Queers of Colour and (De)Colonial Spaces in Europe

Publication Date
October 17, 2019

This chapter engages with Queer People of Colour (QPoC) positionalities as a valuable lens through which to rethink the racial and colonial imaginaries of subjects and space in Europe. It brings together race, gender, class, colonialism, and sexuality; inseparably, in a shared analytic. It addresses multiple erasures: of genders, sexualities, and race from discussions of space; of QPoC in Europe from discussions of European subjects, race, and space; and from US-centric QPoC studies. Europeans are generally presumed to be homogeneously white, while racialized subjects are generally presumed to be uniformly straight and cis. Rarely is space understood as a formation that is co-constituted through sexualities with other relations of power. This chapter radically rethinks urban environments in their relation to race, subjects, and agencies. It also puts QPoC in Europe on the map.

QPoC and Space

[ … ] The pathologization of racialized immobility contrasts with the celebration of queer mobility.[2] This chapter revisits a queer space debate that has often reinscribed this contradiction (Haritaworn, 2015).[3] Much work remains to be done to account for the racialized absent presences that have haunted writings on queer space from the beginning (e.g. Castells, 1983; Rubin, 1984). Indeed, early scripts of vulnerable yet enterprising gays and lesbians who settle inner city areas that have been run down by people of colour, whose degenerative failure to cultivate their surroundings contrasts with the creative proclivities of white gay cis-men in particular, prefigure neoliberal and securitizing frameworks of hate crime and queer gentrification and naturalize a colonial-capitalist logic of territory.[4] More recently, these contradictions have found expression in the ‘creative city’ model, where queers with race and class privileges are hailed as ‘pioneers’ who break into areas hitherto considered ungentrifiable.[5] Contemporary writings from the nexus of urban, critical race and gender studies have problematized the figure of the queer gentrifier.[6] Writers highlight the effects of gentrification and policing on low-income trans and QPoC, who are displaced alongside other poor, racialized, and colonized bodies. A well-documented example for this is the Christopher Street piers in New York that have been redeveloped into spaces for middle-class (straight and gay) residence and consumption.[7]

[ … ] Our project builds on existing queer critiques of homonormativity and the neoliberal city but goes beyond a binary of ‘assimilated gays’ vs. ‘transgressive queers’ that is not grounded in an analysis of racism and colonialism. Indeed, QPoC activists in Europe have identified the problem as whiteness rather than as political distinctions between LGBT, queer and trans, or left and right. Many of these interventions, as described next, have employed a distinctly spatial analysis.

As early as 1989, groups such as the Amsterdam QPoC collective Strange Fruit used performances, dance parties, poetry, and their own radio show to address issues ranging from HIV prevention for communities of color to immigration law and deportations, racial profiling, transphobia in queer communities, and racism among white progressive organizations. In addition to creating their own spaces, the activists focused their interventions on sites where QPoC convened, but rarely felt at home, such as white-dominated gay clubs and ethnic festivals like the Bejlmerfeest, Amsterdam’s largest celebration of Caribbean culture. They thereby successfully challenged both hetero- and homonormative models of place and identity.[8]


In Berlin in 2010, queers of colour dialogued with Judith Butler about the state of queer politics in Berlin. In a widely circulated speech, Butler subsequently declined the Pride civil courage award due to the organization’s ‘complicity with anti-Muslim racism’. In their – largely ignored – statement about Butler’s refusal, queer of colour organization provided an early spatial analysis of homonationalism and gay imperialism that specifically linked these processes to queer gentrification.[9] In London in 2011, queer Muslim organizations Safra and Imaan mobilized against East End Gay Pride, a pinkwashing event organized by the neofascist English Defence League (EDL), which frequently marches on areas racialized as Muslim.[10] The march’s stated goal was to protest homophobic posters that were attributed to ‘Islamists’ in a fertile media campaign but later revealed to be EDL authored, and that marked the area as dangerous, homophobic, and in need of queer reclamation. While for many queer observers the march was problematic due to its far-right taint, its spatial/racial project in fact transcended political differences; after the original organizers cancelled following the scandal, the march was put back on under similar signs by left-wing organizers. That the problem is less one of political distinctions than of white supremacy was also brought home by organizers in Berlin in 2013. Three years after Butler had called out the mainstream Pride, the authors of the Khalass!!! We’re vex! manifesto offered a similar spatial analysis of an alternative Pride, which prides itself on its anti-racist and anti- fascist politics. Importantly, the anonymous authors – whose identities as ‘queer_trans*_inter*_Black_ Muslim*_Arab_Rromni*ja_mixedrace_Mizrahi_Refugee_Native_Kurdish_Armenian’ open up QPoC formations as shot through with difference and privilege – argued that the race and class- privileged queers who paint the inner city as queerphobic also often act as its gentrifiers:

“You consider yourself and your bourgeois squats to be ‘pioneers’ and you don’t even realize how colonial your language is, you do not see the civilizing mission you are part of and that you prepare the ground for other white settlers to come.[…] Stop investing money into anti-homophobia projects in [the Berlin inner city] that target us, the ‘dangerous brown mass’, and start dealing with homo-, and transphobia within the white society—Khalass!!! We’re vex!

