Many forms of injustice that exist are a legacy of the same networks of power – colonialism, whiteness and patriarchy. The same tongue that names queerness as “unnatural” is the same system that has police shooting black people in the streets and it’s the same one that is decimating the Amazon jungle. Therefore, it’s essential for us to consider that any pro- justice work we undertake requires inclusion of them all – we cannot achieve different futures without taking everyone along because if we don’t do that we merely reterritorialise structures for similar unequal futures.
In Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy and the Queer Ecological Imagination, Nicole Seymour says that concepts of “nature” have been used to mutilate and exclude many people, but its concept is based on a binary, that nature tends to disprove as there are multiple expressions that do not fall in the binary. “Binary systems are deeply entrenched in Western colonial beliefs…these models represent two oppositional perspectives but what happens to the space in between?” asks Adrienne Huard.
The Member of Parliament in Tottenham, David Lammy, says we cannot have climate justice without racial justice as Black people suffer disproportionately from the deteriorating state of the environment. Similarly, climate justice is impossible without queer justice. In a Clubhouse discussion held on the 19th of August moderated by Tushar Hathiramani of the hFACTOR Collective, queer activists; Kuiyu in Kenya, Dolapo Hannah Osunsina (also of the hFACTOR Collective) and Matthew Blaise, both in Nigeria gathered to address the topic of queer activism being tethered to climate justice.
The activists all agree that the state of being queer is in sync with the rhythms of nature but it would be of great lesson, to adopt a queer sensibility when approaching climate justice. According to Denver Botanic Gardens, “Nature” has often been used as the justification for the ostracism and animosity hurled at those in the Queer community. Queer ecology, a fairly recent ideology, attempts to break the understanding of nature that humanity has created, and instead allow nature to just be what it is. The article further states that:
Stemming from Queer Theory which challenges the notion that heterosexual desire is “normal,” Queer ecology is about “letting go of the idea of what is natural and acknowledging the diversity of the natural world.” “Natural” is a completely human defined term, and so long as we continue to view nature through our limited understanding of what it should be, it’s likely we will never fully understand it”.
Queer sensibility thus allows humans to move away from heteronormative binary idealism and lean into the disruptions that nature presents. Thinking through climatic disruptions and inconsistencies, queer ecology advocates for empathy. The queerness of humanity and the natural world outside of us provides a beautiful backdrop of diversity, to be climate just inescapably translates to being socially just too, interchangeably.
“To be queer is to be truthful. To yourself and the outside. When I see queerness, I see truthfulness. The truth gives you better connection to nature,” says Matthew Blaise. Blaise suggests that because the truthfulness of an open queer life provides one with the language to tackle injustices with an honesty that it requires. “Queerness is the way forward for many things in the world,” they say.
Lawyer, Dolapo Hannah Osunsina reminds us that beyond the many instances of queer phenomena across existence, her own evolution felt reflective of nature, “Being queer meant I was ever-changing, even nature is queer,” she says. She further says that queer people exist and are a part of nature, therefore what they exhibit is natural. Singer and Communications practitioner, Kuiyu extends the concept further and says that the intrinsic spirit of overcoming in queer people is an echo of nature’s own survival mechanisms. “Survival element of queer folk is synonymous with the earth,” they say.
This strives to establish queerness as a natural occurring element that entrenches it as a necessary consideration in climate change. But not only to address queer related issues but adopting a queer sensibility to climate justice, expands its impact. Queer is a multi-faceted word that is used in different ways and means different things to different people. For some, it’s attraction to people of many genders and for others it denotes not conforming to cultural norms around gender and/or sexuality. As a general term, queerness refers to the range of non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people.
The claim that we are non-binary is well evidenced and nature itself also reflects fluidity. Blaise agrees because they believe nature doesn’t exist in binaries, “society is not homogenous,” they argue. If society is not homogenous, then how can our justice work embody the same tools of binaries that brought us here? What Blaise suggests is a framework that embraces the multitude of nature’s iterations, otherwise our movements will exclude some people on the way.
Osunsina says that because queerness exists as an anti-thesis to the binary, it is a critical tool that can be used as it asks different questions. “Queerness asks for alternatives, it says there should be another way to hold things,” she says. It’s through this alternative inquiry, that we begin to birth frameworks that are inclusive, strive towards a holistic equal society while protecting the planet. There is need to recognise and continue fighting the negative impacts of queer discrimination and binary and heteronormative thinking to include everyone.
“Anti-gay laws are an environmental issue. People think that they are sanitising the world by killing queers, but killing us is a pollutant,” says Blaise, “Homelessness affects queer people at a higher rate, 40 percent of homeless people are queer,” they continue. According to Atmos Magazine, “One in four LGBTIA adults in the U.S. is food insecure. That figure rises when it comes to racial and ethnic minorities within the LGBTIA community” These stats prove that including queer issues in climate justice is paramount and vice-versa as the two exist at an intersection. When we talk about social justice, inclusive and just climate action, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure equality for all.
Kuiyu says that access to rights, food and shelter creates security in identity that leads to security in the environment. “If we’re not caught up in self-preservation, you have space to give,” they say. But in a similar way that queer rights were overlooked, treating queer people as an afterthought, we cannot afford to treat climate justice in the same manner. There needs to be “radical education” as Blaise suggests in order to galvanise people into caring and take action. “But the content must not be apologetic in tone,” they say. Osunsina says we must continue to support organisers and activists with resources and be unyielding in pressurising lawmakers and policy makers. We cannot discount the power of creating healing spaces, which forms part of the work they do at H-Factor Collective.
In closing his Ted Talk, Lammy says that climate justice is not only about protecting the planet but also about caring about the people on the planet. He further says that a green recovery plan must create jobs for marginalised people. Therefore, climate justice must embody the same spirit by including queer issues as one of its mandates by considering the elimination of queer food insecurity and homelessness, as much as queer activism must include climate change in its own objectives.
This discussion made important observations which are essential to realise equitable climate action. The needs and concerns of sexual minorities have to be acknowledged, but this is just the beginning. There is need to build on this to collaborate with partners working on climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action to actively prioritise queer communities to protect and reduce threats and harm to these communities.
This article is written as part of a storytelling series called: Symbiocene – Finding Coexistence: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Us, a collection commissioned in partnership with African Crossroads. The contents of the series are the sole responsibility of This Is Africa Trust, and cannot be regarded as reflecting the official position of Hivos Foundation.
Look out for the main physi-virtual hybrid event on 14th and 15th October 2021 featuring live and recorded presentations on Climate Justice, which will be broadcast online in the form of interviews, concerts, storytelling, panel discussions and digital experiences.