Pride 2022|



My name is Tariq, a 20 yr old Black Caribbean male originally from San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago currently residing in Toronto Canada. I caw caw caw cawed (in translation that means flew) over to Canada in September 2019 and since then have been grateful for all the opportunities that have been given to me. I lived in an as some an alyuh would say “hood” area where I tried and failed miserably to hide my sexuality but if I’m being honest anybody who believed I was straight was clearly reading a different book than me. 

Some things I’m really passionate about are the performing arts mostly dance and music as well as Pokemon cus duh I’m into cartoons and anime. I also enjoy reading comics cus I enjoy Marvel and manga cus who doesn’t like a gay who could do both. I also have drag persona Cyanide Ceed who got their name and demeanour from my younger sister back when I didn’t really know what Drag was. We were watching MPGIS (Most Popular Girls In School) when we were a little young I’m not gonna lie and we thought of a character I would play if I was a part of the show. The character was a sassy girl who would not dress according to school policy and had her own way of speaking often in the third person. I don’t think my sister knew what she was doing back when we made this character. 

I don’t like photos cus I feel like a troll when I take them which is why my phone is flooded with videos not pictures. Whenever I spoke I was usually told I speak too fast and I need to enunciate my words and speak a lil proper. When I did, however, I was told I sounded either very proper or like a Freshwater Yankee (which is basically somebody who went to the States for a short time example 3 days and then suddenly has an American accent) mind you other people may have different definitions for this term but this is the one I know. Since coming to Canada I had to “hide” my accent as most people didn’t understand the words flying out my mouth and the fact that I spoke too fast didn’t help. Second is the assumption that every Caribbean person and island is actually from Jamaica (i still don’t understand this, like there are other Caribbean Islands people). 

Dancing has also been a part of my life since I was a child but because the style of dance I was interested in was viewed as feminine I never really got into it until Secondary School. School really wasn’t the reason I started it was mainly because of a video from the show Bring It where Miss Diana the head coach did a heel stretch and basically said in the confessionals that you wish your legs go up that high and that it may happen in your dreams. My dotish self took it as a challenge and trained to do the trick on my own and later got obsessed with the show and how they danced and tried my best to copy every trick the Dancing Dolls would do. 

It’s important for me, to be a part of this community and be able to do things that help because I didn’t have that growing up. I didn’t really have a space where I could be myself and have people care for me without an ulterior motive or being scared to be around me because of my sexuality. Even though I did have friends who cared for me back home I didn’t feel safe to be my authentic self for even when I wasn’t presenting as gay (which is dumb in of itself) I would be a

target for unnecessary hate and abuse. I personally want a place that Queer people of all ethnic backgrounds can be seen and feel heard without feeling like a burden. This part specifically applies to me and what I did during my time after SOY (Supporting Our Youth) as I was supposed to continue and be a part of Sherbourne Health but pulled away as I was going through the Refugee process and didn’t want to be a burden. Even though they had supports like housing and groups made specifically for youth going through the process I felt like I was always a burden and pulled away from people who actually cared for me and my well-being. 

In the end was able to stay connected and have the support of this community and luckily thanks to all my experiences and now being registered as one of the 12 Disciples of Gay Jesus I can give back to this community period!

Past Activism

When I first came to Canada I volunteered at the West Scarborough Neighbourhood Community Centre ( a bunch of lovely people by the way) where I was supported in life skills and I was a math tutor for a short time (I know my friends are laughing cus didn’t pass maths back home). One of the organizations I worked for was Sherbourne Health being a part of the SOY (Supporting Our Youth) where I trained to be a Peer support leader which is kinda funny cus I’m scared of people and I don’t really know how to talk to them but I know how to talk to people (I know that made no sense but bare with me). I met so many wonderful people there who helped me learn more about LGBTQ+ terminologies as even though I’m a part of the community I would never claim to know everything. 

Through FLAME (Fruit Loopz Artist Mentorship Project) I did a live dance performance at Pride Prom in 2021 through Zoom (cus yunno Miss Rona wanted to be an issue) this was my first “public” queer experience as I never really posted myself being outwardly gay and just having fun. At this point, people knowing my sexuality really wasn’t their business. Later on in the year, I was then asked to do another performance for SOY’s Annual Game Night/Fundraiser. This was another dance performance on Zoom but this one I had to record as doing the live performance at that time was impossible. 

Current Activism

As I pulled away from anything to do with people knowing who I was as I still really wasn’t into that, I ended up secluding myself which wasn’t a smart idea as that decision ended up doing more harm than good to my mental health. I am currently a part of my youth committee at the Transitional Housing where I live at. I am also a part of a group of young mostly Queer Youth (I think there’s like one straight guy idk) and we are in the process of making a comic that focuses on Queer Youth but also Mental Health Issues. We are not planning on trying to release the comic as it was only supposed to be for the program we were doing but if it turns out as we hope it would we just might. Now that my stay in Canada is somewhat secured a weight has been lifted off my shoulders but now I feel like I should be helping others who are going through the same struggles I was and still am going through as the people who worked with me never gave up so I should pay that kindness and dedication forward.

My Pride Story

“More Eyes Are on Us Because We’re Flaunting It”: Youth Pride Ambassador Tariq Richardson on the high visibility of queer youth, how social media factors in, and the joys of living as your true self

“Not everybody has someone to tell them that it’s OK to be yourself. Everybody needs somebody.”

Tariq Richardson

Queer youth may have more freedom than in decades past. But that doesn’t mean that being a queer youth today is easy. Especially when you’re a gay, Black, male from the Caribbean.

