A Conversation with LAL
By Adabu Brownhill
As a Queer black gender bending person, I live for spaces that center Queer and trans racialized people. Living in Canada those types of spaces are hard to find, sometimes impossible to find, unless you live in a bigger city with a diverse population. I actually moved from Guelph to Toronto just to be able to have access to spaces that are primarily for folks of colour and Queer and Trans people. Unit 2, a well-known community space in Toronto, run by two radical artists, specifically changed my entire perspective on safe and inclusive spaces. My introduction to Rose and Nic/LAL was life changing as they have an incredibly beautiful concept of community and hold their community down in ways I’ve never seen before. I interviewed rose about Unit 2, which is her loft apartment where she lives with her partner Nic. They live there, make music there and open their home to an entire community of Indigenous, Black, POC and Queer and Trans folks. They’re two of the most amazing, badass people I’ve ever met and they’re a huge inspiration for me and many other folks.
First off, the word ‘community’ is really trendy these days. what does community mean to you?
Hmmmm that’s hard.
I mean our community (Nic and mine aka LAL), is pretty interesting and diverse so it’s kind of all over the place from queer/trans folks to straight folks (and in between) from BIPOC to allies, artists to academics…so my sense of community is always changing or I’m always learning how to make community more meaningful and how to support it.
Community to me means treating people like family or chosen family. sometimes you don’t like them or they piss you off but you find ways to love, and forgive them (or not), or you love them just cuz.
I think community means to forgive each other, have compassion and try our best not to come at each other but i to understand if we do from time to time, cuz we are all dealing with so much shit and pain and trauma.
I believe community means to have each others you back, so if you need something then I’m there for you and I will drop what I got going to support. If you need food or cash or housing then we are here to support, and vice versa.I think lot of people talk about community, but really they are looking out for themselves, this annoys the crap of me but I have to learn not to get upset and allow people their own path.
What are ways that you build community?
I build community mostly through word of mouth, through other relationships and also just being open to the universe (you def have to pay attention when you do this as well!). I def build through our arts/community space, like Unit 2. A lot of folks contact us and find out about what we are doing through friends and such We end up building community through the space, both performers and community members. We def build through music as well and art and social justice. I mean def have an online community but the community is very much connected to our ‘in life’ community, it’s just a continuation of how we work in the ‘non virtual world’.
I think I also support a lot of folks, either with their art or lately been trying to be supportive one on one with folks who need some support and help. This is a very different way to build community cuz it’s one relationship at a time but it’s also super important. I don’t want my job or my arts practice to get so busy that I don’t have room for folks nor do I want my art to be the only thing i really focus on. Life is my Art so community building is def part of this.
You’ve turned your home into a community space. How did that start?
Well, I got tired of the scene in Toronto, not being able to do what we wanted, always bowing down to corporate types (not always of course!) but just wanting to something different. It started off as just us trying to run some parties and provide space, and we slowly realized how there wasn’t enough safer space for Q/BIPOC folks and accessible space in terms of economics, and ability. Again we hadn’t really thought of any of this when we started and luckily (well it’s not really luck!), we got a space that was pretty accessible (the main space), and as we learned more about what folks needed, Unit 2 just began to shape itself. It’s been six years! and we’ve learned a lot and continue to learn and share space. The hope is to make it a full time community/arts space and get more people involved who want to create a DIT (Do It Together) vision. Big ups to Toyin Coker, Ange Loft, Kevin Jones, Juli(e), Ki, Cherish Blood, all the volunteers, and other folks who have lived at Unit 2 and supported and helped shape the vision of Unit 2!
What do you find challenging when it comes to community/community spaces?
It’s a lot of work. Wow so much work (laughing) and though we love it we def need some help for sure. We are reaching out more and more cuz we are burning out and we got a new album coming out so we can’t always run things for like nine hours plus set up and cleanup!
It’s also a lot of energy work, cuz I’m basically keeping track of the room and the energy and vibes. From the outside it may look like we are (Nic, the volunteers, promoters and I) partying but really we are very much aware of what’s going on, in order to keep things safer.
I used to be worried about all different communities coming together but now I’m feeling like this a great way to build trust, eat, dance, smoke, whatever before we start to do political-based work.
It’s also challenging to get folks to believe in DIT spaces, but people are craving for it. Just getting people to work together can be challenging but thus far it’s been pretty easy, just a lot of time and energy goes into this shit.
What are some cool QPOC (queer people of colour) community spaces that you know of in Toronto? Can you mention some outside of Toronto?
Blocko for sure, not a physical space but def Block (Black contingent of Pride) have been creating space for years!
There’s Double Double land for concerts, though I’m not that familiar with them and are building with them slowly now, but April is mad cool. 88 days has been building space/shows for years within Black queer shit. Outside of Toronto there’s loads, QPOC in Winnipeg, who we just connected with are doing amazing things and we are just beginning to find more Q/BIPOC space throughout Canada. Yes Yes Y’all has been doing parties for a while and d’bi young’s Watah school as well. In the US there’s tonnes from Allied Media conference in Detroit to DIY spaces in Oakland. we are planning a tour in the US are reaching out to folks. In Seattle there’s folks like Moni Tep and Black Constellation folks and My Parade has a DIY Q/BIPOC concert space in their home. There’s a lot in the US for sure and we are just beginning to build with folks. Brooklyn boihood in NY as well have been doing some wicked things. Just found out about Boys of Bangladesh but haven’t been able to connect yet (out of Dhaka). Black Lives Matter is doing a whole lot and in Toronto is working on a Freedom school for Black youth. Il nana is creating dance spaces for QBIPOC folks in Toronto, Crafty Queers is also doing some amazing work. The Drag musical creates space for BIPOC youth create Drag performances, and Native Youth Sexual Health Network is doing some amazing work, oh there’s also Children’s Peace Theatre! Gosh, there’s a bunch!
What advice can you give to people who are interested in organizing some sort of community space ?
Be patient, work with people who you trust and want to build with. Don’t get too ego’d out and allow things to unfold and build organically.Get people involved to support and do what you love. If you don’t love it, then don’t do it cuz it will burn you out. Ask for help when you need it and be open to feedback and making changes! don’t get into this power ego shit. work from a place of community and try your best not to let personal biases get in the way. Listen to people and don’t be afraid to try new shit. Try to make stuff accessible in all ways and reach out to communities, build bridges not walls! Take breaks when you need and be honest about what you can and cannot do! Be transparent or learn to be transparent, and share information and money!