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Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.

After The Party: Welcome to the gaybourhood?

Making cities safe spaces for queer people isn't just about having a regular Pride parade. It's also about thinking of the variety of ways that cities confound and complicate the lives of LGBTQ people.

Fireworks are fun, but they’re fleeting. What makes this country real are the people and communities that form it. As the country celebrates 150 years of nationhood, Metro’s national columnist Vicky Mochama set out across Canada to discover how five different groups are creating space here.

Here, Part 7: Rolling out the rainbow

After Black Lives Matter took over the streets in Toronto's Pride parade, the question I was often asked was, "What do they have to do with Pride?"

My answer: everything.

Gay spaces are often seen as white, male, cis. (Cis is short for cisgender meaning someone who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.) More often there's one part of town known as the Gay Village. But that perception is giving way. In the new reality, gay neighbourhoods are more than meets the eye.

For his book, There Goes the Gaybourhood, Amin Ghaziani, a sociology professor from the University of British Columbia, studied some of North America's gay communities.

"We tend to focus on exciting areas like Davy Village [in Vancouver] or Church Street [in Toronto]. They have a concentration of bars and nightlife, but if you look at census data, they tend to be largely white and cisgendered."

From schools to health services to cultural communities, however, there are other ways that city neighbourhoods serve queer people.

Toronto's 519 community centre is where I went to summer camp. Kids are oblivious things: I learned I liked papier mache and McDonald's apple pie. It wasn't until years later that I was told that many of our counsellors were young, non-binary LGBTQ people. They also liked papier mache and apple pie. The centre, no longer the cramped brick building of my childhood, is still in the heart of the neighbourhood. But how it engages the wider queer community has changed too.

"Gay neighbourhoods today serve a different gay population than they did in the past," says Amin Ghaziani. "These areas are changing rapidly, both in Canada and the United States."

While housing trends are somewhat responsible for the change to gay neighbourhoods, he notes that there are other reasons that tend to get overlooked. Cities, he says, don't have just one gay neighbourhood. Really, and increasingly so, there are scattered pockets across cities that are queer-friendly. That is, they are the places where the rest of the queer alphabet — lesbians, trans people, queer, two-spirit, and so on — take up and make space.

Making cities safe spaces for queer people isn't just about having a regular Pride parade. It's also about thinking of the variety of ways that cities confound and complicate the lives of LGBTQ people.

People from the Blacks Lives Matter movement march during the Pride parade in Toronto, Sunday, June 25, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

People from the Blacks Lives Matter movement march during the Pride parade in Toronto, Sunday, June 25, 2017.

For Tatiana Ferguson, it's a city-wide issue. Ferguson is a coordinator for the Black Coalition for Aids Prevention (Black CAP) which is working with the City of Toronto to create friendlier and safer space for racialized trans people, especially youth. There are many touch points in a person's life that are impacted by sexual orientation or gender identity.

Filling out forms becomes a fraught experience which can have a snowball effect; one check mark changes how the city arranges itself for you. Making public bathrooms gender-neutral, equipping police to interact with racialized trans people and ensuring the longevity of safe spaces are all ways, to name a few, that racialized trans people are demanding space in the cities where they live.

When it comes to taking up space, Ferguson's organization is focused on making every level of city governance aware of the challenges that trans racialized people face. By giving others the language and insight, they can improve the material conditions of those residents.

Says Ferguson, "Trans-racialized folks don't often have the visibility. They don't have someone to advocate for them in Parliament, so we're really trying to build allies to have better support for this community."

Black CAP serves the Black and Caribbean people within the queer community; Many similar groups exist to serve other racialized queer people. While Black Lives Matter Toronto's demand about police took up a lot of space, less noted were their other demands: that Pride prioritize hiring Black transwomen and Indigenous people, reinstate the South Asian Stage and commit to ongoing support for Black Queer Youth.

As Ferguson says, "I feel like LGBTQ spaces are predominantly white, so what various racialized groups have been doing is are creating spaces for themselves."

More in After The Party:

Part 1: Making space

Coming up:

Part 8: The Indigenous City

Join the conversation and tell us how you make space in this place: #AfterTheParty

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