Yas Queen

Yas Queen /ˈyas ˈkwēn/  slang. – an emphatic term of endearment, encouragement, celebration, love and/or show of support. The slang began in the 1980s and 1990s ballroom culture where LGBTQIA+ people of color used it to compliment each other.

Interview with Star

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

Oh wow. Starting, I’m a single parent. I have a background in construction. I’m a master mechanic on trade — sheet metal, HVAC work, as well as pipe fitting. I also have a nonprofit background. I run my own nonprofit organization,called Our Spot KC. So by day, construction…by passion, nonprofit work within the LGBTQ community specifically.

I guess kind of what fuels me to do the work that I do, especially in the nonprofit sector, is being a homeless youth, at age 15, kicked out of my house — religious based homophobia essentially is the root of all of it. Having to survive as a youth and seeing some of those same gaps in services still existing 20 years later, just kinda fired me up to kind of do my part and see how I can help and listen to the community and engaging in trying to create programming and events that the community has expressed a need for.

How would you define beauty?

You know, when you hear beauty a lot of people think about the outward appearance part of it. For me, it’s something that comes from within. And not to be cliche…it truly does. I’m very big on auras and energy, I guess you could say, and when I meet people sometimes they truly operate on a different level. I just feel energy, like I don’t know how to really explain it, I’m just really big on energy. And for me that’s beautiful. That is what beauty means… someone who is passionate. Someone who is happy has nothing but positive energy flowing from them. And trying to…whether it’s trying to make a difference or trying to just be loyal and genuine as a person, for me that’s what beauty means. It’s something that is inner.

How would you describe/define Black beauty? Black style?

Black beauty? Oh man, it’s beautiful. You know, it’s our culture in itself. It’s our language, our body language, our looks, the tone that we have, the way we walk into a room. For me, Black beauty is something that everybody wants to imitate. From music to history to whatever. Black beauty is ingrained in all cultures and all things in my opinion. Like I said, from the things that we built, the things that we do, our entertainment aspects…. Everything is Black beauty to me. it’s beautiful to see our culture shine through in most things.

“For me, Black beauty is something that everybody wants to imitate. From music to history to whatever. Black beauty is ingrained in all cultures and all things in my opinion.”

What are some things that come to mind when it comes to Black culture?

I mean, jazz, blues, country, rock and roll. We are ingrained in , and invented, and have done all of those things. When I hear Black culture, We are doing it for the culture…It’s, you know, the way that we talk, the swag that we have, all races, our music… I don’t care what type of party I’m at, you will always hear Black culture, Black music, Black swag…from the clothes that we wear, to the catch phrases that we say, to…just whatever. I mean pretty much everything…you see Black culture ingrained, like deep down, ingrained in all things. For me, I see it shining through.

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

The societal pressures of conformity of heteronormativity… to be heteronormative. In being who I was and identifying how I identify growing up in the Black church, and in church in general, but the Black church especially, we were taught that, you know…it’s a man and a woman. This is what you do… And societal pressures for me was to be “normal”. And to fit into that heteronormativity, that outlook in life. To dress more feminine, to be pretty, and not to be comfortable and be who I am.

If I want to wear dreadlocks, I can wear dreadlocks. If I want to cut my hair in the face, I can do that. But growing up, that’s what you don’t do. You get your hair done, you get your nails done, you dress appropriate, your clothes fit right, nothing too tight, nothing too revealing. Those were some of the things that I had to endure growing up, I guess you could say.

“I mean pretty much everything…you see Black culture ingrained, like deep down, ingrained in all things.”

Have you ever experienced racism or discrimination?

So, for me in being in the construction industry…being a Black woman, Black queer woman, I’ve experienced discrimination on all three fronts. But especially racism. We see a disproportionate number of minorities visible in the construction industry, especially on the union side of things where you’ve got better benefits, more money, better training, all these things. So for me, you know, I’m a number, I’m a double minority, and a lot of times when I go onto a job site that is what is told to me, You’re here cause we need our minority numbers checked. For me, that’s blatant racism.

