CORK has changed greatly in the past decade. It is now home to people from all over the world, from many cultures, religions, sexualities, gender identities, and skin colours.
Researcher Thomas Heising finds that “talking to people in general who have lived in Cork for more than ten years, it is easy to get an impression of a vastly ‘white’ city turning explosively ‘multi-ethnic’.”
In his recently published Crossroads report, launched by the Gay Project, Cork, Thomas finds that outdated attitudes and malignant stereotypes are still found in Cork, a small city that hasn’t yet fully caught up with its new diverse community.
In the meantime, one ‘invisible community’ is still trying to carve out its own space within the established ‘white’ Cork GBTQ+ society.
“Most participants did allude to an understanding of Cork’s gay scene as being for ‘white’ people only,” says Thomas, referring to his Crossroads report.
He also noted that ‘some participants expressed difficulty relating to the drinking culture in Cork’s GBTQ+ nightlife.’
Crossroads offers us a contemporary look at the lived experiences of, and attitudes towards, racialisation and discrimination of GBTQ+ people of colour living in Cork. It looks at the double discrimination of being both a person of colour and GBTQ+.
“Interestingly, every participant who had experienced racialisation and marginalisation based on their heritage and appearance had not been subjected to the same degree of queerphobia or homophobia,” says Thomas.
“One thing that really struck me was the level of discrimination based on appearance,” adds Thomas, who has been living in Cork for the past four years.
“Being a queer person of colour, I would have experienced forms of ‘othering’, not directly discrimination, but when I heard what some participants had faced, I was really, really taken aback by it.”
‘Othering’ is the word used to describe treating people with perceived differences as generally inferior to the group you belong to. The “individual is treated or referred to as abnormal and therefore excluded or discriminated against in different aspects,” explains Thomas.
A person can be ‘othered’ for their gender, colour of skin, sexuality, disability, age – the list goes on. In this case, the nine members of the study often found themselves ‘othered’ within the GBTQ+ community due to the colour of their skin, and perceived background.
“It’s interesting when you have ‘othering’ with a marginalised group within a marginalised group. A lot of people would not necessarily know this exists, and they’d be surprised to hear it takes place,” says Thomas.
“But it does because even though we feel as if we’re a sub-society of general Cork society, we are also a part of Cork society.
“I think this discrimination stems largely from wider society. And so whatever discrimination you will feel in the Cork scene, you will also feel in the Queer scene.
“In the male Queer scene, there would be a hierarchy. If you’re white, Irish, and you have certain physical traits, for instance, and you can accommodate, you will be higher up in the hierarchy versus if you are Brazilian or of colour and have just moved to the city - then you are lowest in the hierarchy.”
The study highlights four contexts in which the LGBTQ+ community in Cork interact –the gay bar, the Gay Project, lesbian and bisexual resource centre LinC, and online dating apps, such as Grindr and Tinder.
“There are other outlets, including the UCC LGBT Society, UP Cork LGBT Youth Project, gay cruise & fetish club The Loft, and some places that can be described as gay-friendly,” adds Thomas.
It is within these settings that participants of the study found themselves vulnerable to toxic stereotypes and racist comments, such as: ‘You are too black to be Irish,’ ‘Did you fall asleep on the tanning bed?’ and ‘Oh, so you’re looking for a visa?’
“I feel exasperated when I have to reiterate that the idea of ‘races’ is invented by us, and does not reflect reality at all,” says Thomas.
“I have let go of acquaintances and friends who insisted they could ascribe behaviours intrinsically and biologically to Middle Eastern people simply because of what they observed on television. The same people who would not apologise for referring to Africans as ‘jungle people’, and who were eager to teach me about which of my characteristics, behaviours and features were inherently African and which were inherently European. The act of applying a ‘race’ onto another person is a form of ‘racism’.”
Many of the participants of the study are now reluctant to ‘deal’ with Cork’s ‘white’ GBTQ+ spaces, instead seeking solitude, or the company of other people of colour.
“Being subjected to racial discrimination does not only affect one emotionally, but it further has a crippling effect on the productivity, sense of accomplishment and self-image of a person,” says Thomas.
He believes that as well as looking at internalised homophobia in the queer community, there needs to be more talk of internalised racism.
“We’re all a bit racist because we’ve all grown up in a culture and a society that teaches us to be racializing, to be ‘othering’. And of course, in different scales, and in different capacities.
“So, for instance, you would see in a lot of pro-black movements, which are fabulous, which are amazing, but they will use this term ‘mixed race’. I would be categorised as that, for instance, and it’s not something that makes any sense to me. These are social constructs that we’ve used to look at people and quickly determine, oh, they belong to this group, they belong to that group,” the researcher said.
Thomas believes that language is key when it comes to looking for a resolution of these issues.
“We need to look at the language, where does it all come from? We can use history, we can use politics, we can use legislative knowledge, for instance, to find out why there are these ideas of white people being perceived as being fundamentally better than black people or brown people.
“Analytically, talking about these things is super important. Why is it that so many people experience the same insult? And why is it that we can’t really find a way to properly address this or communicate?”
Looking ahead, Thomas is advocating for more research, queer spaces primarily for GBTQ+ people of colour, and more dialogue within the greater community.
“Migration and global movement will likely not lessen in the future, privatised interests still manipulate the political sphere, and economic inequality is on the rise,” says Thomas.
“Discussing racism is an uncomfortable thing for a lot of people and understandably so. It challenges us all to confront behavioural patterns, our fundamental beliefs, and how we benefit from discriminatory structures. It is challenging, but a feat that even people of colour need to undertake.”
To read Thomas’s report on the experiences of GBTQ+ people of colour in Cork, go to: gayproject.ie/special-projects/the-crossroads