Tag Archives: queer

The Historic Queer Winnipeg Walking Tour: Meeting places established between the 1880’s and 1980’s

by Britt Bauer**

The walking tour is available here on Google Maps.

At a time when BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+, and women’s contributions and histories are underrepresented, misrepresented, or are completely absent from museum displays (see Failler, Ives & Milne), I thought it would be a good time to flip the idea of the museum on its head: seeing Winnipeg as a museum. It is an opportunity to experience history outside of fixed physical spaces in order to free oneself from the often ridged, political constraints of institutions. 

The Historic Queer Winnipeg walking tour is located on Treaty One Territory, traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene Peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. This walking tour is free, and you can do it whenever you want, at your own speed. You can even tour the city from your home computer, while accessing historic photos, interviews, videos, blogs, and articles. This is all to show the viewer that Winnipeg is a museum,  filled with memories of love, danger, dancing, fear, and friendship. I believe it is important to remember the queer folks who lived here before us, and fought for the rights we have to love and exist today. 

After extensive searches through newspapers, podcasts, articles, and archival interviews, I have found 32 locations* that have served as safe spaces for queer people at various points of time. On the tour you will see historic buildings built as early as 1883, outdoor meeting places, and places where buildings used to be. This includes Winnipeg’s first gay club, Winnipeg’s first women-only/lesbian club, and the city’s first drag queen club. This tour through time demonstrates that we have always been here. These are building that we walk or drive past every day, and yet we are unaware of the layered histories of these places, and the memories and ghosts that inhabit them. These histories have been concealed, and the information that is accessible to the public is scattered and fragmented. It is my hope that having all of this information in one place can lead to more awareness, and a celebration of 2SLGBTQ+ history in Winnipeg. All of this said, we still have a lot of work to do in our communities. We have to acknowledge that while we do have queer spaces now, racism, transphobia, and misogyny still exist in them. This tour through Winnipeg’s queer past, and the queer history media embedded in the map will show how much of a journey it was to get others to recognise our rights, and that the job is not done until our Queer spaces are fully accessible, inclusive, and safe for all who need them.

While you are here, check out the One Queer City ads that are up around Winnipeg!

A big thank you to Angela Failler, Heather Milne, Nicole Ritchie, and Lauren Bosc for all of your guidance, feedback, and support while I worked on this project.

*I will be adding more locations and information as I unearth them, with a focused effort to add as much historical QTBIPOC content as possible.

**Britt Bauer is currently a student in the Cultural Studies MA program at the University of Winnipeg, and she received her undergraduate training in both Environmental Studies and Classics. Her work primarily focuses on underrepresented aspects of classical scholarship such as the lives of queer women and the poor. She is currently engaged in projects centred on recreating foodways and pathways of the poor in Roman Italy via ethnoarchaeology and experimental archaeology.

Looking for Invisible Lives and Fantastical Creatures: A Tour of the Manitoba Museum Through Queer Filipinx/o Immigrant Stories

By Mika Castro*

Click the “play” button to listen to the author read this blog.

The Manitoba Museum, true to its name, displays information about Manitoba’s rich history. Its galleries tell us much about Manitoba’s natural environment, from its arctic to its boreal forests and parklands. The museum also houses Manitoban/Winnipeg-based histories, such as the significance of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Manitoba and the 1920 Winnipeg Strike. For the most part, though, the museum itself appears to be a classic natural history museum. It contains stuffed and stitched animals encased in glass walls, preserved plants in manicured backgrounds, and hallways of dioramas, some of which are life-sized human bodies within their presumably natural contexts. Self-touring around the main floor, one will find easily digestible information about evolution, brief descriptions about ecosystems, and quick bites about types of Manitoba’s fauna and flora.

However, even if the museum appears to be a stereotypical conglomerate of science exhibits, it was hard not to enjoy myself as I weaved through the museum. There always seems to be something to do: objects to touch, videos to interact with, buttons to press, sounds to hear and lights to turn on, levers to press, and even, at one point, things to smell. Much of my experience within this museum involved active engagement with the galleries. The Manitoba Museum seems to me not a space for the quiet contemplation of information, but a space for play; one that invites its visitors to imagine beyond the material presented.

It is no wonder then that the museum is usually full of children on school field trips. Throughout my visits at the museum in search for research content, I found it hard not be distracted by the children around me and the snippets of conversations that they had with each other. I recall coming across this one child pointing to what appeared to be a fat brown worm and having a dynamic conversation with another child about some experience they had with a slug one time. 

Initially, I went into the museum to look at Manitoba’s stories of immigration, but, in following the lead of the children, I began to see the museum as a space for fantasy, one that is open to queer critical thinking. I wondered how this fantastical space might allow me to “read in” my own research interests, mainly that of queer immigrant stories. Seeing as how some of these conversations involved personal experience, I also wondered how I could use my own experiences, especially as a Filipino person, to guide my research. Could I, somehow, read in my own stories and those of others from the Filipino community to illuminate queer/immigrant/Filipino narratives that might not even be in the museum in the first place? Being able to read in these stories rather than just being in search for them might open up a different way for me to conduct my research in the museum. 

Learning from the Dwende  

As I walked through the hallways of the boreal forest gallery, I thought of how much some of the galleries reminded me of home. I thought of the plants and how, even though much of them were unfamiliar or weren’t present back in the Philippines, they made me think of the stories that my parents, aunts, and my grandmothers used to tell me growing up. One particular memory that came to mind was one hot day before the third grade. At the time, my brothers, my mother, and I were walking in our tsinelas¹ by the old church near our grandmother’s house. I remember the church being mostly worn-down, its sides and surrounding pavement cracked under the hot Philippine sun. My brothers and I loved to walk by here because it was the fastest way to access what I now know to be a blocked-off yard, but was then a ground of infinite space. All the way from the church to the yard, wild grass took over the earth, even in the small spaces between the broken pavement where sunlight could still peek its head through. Dotted across the sides of the concrete and the grass were small mounds of dirt bursting with neat lines of marching ants. 

Before my brothers and I could start sprinting across the grass, Mama warned us to watch where we stepped so as to not step on the anthills. She warned us of the creatures called the dwende who may be living deep underneath these hills. The dwendes, she explained, are nature spirits that usually live in anthills, trees, caves, or around spots in nature that simply feel mystical. They are usually thought of as tiny and old creatures, but are mostly invisible. Here and there, in places like the bukid² or the gubat³, they were busy guarding nature and creating mischief or concocting luck whenever it pleased them. From then on, I thought of the dwende every time I was in the presence of nature even though I have not seen this creature once. It was clear that I didn’t need to see them to know that they were real. Somehow, imagining these creatures running around the museum space and hiding themselves in the exhibits made me think that they had lessons to teach me about the museum. In thinking about their invisible presence, I began to ask myself what it meant to be visible or invisible in the museum space and what this might mean for the Filipinx/o immigrant stories and histories that may or may not be present in the museum. More importantly, I wondered about what this (in)visibility might mean for Filipinx/o immigrants whose stories and histories may or may not be present in the museum. 