It’s not judged on the craftsmanship of my work, I’m judged on, Oh, you’re Black, you’re a woman. I need you for my numbers. But then when they stopped counting, we’re going to lay you off. And so what you see with a lot of these really great jobs is that if we’re needed, we’re working. But when we’re not needed, it’s back to, you know, they take care of their own. And so, say on per capita you have 20 minorities per 1000 of white men that are in this “unionhood”, brotherhood or sisterhood.. And that is disproportionate. It’s not representative of the communities that we live in or the communities that we’re doing work in.

Just to bring it back to racism, I have experienced it so many times on the job site where I’m being called racist things or racist things have been said to me….trying to get me to break, you know. Back, like the early two thousands, I’m like, We’re still here as people…like why are we still here? You know, I have as much of a right, if not more of a right, to be here… You may be a third generation construction worker, I’m the first in my family that has taken this route, but again, I have more of a right to be here than the next person that doesn’t look like that.

What do you feel you have accomplished if your life? What are you proud of?

Oh, just overcoming. Overcoming addiction, homelessnes. Overcoming being discriminated against because of all of those things that I’ve said — being a woman, a Black, queer woman — in our community, it’s something that is very much shunned to be homosexual or anything other than our birth gender. So, me overcoming, just being able to live my true life much in my true self, for me, it’s something that I’m very proud to do. I walk in the room and I own it. Like, yeah, I’m queer. I’m a Black queer woman and I’m proud of it. If you have a problem with the LGBTQ community, then I don’t need to be here.

So, how did you recognize that you were a queer woman?

Yeah, so that’s a great question. For me, I think it was just time. Time allowed me to grow into who I was and not be ashamed of that person. You know, you take it by little baby steps forward. So I would be out and open in certain settings, but then when I’m like, all right, I’m around my family, I’m around my mom, I’m going to a church, I’m going to a funeral, I’m going to be around certain people, when in a work setting, whatever I would code switch, I guess you could say, but from an orientation standpoint. And going through a custody, I wouldn’t say a battle…I have full custody of my son, he’s not biologically mine, but, going through the guardianship process, I often had to dress the part. I was in Topeka, Kansas, which is very conservative, Bible belt, all that…. and so you know, you gotta put on your makeup and get your hair done and all that and be passing. And I’m fortunate enough to say fast forward 16 years since that process, I can be out. But so many of my brothers and sisters and individuals who I know are still dealing with that, trying to struggle with being passing in certain environments. But for me, you know, when I started supporting my own self, paying my own bills, and not really caring what anybody thought about me, you know…. And again, I gained that strength over the years. And so now I’m who I am. I’m not going to code switch it up, I’m not going to dress a certain way. I’m gonna be comfortable in who I am and what I want to wear and what I want to say — you know, to a certain extent of being respectful of course — but just time…time allowed me to step into my own.

“I’ll make it a point to make that a teachable moment. And I’m grateful that I have the strength to do that because a lot of folks — you know, I didn’t use to — and a lot of folks still don’t have that capability.”

Why do you there is conflict between the Black community and the Black queer community? Why is there struggle to see similarities between minorities?

The struggle, right. And I’ll put it simply put — oppressed people oppress people. Oftentimes we as a Black culture, we’re too worried about coming up out of our home struggles and this is the cookie cutter, this is what it should be and if you’re not this, then I got a problem with you. But you know, I often find myself reframing it. Reframing things that people do or say to them like, Okay, great. I get this, but how would you feel if X, Y, and Z….Whatever it may be. Me as a queer person and I’ll walk into a Black space, I might be able to bring half of myself. All right, I’m Black. Let me stay away from the gay topic today or whatever’s happening in the media right now because I just don’t have the energy or the capacity to deal with the conversations over and over and over.

While I find myself always, often, being a voice for my community. And I don’t speak for everything, but when I hear certain things that are being said that are derogatory or whatever, if this is a trusted service — if I’m at the barber shop or if I’m wherever…in the elevator — I’ll make it a point to make that a teachable moment. And I’m grateful that I have the strength to do that because a lot of folks — you know, I didn’t use to — and a lot of folks still don’t have that capability. But you find those teachable moments and you let people know, Hey, what you just said ain’t cool. You know? Or, Hey, what you just did, that’s not cool. You might not understand it, but why don’t you educate yourself? But as we know with bias people gay bash, trans bash, all these things…and then fast forward five years and then they have to deal with it firsthand from their children or their niece and nephew or our whomever. And so now they look at it differently.

