The Plight of Queer People of Color in America

Evan Caltavuturo

The Center for Women’s Studies welcomed Dr. Jonathan Paul Higgins Thursday, October 20. Higgins delivered a lecture titled “Adding A Bit More Color to Your Rainbow” to a group of faculty, staff and students. His talk addressed the issues that queer people of color (QPOC) face in contemporary America and the root causes of these issues. 

Higgins serves as an Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs at California State University, Long Beach and was named to the National Black Justice Coalition’s “100 Black Gay Emerging Leaders.” Much of Higgins’ activism is aimed at increasing diversity, inclusion and visibility of QPOC in mainstream media by working in conjunction with a number of American television networks. 

Higgins began his talk by stating that he did not want to make blanket statements for the QPOC community, acknowledging that he could not possibly represent the wide variety of perspectives that its members hold. Higgins then informed the audience that he believed that QPOC are often underrepresented or discriminated against in mainstream American LGBTQ culture. Higgins claimed that mainstream culture is “whitewashed,” citing a Los Angeles dating group page which specified that people of color and overweight people were not welcome at their functions. This striking example suggested that queer culture is not free from discrimination and hierarchical power dynamics. 

While the QPOC community has faced many hardships, Higgins stated that the experiences of QPOC should not be viewed in a negative light. He stressed that the conversations surrounding experiences of QPOC should highlight the positive aspects of the QPOC community and the community’s ability to

respond to hardship.

“We need to flip the conversation to one that stresses the resiliency [of QPOC],” Higgins said.

While recognizing that the QPOC community has weathered innumerable hardships, Higgins expressed irritation and frustration about the practice of exclusion that mainstream queer culture has subjected QPOC to.

Higgins also cautioned that the continued oppression of queer, non-white bodies can lead to a social concept he coined as “erasure.” This concept of erasure referenced instances in which QPOC had achieved something great, but had received no recognition due to the social stigma surrounding their queer or non-white identities. Higgins claimed that individuals like Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist, and the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement are victims of this erasure, evidenced by their lack of visibility on the world stage.

Finally, Higgins emphasized the difficulties that LGBTQ black American college students face on campuses around the country. While revering college as an outlet that has allowed numerous QPOC to lead enlightened and fulfilling lives, Higgins challenged the notion that college campuses are liberal and tolerant utopias.

“Some students go to college and think of it as an ‘escape,’ but once they arrive they realize that it is just as problematic a space as the real world,” Higgins said.

Higgins then expressed the difficulties of “intersectionality,” or the possession and expression of multiple identities. He noted how it is important to realize that all people have intersectional identities, not just QPOC, as these identities draw upon race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age and place of origin. Higgins pointed out that for many QPOC on college campuses, including himself, it is hard to express both black and queer identities at once. 

“Sometimes I would [ask] myself, am I going to be black today or am I going to be gay today?” Higgins said.

Senior Alessandra Devia noted Higgins’ holistic approach.

“[Higgins’] talk on anti-queerness in the black community and anti-blackness in the queer community was rooted in both history, community experience, and personal narrative,” Devia said.

Senior Michael James thought the lecture was applicable to his personal experiences at Colgate.

“This speaker validated and beautifully articulated some of the thoughts that I struggle with as I navigate daily life at Colgate,” James said. “He was really great and helped renew my stamina for the paradigm shifting work I try to do on campus.”