Radio — From queer Muslim organizing to multi-faceted struggles against bigotry

Imtiaz Popat is a therapeutic counsellor in Vancouver. He is also the coordinator of the local chapter of Salaam: Queer Muslim Community, and he has played a central role in the Two-Spirit and LGBT People of Colour Alliance and the Coalition Against Bigotry – Pacific. Scott Neigh interviews him about his extensive work against oppression and bigotry, and the threads that link it all together.

A crucial tension across many different areas of activism and organizing in the last few decades has been between approaches that focus on a single narrow experience or issue or struggle, versus approaches that work through the many different ways that different experiences and issues and struggles are interconnected. Usually, when the focus of activism and organizing is singular and narrow, it ends up largely being the most privileged people involved in that struggle who benefit – the most privileged workers, the most privileged women, the most privileged queer people, or whatever the case might be. And it is more often people whose experiences of oppression are multiple and complex who have no choice but to make sure that their struggles for a better world are likewise. Some of the most important articulations of this kind of politics came from radical African-American lesbian feminists in the 1970s and 1980s and Black feminist scholars a little bit later.

It is unfortunately common, in our current moment, for the language of intersectional analysis to be taken up without the substance, or for it to be used in ways and contexts that abandon the radical core of the politics from which it emerged. At the same time, however, activism and organizing that try to grapple with the complexity of oppression and resistance can take a lot of different shapes – there are no simple answers and it can look really different depending on its location, its focus, its participants, and its goals.

Imtiaz Popat’s wide range of involvements may appear at first glance to be quite different, but all involve bringing people together across difference to challenge diverse and interlocking oppressions.

Popat got started in this work close to 20 years ago via a group called Salaam: Queer Muslim Community, part of a cross-country network of groups under the banner of Salaam Canada. It is not a religious organization, but rather a way for queer and trans Muslims to come together and build community across the different intersections of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, heterosexism, and cissexism that they face. In Vancouver, Salaam started out with a focus on social events and mutual support, and over the year has become more involved in advocacy supporting LGBTQ newcomers to Canada and in challenging the racism and Islamophobia that queer Muslims face within mainstream queer communities.

A few years ago, Popat was instrumental in bringing Salaam and other groups in British Columbia together into a Two-Spirit and LGBT People of Colour Alliance. The most immediate goal of the alliance was to support the demands of Black Lives Matter as they challenged the ways that mainstream Pride events and mainstream LGBTQ communities often marginalize queer and trans Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour. They also work to push back against the corporatization of Pride and its long drift away from its roots in protest and politics, and to organize alternative events to both challenge and augment mainstream Pride.

The last few years has also seen a sharp increase in the most overt forms of racism and bigotry across the continent, including in Vancouver. Three years ago, the KKK began openly organizing in the city, and more recently groups like the Soldiers of Odin have become more prominent. Again, Popat played an important role in bringing together a range of groups and individuals into the Coalition Against Bigotry – Pacific to challenge such explicitly hateful and oppressive politics. The use of the word “bigotry” in the name is meant to capture the breadth of the group’s work – it is not only about opposing racism, but also sexism, heterosexism, xenophobia, transphobia, and so on. Indeed, Popat sees a link between the rise of white nationalist groups and the recent upsurge in explicitly anti-trans organizing, even if some of the latter happens under a banner that proclaims itself ‘feminist.’ The group recognizes a need for work addressing the more covert, insidious, and systemic forms that oppression can take, but for the moment all of its energies are occupied with the blatant, the overt, and the direct.

Image: Used with permission of Imtiaz Popat.

Theme music: “It Is the Hour (Get Up)” by Snowflake, via CCMixter


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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