The (In)visible Immigrant in the Museum

Galleries on immigration begin to appear nearing the end of the Parklands/Mixed Woods area of the museum. These galleries include “The Commerce of Migration”, the “Wood, Water, and Free Land” Gallery, and the newly added “Winnipeg Gallery”. They discuss the history of immigration of a diverse number of groups to Manitoba’s Parklands area. The first gallery “The Commerce of Migration” contains videos that foreshadow how the museum will portray immigration in the later galleries. At the press of a button, the gallery presents skits of immigration commercials. Each video is on a different era of Canadian migration, from the settlement of European families in Western Canada to present Canada as a popular site for global migration. Going through the videos, it was startling to see how they portray Canada’s timeline of non-diversity to sudden diversity by ending with a skit titled “The Age of Multiculturalism.” This progress narrative seems to portray Canada as a nation that has gone through an extensive and surprising character development where suddenly, without explanation, it opened its arms and softened its heart to immigrants all over the world.

The list of the gallery’s immigration commercials. From “Settling the West” to “The Age of Multiculturalism”.  Photo credit: Mika Castro.

The panel next to this gallery called “Cultural Diversity” substantiates this portrayal by saying that “[a]lthough different cultures [within Canada] sometimes clashed with one another, the value of cultural diversity gradually was recognized. Today the rich cultural mosaic of the region is celebrated.” This theme of a diverse Canada is one that is prevalent throughout these galleries about immigration. Doing so seems to address the influx of non-European immigrants in Canada in the 20th century, which is to highlight the presence of racialized immigrants. 

It wasn’t until I reached the “Immigration” kiosk under the “Wood, Water and Free Land” exhibit did I see information about the immigration of certain ethnic groups to Manitoba. Unlike the other displays, the kiosk briefly points out the Canadian government’s restrictions on the immigration of people from “non-traditional points of origin” (which is to say racialized people) and their gradual acceptance in Manitoba.  However, this is all done without explaining the reasons for the restrictions or the later approvals of these groups. 

The small “Immigration” booth in the corner of “Wood, Water, and Free Land.” Photo credit: Mika Castro.

Among these groups were the Filipinos who mostly began to arrive in Manitoba in the mid-20th century. According to Historian Jon G. Malek (2019), Filipino migrants first came to fill the demand for garment workers and healthcare professionals during the 1960s-1980s (49). At the time, Winnipeg in particular faced a high demand for garment workers, mostly due to its waning European (mostly Italian) workers who began to break away from the garment industry because of poor working conditions and wages (106). 

One particular figurehead who can attest to early Filipino immigration is Perla Javate, the current president of the Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba and community liaison officer for the Winnipeg School division. In an interview with CBC, Javate tells the story of how she first came to Canada as a social worker to bring in Filipinas for Manitoba’s growing need for garment workers in the 70s. She recounts her feelings of frustration when she first came to Winnipeg with the other women and their experiences of having to navigate “cultural difference[s].” These differences might be interpreted as difficulties of having to assimilate to a predominantly white Winnipeg because she notes how, at the time of her arrival, Winnipeg wasn’t as “multicultural as it is today” (“CBC Asks: How is the Filipino experience in Manitoba changing?”). Although her history with the garment industry and how she came to Winnipeg is not covered in the Manitoba Museum, her image is shown in the new Winnipeg Gallery. She is part of the gallery’s “Personalities Wall” which presents thirty Winnipeggers who have had an impact on the city’s communities and present history. Within this wall she holds the title of “Multiculturalism promoter” and is described as someone who “focuses on promoting Filipino culture and multiculturalism.” 

Manitoba Museum Curator of Cultural Anthropology, Dr. Maureen Matthews, presenting the “Personalities Wall.” Photo credit: Lauren Bosc.

The Manitoba Museum surrounds multiculturalism in tones of celebration. It is seen as a great feat for Canada to include so many groups of different races and ethnicities, making Canada appear as this accepting country that is welcoming of everyone, regardless of background. This renders immigration, especially the migration of racialized peoples, as a positive process as it only adds to the country’s diversity. The museum also seems to suggest that although Canada contains people of different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, these populations are able to live harmoniously with one another. This use of multiculturalism is one that can be called “liberal multiculturalism.” Critics of liberal multiculturalism, such as Stephen May and Christine E. Sleeter, say that although it calls for the recognition of different ethnic/cultural groups, it “abdicates any corresponding recognition of unequal, and often untidy, power relations that underpin inequality and limit cultural interaction” (4). Similarly, the framing of multiculturalism within the museum can also be interpreted as fostering “multicultural nationalism”, which is described by Caitlin Gordon-Walker as a way of establishing nationalism through the recognition of minorities within a nation (specifically Canada) and is subsequently conflated with the nation’s apparent “inclusivity” and “benevolence” (5). This positive image works to mask the ways that Canada participates in “practices of exclusion and violence within, at, and beyond [its] borders” (9).  It is as if, almost paradoxically, the museum’s goal of showcasing its racialized migrants only actually obscures the systems and histories of racism that affect them within Canada. 

Although the museum’s Immigration kiosk hints at the problems that recent immigrants face in Canada, such as “discrimination and issues related to human rights and labour practices,” it does so in a way that distances Canada’s role in the presence of racism throughout and after the immigration process. It is as if these experiences simply just occur or that they aren’t tied to the nation in any way. Indeed, racism has always been present in Canada’s early immigration policies such as in the case of The Immigration Act of 1952, wherein Canada held the power to deny migration based on nationality, ethnicity, “unsuitability” to adapt to Canada’s environmental climate, and perceived “inability to become readily assimilated” (“Immigration Act, 1952”). For Filipinos (among other groups, such as and especially Black people), one of the ways in which their prohibition was justified by the Canadian government was because it was believed that they wouldn’t be able to adjust to Canada’s climate (Knowles 169; Malek 83-86). Climate-based policies such as the one included in the Immigration Act have been present in previous Canadian immigration policies and have consequently privileged the entrance of white immigrants over racialized immigrants. These policies have often been used to hide the reality that Canada simply did not want to accept immigrants of colour into the country (Knowles 91, 170). Later on, however, shifts in immigration policies (such as the beginning of the Points System⁴, for example), and pressure from the Philippine government led to Canada finally allowing Filipinos within the province to fill up needed or unwanted labour sectors (Malek 49).