So just trying to take each instance as an opportunity to educate someone on their outlooks and just expanding their horizon. You’re not going to change everybody, but you know, it’s good to show people that I’m not just going to bandwagon with you because that’s the norm for our culture. That’s what we were taught to think.

How can the Black community be more accepting to queer and trans?

Love. And we can love people for who they are for the humans that they are — whether or not we understand their path, their outlook, their identities, whatever it may be — we should love everybody as if they were thyself. You know, that golden rule, it still applies. You know, people act as if we have a communicable disease that they’re going to catch if we sit too close to them or whatever it may be in it. Folks put too much energy into the negative, into the hatred, into the turning their nose up, and not wanting to get to know somebody for the person that they are, just for the individual person that they are. It doesn’t matter who they’re sleeping with. You know, when I meet somebody, I don’t automatically think about, Oh, you’re heterosexual…that’s against my belief…my moral competence is off it … Some of the things I’ve heard over the years. Like why are we going straight to, when I meet someone, it’s about who you’re sleeping with? or how you identify? Not about who you are as a person, where your heart is? what’s your energy? You know? So for me that’s, that’s kinda just operating in love. Love is love, man. It doesn’t matter if this guy wants to marry this guy or this trans person wants to be with this trans person or whatever and that may be…that’s none of my business. You know, just gotta operate in love would be my answer.

On the file side, what do you say to the LGBTQ individuals that don’t understand the struggle Black people face?

Oh man, it’s an educational moment, once again. You know, you have to teach people to own their privilege. Yes, you may have this LGBT or gay struggle or whatever it may be, but you will never know what it feels like to be an African American in America or to be judged when you walk into a room just solely based on how you look, what you dress like, what skin color you are. Being an African American, being a Black person or a Latinx person and walking into a place as opposed to being a white person. I remember, I was sitting down with a coworker at a coffee place and it was a white guy. I’m a Black, out lesbian and we both got coffee… His came in a glass mug, mine came in a to go cup. And I thought something of it, he didn’t think nothing of it. We kept on going with the meeting, the lady came to the table, Would you like a refill? And he was like, Yeah, sure. And she walked away and he was like, Hold on, wait, excuse me. You know, just offering that moment of checking someone’s privilege and their outlook. And he was like, You need to ask her if she wants to refill. Just like you asked me.

So holding people who don’t look like you accountable to be your voice, cause it shouldn’t always be up to me as a person of color to point those little microaggressions or those little things out that play out in society is just, you know, sometimes it’s just like peer-to-peer moments. They need to hold each other accountable and check each other. Teach yourself. Y’all over here in this corner….y’all need to get it together. Because if I’m Black and I come and I’m telling you, No, this is a problem. This is why I’m aggressive or I’m an angry Black woman or whatever the case may be. But this guy can say the exact same thing and you get it, you understand it. And that plays out a lot in society and time is up for that too, you know.

What are your personal dreams?

So, for me I have a LBTQ women’s health and wellness festival for women and people of color. For all those who feel like they’re on the outskirts of the queer community. I want to personally see that grow and become sustainable and stand alone as itself. And my nonprofit, we’re rolling out some new programming and we’re trying to leverage the construction industry on improving the visibility and opportunity for minorities to become construction workers, essentially, with a serious concentration on mechanical trades. So teaching them heating and cooling work… These are, you know, livable wages, very good wages, and we need exposure to them just like anybody else.

When I go on job sites, I don’t want to just see people who don’t look like me. I want to see someone who looks like me and who knows what they’re doing, is very skilled and they sometimes need the opportunity and exposure to those types of things. And so for me, just purchased a commercial building, I want to renovate that building and start a training center so that we can start to leverage the construction industry and make sure that we have people of color that are being utilized in the workforce. Not just training them, but making sure that they are working, I think would be the major difference.

“Religious based homophobia and transphobia. I think the Black church still holds a lot of power in our communities and they are not being held accountable for the detriment that they are causing on Black and Brown bodies at least 40% homeless people are LGBTQ. Of that 40%, at least 75% are people of color.”

