Historic Black 2SLGBTQIA+ Community in Toronto

My name is Emma N. Awe and I’m currently working as a research assistant for the CCGSD as part of the Young Canada Works Program and as a complement to my ongoing Master’s degree in Public History at Carleton University. I’ve been creating educational materials that highlight pieces of Canada’s 2SLGBTQIA+ history. 

Read more about historic Black 2SLGBTQIA+ community and activism in Toronto below, and in the references I’ve made on the 101 Dewson Street Collective, Black Women’s Collective, and Sister Vision Press. For a more detailed analysis of the project, check out the full Reflections document. Stay tuned for the next round of booklets about ‘romantic friendships’ and the history of language used to describe queer women in Canada. 

Black peoples in Canada have been and continue to be systematically erased from history. They are denied the right of seeing themselves represented in curricula, books, and media in the classroom. Canadian historical narratives are constructed around a presumed, hegemonic whiteness. Activist, Syrus Marcus Ware, in his article “All Power to All People?: Black LGBTTI2QQ Activism, Remembrance, and Archiving in Toronto,” poses the question: “why are black subjects always already conceptualized as new additions?” In this question, he draws upon the current revolution within Canadian history – the recognition that this country and its history were built around a narrow perspective, and the subsequent, frantic mission to diversify, but only to a degree. How much of this mission to diversify is performative and how much is meaningful, thoughtful, and deeply reformative? 

I have created the booklets about 101 Dewson Street, Sister Vision Press, and the Black Women’s Collective in part to help shed light upon the unending struggle that Black 2SLGBTQIA+ peoples have faced in a nation that has worked to silence, harm, and erase them. The booklet about 101 Dewson Street introduces a collective – created by lesbian couple, Makeda Silvera and Stephanie Martin in their home – working to build a community based upon the intersectional needs and wants of the Black 2SLGBTQIA+ in Toronto during the 1980s. The booklet briefly examines some of the groups and events that grew as offshoots of the collective, as well as some of the key activists living, working, learning, and loving out of this collective, such as Debbie Douglas, Douglas Stewart, Dionne Falconer, and Courtnay McFarlane. The booklets about Sister Vision Press and the Black Women’s Collective further emphasize the work of Black 2SLGBTQIA+ women in both political and creative realms – campaigning for an end to police brutality, teaching anti-racism, but also creating spaces of meeting, in person and in print. 

These booklets are an attempt to help canonize the histories that have been shouted on the streets, told from generation to generation, but almost never taught in the classroom. These informal histories – preserved so that youth may persist in the struggle – are living, breathing history. They are the currency of the oppressed, of those who have not had the privilege of laying their history to rest. And, as Elizabeth Alexander explains in her New Yorker article about current Black Lives Matter protests entitled, “The Trayvon Generation;” “the agglomerating spectacle continues,” and so too the necessity for these memories and teachings. 

These booklets are not enough. They are only a quick look at the richness of work and community that has been. It is my hope that they begin to educate about the activism, the injustice, the hurt, but also show the strength of a community that came together in spite of these forces working against them, and built the world they needed, they wanted, and they loved. 

Audre Lorde ends her essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” with a poem, whose final lines speak to hope: we seek beyond history/for a new and more possible meeting.May these resources start conversations that go deeper, provide critique, demand more, and expand beyond my limited world, while building something better than ‘history.’