Defining Our Spaces for Ourselves – unapologetically BlackCuse Pride

From the September/October 2018 PNL #862

By LoriKim Alexander & Rahzie Seals

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a space and feel immediately unwanted and uncomfortable? Think about what that feels like for every space you encounter when trying to find a safe community, especially within a community that is supposed to be for you. BlackCuse Pride is run by co-directors LoriKim Alexander and Serena “Rahzie” Seals. We exist for those of us who sit on the margins, and hold space for folks in the intersection of lived realities. We stand in stark opposition to the whitewashing of the truths of the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexed, Two-Spirit and Gender-nonconforming peoples of color. We adhere to the radical notion that QTPOC (Queer & Trans People Of Color) are entitled to freedom and joy in all ways possible. We affirm that the chains of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy cannot pull us under nor hold us back and so we exist in the midst of contention and opposition to bring folks the love they deserve.

LoriKim and Rahzie picture
LoriKim and Rahzie at the NYS Fair Pride Day Parade, 2017.
Photo: Barrie Gewanter.
Listen to the story. Serena “Rahzie” Seals was born and raised in Syracuse, NY and studied communications in Rochester, NY. She has been active in community organizing in both cities, working with Black Lives Matter Syracuse and many other organizations. Rahzie recently ran for the Syracuse 4th District Common Council, bringing visibility and inspiration to QTPOC communities in the area, as she is the first out, Black lesbian to run for office in the history of the city. She started throwing house parties for queer Black folks back in 2010. With a car, a laptop, speakers and her friends, she traveled to houses around the city. Parties like these were the
only spaces that Black folks who identify as LGBTQ+ could be with each other safely. This has been the truth in Syracuse for Black people in general for decades, but especially Black LGBTQ+ peoples. Black entertainment venues have sprung up, but have been routinely shut down by racist landlords and trumped up legal charges. We are continually pushed out and crunched under.
In the face of this, Rahzie started From Tha Bottom Entertainment in 2013 as a party promotion business to expand the house parties to public venues across the city. Run with no financial backing, the parties were few and far between, but had a good following. Seeing the need for more than just entertainment
opportunities, Rahzie planned to expand the business to include mental health, life-skills and educational support for queer Black youth. These services would be extended to the entire Black LGBTQ+ community since these opportunities are not afforded us here in this segregated town. The party promotion company morphed into BlackCuse Pride. Opportunities of this kind, when offered to Black people are not intersectional or multi-faceted in their approach. When LGBTQ+ communities
are considered, opportunities for education focus primarily on HIV/AIDS prevention. While absolutely necessary, this is not enough. But, how would BlackCuse Pride move from a business to an organization?

Enter LoriKim Alexander. Rahzie and LoriKim met in 2015. After being in the area less than a year, LoriKim saw the needs and was excited to hear that someone had a plan to do something about it. The two have been working to make BlackCuse Pride the organization it is today. Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, where laws still permit her to be jailed for being her out, lesbian self, LoriKim has dedicated her life to working for social and environmental justice, organizing around these issues for over 25 years. Her specific focus has been on justice for people of color communities, especially LGBTQ+ communities of color, and working towards conservation initiatives while fighting environmental racism. An organismal biologist and naturalist, she is deeply committed to increasing environmental education for Black and brown peoples with an emphasis on honoring, preserving, and cultivating indigenous ecological knowledge.

While the organization was started in response to the lack of resources for Black peoples in Syracuse, we have expanded to include people of color of all backgrounds and abilities as we realized that this niche has never been filled here. There has never been an organization in this city dedicated to the empowerment of QTPOC specifically. Since our inception we have held several events and have moved to QTPOC-only gatherings to ensure that space is held for us in ways that cannot be coopted or undermined. We also hold space in basic, practical ways. In our office space we have toiletries and food stuffs for those in need, when funds are available; we are still a fully grassroots organization working mainly off of personal funds.
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We continue to get push-back from white people for holding QTPOC-only spaces, even though white-run venues and larger events purporting to be for everyone
routinely do discriminate against us and lack inclusion. Finding locations in the city to hold our events is difficult. Finding community in LGBTQ+ spaces here is even harder. When seeking a venue we are routinely met with statements like, “we don’t play your type of music” which is as thinly veiled a racist statement as, “we don’t allow your kind here.” When trying to frequent these establishments, we are often met with racism and homophobia from patrons and staff alike; racism and
homophobia in the straight spaces, racism and transphobia in the queer spaces. Microagressions run high, but other larger bigoted actions also overshadow any attempts for a good time out. Even the Syracuse Pride event is held on the same day as Juneteenth (an issue we have been working to rectify with the event
organizers for years now and getting much resistance). QTPOC representation at that event is low to non-existent. The reality is that queer and trans people of color are the most marginalized people on this planet, and these dismissals are acts of violence. QTPOC communities suffer from the most violence at the hands of citizens and the state. So when you won’t let us in your spaces, how can you have issues when queer and trans peoples of color hold space for themselves? White people are centered in every other space. QTPOC-only spaces are necessary as they are the only places where we are truly centered. These are spaces free from white guilt, free from the misconceptions of white allyship (pro tip: taking up space in our spaces is the opposite of being an ally), free from the otherness created by viewing us as
racialized people in contrast to whiteness. These are spaces for us to also work through the issues we have within and between our people of color communities These conversations can only happen between us and away from white noise.

BlackCuse Pride sits unapologetically at the intersections of our collective realities while honoring the uniqueness of each of our experiences. This is why we stress the plurality of the words peoples and communities, because QTPOC have routinely been lumped into a convenient, homogenous identity of otherness that is neither useful nor fair. We are dedicated to the liberation of all peoples, but committed to lifting up the most marginalized of us in this liberation. We exist not as a social justice organization, but as a community resource with social justice in mind. Our peoples have fallen through the cracks for too long. We are here to lift QTPOC Syracuse up in all ways possible with generosity of spirit, love and respect. We see you shining and thriving.
  Want to help?
Please consider donating to BlackCuse Pride by visiting our
GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/blackcuse-
pride-operational-fund. QTPOC folks who want information
or to be involved please email us at blackcusepride@gmail.com
or send us a message on Facebook. You can also visit us at
2013 E. Genesee Street, Suite 3, Syracuse NY 13210.
LoriKim and Rahzie are co-directors of BlackCuse pride.

 

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