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Capital Pride 2018 - OPL Guest Blogger - Robert Alsberry

21/08/2018

In celebrating Capital Pride 2018, OPL reached out to Ottawa's LGBTQIA2 community to get their recommendations on queer-themed titles in the Library's collection. Robert Alsberry R.N., is happily married to Martin Lee, a proud cat owner, and works at MAX Ottawa as their Communications and Outreach Coordinator. In addition to the library, he loves talking, taking naps, and being with friends and family.

 

Queer in the Library!

 

When I’m asked to describe myself, two things that are high on my list are being queer and my love affair with libraries.  At an early age my parents would take me to the Carnegie Libraries in Pittsburgh, my home town. From day one the library has always been a wondrous place for me. As I’ve grown, so has my usage of the library in all phases of my life. My coming out process in my late teens was definitely made smoother by the works of James Baldwin, Larry Kramer, Alice Walker, and many others. All of whom were brought to me by courtesy of the library.

 

When I moved to Ottawa two years ago to join my partner, one of the first things I did was head over to Ottawa Public Library (OPL). Then and now I continue to be impressed with the sheer quantity and quality of resources the OPL offers. I am surprised when I encounter folks who don’t have a card themselves or just think OPL is only books and magazines! I never mind putting my brand ambassador hat on to let folks know OPL offers so much more!  From streaming services to online adult learning, free classes and workshops and so on... I mean, what’s there not to love!?

 

Speaking as a Black American and Queer man, the representation of Black Canadian history and/or works by queer folks of colour are frequently hidden gems at the OPL. It was an adjustment coming from a city whose libraries have dedicated sections to African-American and Queer history to hardly seeing any on display. I’ve never been one to feel quickly defeated however! With the help of the advanced research tab on OPL’s website, I have been able to find some amazing works that have been a source of encouragement and inspiration.

 

This brings me to another topic that speaks volume to me: Pride.  Before I get into what Pride means to me, I would like to say that I am aware of the many issues surrounding it. There are many critiques that I believe are valid about current Pride celebrations that include (and are not limited to) impaired accessibility, underrepresentation of minority groups, and a celebratory nature that can overshadow the activism that is still needed in the queer and wider community. On the other hand, I am conscious of the work that so many of our queer community leaders have done and continue to do in order to make Pride worth celebrating. I currently work at MAX Ottawa, the first stand-alone GBT2Q men’s health organization in Ontario. As an organizer, I certainly have gained new perspectives and appreciation of the event. All of this is to say that I think it’s important to find ways to make Pride your own.

 

How have I applied this definition to myself? As much as I love the solace of the library, I also love being social! Pride is a great time to be out and about in the community, party with friends, and make new ones. It’s also a great time to learn and reflect upon and explore queer history and art. I know some may think it strange, but all of the talk of Pride makes me want to do one thing… going to the library!

 

I would love to share three highlights that the OPL has led me to. One of the first books I checked out in Ottawa is James Baldwin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations published by Melville House in 2014. Like so many, Baldwin has been a great influence in my life and to discover this book was electrifying. The interviews really helped me to get to know Baldwin more intimately. In particular, the dialogue between Baldwin and Richard Goldstein in 1984 for “The Village Voice“ about being gay and Black in America is just as relevant today as it was then and has been applied to my Canadian experience.

 

Second on my list is, Queer and Trans Artists of Color, Volume 1 by Nia King from 2014. Like the previous book, it too is a collection of interviews that I found refreshing. Nia really explores the future of Queer people of color’s art activism with some incredible guests including Janet Mock. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was that it challenged me to think and reflect on my own personal definition of activism, an apt reflection for all Queer identified people during Pride. There’s also volume 2 I need to read and a volume 3 in the works!

 

Last but not least, Eat With Me, a 2015 indie Film from Wolfe Video. I stumbled across this title when I was searching for specifically for a Queer movie that represented a protagonist/ lead role who wasn’t a White male. This movie features Sharon Omi, Teddy Chen and George Takei. I’m not going to lie you and say it’s a solid 3.5/5-star movie, but it was nice to watch something that features a Chinese-American male lead and Sharon Omi is a great actress! This movie served to be a great reminder that so many groups of people are fighting for representation and to have their voices and stories told.

             

Anais Nin wrote, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meaning that a new world is born.” As cheesy as it sounds, the library is that friend to me. It has and always will provide great avenues to explore and conveys representation of people that look like me or have similar experiences. Heading into Ottawa Pride celebrations, I’m excited to wear my badge of Queerness and love of the library gladly!

 

 

Image: James Baldwin

James Baldwin

The Last Interview and Other Conversations
By Baldwin, James
Image: Queer and Trans Artists of Color

Queer and Trans Artists of Color

Stories of Some of Our Lives
By King, Nia