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

Religious based homophobia and transphobia. I think the Black church still holds a lot of power in our communities and they are not being held accountable for the detriment that they are causing on Black and Brown bodies. We still represent disproportionately…. so, at least 40% homeless people are LGBTQ. Of that 40%, at least 75% are people of color. And when you look at the root causes of Black and Brown people that are homeless, youth that are homeless, majority of that comes from religious based, homophobia at the end of the day. And so if we’re not talking about that — if we’re not taking it to the pews, then we’re doing it wrong. We’re not paying attention to this epidemic that’s happening. That’s snowballing into so many other things from, you know, the disproportionate rates of HIV in our Black community of men who have sex with men. When you look back at why folks are being made to survive, just survive, you know, people are doing what they have to do…. Again, when you trace back all those things, it’s because we lack the education and the love for one another… That we would kick our own children out of the house or make it so hard for them or violently assault them before you accept them for who they are. And this is being taught from the pulpit, you know, interpreted from the Bible and people are taking this and turning it into an epidemic in my opinion.

It feels like Black LGBTQ individuals don’t always get the recognition they deserve in the greater queer narrative. Why do you think that is the case?

Well I think it still falls back on…we as a culture, we don’t stick together. When you see any other culture, they stick together. They can live together. They can work together. They can build businesses together. In my experience, Black culture, it’s very hard for us to work in tandem, to work in groups, to work collectively together, to not beat one another down. But that is how white supremacist culture is ingrained in us from way back in slavery days, you know. And I say this time and time again — oppressed people oppress people. That’s what we know, we know to beat people down. So we do it to ourselves, you know. And this is my personal outlook, not professional.

I have a lot of conversations about, Well, the Black community needs this, why can’t we do it… The gays get all this X, Y, and Z… Yeah, that may be true because they come together and they make it happen, however, don’t think that we over here in the rainbow land, we don’t have our own issues too. You know, it plays out over there as well… But we can’t even get our stuff together to come together to stand tall for something. You know, when you think about any movement — I don’t care if Black Lives Matter, Stonewall, gay rights, whatever you think about — queer folks are at the head of all of it. But the minute that Black people find out, and you’ve seen it play out in BLM, the minute Black people found out it was queer women that was leading this or trans women…they either appropriate our positioning, our culture, or it comes and it comes back to a us versus them mentality. Like, Oh, I ain’t going to follow no woman or I ain’t gonna follow no queer woman. It’s just always the negative energy of us against them.

We do that to ourselves. And so until we can learn to come together for a cause, we’re never gonna get anywhere. You know, I’ve ran youth groups, I’ve ran adult groups, support groups, and church hurt is very prevalent in the Black community, in communities of color in general, it’s not just Black people. Because it’s as far as we think we are as a culture, I have folks in other communities of color who are literally being killed and done worse because of who they love and how they identify as well. So it’s not just us. There are other communities of color.

I just get so fired up and go around about.. I just think that until we start learning to work together, regardless of our belief. To love each other for who we are, love is love. You know, to love our brothers and sisters or whomever for who they are, not what they do — because that’s none of our business — then we’re never going to see progress. A lot of it falls back into positioning. When you talk about Black culture, we as a culture, we’re not positioned to have the credit to be above. To have high function in jobs. We have to work twice as hard for twice as less. You know, when you have the funding, the money, you’re born into generational wealth, all of these things, you already have a one…a two..a three up on folks.

So we got to work through this and work together to get through that. But it comes from education on so many facets. We gotta educate folks from a religious standpoint to let them know that this, this is not okay. We got to educate folks from a basic financial standpoint. From education in general,we gotta get our schools back right so folks can learn about certain things, learn about credit, and learn about all of the things that our schools don’t necessarily get. You know, I have friends whose kids go to public school in more affluent areas and they have access to way more than our children do. And that directly affects our young adults in our next generation and so on and so forth.

Why do think the church chooses the ideology of relationships should be between a man and a woman over the ideology of love thy neighbor?

