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Are you a POC?

Discovering the LGBTQIA community in New York City, Michael David C. Tan was introduced to grouping of the Other as “people of color”. And he says that he can’t help but have misgivings with this because it ends up promoting the hatred of those who discriminate against us by discriminating against them. And this is even if we all belong to the same LGBTQIA community. “And here I was, thinking that we’re supposed to be in this fight together,” he says.

This is part of the author’s LGBTQIA encounters in New York City (and beyond), where he works with The Brooklyn Community Pride Center (BCPC) as a State Department Fellow/Community Solutions Leader of the Community Solutions Program (CSP), a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, and implemented by IREX.

We all know the rant.

Pride as we know it is largely dictated by people who are:

  1. White
  2. Middle-class/elite
  3. Able-bodied
  4. Young
  5. Gay men

You only need to look at the pages of gay magazines to see the truth in this, with the over-emphasis on pieces of man-meat. Merit comes secondary to the physical.

People of Color

The same can be said, actually, to the entire LGBTQIA movement as we know it. And this is true, too, no matter the parts of the world you may be at. Just remove the first criteria (i.e. White), and the leadership is still in the hands of those who are middle-class/elite, able-bodied, young, and are often male-identifying. The others (e.g. impoverished, differently-abled, elderly, female/female-identifying, queer) are relegated to supporting roles, if at all. As such, and quite simplistically, male dominance continues to be the norm.

It is because of this that there are moves to sort of “attack” the systemic injustice. More than anyone, we in the LGBTQI community supposedly ought to know that the dominance of this heteronormative that celebrates masculinity at its peak – while keeping everyone else in the shadows (e.g. females and the feminine, trans people, queer people, et cetera) – is simply strengthening the shackles that bind us, and which we want to be freed from.

It is exactly because of this that – at least as I’ve experienced in New York City – there is this re-gathering/re-grouping from within the ranks with the elevation of the POC.

That is, People Of Color.

Who, I asked the first time I came across the acronym, are the POC?

Basically everyone who is non-White.

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So count in the group the Black people, Hispanics, Asians (that includes me, too, a Filipino), et cetera, et cetera.

In so many ways I see the necessity for the emphasis on POC.

About to reach out to the Asian community to ascertain how they are faring up in New York City, I searched online if there are bars (among the spaces gay men choose to gather, thereby making them accessible for reaching out) that specifically cater to gay Asian men in New York. And there, apparently, already exist responses to similar queries, e.g.:

  • Suk Sum Wang.
  • Usually White gay guys get a kick out of having an Asian dude for a boyfriend, (so) it really shouldn’t be that hard to find someone.
  • (Comment on the now-defunct Asian bar The Web) This place is an “Asian club”. By “Asian”, I mean it’s half stripper lounge of Asian boys for White men.

See, the need for a safe space (unfortunately often the bars) is a necessity that was highlighted by The Stonewall Inn’s emergence to represent the modern era’s LGBTQIA liberation movement. And yet we continue to lack that.

Thus, again, the need to emphasize the needs of POC.

But here is my support of the POC – as a concept – ends.

I believe in inclusion.

And the way I am seeing it, the very concept of segregating POC (from the larger) struggle defeats the purpose of inclusion.

For one, for me, it creates that notion of “them” (i.e. White people – irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression) versus “us” (all non-Whites lumped together). By itself, it seems like our (us who are not White) very existence is considered (thus validated/invalidated) only in terms of White-ness.

I remember in one of the talks I was invited at, a Filipino trans activist, Naomi Fontanos of GANDA Filipinas, highlighted how we do not want “acceptance”. It’s “respect” that we want. The concept of asking for “acceptance” is premised on having someone the right to give it, and this shouldn’t be the case.

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I am seeing that here…

For me, it also belittles the experiences of those in the umbrella term, again because we’re simply lumped into one. We already know how detrimental umbrella terms can be to those they embody – e.g. MSM (men who have sex with men) was once used to include MTF (male to female) trans people, easily denigrating them to “former men”; and the entire LGBTQIA movement continues to be criticized by bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people for being non-inclusive even if they are included in the (umbrella) acronym.

One lesbian activist I spoke with in the past insisted on the need for umbrella terms, mainly because “it simplifies categorizations of people we want to reach,” she said. The simplification, however, is FOR HER, not necessarily for the people who will be served.

I am seeing this here, too…

Yes, we may have to touch on so many other issues.

How there’s strength in numbers (which, not surprisingly, also touches on “them” versus “us”).
How there’s the difficulty to access power, exactly because we’re “POC”, and so we can not change the erroneous system even if we want to.
How horizontal discrimination necessitates alternatives solutions.
How building our own systems (e.g. holding a separate Pride) may be a better response, ensuring that the alternative systems then become “by us, for us”.
Et cetera, et cetera.

But I continue to be lost.

I continue to see how tricky this situation is – of us becoming the very people we seek out to destroy.

I just can’t help but have misgivings with the segregation because by this, are we not ending up:

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  • Hating those who discriminate against us by discriminating against them?
  • Abhorring how they do not include us by coming up with something that excludes them, too?

And here I was, thinking that we’re supposed to be in this fight together…

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. He grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City), but he "really came out in Sydney" so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing, and a developed world". Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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