In the same year, the French group Inter-LGBT proposed a poster to advertise the 2011 annual Gay Pride March that used nationalist and racist symbolism and contained the words ‘I vote’, thereby making invisible those queers in France who are not citizens, specifically postcolonial immigrants. In response, LOC, founded in 2009 in Paris to ‘decolonize’ feminist and lesbian movements, issued a statement directly calling out Inter-LGBT for its racism and right-wing politics.[11] These interventions, while foregrounding queers of colour as geographical subjects on to a locale that is often inscribed as white, are often translocal and transnational. For example, both the Berlin and London Pride scandals were followed by QPoC solidarity statements from other countries.[12]

We understand translocal as a conceptual framework that recognizes QPoC’s complex relationship to space (as well as time), shaped by intersecting power vectors around race, class, religion, sexuality, gender, colonialism, and nation. As is characteristic for Europeans of colour in general, QPoC allegiances both exceed the nation state and are grounded in local formations (the city, the neighbourhood, etc.). However, this multiscalar negotiation of belonging is centrally shaped by the experience of not belonging. QPoC do not find structures to inhabit but have to create or reappropriate them. The experience of always being out of place – in nation, community, family, club or classroom – produces locally grounded spacemaking as a necessary strategy for survival; be it in temporarily occupying and claiming hostile or indifferent spaces or through excavating a local genealogy of QPoC activism that continues to be excluded from the archives, even those devoted to reclaiming suppressed histories.[13]

At the same time, these situated strategies of resistance are sustained through translocal alliances and shifting coalitions. By building on the decentring of the nation in transnational feminist scholarship, ‘translocal’ shifts the focus to the concrete conditions under which coalitional politics are created among groups whose relationship to state and nation is fraught. The local, and in particular the city, emerge as central concepts not because we privilege urban spaces but because patterns of postcolonial and labour migration render cities as sites of a critical mass of racialized bodies.[14]

The authors shared with us a portion of their research and the above is an excerpt from “Queers of Colour and (De)Colonial Spaces in Europe” in Global Raciality: Empire, PostColoniality, DeColoniality. For a lengthier conversation see UCHRI Perspectives Spring 2017 podcast – Queer of Color Formations and Translocal Spaces in Europe https://soundcloud.com/uchri/uchri-perspectives-spring-2017.

[1] Paola Bacchetta, Fatima El-Tayeb and Jin Haritaworn, “Queers of Colour and wW(De)Colonial Spaces in Europe,” in Global Raciality: Empire, PostColoniality, DeColoniality, ed. Paola Bacchetta, Sunaina Maira, Howard Winant (New York: Routledge, 2019), 158–170.
[2] Fatima El-Tayeb, “‘Gays Who Cannot Properly Be Gay’: Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 19, no. 1 (February 2012): 79–95.
[3] Jin Haritaworn, Queer Lovers and Hateful Others: Regenerating Violent Times and Places (London: Pluto Press, 2015).
[4] Glen Sean Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).
[5] Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class (New York: Basic Books, 2002).
[6] See El-Tayeb, “‘Gays Who Cannot Properly Be Gay’: Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City,” 79–95; Christina B. Hanhardt, Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013); Martin F. Manalansan IV, “Race, Violence, and Neoliberal Spatial Politics in the Global City,”Social Text 23, no.3–4, 84–5 (2005): 141–155.
[7] FIERCE, “LGBTQ youth fight for a S.P.O.T. on Pier 40,” FIERCE, 2008, http://fiercenyc.org/media/docs/3202\_PublicHearingPressRelease
[8] See Fatima El-Tayeb, European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011); El-Tayeb, “‘Gays Who Cannot Properly Be Gay’: Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City,” 79–95.
[9] SUSPECT, “Judith Butler refuses Berlin Pride Civil Courage Prize 2010,” No Homonationalism, 19 June 2010, http://nohomonationalism.blogspot.ca/ 2010/06/judith-butler-refuses-berlin-pride.html.
[10] Decolonize Sexualizities Network, “From Gay Pride to White Pride? Why it is Racist to March on the East End,”in Decolonizing Sexualities. https://decolonizingsexualities.com/blog/; Imaan, “New, hard evidence emerges, proving EDL and other right wing, anti-Muslim allegiances amongst the organisers of East End Gay Pride,” Imaan, April, 2, 2011, www.imaan.org.uk/; Safra Project,” Safra Project Statement on East End Gay Pride,” No Homonationalism, March 13, 2011, http://www.safraproject.org/newsviews.htm [also reposted at: http:// nohomonationalism.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/safra-project-statement-on-east-end-gay. html].
[11] Lesbiennes of Color, “Ni coqs gaulois ni poules pondeuses! Le racisme et la xénophobie au nom de la lutte contre l’homophobie: Basta!,” Les mots sont important. http://lmsi.net/Ni-coqs-gaulois-ni-poule. Paola Bacchetta, “Gay poster-posturing: Queer racialized disjunctions in the (French) Hom(m)o-Republic,” Center for Race and Gender, University of California, Berkeley, 2012. Available at: www.crg.berkeley.edu/podcasts/visual-constructions-of-race-and-stigma-in-europe/
[12] Lesbiennes of Color, “Statement by Lesbiennes of Color in France against racism in LGBTQ communities in Germany,” No Homonationalism, July, 2010. http://nohomonationalism.blogspot. com/2010/07/statement-by-lesbiennes-of-color-locs.html; SUSPECT, “Judith Butler refuses Berlin Pride Civil Courage Prize 2010,” No Homonationalism, 19 June 2010, http://nohomonationalism.blogspot.ca/2010/06/ judith-butler-refuses-berlin-pride.html.
[13] See El-Tayeb, Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe, 2011; El-Tayeb, “‘Gays Who Cannot Properly Be Gay’: Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City,” 79–95.
[14] El-Tayeb, Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe, 2011.

Publication Date
October 17, 2019
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