Even now, however, Filipinos still face problems after years of being able to enter Manitoba. From the same CBC interview, Perla recounts the difficulties that Filipinos face, saying that “the challenges when [they] first came are still here” especially when it comes to job security. In this interview she says:

“[Filipinos] usually start from the very bottom… some survive and manage [sic] to land in good jobs, others [have to] divert to other professions or even lowly jobs just to be able to support their families. That I feel is a hurdle that Canada has to work on. Although there has been some changes in terms of supports from [the] government, it still is not enough (‘CBC Asks: How is the Filipino experience in Manitoba changing?’). “

Perla Javate’s interview points out Canada’s involvement in the marginalization of Filipino immigrants in a way that the Manitoba Museum could not, even when the museum itself displayed Javate as Winnipeg’s own “multicultural promoter”. This limits the museum’s celebration of multiculturalism as a celebration at the superficial level, where it applauds the presence of people of colour rather than examining its relationships with them. This begs the question of whether multiculturalism should be celebrated in the museum if its celebration only sanitizes Canada’s relationship with its racialized immigrants.

Marisa Largo, a Filipinx artist and educator, adds to this point when she talks about how the representation of minorities is often relegated to progressive optics or used as evidence for Canada’s exceptionalism. She says that

“When minoritized subjects are made visible within official multicultural discourse in Canada, such visibility often continues to legitimize the interests of the nation-state, and reproduce colonial and neoliberal narratives. To be visible is simply not enough… Simply being visible in various sectors of society such as arts and culture does not guarantee social justice and inclusion” (99).

Even when racialized immigrants are included in the museum, their presence does not interrogate how they have shaped Manitoba’s or Winnipeg’s histories in the first place. Instead, they are tokenized in the interest of upholding Canada as a benevolent country. In this way, their visibility in the museum only serves to make their real histories invisible. 

It is important to note that there are layers to visibility and invisibility when it comes to the representation of Filipinos in Manitoba. Whereas truthful accounts of Filipino migrant experiences are only partially visible when it comes to Canadian or Manitoban discourse, queer Filipinx stories, on the other hand, are invisible. Queer, Manitoban Filipinxs are often left out of discussions of Filipino immigration or are not seen as fitting with the image of what a Filipino Manitoban should be. A uniquely Manitoban perspective of queer Filipinx experience is not only underrepresented in academic literature, it also hardly appears in Manitoban or Manitoba-based Filipino media outlets. 

However, there is a recent exception to this invisibility when it comes to the work of Ally Gonzalo, a queer, more specifically bakla⁵, artist whose work has been featured in CBC and has even appeared in an exhibit within Aceartinc, an art centre in Winnipeg. Gonzalo’s exhibit, “Bakla”, shows a series of black and white portraits of bakla people who are part of the Filipinx diaspora in Winnipeg. In these portraits, Gonzalo gives each subject the space to tell their own story, be it through the photograph or the descriptions that come with each one. The exhibit makes a statement that Winnipeg has its own “thriving bakla and Filipinx community” and that they are “an important part of Winnipeg culture” (Gonzalo). 

Keeping Absent Subjects in Sight

When I am reflecting on that moment with Mama all those years ago when my brothers and I came across those anthills, I wondered why she felt it more important to warn us of the unseen rather than the swarms of ants that could have easily nipped at our feet. After teaching us about the dwende she instructed us to say “tabi tabi po”⁶, which was a way for us to pardon ourselves in their presence. She explained that saying so signals regard for the dwende’s existence and served as an indication of respect towards these creatures. It was also a way for us to let them know that we didn’t wish to harm them, which was less about a broken anthill or two but about what might happen because we couldn’t see their invisible lives. The act of imagining the existence of the dwende around the church’s path, then, was an exercise to pay attention to what was once thought to be absent from a space. Now, “reading” them in the museum serves as a model for me to reveal the memories and histories of unrepresented subjects, specifically that of Filipinx/o immigrants in Manitoba.

These Filipinx/o stories, which are stories that are otherwise invisible or excluded within the museum, must be known. In thinking of the dwende as a creature that is invisible, Filipinx/o people in the Manitoba Museum in some way occupy different statuses of partial visibility and invisibility, where their stories are either incomplete or nonexistent. What I learned from the dwende is that invisibility itself is a mode of inquiry, where acknowledging what is invisible in the first place might uncover more information about a space. This is why the histories of immigration that appeared to be missing in the museum provided a more comprehensive outlook on Canada than the histories they had on display. Most importantly, it allowed me to recognize the voices that are invisible within those already invisible groups, such as queer immigrant voices. The invisibility of their stories within the museum makes it ever more important to think about how they might influence the museum itself, whether it might be through the process of imagining childhood creatures like the dwende running free in the museum, or through other means. Imagining what is not already included within the museum space or content opens up new ways to think about what, and for who, the museum can be.  


  1. Tsinelas – slippers in Tagalog
  2. Bukid – field or farm in Tagalog
  3. Gubat – forest in Tagalog
  4. Points System – The Points System was a new system of immigration that was constructed during the 60s and followed the Immigration Act of 1952. Unlike the Immigration Act which focused on accepting immigrants based on identity (race, ethnicity, etc.), this system ranked potential immigrants based on a points basis. Points were rewarded to potential immigrants based on factors such as language ability (English and or French), education, and work experience, among other factors. Those who scored higher or were able to score above certain point thresholds (fifty points was usually the passing) were more likely to be accepted into Canada (Knowles 195-196).
  5. Bakla – As written by Gonzalo in his CBC article, someone who is bakla is “a Filipino person assigned male at birth but may have adopted mannerisms traditionally regarded as feminine. The term includes individuals who identify as trans, non-binary, bisexual, etc. While most bakla are attracted to men, collectively referring to them as ‘gay’ would be inaccurate as some self-identify as women” (Gonzalo).
  6. “tabi tabi po” – literally translates to “excuse me” in Tagalog.

Works Cited:

“CBC Asks: How Is the Filipino Experience in Manitoba Changing?” CBC News, 12 Mar. 2020.

Gonzalo, Ally. “There’s no shame in being who you are’: Photographer explores Filipino ‘bakla’ culture.” CBC News, 2 Oct. 2019.

Gordon-Walker, Caitlin. Exhibiting Nation: Multicultural Nationalism (and Its Limits) in Canada’s Museums. UBC Press, 2016.

“Immigration Act, 1952.” Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Knowles, Valerie. Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-2007. Rev. ed., Toronto, Dundurn Press, 2007, pp. 91, 169-170, 195-196. 

Largo, Marrisa. “Reimagining Filipina Visibility though ‘Black Mirror’: The Queer Decolonial Diasporic Aesthetic of Marigold Santos.” Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries, edited by Diaz, Robert et. al, 2018, pp. 99-118.

Malek, Jon G. The Pearl of the Prairies: The History of the Winnipeg Filipino Community. PhD dissertation, University of Western Ontario. 2019. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6193.

May, Stephen, and Christine E, Sleeter. Introduction. Critical Multiculturalism: Theory and Praxis, edited by Stephen May and Christine E. Sleeter, Taylor & Francis, 2010, pp. 1-16.

*Mika Castro is an undergraduate student at the University of Winnipeg who is currently majoring in sociology. She is interested in learning about the stories and lives of queer POC immigrants in Canada, most specifically how they navigate their queer identities between their Canadian and immigrant communities. She currently works as a Research Assistant with Museum Queeries.

