Issue #1 – QTBIPOC Space – Remapping Belonging in Toronto


Image courtesy: Fatin Chowdhury

Part of Special Issue #1 – QTBIPOC Space – Remapping Belonging in Toronto

Amandeep Kaur Panag and Rio Rodriguez

In the queer and trans Black, Indigenous and people of colour (QTBIPOC) communities that raised us, “space” is a common part of our collective language. We sometimes refer to people as “taking up too much space” when they are not allowing marginalized voices to speak. When someone needs to be heard out, we say that we will “hold space” for them. When we empower ourselves, we often use the metaphor of “taking space” for ourselves. But how do we claim or take up space in the city as QTBIPOC people? This collection invites diverse insights about QTBIPOC belonging and (re)claiming space in the city of Toronto.

The space-making projects featured in this issue demonstrate a rich history of creative resistance in a city that rarely meaningfully reflects or welcomes us, and is often hostile or deadly. When we are acknowledged by the city, it is often only to promote a neoliberal, multicultural and homonationalist agenda which works to erase the fact that we are on colonized Indigenous land. Yet, there are powwows that take place throughout the city, reminding us of the continuous presence of the many First Nations communities that are here and those that have always been here. There is Ogimaa Mikana, a project that renames Toronto city streets in Anishinaabemowin. There are numerous Indigenous organizations and projects, one of which – First Story – is featured in this special issue. Despite these many initiatives there is a disconnect amongst settler Torontonians and the Indigenous roots and Indigenous life in Toronto. Sadly there is rarely any knowledge or understanding amongst non-First Nations people of the Dish with One Spoon Treaty and the responsibilities we all have while living here. Organizing against police violence has mostly been taken up by Black people in this city. This history includes the creation of Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) in 1988, which has advocated for accountability after the deaths of Black men at the hands of police. This work eventually led to the creation of a police oversight body, the SIU which current Black Lives Matter activism is calling to shut down or overhaul. Despite many years of organising and apparent gains made, anti- black racism and police violence against Black people in this city continues. There is the history of the Yonge Street riots in 1992, Take Back the Night, protests against police after the bathhouse raids, dyke march and Trans march, May Day marches for workers and migrant rights and specific ethno-cultural events and festivals throughout the city, such as Caribana and Vasaikhi Nagar Kirtan. These are all often represented or remembered as either “Queer” or “People of colour” space but we know that us QTBIPOCS exist across these boundaries and we have been taking up space publicly and visibly, in this city, for a long time. For example, Black communities who were marching against the racist murder of Albert Johnson marched with the LGBT communities during the bathhouse raid demonstrations. Yet, the histories and struggles of our communities and their contributions are frequently erased and missing from the mainstream narratives of Toronto. The Marvellous Grounds archive aims to do the work of archiving these gaps and creating space online. As a part of this project, this issue invites you to share collective knowledges about the ways that we take space and unmap and remap Toronto.

The first piece is an interview about the First Story App, a mobile Indigenous history app that everyone should know about, as told by the project’s previous coordinator Amber Sandy. Sandy discusses the importance of reclaiming and archiving Toronto’s Indigenous histories past and present and of learning local stories that develop meaningful relationships with the land. She reminds us that these are stories that we all need to learn and engage with as people living here.

The issue also features a piece of writing by local artist and activist Gloria Swain, which presents an intergenerational voice from this year’s unapologetically Black and queer 300 hour protest by Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) in front of the Toronto police headquarters at College and Yonge. The action was not only effective in raising awareness and showing the strength of a movement against racist police brutality, but also in building and solidifying relationships of solidarity, and creating a very physical intervention into the structural space of downtown Toronto, in the front yard of its most lethal architecture. As Swain discusses, this foundational moment built up a Black queer and trans politic that a few months later was able to make a widely publicized intervention into the 2016 Pride Parade, which not only drew racist backlash but also enabled an unprecedented public debate on whether police belong in queer spaces.

Next we have a recorded interview with well-known local artist, activist scholar, and curator Syrus Marcus Ware, who discusses another site of queer space-making, the Church Street Mural Project. Drawing on lessons that he learned while co-curating the large-scale intervention into the streetscape of Church and Wellesley featuring many queer and trans of colour artists, he describes the Village as a site shot through with racism and transphobia, where complicated forms of belonging are negotiated.

In Mapping Collective History, Rio Rodriguez introduces a map of QTBIPOC Toronto that draws on interviews with several QTBIPOC community organizers who discuss notable sites for QTBIPOC people in the city’s history. The map intervenes in dominant narrative mappings of neoliberal, heteronormative and homonormative city space that erase QTBIPOC communities. The issue also launches a living map, the QTBIPOC StoryMap, where we invite our QTBIPOC readers to share your own sites of QTBIPOC joy, grief and rage. We would love to hear stories about past QTBIPOC spaces that no longer exist, as well as about places where we continue to find each other in the present.

Artists have played crucial roles in the development of QTBIPOC activism in Toronto. Arts festivals and programming like Desh Pardesh, Funkasia and Blockorama have been foundational spaces for movement building across the city. Therefore this issue features four artist projects that document the tenacious presence and realities of communities on the margins. Photographers Fonna Tasha and Zahra Siddiqui demonstrate their artistic mission to document and tell the stories of our lives as QTBIPOC people in this urban setting. Raven Davis’ acrylic Anishinaabek style painting depicts a human figure intimately connected with their surroundings, telling a deeply personal story of heteronormative expectation. Lastly, a slideshow by Fatin Chowdhury documents the unapologetically Black and queer 300 hour demonstration by Black Lives Matter TO that is described by Gloria Swain.

Overall, each of these written, auditory, digital and artistic projects interrupt the white cis-hetero history of the city, and resist cultures that are anti-Black, racist, colonial and transphobic. This issue aims to re-situate and re-insert stories of QTBIPOC legacies that have always been part of this city. Amber Sandy speaks of the buried river Taddle Creek, explaining that you can bury stories, but they will come up when it rains. That flood is doing it’s work. We hope that by sharing the stories of QTBIPOC people, we can also continue to raise up the stories that were always there.


Many thanks to members of the Marvellous Grounds Collective: Jin Haritaworn, Syrus Marcus Ware, Alvis Choi, and Ghaida Moussa. From the initial concept, to conceiving individual pieces, to soliciting them, to the theoretical and artistic framework, to the aesthetic translation your support in collectively developing this issue was invaluable. Also many thanks to our interviewees Syrus Marcus Ware and Amber Sandy, as well as contributing author Gloria Swain, and contributing artists Fatin Chowdhury, Raven David, Fonna Seidu and Zahra Siddiqui.

This is the First of several Special Issues, featuring thematic collections about QTBIPOC Toronto. Stay tuned for upcoming Special Issue on QTBIPOC performance from the Marvellous Grounds collective this winter!

This issue was funded through a SSHRC IDG and an Early Researcher Award, and with support from the Centre for Feminist Research and the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York.


Check out this special issue below! 

Relearning Toronto’s First Stories:

Interview with Amber Sandy about First Story

Interviewers: Amandeep Kaur Panag and Rio Rodriguez

300 HOURS: What I learned about Black Queer and Trans Liberation at BLMTO Tent City
Gloria Swain

Interview with Syrus Marcus Ware on Church Street Mural project (audio)
Interviewers: Amandeep Kaur Panag and Rio Rodriguez

Mapping Collective History
Rio Rodriguez

QTBIPOC StoryMap – A collaborative digital map
Marvellous Grounds Collective

Archiving the Unarchivable
Art and Photography by Fatin Chowdhury, Raven David, Fonna Seidu and Zahra Siddiqui