The Rainbow Resource Centre

One of the interesting questions floating around right now is about the role of place in incorporation, and within that the role of local bureaucracies and non-profit organizations in shaping places of incorporation. Because while people immigrate to new countries they settle in particular cities and neighbourhoods, and so the resources in those places play an important role in representing the places where people settle, and their potential roles in those places.

The Rainbow Resource Centre based in Winnipeg is getting actively involved in questions of immigration, settlement and incorporation, working on several different fronts to make and represent Winnipeg and Manitoba as a safe, welcoming, inclusive places for LGBTT* (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Ally) and immigrant people and communities.

Manitoba in general, and Winnipeg in particular, are places where the question of immigration has become more important, and literally more visible, in the past ten years. The rates of immigration are rising in the city and province, and people are increasingly coming from countries in Asian, Latin America and Africa as opposed to the more historic waves of European immigration.

RRC’s work around immigration evolved in the same way that all of their work evolves, out of consultation and conversation with the community. First community members noted in the last Community Needs Assessment that RCC didn’t seem to be seeing or connecting with LGBTT* members of the growing immigrant communities, but people figured they must be out there! At the same David Pepper was making his way across the country speaking to promote the North Star Triangle Project educating and advocating for GLBT/Queer refugees, and making a stop in Winnipeg hosted by RRC. And at the same time a group of community members approached RCC to support their work in bringing an individual to Winnipeg as a privately-sponsored refugee.

RCC is approaching the question of immigration and the LGBTT* community from multiple perspectives working to reach out to and support individuals who are have immigrated and are LGBTT* and connecting them to health, mental health and settlement support.

RCC is also reaching out to mainstream settlement and immigration service organizations trying to engage, and educate them around LGBTT* issues and how they might better support their clients. For example, a recurring theme in RCC’s research was the idea of people constantly having to decide what, and to whom,they should reveal about themselves, based on how open or not they perceive the organization or individual staff member?

Finally, RCC is making it a priority to address questions of racism within the LGBTT* community, educating around immigration issues, and encouraging community members to get involved in actively advocating around immigration and refugee issues.

So back to where I began with the question of place and the role of non-profit organizations in shaping the context for incorporation. RCC’s work is particularly interesting because of the ways that they are dealing nimbly with questions of intersectionality — the ways in which various aspects of our identity overlap and interact. Their work is articulating a clear representation of the kind of places they would like Winnipeg and Manitoba to be, and the kind of places into which they hope immigrant residents can arrive and make their way. These are simultaneously LGBTT* places that are anti-racist, and Canadian places that are anti-homophobic.

And on top of all that they’ve started by talking to the people that have most at stake in all of this, people who are both migrant residents and LGBTT*, and making the effort to get a better sense of what an anti-racist/anti-homophobic place might look like from their perspective.


Since I don’t have a whole lot of good visuals from RRC I’ll also toss in this episode of Queer Conversations featuring Julio Salgado a great artist and UndocuQueer activist living and working in California. Enjoy!

The Rainbow Resource Centre

visbility 3 – underexposure

So what do you do when your community is only made visible in the media as a problem, and when the realities of your everyday life – the good and the not so good  – are sorely underexposed?

For two different groups of youth in Copenhagen the answer was to become the media.

Ethniqa Magizine is a online lifestyle publication that started in the living room of one of the editors, and has grown into a network of women writing in their own voices about the experience of living in Denmark.  Articles range from discussions of homelessness, and youth navigating the difficult terrain of sexuality, culture and religion, to lighter fashion and beauty articles.

The editors are proud that the articles in Ethniqa are tied together by writing that always endevours to simply speak in the author’s own voice, without feeling obligated to play any of the roles they see women of colour are often asked to play in the Danish media – for example, representative of their community, hero, or victim.

Ethniqa also features a range of fashion photo shoots, which the editors see as the other great success of the magazine. These are photos featuring Danish women (and some men) with various styles, tastes and ethnic backgrounds, and as the editors describe it “These are photos that could be in any Danish magazine, but they are not.” The editors of Ethinqa want to change that, and in the process change the image that pops into someone’s mind when they think of a Danish woman.

While magasinet Mjølnerparken is a very different project, its goals are not dissimilar to Ethniqa’s. Mjølnerparken is a social housing neighbourhood in the north end of Copenhagen, which the media, and some politicians, have made synonymous with crime and disorder in the city, and more specifically with “immigrant” crime and disorder. The magazine presents a very different view, and one that comes straight from a group of youth who call Mjølnerparken home.

The magazine started as part of a community development project in the neighbourhood, and features … well it features pretty much whatever the youth editorial board what it to. This usually includes updates on events in the neighbourhood, and more general arts and politics updates. When I visited they were working on an issue based on a recent whirlwind trip to Palestine.

The Mjølnerparkens in the general media, and in this magazine are two very different places, and as the youth describe they don’t really recognize the mainstream media version. There are challenges in their community, they know that, but they still feel these are misrepresented. Plus, as we joked what would the news look like if someone filed a report every time a kid did drugs in the tony Østerbro neighbourhood?

For the most part Mjølnerparken is a safe home for these youth, and a space where they feel free to create their own version of Danishness, by combining the best of the many cultures in which they are immersed.

visbility 3 – underexposure

visibility 2 – overexposure

Immigration continues to be described as a problem in need of solution, and people identified as immigrants are in many ways the key problem. But who exactly are these immigrants? The obvious answer might seem to be people that moved from another country, but in both popular and official discussions immigrant is an increasingly raced and classed term used synonymously with ideas of disorder, radicalization, lack of achievement and criminalization.

But the flip-side is that international migration is also a part of economic globalization, and attracting economic elites to your cities is an important part of selling them to international capital. So there is a need for a whole other set of words and stories to describe this group of people who might have immigrated, but are certainly not immigrants. The idea of ex-pats, or immigrants from Western countries are the terms I’ve seen in Denmark. And in Canada there is an increasing differentiation between entrepreneurial or economic class immigrants as opposed to say family reunion or refugee classes.

As is so often the case, these more abstract and structural questions come together to impact the everyday lives of real people. The disproportionate amount of attention given to the supposed immigrant problem leads to a situation where everyone who fits the image of an immigrant gets treated as though they are part of a problem.

We see this in the Toronto police disproportionately stopping Black and Brown youth for questioning. We see this when majority residents decide to avoid moving into certain neighbourhoods. We see it in the difficulties of ethnic minority residents in gaining employment. And we even see it in the murder of a woman in her own home. Artist and sociologist Nabaz Anwars articulates this challenge in his own job seeking campaign including posters plastered over the city asking potential employers “Tør du … ansætte mig?” –  “Do you dare … hire me?”

While this kind of othering  – creating us-them categories with real social, political and economic consequences – is certainly not new, there is a lot of energy being expended right now to make access to receiving societies more difficult, while simultaneously promoting and publicizing the notion that immigrants are simply unwilling to join in.

visibility 2 – overexposure