On Being and Belonging: A Queer Immigrant’s Perspective on the Portrayal of Queer Refugee Experience at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

By Mika Castro*

I immigrated to Canada ten years ago from the Philippines. Being a Filipino immigrant who happens to be queer, I look for places that tell stories about racialized queer migrant lives. These stories are important because they can be sources of familiarity in a country that can make racialized queers feel like they don’t belong. They can also offer alternatives to representations of queer lives as predominantly white, and ideally provide insight into experiences of and motivations for human migration.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) seemed to be the perfect place to begin. At first glance, the Museum is promising. A quick scan through its website and social media pages makes apparent its desire to open up new discussions about human rights issues and to tell stories of diverse lives. As a Research Assistant for Museum Queeries (MQ), a project based out of the University of Winnipeg, I have been able to specifically investigate queer (hi)stories within the context of the CMHR and other museums. In this blog post, I investigate how the CMHR tells stories about queerness, ethnicity, and migration. As I see it, the museum has the potential to be more than a place of education about migration issues; it could also be a place that can facilitate feelings of connection among visitors who might also happen to be racialized, queer, or (im)migrants, or all of the above.

“Who Gets In” exhibit displays an interactive globe that can be spun around to view videos of refugees from around the world. (CMHR Canadian Journeys Gallery, photo credit: Mika Castro)

Finding the content that I initially sought in the museum, however, proved to be a challenge. For one thing, the museum’s queer content was quite hard to find. The CMHR does host an annual Pride Tour that guides its visitors through its LGBT content, but at the time of my visit the tour was not available. Finding content on queerness AND migration was even more of a challenge. I relied on CMHR staff as well as my Museum Queeries colleagues and their past research, including the blogs and audio guides they had written. Following their direction, I finally came upon the story of Arsham Parsi hidden amongst exhibits that were not obviously about “queer issues.” Parsi’s story comes up twice in the museum—first on the second floor as part of the Canadian Journey’s exhibit “Who Gets In?: Refugee Experiences at Canada’s Gates,” and then on the fourth floor in the Turning Points for Humanity exhibit under “Gender and Sexual Diversity Rights: Protecting Diversity.”

“Gender and Sexual Diversity Rights”, a page in one of the four digital books from the Turning Points for Humanity exhibit. This exhibit is interactive and allows visitors to view videos about a variety of human rights issues. (CMHR, photo credit: Mika Castro)

I found this double-feature in and of itself to be quite odd. One of my MQ colleagues prompted me to wonder, was the museum not able to find any other stories of queer migration to highlight? Why repeat the same person’s story twice? In any case, the two exhibits trace the journey of Parsi, a queer Iranian refugee, from his life in Iran, Turkey, and eventually Canada. These exhibits are both presented in the form of short videos that contain clips of interviews with Parsi and a compilation of pictures taken throughout Iran, Turkey, and Canada. The videos follow the same narrative of what anthropologist David Murray describes as “migration to liberation nation” (453). This common trope frames the queer refugee as escaping the oppressive homophobia of their original country only to come to a country that not only accepts but apparently celebrates their queerness without exception. In this way, sexual diversity becomes “a feature of a ‘civilized’ society, opposed to ‘uncivilized’ societies characterized by their rampant homophobia” (Murray 453). This narrative is reconstructed in the way in which the museum tells Parsi’s move from Iran and Turkey to Toronto. Parsi’s queer life in Iran and Turkey is depicted through a series of graphic images that show beatings, harsh protests, and military involvement. This reads as if queerness within these countries only ever exists in the presence of violence. In contrast to this, Parsi’s life in Canada is depicted as a queer utopia of gay pride and peaceful protests, rendering homophobia obsolete.

Video stills from Arsham Parsi’s story in the CMHR’s Who Gets In? Exhibit (photo credit: Mika Castro)

The CMHR presents Parsi’s journey as a refugee in a way that conflates his being in Canada with his belonging in Canada. It does so by showing Parsi as immediately and effortlessly adjusting to Canadian life after moving to Toronto, as if just being in Canada automatically translates to belonging in it. Although Parsi is not an immigrant but a refugee, and although I am not a refugee but an immigrant, witnessing Parsi’s story told in this way was a great discomfort to me. Even if I cannot understand the full extent of his experience, I cannot help but feel that the museum’s version of Parsi’s move is a sanitized one, one that is oversimplified and leaves too much out. What the museum does not discuss in Parsi’s refugee story is the precarity that comes with moving to a new country, as well as the ways in which the intersection of queerness and ethnicity affects such a move.  

I cannot help but feel that the museum’s version of Parsi’s move is a sanitized one, one that is oversimplified and leaves too much out. What the museum does not discuss in Parsi’s refugee story is the precarity that comes with moving to a new country, as well as the ways in which the intersection of queerness and ethnicity affects such a move.

The process of transitioning to Canadian life after immigration can be described as one of “liminality.” This term was first described by Dutch-German French anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep as the moment of transition between two periods, when one has left or “separated” from the previous stage but has not yet been fully “incorporated” into the next (11). Later on, British anthropologist Victor Turner describes liminality as “an area of ambiguity, a sort of social limbo” (57). Gennep’s and Turner’s definitions have also been extended directly to the experiences of immigrants. In his article, “The Uses and Meanings of Liminality,” global studies scholar Bjørn Thomassen refers to “ethnic minorities, social minorities, transgender immigrant groups betwixt and between old and new culture” (17) as examples of peoples who experience liminality. Thomassen writes that immigrants and refugees are “betwixt and between home and host, part of society, but never fully integrated” (19). Here he highlights the in-between-ness that immigrants and refugees face when they negotiate between the ideals, culture, and overall social life between the old country and the new but never actually feeling fully “integrated” into the new. Indeed, as researchers Donnan et al. note in their study, this state of liminality leaves immigrants and refugees “caught between the moments of departure and arrival” and thus “feel[ing] as if they have never arrived” (12-13). In other words, migration is not only a process that takes place in the moment of moving between two countries, but one that continues well after landing in the new country. 

Liminality can create a particular experience for queer refugees in Canada. Precisely because they may also face a crisscross of racist, homophobic, linguistic, and other barriers that make it harder to find resources to survive, particularly when it comes to employment and housing (Lee and Brotman 257). Parsi himself describes these barriers in detail in a CBC article titled “LGBTQ Refugees Face Risk and Isolation Even After They Arrive in Canada” (2019). I found this article while doing further research on Parsi’s work after I left the museum, and was surprised to find it to be opposite to the positive version of migrant experience that the CMHR documents. This article describes the “limited access to employment, housing, and particularly mental health services” that queer Iranian refugees like him face after coming to Canada. These limitations are part of why Parsi eventually founded his own organization, the International Railroad for Queer Refugees (formerly known as Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees), which helps queer refugees “find housing, jobs, legal aid, counselling, and financial support” within Canada (see “Protecting Diversity” video). The CMHR, however, does not mention Canada’s role in these difficulties, or why they arise for queer refugees in Canada in the first place. It does not signal to Canada’s inadequacy when it comes to helping the lives of refugees, making these barriers appear as individual problems that some refugees face rather than systemic issues. 

