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LGBTQ+ organizing against racism and pinkwashing in Nova Scotia

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Ardath Whynacht and Dee Morse. Both are on the board of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP), the only province-wide group fighting for queer and trans rights in Nova Scotia.

They talk about fighting marginalization within queer, trans, and two-spirit communities, and about their recent support for efforts to oppose pinkwashing in the context of Halifax Pride.

In contrast with the disdain of yesteryear, today it is not uncommon for mainstream politicians, corporations, organizations and even nation-states to go out of their way to associate themselves with LGBTQ+ communities. For many, this serves as both a means to market themselves to those communities and as a way to establish a certain kind of progressive cachet to external observers.

Which may sound harmless, or even positive, but often it is far from it. Far too often, the people and institutions that are being symbollically supportive of queer, trans, and two-spirit people are simultaneously doing few or none of the things that are well within their power that might substantively improve the lives of those very same people. Sometimes, they even use such symbollic gestures of support as a way to distract from the substantive harm they are doing to queer and trans people and/or to other marginalized people. "Pinkwashing," it is sometimes called.

So, for instance, there are places where police make a show of being supportive of LGBTQ Pride events in a way that makes them look progressive despite their refusal to meaningfully address their enactment of systemic violence against Black and Indigenous people (including Black and Indigenous people who are queer, trans, or two-spirit). Or you might see a politician who marches in a Pride parade and says generally positive things about LGBTQ people but who cuts welfare, and who is therefore benefiting from that association with the community while doing harm to those queer and trans people who depend on social assistance.

In the last couple of years, NSRAP has been working to more thoroughly ground its work in the experiences and struggles of the most marginalized queer, trans, and two-spirit people -- that is, those who fall outside the white, middle-class, cisgender and otherwise normative default that is the centre of gay and lesbian politics in some other contexts. This has led to activity in a number of areas, but lately the most contentious and visible component has been organizing around the question of pinkwashing in the LGBTQ+ community.

Earlier this year, a group called Queer Arabs of Halifax drafted a letter seeking community support to oppose the presence of a table at the annual Halifax Pride community fair at which the Israeli state has in recent years distributed material promoting a queer-positive image of itself in ways that pinkwash the Israeli state's ongoing brutal colonial occupation of Palestine and violence against Palestinians, both queer and straight.

NSRAP decided to support Queer Arabs of Halifax, in the context of encouraging broader discussion of both racism in queer communities and pinkwashing, while Halifax Pride refused to act on their concerns. A long series of activites, events, and conversations followed, including an escalating pattern of abuse faced online by activists who vocally took anti-racist and anti-pinkwashing positions.

This culminated in the recent Halifax Pride Annual General Meeting at which Queer Arabs of Halifax brought forward a motion opposing the participation of the Israeli state in queer community events, and NSRAP brought forward a motion to develop guidelines for what politicians, corporations, and anyone else from outside of the community would have to do in terms of demonstrating actual material support for queer and trans people if they want to take a public role in Pride. The meeting was stacked, however, by a conservative religious organization that supports the state of Israel, and they packed the meeting with mostly non-queer, non-trans people who voted down both motions. That is, policy for LGBTQ Pride in Halifax was being decided mostly by conservative straight people, and queer anti-racist and anti-pinkwashing activists (particularly Black, Indigenous and people of colour) faced intense hostility in what is supposedly their own community organization.

Whynacht and Morse talk with me about NSRAP's work, about pinkwashing in general and the fight against it in Halifax in particular, and about how NSRAP hopes to move forward from here with its commitment to political work centred on practical wins for the most marginal queer, trans, and two-spirit people in Nova Scotia.

To learn more about the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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