parade. Over 500 LGBTQ+ Pride events have been cancelled globally due to Covid-19. This is a huge blow to many LGBTQIA+ identifying people and groups. Pride season is a time of high visibility for LGBTQIA+ folks, a time to celebrate, educate, learn, feel less alone in the fight against homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and discrimination due to gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression.
But the cancellation of Pride events could be seen as a blessing in disguise. In recent years, with increasing visibility comes commercialization and commodifying of Queer* people and culture. Pinkwashing such as police marching at Pride, has also become a problem, as has intra-community animosity between LGBTQIA+ people. There are also severe issues of rampant racism, religious tension, and able-ism from members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Among emerging issues, the problem of whitewashing is the most subtle, yet widespread. The history of Pride, Queer history and culture at large has been co-opted and appropriated by white, cisgender, able-bodied Queer people.
At present, many white-dominated countries have passed legislation that permits same-sex marriage and protects queer people. These countries “pride” themselves in being more progressive than the rest of the world, where Black, Asian and Latinx** people remain the majority of the population.
This attitude actively erases the fact that the “backwardness” of Black, Asian, Latinx** countries is the direct result of colonial rule. The Babaylans for example, were revered women and gender non-conforming spiritual leaders in the Philippines before the Spanish invaded, branded them as witches and executed them. In South Asia, Khawaja Sara people often served as entertainers to Hindu and Muslim leaders, dating back to 400BC, but were labeled a “criminal tribe” and faced eradication under British colonial rule. Similarly, "Two Spirit” people across First Nations/Native American people, were considered sacred or divine, but were persecuted by white US colonialists. The list goes on and on and on.
White cultures did not invent LGBTQIA+ rights. The definitions and labels of Queer identities are extremely Western centric. They are still limited by white societal constructs of gender binaries, and fail to acknowledge the multiplicity of gender constructs.
Let’s zoom in on the UK and US. Many people do not know the origins of Pride itself. The freedom and rights we celebrate today are a result of protests and uprisings at Stonewall Inn in New York City. Black trans, disabled, lesbian, women activists, along with Indigenous, Asian, Latinx and many other POC*** played a key role in this resistance. The first Pride started from a riot. Many Queer-associated celebratory activities such as Drag culture and Voguing, as well as pop culture language – e.g.: “throwing shade” – were also formed in Queer Black, Latinx and POC dominant communities.
This is the reason why events like Black Pride, Muslim Pride and Queer Asia exist in the UK – because Queer people from these communities do not feel welcome at Pride events hosted and attended by white people that have forgotten their roots.
The lack of representation within a white-dominant culture of Queerness can be and is extremely damaging. The multiplicity of being a Queer person is that it is only a part of you, and for many of us who are from non-Anglicized cultures, the predominant white Queer narrative is unhelpful at best, deadly at worst.
For example, “coming out” can result in death. The concept of “coming-out” is an inherently Western, privileged construct. For many Queer people, the foundation of a family/community-focused tradition means this is often not a culturally viable option. “Coming out” could result in being disowned and kicked out of the home, and even murdered by one’s own family.
Of course, these are not problems inherent to non-white Queer people, especially with Covid-19 lockdown exacerbating the problem. But the fact remains that Black and POC Queer individuals are at a much higher risk of experiencing homelessness, domestic abuse, police brutality, violence and discrimination. This needs to be acknowledged and combatted.
The first step is to stop whitewashing Queer history and culture. We have the power to achieve this through learning and education. As Black & POC history and culture is British history and culture, so Black & POC Queer history and culture is also British history and culture. We need to understand our past and present, in order shape a better future for all.
Below are some more suggestions to get started.
Queer Britain – short documentary series
Pose – set in underground 1980s ball culture, at the height of AIDS epidemic
All in My Family – documentary about a gay Chinese American
*Queer is used in this piece to mean members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
**Latinx is a gender-neutral term to refer to people of Latin American descent.
***POC stands for people of colour; it is used here to mean people of non-white descent who are not Black.
I'm a mixed media movement creative working in theatre, film and creative tech. My practice is centred on how the physical body can express, communicate, and deepen the experience of spoken language and visual performance. I choreograph for theatre (Things We Do Not Know), produce interactive live events (Of Home and Each Other by Splash & Ripple), direct short films (Somebody’s Child), and perform with Kiota, Raise The Bar, as well as international festivals IBT and Mayfest. I’ve also written for Rife Magazine, and worked with Limina Immersive as a VR host & supervisor.
Listed as an influential young Bristolian (Rife Magazine, 2018) I advocate for health, race, gender and Queer issues through my work. I’m also an associate artist at Rising Arts Agency and a Theatre Bristol board member.
I'm currently a research fellow with Bristol+Bath Creative R&D, exploring how emerging technologies can be used to create safer spaces for LGBTQIA+ people. Twitter & Instagram: @tim_lytc Website: http://timlytc.ctcin.bio/