An important part of feeling like a part of a place is also finding belonging within its communities, but this can be a complicated process for queer and racialized refugees. As Lee and Brotman observe in their studies of queer refugees in Canada, “sexual minority refugees [can encounter] both racism within mainstream queer communities and homophobia/transphobia within their particular racialized community, resulting in complex intersectional experiences of exclusion” (259). Finding community is integral for queer refugees to survive within the new country after being displaced and disconnected from their support networks back in their original country. But, as Lee and Brotman find, queer refugees are sometimes put in a position where they are only seen as queer and not racialized in certain communities, or racialized but not queer in others (269). Canada’s larger problems of racism and homophobia have worked their way into communities to the point where queerness and race are seen as separate rather than intersecting. 

Parsi echoes this observation in the same CBC article where he describes both his struggles as a gay Iranian man and the struggles that his queer clients face when trying to find belonging within Canada. Speaking from his own experience, Parsi finds that his skin colour and ethnicity made it difficult for him to find acceptance in Canada. He states:

I also found myself in a strange paradox. I wasn’t accepted for who I really was in Canada either. I am not white. I am not black. Eventually, I came to find out that I am not even properly “brown.” When people talked about “brown people” in Canada, I noticed they were mostly referring to people from South Asia or Latin America. But I’m from the Middle East—the middle of everything and still living in the margins (see “Village of the Missing”). 

Moreover, even when he and other queer refugees do find belonging in their own ethnic community, Parsi says becoming visibly queer can be difficult because they might risk “los[ing] the emotional support of [their families] if they were to find out about [their] sexual orientation.”

I have encountered this “tip-toeing” around my queerness or my Filipino-ness in order to fit into certain communities. Being in these communities, where only a fraction of my identities seem to properly “belong,” always left me feeling fragmented. I felt the same way seeing Parsi’s story in the CMHR. It is a feeling that stems from spaces that make it seem that my experiences as a migrant, queer, and racialized person can be separated into compartments when they are really a big, messy blob of interlocking identities.

When the CMHR presents us with Parsi, a person who also embodies these intersections, their representation falls short of recognizing the messy and complicated relationships that queer migrants—whether immigrants or refugees—often have in Canada. Not addressing the particular experiences that queer migrants may have in Canada strips Parsi’s story from its nuance and makes it seem as if he did not have authority over his own story in the museum. This is especially apparent when we examine the different versions of migrant experience that the museum portrays compared to Parsi’s own CBC article. What remains of Parsi’s story in the CMHR, then, appears to be a tokenistic moment, a tale to show off Canada’s “progressiveness,” a shiny tool for displaying the museum’s seeming “wokeness.” The museum needs to engage in queer migrant stories that do not just highlight happiness, but an array of experiences that can sometimes be ugly, sad, hard to tell, and yet potentially relatable and inspiring. Our stories are complex, and these complexities belong in the museum.

Works Cited

Donnan, Hastings, et al., editors. Migrating Borders and Moving Times: Temporality and the Crossing of Borders in Europe. Manchester University Press, 2017. JSTOR.

Gennep, Arnold van. The Rites of Passage. University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Lee, Edward Ou Jin, and Shari Brotman. “Identity, Refugeeness, Belonging: Experiences of Sexual Minority Refugees in Canada.” Canadian Review of Sociology, vol. 48, no. 3, 2011, pp. 241-274. Wiley Online Library.

Murray, David A.B. “The (Not So) Straight Story: Queering Migration Narratives of Sexual Orientation and Gendered Identity Refugee Claimants.” Sexualities, vol. 17, no. 4, 2014, 451-457. SAGE Journals.

Thomassen, Bjørn. “The Uses and Meanings of Liminality.” International Political Anthropology, vol. 2, no.3, 2009, 6-27. 

Turner, Victor. “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology.” Rice Institute Pamphlet – Rice University Studies, vol. 60, no. 3, 1974, pp. 53-92. Rice University.

Parsi, Arsham. “Village of the Missing: LGBTQ Refugees Face Risk and Isolation Even After They Arrive in Canada.” CBC, 22 March 2019.

*Mika Castro is an undergraduate student at the University of Winnipeg who is currently majoring in sociology. She is interested in learning about the stories and lives of queer POC immigrants in Canada, most specifically how they navigate their queer identities between their Canadian and immigrant communities.

“Taking the Cake” at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and a Comparison of Same-Sex Marriage Discourse in China

By Hubery (Liang) Huang*

For the past twelve weeks I have been working as a Mitacs-Globalink Research Intern with the Museum Queeries project based at the University of Winnipeg. Museum Queeries describes itself as “prioritiz[ing] Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and queer, (2S+LGBTTQ) contributions and interventions into museums and museum studies both as a means of addressing structural exclusions and opening new modes of productive inquiry and activism.” I was very intrigued by this research focus as I had not yet realized that there were research projects focused on queer people, which was impossible for me to imagine in China. The project requires visits to museums and our trip to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) has been on my mind for months. The museum’s purpose is “to explore the subject of human rights with a special but not exclusive reference to Canada, to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others and to encourage reflection and dialogue” (CMHR). I was impressed by the CMHR because it was the first museum that I was aware of that was promoting human rights. I got the chance to visit this national museum twice with Museum Queeries. The first time I went on a “Pride Tour” with my supervisors and other research assistants from July 22-23, 2019, and after that I took a self-guided tour.

(“Taking the Cake” at the CMHR.
Photo credit: Hubery Huang)

At first glance, I was particularly interested in an exhibit called “Taking the Cake: The Right to Same-Sex Marriage.” However, upon further investigation, I found myself embarrassed by the way the museum illustrated Chinese queer people. “Taking the Cake” is an exhibit in the Canadian Journeys gallery about same-sex marriage in Canada. The exhibition is a multi-layered cake—which is framed layer by layer with same-sex couples’ wedding pictures along with their names. Notably, the couples are mostly white people, while Asian faces are rare, especially those of East Asian people. At the left and right side of the cake are two couples’ stories about same-sex marriage. The left side is called “Trailblazing for the Right to Marry,” which features the story of Manitobans Chris Vogel and Richard North who were the first couple in Canada to undertake a court battle to achieve legal same-sex marriage. On the right side is a portrayal of Angeline and Jeannette Fong’s marriage in 2012, after same-sex marriage had already become legal in Canada. Angeline’s is one of the rare examples of an Asian face in the exhibit. The museum’s story emphasizes that this couple had two ceremonies, one of which was a traditional Chinese wedding tea ceremony. The panel states that “a tea ceremony signifies respect for elders and welcomes a spouse into a new family” and that “the Fongs demonstrated respect to their elders by serving tea to family members from both families” (“Taking the Cake”). This particular framing raised many questions for me. 