It’s just an ingrained belief. This is what was told to you. So you’re going to run with it. There’s so many people that couldn’t find a scripture for themselves but can tell you that it’s in the Bible. So I think it comes back to a lot of just blindly following folks and believing their word to be the truth. And even half of the Bible, I mean, is not even written by “God” or Jesus or whomever you’re following. You know, these are the words of men. And people just blindly following and wanting to trust in something to believe in something higher than themselves. You know, I have grown up and I’ve learned to be spiritual and to focus on going to places that when I leave, I feel better about myself. Instead of going to church and getting preached at and preached to like, You’re doing this wrong. You need to do this. You need to do that. Like, I don’t want to go into a place that’s supposed to refuel me and come out feeling like I’m doing it all wrong. I want to go somewhere where I’m cleaning my head, I’m meditating, I’m figuring out. You know, my inner peace, my inner strength, all those things. And so, I just think that people are following something that they were told to follow because their parents did it and their parents before them did it, and this is what you’re supposed to do…Instead of experiencing life and religion and spirituality for themselves.

For me, it’s always been a struggle. You know, growing up Baptist. And then wanting to take on education for myself, interpretation for myself. I often challenged leaders in my church because we would read a passage and they’re like, This means X, Y, and Z. And I’m like, Well, I didn’t get that out of that. So what’s to say that your interpretation is better than mine? And being told to stay in a child’s place or women shouldn’t do this or women shouldn’t do that, or only a man can lead. It was very misogynistic for me. And the more educated I got, the more I questioned the doctrine. And so, then I always asked like, What makes this book better than the Quran or better than any other book that folks are studying? And you’re going to tell me if I don’t do what this book says, I’m going to hell? But yet women were treated as property? And I just found so many things that were wrong with it. And I think that for so long all we had to believe on and with and to… was just follow God, pray, pay your tithes and offerings, all these things. And I just can’t pray that my rent’s going to get paid. I got to go to work to make sure my rent gets paid. It just ain’t just, Let me sit here and pray about it. And so I always had that tug of war when it comes to all things following something blindly, fully, that I didn’t understand.

And so when we interpret scripture, clobber scriptures is what I’ll call them to say that, Oh, being gay, you’re going to hell. This is the devil and all these things. It says it right here. And not really interpreting it the same for myself… Like, I challenge anybody… read what you’re following. And if you’re going to follow it, follow it 100%. Don’t pick and choose what parts you want to follow. You know what I mean?

What are you dreams for society?

You know, it’s cliche, but I just want everybody to get along. You know, we should love each other. You go to any other country and you know, all the countries right now I’m sure are looking at the United States of America as a joke right now, in this political climate and what’s going on financially. I mean, just everything from a health standpoint, from a political standpoint, from access to food. I mean the little things… I just, I wish that we can all get along, you know, stop the judgement, a judgment free zone. Just like planet fitness, shit. Just love people for who they are. Meet people, get to know them, understand them before you prejudge them.

“Everybody’s talking about diversity and inclusion. You can’t leave work and have a DNI conversation and then go home to your friends and your family and there’s no DNI there as well.”

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

Step out on faith and introduce yourself and meet someone new. Learn about them. Listen. Listen to someone else’s story and testimony. You know, we were blessed with two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk.

What advice would you give to other black people?

Push through. Become more educated. I mean, keep it going for the culture. At all costs, absorb knowledge, learn things. And experience things for yourself. Don’t stay in the same spot too long. You know, steadily progress and break generational curses.

What advice would you give to not black to help them understand the black experiences?

I mean, that’s it. That one sentence. Get to know Black people personally. Diversify. You know, we talk about DNI on a corporate level at work…Everybody’s talking about diversity and inclusion. You can’t leave work and have a DNI conversation and then go home to your friends and your family and there’s no DNI there as well.

I would say to genuinely get to know Black people on a personal level. If you look around your circle and you have no Black people in that circle that you truly, truly are cool with…you know, that you rub elbows with like you do your white counterparts, then I challenge you to get to know Black people for who they really are.

What advice would you give to Black LGBTQ individuals?

You got to learn to stick together. We gotta save ourselves. No one else is gonna do it. So gotta learn to stick together and save themselves.

Additional Information

Interview Date: February 12, 2020

Story posted on July 2, 2020

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