[NOTE: Also please see further coverage posted July 25, 2012].
On Saturday, June 16, an 18+ queer dance party was held at Lincoln Hall in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Dubbed "One Queer Roof," the event was hosted by a number of Chicago-based groups, including FKA, Queerer Park, A/S/L Media, Chances Dances, and Stardust/CULT. Sponsored by The L Stop, UR Chicago, The Qu, and Stuff Queer People Need to Know, the event promised "face painting, dancers, and video installation" in addition to a varied lineup of DJs. The Huffington Post called the event "a party that is expected to be one of Pride Month's biggest Chicago blow-outs ... attract[ing] a broad swath of the community."
Unfortunately, the event proved less than welcoming to some members of that community. In the early hours of Sunday morning, posts surfaced on the event's Facebook page referencing racialized discrimination that had occurred at the door of the event. Last Monday, a write-up of what happened was posted on Tumblr by one of the three individuals involved.
The curator of the Tumblr "F*** Yeah Fat Dykes" writes:
"Me, my girlfriend and her best friend (all young queer Latin@s, two undocumented) all went to Lincoln Hall for One Queer Roof. We attend FKA, Chances, and Queerer Park regularly, and have never had an experience that made us feel unsafe at Big Chicks, The Hideout, or Beauty Bar.
"At the door of Lincoln Hall was a white straight man, who asked us for ID. My gf and our friend gave him their valid government IDs from the Mexican Consulate. When he saw the IDs of my gf and her friend he leaned forward into my friends wallet and ask for any other types of identification, when my friend said he only had his matricula and school ID the bouncer than continued to question the two of them... heavily. He asks for birth dates, spelling of names, and continued to have a harder tone after every one of their answers. Finally after my gf shined their ids in the light so that he can see the official seal of a consulate ID he reluctantly gave the cards back and nodded us off. As we walked away from him to each other we said 'Thats so f****** racist.'
"At that point the bouncer became enraged, called us back, made the man stamping give us our money back, he called his manager to come down. He kept us cornered in the hallway and we were not allowed to enter the venue or leave. When the manager came, who was another white man the two of them literally had us against the wall. I need to repeat this part, because it is crucial. The three of us were cornered by these two white men, and they began interrogating us all over again. Two women trying to get into the event asked for permission to stay and observe what was going on, and we were grateful to have witnesses. The bouncer told his manager that we used the word racist. The manager asked me if that was, if we called him racist. I said yes, he's profiling of ID's and belief of what IDs to trust and distrust were RACIST.
"The manager then continue to say the following statement that I can quote him to because it left me in disbelief. He said, 'You just forfeited your entry into our establishment by saying that, that is a loaded word. You just forfeited your entry into the whole event tonight. You need to watch out what you say and not just throw those words around.' Through our rage we yelled our question at him, to make sure we heard him correct. We said, 'Wait we can't come in because we called you racist?!'
"The manager said, 'Yes.'"
Affinity condemns the bouncer and manager's tactics of violence, intimidation, and racial profiling in this situation. The matricula, a form of photo ID issued by Mexican consulates to Mexican citizens living abroad, is understood as a valid form of identification in Chicago, and to treat it as anything less than such is to treat our Latin@ family with absolutely unacceptable distrust and xenophobia.
Yet on some level, this incident is unsurprising. Individuals and communities of color are always placed under undue surveillance, our "Americanness" inevitably held in question, contingent upon the ways in which we behave and the degree to which we assimilate to a larger white supremacist culture. In this context, assertions of racism are seen as more hurtful, damaging, and socially inappropriate than racist actions themselves; the word is a trigger that, when used, immediately paints us as "other," as ungrateful, as undeserving of basic rights and respect.
"Racism" is a loaded word. It is a word that we are taught to use with trepidation, with fear. It is a word that we are taught describes only our distant history and isolated incidents of unspeakable violence, not one that is relevant to our everyday lives. It is a word we are cautioned against using for fear of angering others, for fear of being provocative, for fear of shutting down dialogue, for fear of being seen as too judgmental.
Yet it is a word that we must use, for it is a word that describes our experiences. It is a word that describes the experience faced by the three Latin@s involved in this situation, and it is a word that describes many, many experiences that people of color face on a daily basis.
Queer communities, and the Chicago queer community in particular, are not exempt from this. Queer racism manifests itself in a number of ways: in racialized hierarchies of desirability that arise in queer contexts; in the gentrification of "gayborhoods" and the ways in which queer youth of color in these spaces are often treated with distrust and displacement and police harassment; in the consolidation of resources for queer people in majority-white neighborhoods; and in incidents such as this one, in which racial profiling determines who can and can't have access to a particular queer space.
However, queer racism is also manifested in community reactions to these processes, or the lack thereof. It manifests in the silence that occurs in the wake of an overtly racist act. It manifests in analyses that invoke the tired assertion that "both sides" need to exercise restraint, as though there are two equal parties involved rather than a victim and an institutionally-backed abuser. It manifests in half-apologies. It manifests in a shrug, a "sorry dude," an insistence that we just move on, forgive and forget.
In light of this, it is not only the bouncer and manager's actions at Lincoln Hall that are unacceptable. Also unacceptable is a community response that offers these young Latin@ queers anything other than complete support. Also unacceptable is a community whose queer spaces are not intentionally safe and welcoming spaces for all queer people-including queers of color, immigrant queers, undocuqueers, disabled queers, trans queers, queer youth, and other vulnerable populations.
It is with this in mind that Affinity offers our full and unqualified support to the three queer Latin@s involved in this incident, with apologies for our delay in issuing this support. We thank them for their bravery in sharing their story. We invite them, and others experiencing similar situations, to reach out to us. We hope we can provide a safe space for anyone who needs one. We will continue to do our best to confront racism in queer spaces. We know this is the only way we can survive.
Affinity is a social justice organization that works with and on behalf of Black LGBTQ communities, queer youth, and allies to identify emergent needs, create safe spaces, develop leaders, and bridge communities through collective analysis and action for social justice, freedom, and human rights. Individuals are brought onto the board twice a year, in the spring and fall. For information about board recruitment and programs, visit the website at www.affinity95.org .