(Display text from “Taking the Cake” at the CMHR, depicting the story of Angeline and Jeanette Fong.
Photo credit: Hubery Huang)

For instance, I wondered whether Angeline Fong immigrated to Canada prior to her marriage or was married prior to becoming a Canadian resident, or whether she is Canadian born.  This is notable because Chinese mainland citizens do not have access to legal same-sex marriage currently. Also, as far as I know from my knowledge of traditional Chinese marriage, parents from both sides should attend the wedding and drink the tea to show their acceptance to the new family member. Once they have finished the tea, the new spouse traditionally begins to call them “father” and “mother”. In this case, why does the museum use “elders” and “family members” instead of “parents”? Does this indicate that their parents were not present at their wedding? Chinese attach great importance to filial piety, which is also one of the main reasons for the wedding tea ceremony. However, based on my lived observation, parents are usually the last ones to accept a queer daughter/son. This conflict exists in many parts of China. What was Angeline’s parents’ opinion? Have they changed their minds or supported her from the very beginning? Angeline Fong’s marriage is obviously not a typical example of Chinese queer people who would be envious of her, because most queer Chinese cannot get married or receive congratulations from their family. 

Interestingly, I got to know the connotative meaning of “taking the cake”, which is “to be the winner.” When I participated in the Museum Queeries workshop after the visit, this drove me to an even more abashed situation, for the rest of the researchers and research assistants were shocked about my talking about Chinese queer people’s real lives. Many queer people around the world like Chinese have not been “winners,” yet the museum includes a Chinese style wedding ceremony without recognizing this difficulty. Also, while the panel discusses Angeline Fong’s cultural heritage, her nationality or citizenship status is unclear. For me, not knowing if she is Chinese or Canadian born makes a difference. By portraying Angeline Fong’s marriage as fully accepted, the museum easily misleads Western/North American visitors to think that Chinese same-sex marriage is as easy as it is for Canadian queers, which is absolutely wrong.

(Photo and tea set from the “Taking the Cake” exhibit at the CMHR.
Photo credit: Hubery Huang)

The way the museum tells the Fongs’ story might make visitors think that Chinese parents are all open about same-sex marriage, or that parents are not obstacles to getting married. One reasonable explanation could be the fact that the curators are working from a western perspective, and their culture does not highlight filial piety as Chinese people do. Their preconceived ideas concerning the relationship between parents and offspring have been limiting their understanding of queer life in China. The museum also gives visitors a fake impression with respect to the Chinese queer community: as long as same-sex marriage becomes legal in mainland China or they get married in Canada, there would be no other problems for same-sex couples such as family objection.

However, the real circumstances are more complex and knotty. According to the largest national survey ever conducted on sexual and gender diversity issues in China by the United Nations Development Programme – BEING LGBTI IN CHINA, A National Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression, “Sexual and gender minority people in China still live in the shadows, with only 5% of them willing to live their diversity openly.” Most LGBTI people are facing discrimination in many aspects of their lives, and the family is the place where the deepest forms of rejection and abuse reside, and discriminations occur most frequently. While most get into heterosexual relationships under family pressures, some decide to have “cooperation marriages.” Statistics show that more than half of the families reject the minorities; nearly two thirds of minority respondents suggest that they feel under great pressure from their families to get married and have children. Among the married minority respondents, nearly 84.1% are married with heterosexuals, 13.2% are in “marriages of convenience” and 2.6% in same-sex marriages are registered in foreign countries. These findings strongly prove the fact that family is the biggest barrier to queer community in China.

The filial piety spirit in traditional Chinese culture can account for the complexity of the potential for same-sex marriage in China. There is a Chinese saying: “Among hundreds of behaviors, filial piety is the most important one.” Meanwhile, the relationship between parents and children are much more closed than westerners. For Chinese parents, children are the centre of their lives, and they are willing to devote everything to their kids including high-expense education, residence, wedding and caring for their grandchildren. Moreover, the deep-rooted idea of getting married and having children also exist nowadays as an essential way of showing filial piety. Even a heterosexual person that refuses to get married or does not give birth to a child would be likely to be considered as the black sheep of the family. Due to the deeply rooted bias which has existed for thousands of years about marriage, Chinese queers are experiencing more difficulties than westerners.

Living in a cultural background like this, Chinese queers have different opinions about their right to marriage. As the above statistics show, most queer people have to marry heterosexuals as they get older. Some young people have more freedom to refuse to get married or to marry abroad, but this is uncommon. When talking about “coming out” to parents and marriage, many choose to hide their sexual orientations and put off their marriage on the pretext of having a busy job. Some bolder couples would take their partner to family under the name of “good friends”. 

Nevertheless, an important recent event that encouraged discussion of same-sex marriage in China was Taiwan’s legalization of same-sex marriage on 24 May 2019, making it the first region in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Though the official media mostly ignored it, citizens from across China enthusiastically posted blogs on Sina Weibo and Wechat with tags like “love is love” to celebrate the success. It soon became a top trending topic and achieved more than 200 million readers and participants on Weibo. 

In mainland China, proponents of same-sex marriage also exist. One example is Sun Wenlin. Sun Wenlin and Hu Mingliang are gay Chinese partners who applied to get married in 2015. After being refused by Changsha city authorities, they filed what is in fact the first lawsuit about same-sex marriage in China. In an interview, Sun says that “the original text of the Marriage Law does not say one man and one woman, but a husband and a wife” and that they personally “believe that this term refers not only to heterosexual couples but also to same-sex couples” (Jie). However, the case wrapped up quickly and they unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, lost. Despite the failure, Sun and Hu still planned to hold their wedding on May 17, 2016, the International Day Against Homophobia. Their wedding attracted more than 10 media outlets and their stories were reported both at home and abroad.

After the case and wedding, Sun continued to promote same-sex marriage. He is working on a project for “100 Same-Sex Weddings,” and to date eight weddings have been held successfully. Half of the couples’ marriages were admitted by family members from at least one side of the couples, and some also gained support from their families after weddings. Sun notes that “one wedding can be small, two weddings may also be ignored, but if we can have 100 couples wanting to get legal union, people cannot neglect us” (Jie). Luckily, the weddings have attracted some international media and public attention. 

Apart from wedding ceremonies, Sun also wants to amend the law. In 2018, Sun posted an article on his social media to encourage and instruct people to make suggestions for the civil code in order to legalize same-sex marriage. The reason for Sun’s persistence is that he wants to have legal documents to protect them from catastrophes like being separated by others or being unable to be each other’s next of kin. As the gay law student Jack Baker said, “Whatever rights straight people have, I want too.” He argued that “the institution of marriage has been used by the legal system as a distribution mechanism for many rights and privileges, [which] can be obtained only through a legal marriage,” and to legalize same-sex marriage would give queer people “a new dignity and self-respect” (Chauncey).

