Wednesday Jun 19

EXCERPT - Queer Professionals and Settler Colonialism:  Engaging Decolonial Thought within Organizations

            How do queer organizations (for- and nonprofits who center their work around issues related to gender identity/expression and sexual orientation) in downtown Toronto work towards meaningfully addressing ongoing oppression experienced by Indigenous peoples? I have come to this project through a series of uncomfortable accidents. Before I “came out” in my early 20s, I had been exploring the ways that my own experiences and identities were informed by encounters with cisheterosexism. Focusing on how I felt and experienced oppression—as someone who identifies as mad, queer, and a cisgender-passing person and is interpolated as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and 2-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+) community—allowed for me to blissfully ignore the ways I benefited from interlocking systems of oppression.


Through [my] experiences [working within queer organizations], I became increasingly frustrated with the seemingly normal and mundane ways many helping professionals spoke about and worked with [Black, Indigenous, and people of color]—our differing experiences of oppression should be uniting us in unlearning and ultimately challenging the oppression marginalized peoples face. Evolving out of my work in Toronto’s HIV/AIDS sector and subsequent interviews with 2-Spirited people attending Pride Toronto (Greensmith & Giwa, 2013) and non-Indigenous LGBTQ+ helping professionals, the goal of this book is to find a better way to engage helping—when helping itself is rooted in white settler colonial logics—and asks how non-Indigenous LGBTQ+ peoples can recognize their own (and their organizations’) complicity and work towards decolonization.

Here we address the specificities of queer organizations in downtown Toronto, Canada—precisely the ways queer professions, in fields such as healthcare, counselling, and social work, address (or do not address) the intersecting oppressions facing LGBTQ2S+ people, families, and communities. More importantly, we highlight the need to connect queer organizations to larger structures of oppression such as white supremacy and settler colonialism which they routinely sustain and benefit from. White supremacy can be defined as a system of race-based preferences that remain deeply ingrained within contemporary North America (hooks, 2003; DiAngelo, 2018; Razack, 1998, 2008; Thobani, 2007). Indeed, as DiAngelo (2018) notes “white supremacy [is used] to describe a sociopolitical economic system of domination based on racial categories that benefit those defined and perceived as white” (p. 30).

Vowel (2016) defines settler colonialism as the “deliberate physical occupation of land as a method of asserting ownership over land and resources” (p. 16). Moreover, settler colonialism is “predicated upon discourses of [I]ndigenous displacement” (Byrd, 2011, p. xvii) and is an “ongoing ideology and practice” (Lowman & Barker, 2015, p. 35). Like whiteness, settler colonialism is an insidious and often taken-for-granted way of organizing social life, which undoubtedly seeps into queer organizations and other helping work. An important nuance is how do non-Indigenous LGBTQ-identified helping professionals work with and support Indigenous peoples, communities, and nations? And how does their helping and caring work fit within an organizational structure that is built upon Indigenous peoples’ displacement, containment, and erasure?

It is undeniable that these queer organizations in Toronto do important work; that is not being questioned. What is at stake here are the ways that white settler colonialism, as a logic bound up in non-Indigenous helping professionals’ work and their respective queer organizations, shapes the ways queer helping work is imagined and enacted. Thus, we need to  explore in more detail the ways white settler colonialism remains engrained in non-Indigenous LGBTQ+ helping professionals’ direct practice work with marginalized service users, the mission and mandate of queer organizations, and larger outreach efforts that naturalize the whiteness of queerness while making people of colour and Indigenous people abject—as problems and pathological (Greensmith, 2012). We are critical of the ways queer organizations deal with race and Indigeneity by highlighting the stories of non-Indigenous LGBTQ-identified helping professionals; they are volunteers, outreach workers, healthcare professionals, clinical social workers, and nonprofit administrators who are doing the important helping, caring, and healing work. Their stories offer a glimpse into how non-Indigenous LGBTQ+ helping professionals imagine their work, their roles, and their responsibilities and considers how queer organizations may better support Indigenous peoples and participate in decolonial coalition-building that works towards eliminating white racism and settler colonialism in Canada.

Cameron Greensmith is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work and Human Services at Kennesaw State University. His book Queer Professionals and Settler Colonialism is available from the University of Toronto Press at


DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Greensmith, C. (2012). Pathologizing Indigeneity in the Caledonia “crisis.” Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 1(2), 18–42. DOI:

Greensmith, C., & Giwa, S. (2013). Challenging settler colonialism in contemporary queer politics: Settler homonationalism, Pride Toronto, and two-spirit subjectivities. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 37(2), 129–48.

hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lowman, E. B., & Barker, A. J. (2015). Settler: Identity and colonialism in 21st century Canada. Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.

Razack, S. (1998). Looking white people in the eye: Gender, race, and culture in courtrooms and classrooms. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Thobani, S. (2007). Exalted subjects: Studies in the making of race and nation in Canada. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Vowel, C. (2016). Indigenous writes: A guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada. Winnepeg, MB: Portage & Main Press.