Queeriously Speaking

A glimpse at Santa Fe's Black excellence

(Shelby Criswell)

When I took up residence in this high mountain desert in 2013, having been brought here once before in 2009 to perform as an MC/rapper/poet by a local Black promoter, I immediately experienced the duality of my queerness and my blackness as easier to navigate than back in the Bible Belt.

Santa Fe has a reputation for being widely accepting of artists and eccentrics, which translates as a spirit of inclusion unduplicated in other cities. I totally felt that.

Shontez Morris, a visual artist and senior account manager for a local security company, attests that taking the risk to uproot from Atlanta, Georgia, by way of Brooklyn, to move here at the invitation of a friend (interestingly, the same promoter who originally brought me here), was a complete game-changer. As a Black woman identifying as bisexual, she testifies that, "coming here opened up a lot of my inner consciousness. It's amazing the growth that I've experienced."

Our state capital had its first openly gay mayor a few years ago, which is quite progressive, yet somehow the scene is lacking social outlets for LGBTQ+ community. The Q is sometimes pretty silent for queer folx, making dating a real -challenge. Morris says, for her, "dating here is pretty nonexistent," and that she primarily does so when she travels to other places.

Also serving on the board for the Santa Fe Pride and Human Rights Alliance, Morris boldly suggests the organization support Black lives as a focus for this year's virtual Pride celebration happening on June 27 (12-4 pm, hrasantafe.org). As we focus on equality and dismantling white supremacy, being LQBTQ+ is simply another complexity.

When Attiana Ray-Fuentes arrived in 2006 from New York, she found herself somewhat disappointed by the nightlife, the lack of access to an active queer community and the slim Black presence in general. By 2013, with New Mexico on the forefront of recognizing same-sex marriages in the US, Ray-Fuentes noticed a shift in the queer community that felt more cohesive. Now, Ray-Fuentes is noticing even more change, recognizing "society has shifted in terms of how queer folx are accepted and embraced." And while admitting there are moments when she feels unsafe, Santa Fe finally "feels like home." Ray-Fuentes has since married and added a sweet newborn to her family.

Ray-Fuentes has worked in the nonprofit sector for many years and is now program coordinator for the Santa Fe Public Schools' Adelante program. She expresses gratitude for "the privilege of being out in the workplace and in the community," and says she's primarily felt supported and respected as a queer Black woman in leadership—and even had colleagues stand up for her right to be herself unapologetically.

Morris, on the other hand, has often been forced to assert her authority, combating claims of reverse discrimination and experiencing blatant racism from white, Native and Hispanic men alike who've felt challenged by her authority. Unfortunately, Morris has also dealt with name calling, being physically assaulted, even having been spat on.

"I've had to work damn hard to establish myself here in the industry," Morris says, though she generally has a great relationship with clients, business owners and even law enforcement in the community (as her unique heart-centered approach to law enforcement has changed the way many view the profession).

When writer Jada White moved to Madrid (a small town just South of Santa Fe) from DC in 2013, she felt respected and protected as a Black lesbian woman in an interracial relationship. She was living in a place where Queer folx had been at the helm of the town's resettling in the '70's, along with other artists and hippies, though White laments that even in open-minded Santa Fe county, "being gay and Black can still feel like second class citizenship."

"Our identities as gay and Black folk are intertwined and cannot be separated," White says.

Just how people of African descent, allies and accomplices will keep the momentum going around the change and growth we all seek is a concern for White. The idea that "life is a marathon, not a sprint, is important for us to keep in mind," she says. "We want to see lasting change."

White has been vocal about Black injustices via social networking and on her radio show which broadcasts on the Madrid-based LPFM station KMRD 96.9 FM on Saturday mornings from 8-9 am. There, she focuses on "conscious conversation, music, and spoken word."

In honoring Pride month, Ray-Fuentes reminds us not to forget the real purpose of the parades, as corporatization has crept in and monetized the rainbow.

"Remember during Pride season where we come from, how and why we have Pride parades, and the whole history surrounding," she says. "When we sell our history to corporate America and allow police into our parades we do an injustice to the memory of those we have come before us and have died. Our Black trans sisters are still being murdered. We cannot leave our Black trans folk behind."

A monumental message as we band together for the justice of Black people. We must keep in mind that indeed, ALL Black lives matter.

>> READ THE COVER STORIES: PRIDE—Hope for the Future

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