In fact, although Sun has done so many things on the website, not much change has manifested yet. His lawsuit did not get much attention from the public. The more disappointing fact is that even LGBTQ people like me also know little about his work. It is still sensitive in China to talk about queer identities. We can imagine that most Chinese people, like the government, tend to avoid gay things on the internet, and the people who advocate same-sex marriage and queer rights are either brave queer people or open minded heterosexuals, and they are few. For the middle-aged and elderly people who seldom surf the internet, queer topics can be a huge taboo. Therefore, due to the conservative environment, most queer people choose to hide and get married with heterosexuals. Meanwhile, as it is not common in China to parade or fight against the authority, the call for same-sex marriage is not loud at all. 

Intriguingly, as the younger generation becomes more and more progressive and have more access to know the world, their thinking about marriage has changed. Just like many westerners, they do not think marriage is necessary and they are more concerned with their career as well as the relationship with their partners. This might challenge the presumed requirement of marriage and present co-habitation as a preferred option for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.

When I take a look at Canadian lesbian and gay liberation, it is noted that “most queer liberationists dreamed of the day that marriage would be abolished altogether” (Knegt). Just like the liberation activist Gerald Hannon said, “We took a constructionist view of homosexuality, and thought that all people should be free of repressive social institutions like marriage that bring with it traditional gender and sex roles. The government should be out of the marriage business period. We shouldn’t be trying to get in” (Knegt). Brenda Cossman also argued that governments should pursue a “more comprehensive and principled approach” to the legal recognition and support of the “full range of close personal relationships among adults” (Knegt). But there is one important point: though many queer Canadians do not get married, they do have legal common-law rights with their partners and children. According to Statistics Canada’s census of population (2006) there were 45,345 co-habitating same-sex couples in Canada, which is more than 6 times that of the same-sex marriage statistics. In this way, perhaps there is a common trend among Chinese and Canadian queers to define their relationships outside of legal marriage. 

By comparing the different cultural backgrounds between Canada and China, we can assume that Chinese queer people will have a long way to go before same-sex marriage is legalized, and that it is not as simple as suggested by the CMHR’s “Taking the Cake” exhibit. It would be more effective for the museum to use several sentences about the reality of queer lives in China so that misconceptions could be avoided and western visitors could appreciate the complexities. As a queer Chinese, I cherish this research so much as it takes me on a new journey and makes me think ahead: what is the way for the Chinese queer, and in what ways can we achieve the human rights that Canadian queers seem to have? I believe there is a lot that we can borrow from this history, and the future for us could be promising that someday, we can really “take the cake.”

Thank-you to the Fongs, Angeline in particular, for sharing their story and appearing in the “Taking the Cake” exhibit so that I could have the opportunity to explore this topic.

Works cited:

CMHR. “Our Mandate.” Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Jie, Jiang. Court accepts China’s first gay marriage rights lawsuit. Globaltimes, 6 Jan. 2016.

Chauncey, George. Why Marriage: The History Shaping Today’s Debate Over Gay Equality. Basic Books, 2004.

 Knegt, Peter. About Canada Queer RightsFernwood Publishing, 2011.

Le Bourdais, Céline, et al. “Changes in Conjugal Life in Canada: Is Cohabitation Progressively Replacing Marriage?” Canadian Perspectives in Sexualities Studies: Identities, Experiences, and the Contexts of Change, edited by Diane Naugler, Oxford University Press Canada, 2012, pp. 223-234.

“Taking the Cake.” Exhibit in the Canadian Journeys Gallery, Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

United Nations Development Programme. “BEING LGBTI IN CHINA, A National Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identify and Gender Expression.” 16 Jan. 2018.

*Hubery Huang is currently studying at Northwest A&F University as an English major in China. She is particularly interested in queer theory and how LGBTQ groups influence museum cultures. She joined the Museum Queeries project as a Mitacs Intern for 2019, and was sponsored in part by the China Scholarship Council (CSC).

Museum Queeries RAs Present at FIHRM 2018

Photo of students at conference.
L to R: Thiané Diop, Nicole Ritchie, Jana Elazar, Dallas Gillingham, and Jase Falk.

An interdisciplinary team of UWinnipeg students presented at the 2018 Federation of International Human Rights Museums Conference, which was held at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights last week from September 25-28, 2018.

Thiané Diop (MA, Cultural Studies), Dallas Cant (Women’s and Gender Studies), Jase Falk (English), and Jana Elazar (Women’s and Gender Studies) spoke on the Museum Queeries panel facilitated by UWinnipeg Research Associate Nicole Ritchie (PhD candidate, York University).

Each student presented work evolving from their projects as research assistants supervised by UWinnipeg faculty members Dr. Angela Failler (Women’s and Gender Studies) and Dr. Heather Milne (English).

Photo of students presenting at the FIHRM 2018 Conference (L to R: Dallas Gillingham, Jana Elazar, Jase Falk, Thiané Diop), photo credit: Lauren Bosc

Their conference papers included “Commemoration of Queer Victims of the Holocaust and Israeli Homonationalism” (Elazar), “Sex Work, Displacement, and Development” (Cant), “Archiving Trans History” (Falk), and “Queer Black Bodies and the Museum” (Diop). “Queerying” here is meant not only to address representations of gender and sexuality in the museums, but also to challenge the operation of white privilege, racism, and settler colonialism as they operate alongside homophobia and transphobia.

“This conference was a great professional development opportunity for the students,” notes Milne. “Not only did they gain valuable presentation skills, they also gained positive feedback from museum professionals and museum researchers from around the world.”

“This panel is a stellar example of the sophisticated research and scholarship currently in development by UWinnipeg students,” notes Failler. “The audience members were totally engaged and impressed, expressing their appreciation for how refreshing and sharp our students’ perspectives were.”

For more information about the Museum Queeries project, please visit out “About” page.

A Meditation on the Museum: Kinship and Ambivalence in the CMHR

Rebecca Belmore’s “Trace” at the CMHR (photo credit: TJ Shannacappo)

By TJ Shannacappo*

During the summer of 2017, I attended a workshop, Museum Queeries: Intersectional Interventions into Museum Cultures and Practices (MQ), located at the University of Winnipeg and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). MQ describes itself as an emerging research project, one that seeks to encompass the insights of artists, curators, academics, and other community members within Turtle Island and beyond. Most notably, MQ centres the creative and intellectual interventions of 2S+LGBTQ peoples; specifically, MQ values alternative thought into and against nationalist and heteronormative visions of museology and museum practices.

As a MQ research assistant, I found myself in an uncomfortable position. Leading up to the workshop, I had affectively and quietly boycotted my own entrance into the CMHR for two main reasons: first, for the museum’s exploitation of Shoal Lake’s most precious resource, water, and next, for the museum’s dis-mention of certain genocides in favour of protecting forward-looking narratives. While curations of progression are often well-intended, they contribute to the silencing of discussions around current and recent injustices, or at the very least, assist in glossing over harmful institutional practices. And beyond these two reasons, I simply could not genuinely imagine myself in the museum, both physically and materially. Ultimately, I entered the museum out of interest for the work of Indigenous curators, and to look for spaces of unexpected dissent.

