I was in Montana when I saw the first posts celebrating Madison Magazine’s “Faces of Pride” article. Missing my Madison community and wanting to support my amazing friends excitedly sharing their inclusion in the piece, I clicked. And read. Then wondered if my shoddy service on the Blackfeet Reservation might have prevented the entire article from loading. I re-checked the article title, “Meet 11 Madisonians in the LGBTQ community who celebrate their authentic selves not just in June during Pride Month.” I had indeed read the whole piece, but I knew there was still a lot missing.
Of the 11 Madisonians featured, five visually or verbally identified as Black, four visually/verbally identified as white, and two visually/verbally identified as Latinx. Six used he/him pronouns and five used she/her pronouns. And this article was being praised for its diversity.
Maybe it was that this article was published during AAPI Heritage Month. Maybe it was that it was published on stolen Ho Chunk land. Maybe it was all those binary pronouns. But I didn’t see diversity. I saw a continued pattern of erasure of Asian, Pacific Islander, Native, and nonbinary people in Madison.
I commented on my sense of loss on a few shares of the post, where my words were either ignored or met with an astounded, “I didn’t realize!” Those responses hurt as much as the original article. Not only were we overlooked by a predominantly white institution like Madison Magazine, but my white and non-white peers and colleagues also didn’t realize we were missing.
It was then the doubt crept in, the doubt that is so familiar to people whose identities are repeatedly dismissed. Were we not open enough about the intersections of our queerness with our cultures? Were our accomplishments not enough to merit our faces shown alongside the people already chosen? There were 11 chances to include us, and 11 times it was decided we weren’t worth including.
This exclusion is longstanding and systemic. Asian people suffer the model minority myth that lumps them into whiteness, their histories of colonization, oppression, and resilience lost to harmful stereotypes. Pacific Islanders often see their demographic lumped into Asian or Native categories when outside their traditional homelands, or they are just not considered at all. Native peoples, specifically Tribal peoples of what is now the United States and Canada, are seen as objects of the past or confined to reservations and removed from urban and queer environments. Nonbinary, genderfluid, genderqueer, agender, trans* people of all cultures are often seen and portrayed as difficult and confusing by cisgender or binary people. This has negative impacts on our professional development, mental health, and overall well being.
As a Two Spirit person, I have seen and felt these impacts. I’ve been told that Native and Asian queer folks are not part of the Black and Brown communities on the Inclusive Pride flag because—and I quote—“Red and yellow are already on there.” (Just to be clear, it’s a slur to call us by those color terms.) I have been told my use of they/them pronouns is not legitimate, that my tribal culture of gender fluidity is wrong. Hardest of all, I have been told that fighting for the inclusion of Native, Pacific Islander, and Asian people hurts better-represented Black and Latinx communities, and that existing as a nonbinary person harms binary trans people. But cultural identities, queer identities are not singlular spectrums. They are spectra, plural, encompassing multitudes of expressions.
So while the individuals featured in Madison Magazine’s 2021 Pride article are worth celebrating, the article itself is not. The author did reach out to me saying that if her article wasn’t inclusive enough, she will help make opportunities for good writers. But no adjustments have been made to the article, no apologies stated for the lack of inclusion in both cultures and genders. This is the peril of cis white writers, editorial boards, and funders deciding what inclusion looks like. The rainbow is just divided white light. So we must shine in our own way.