The day before and then hours prior to MQ’s field trip to attend an LGBT-themed tour of the CMHR, we, the participants, were gifted keynote lectures by Dr. Sandy O’Sullivan (Wiradjuri) and Ryan Rice (Mohawk). Both lectures focused on the trouble with Indigenous representation in museums, both historically, and in the present. Both Dr. O’Sullivan and Ryan Rice did not discount the significance of museums, but it was noted that museology has often figured indigeneity as trapped within history, existing without agency, and stagnating as artifact. Often, within museums, indigeneity is displayed as under-situated, removed from spiritual context, and displaced from homeland. As Ryan Rice asked in opening, “Where do [we] put it?” This is one question I have wondered myself: where do Indigenous stories or representations belong? Where can we belong?

On a personal level, throughout the span of the workshop, I became hyper-aware of my identity as an urban Anishinaabe-kwe. I felt a lot of anxiety. How could I not? The imported alabaster ramps within the museum stood stark against my tan skin, and before walking up that ramp to take in the exhibits, I was granted complimentary access to the CMHR based on my status as an 1876 Indian. I was troubled for breaking my previously long-standing decision to not enter the museum and because I had to show my horrible picture in exchange for a ticket. In all seriousness, although I am Indigenous, I am still complicit in wrongly benefiting from a fellow Ojibwe nation’s resources, even when I’m in my apartment by the river; attending the museum only made that complicity more apparent and inescapable. But surprising things are often touching and grounding in moments of ambivalence.

Kinship as Reproach 

I like to think I am not a soft person, or even a hard person, but I do live like a moody cat in solitude, a trait which is not often associated with being Nish (MQ participant’s Dayna Danger [Saulteaux-Métis-Polish] and Jeneen Frei Njootli [Vuntut Gwitchin] coaxed me out of my quietness with needles and black matte beads during our workshop). Being Anishinaabe-kwe often calls for a certain amount of openness, care, and love, even in reproach. One guiding principle I brought with me into the CMHR was Aanjigone, or an ethic of non-interference. As described by Leanne Simpson (Michi Saagig Nishinaabeg) Aanjigone belongs to an Anishinaabe worldview, and it encourages us to be mindful of our criticisms, and to be guided by action, rather than empty talk. It is a relational concept and it is tied to promoting kinship. Aanjigone is not always attainable, but I was able to recognize it and practice it over the course of the workshop, and of course, at the CMHR.

As briefly alluded to in my introduction, museums often uphold an idealized version of the lands they exist on and of their narratives, failures, and achievements. They are often conservative or celebratory institutions and do not readily display raw stories or difficult truths in the present tense. In an uncontrolled situation, if I were to seek a genuine representation of myself, I would not think to look to at or inside a museum. Indigenous representations—beautiful, ethical, and compassionate—can be difficult to find within museum space. Instead, more holistic materiality might more often exist quietly in the form of museum practitioners working critically, or in the unheard, engaged conversations between engaged visitors.

In the context of the LGBT-focused tour at the CMHR, semblances of “alternative sexualities” and gender variances were most notably, and grandiosely limited to a wedding cake comprised of photos capturing people married soon after the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005. Other exhibits, admittedly, held harder-to-find stories of queerness that might have otherwise been passed over in an unguided tour. And although not the focus of this blog piece, even months later, I still think of the visceral impact a smaller exhibit discussing gay prosecution under Nazi Germany had on me.

While the mentioned wedding cake is not a bad thing within itself, it does represent an idealized version of what queerness should look and behave like: guided by heterosexual norms, but between two people of the same-sex. Taking the Cake does not easily allow for the addition of more diverse sexualities, or a narrative that does not promote a historically heterosexual institution, and it does not speak to the spirituality that is tied to some Indigenous queer identities, primarily, 2-Spirit identity. Instead, the first place I knowingly encountered 2-Spirit identity within the museum (not including some MQ participants) was in an enclosed speakers’ corner where people spoke, on video, about their experiences of being queer and Indigenous.

Being in the CMHR was sometimes a disorienting experience. During our walk-through I thought of the rivers nearby, the livelihood of Ancestors excavated by the museum, and of my desire to buy earrings from the gift shop. Rebecca Belmore’s (Anishinaabekwe) Trace grounded me as MQ moved up towards the top of the museum. Trace allowed me to consider the practice behind creating a large ceramic blanket made of clay from the Red River Valley. It is as an evocative art piece made in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and the larger Winnipeg community. Trace, as I understand it, is a monument of Aanjigone—while it does not explicitly confront visitors about genocide, colonialism, or nationalism, it does largely center Indigenous presence, resilience, and visions for contemporary museology.

I wondered to myself: how many 2-Spirit and queer Indigenous peoples might have contributed to this project? In contrast to the message I gathered from Taking the Cake (i.e., that queers are celebration-worthy when they are formally recognized by the settler state, as in this case, through the legal conferral of same-sex marriage), perhaps Trace makes room to witness a more inclusive or radical idea of queer identity; one that is innate and natural to decolonial forms of kinship. And while Taking the Cake is similar to Trace in that it is a large collaborative piece—by way of the donated photographs of married couples that make up the “tiers” of the cake—it comes across as sterile and easily digestible.

Following my visit, I wondered to myself if queer Indigenous identities—2-spirit or otherwise—would ever be or want to exist in a large presence at the CMHR. I was later reminded by a workshop facilitator that there is a desire for queer Indigenous representation within the museum and to consider the thoughts of the person who envisioned, from within the speakers’ corner, resurgent space dedicated to our sexualities. While my initial questioning was not meant to be dismissive, I believe it was rooted in admiration for the colourful and expansive creations of 2-Spirit and queer Indigenous resurgence existing in other forms and in other venues. I continue to work with and through my ambivalence.

At the time of MQ’s workshop, an Indigenous focused issue of Canadian Art was released—Kinship featured Dayna Danger’s “Adrienne 2017” as its cover art, and was introduced/edited by Lindsay Nixon (Cree-Métis-Saulteux). Kinship was excitedly passed around our seminar room the day after our museum tour, and since its release, I’ve left one copy in my living room and a second copy in my office. In contrast to what I viewed and inferred inside the CMHR, Dayna Danger’s cover art—and the works of many of the contributors found inside— centred the body, eroticism, and queerness unabashedly. Kinship answered Ryan Rice’s question, it its own way, one of the places where “we” can belong.


*TJ Shannacappo is an urban Anishinaabe-kwe from Winnipeg, MB. She holds a BA from the University of British Columbia (Women’s and Gender Studies and First Nations Studies) and currently works as an editor at an organization dedicated to promoting Indigenous education. In the near future, TJ intends to pursue a Master of Education in School and Applied Child Psychology, and she is passionate about the intersections between mental heath, self-representation, and access to meaningful cultural production. Practicing a decolonial and feminist methodological approach, she primarily engages her theoretical interests with creative interventions by Indigenous peoples, women, and LGBTQ/2-Spirit communities.