We sat down with Youth Pride Ambassador Tariq Richardson to learn what challenges queer youth face, his journey to Canada and the importance of living as your true self.

“There’s a higher chance of backlash”: on the high visibility of queer youth

Just recently, an older gay friend mentioned to Richardson how easy it is to be a queer youth today. Does Richardson agree? Well, yes and no. “We do have it easier than in the past, we can get away with a lot of things. Now, some of us wear makeup in public and show off our bodies more,” Richardson explains.

But it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. “There are more queer TV shows than ever before, which is good. But now there is a larger audience, and it’s not secretive anymore,” says Richardson. “There’s a higher chance of backlash, as a lot of us are more open.”

Richardson has seen plenty of queer youth on the receiving end of such backlash after posting on social media. With the many issues that previous generations had to deal with, Richardson notes that this high level of visibility wasn’t one of them. “The older generation may have had to just keep it secret and didn’t have to face the world’s response. More eyes are on us because we’re flaunting it. And that comes with its own issues as well.”

Richardson understands the dangers of social media all too well. Growing up in Trinidad & Tobago, his social media presence was deliberately bland to avoid outing himself. Although Trinidad does not have as high a level of anti-gay violence as other Caribbean islands, unfortunately homophobia is alive and well.

When he gathered up the courage to start posting his true self on Instagram after coming to Canada, he was in for shock. “I posted a pic when I went to the club, and one of my friends messaged me on Facebook saying, ‘I’m so proud of you, you came out!’” recalls Richardson. He had an old Facebook account he no longer used, but he couldn’t understand how an IG story made its way to FB. Then he realized that his IG and FB account were linked. All his super gay IG stories that he thought were only going to a small friend group in Canada, were now on Facebook for all his Trini friends to see. “Everybody from school has access to my Facebook. I realized that they had been seeing my posts and gossiping about them. I got so many awful, hurtful messages. It really comes back to bite you in 2.5 seconds. The second you post, someone has probably already screenshotted it.”

But he wasn’t just concerned about himself. “Some of us don’t like social media, especially when it comes to revealing our sexuality and our relationships. When I was in a relationship, I purposely didn’t post my boyfriend,” Richardson explains. “I couldn’t just post anything because his family didn’t know that he was gay. There’s so much extra you have to think about, it’s ridiculous.”

“We have to tone it down or be ready for the insults”: on being gay in Trinidad & Tobago

The nasty comments he received in response to his accidental self-outing on social media, give a sense of why he left Trinidad in the first place. “Things started getting a little too dangerous for me. When I got the opportunity to come to Canada, I jumped on it.”

While in Trinidad, dealing with the negative opinions of classmates wasn’t his only struggle. “When it comes to family, a lot of us can’t tell them. When we do, they look at us so differently from the rest of the family,” says Richardson. “We have to tone it down or be ready for the insults and smart comments at family gatherings.” Although they had a close relationship, his mother had no idea that he was gay. She proudly told friends that it was only a matter of time before he brought home a pretty girl.

But there was still talk in his community. “I didn’t get a chance to come out, because they already didn’t like how I moved,” recalls Richardson. “I was a little too feminine. I was dancing, singing, it was always an issue.” Although folks in the neighbourhood didn’t tell his mom, they were constantly talking about him, waiting for him to come out. He suspected that people wanted him to come out, only so they would have a ‘reason’ to beat him up.

Luckily, he had a few loyal friends who knew that he was gay. They accepted him and kept his identity a secret.  But rumours spread quickly, and his male classmates started treating him differently. “The guys said that I was trying to take their girlfriends, while also saying that I was fully gay. If I’m gay, I can’t take your girlfriend – it makes no sense!” Richardson exclaims.

He could deal with the fact that some classmates only spoke to him when no one else was around. But facing homophobic violence was another thing altogether. One day in class, he ran outside to grab something from the schoolyard. But he wasn’t alone. “When I went outside, one of the boys from school was there. He walked up to me with a knife,” Richardson recounts. “I was praying that it was just a joke. But then he looked me dead in my face and started running towards me. I ran around the whole school. He only stopped because we got to a part of the schoolyard with cameras.”

“I knew that I could die, people have serious issues with me there”: on coming to Canada

Richardson never planned to leave Trinidad. He wasn’t sure where he would go, or how he would get the money to get there. But when his father (who was already living in Canada) told him that he could come live with him, he didn’t think twice.

He arrived in Toronto in September 2019, excited about his new life in Canada. But his hopes were dashed when he learned that his father didn’t quite understand the immigration system in Canada. By February 2020, he learned that he had to go back.

Given the violence and discrimination he had faced in Trinidad, he knew that it wasn’t safe to return. “I knew that I could die, people have serious issues with me there,” Richardson recalls. “I purposely didn’t tell my parents what was happening. My mother knew about the attacks, but she didn’t know why they were happening.”

Luckily, he had made some friends through the queer youth-focused organization SOY (Supporting Our Youth). One friend took him to a lawyer to see what his options were. The lawyer suggested filing a claim for refugee status and came to speak to his dad. Although Richardson still didn’t tell his father that he was gay, his dad was having none of it. “I brought the lawyer home one night, and he didn’t listen to what she had to say. He kicked her out,” Richardson recalls. “My mother and the lawyer told me that I had to leave, but I had no idea where I could go. Then they told me about this thing called shelters. I packed my stuff, went back to SOY and they helped me find a shelter.” After going through the shelter process, he is now in transitional housing.

Update: Just as this piece was going to press, Richardson learned that he had successfully obtained refugee status.

“It was me giving back”: on his work with SOY and being named Youth Pride Ambassador

SOY provided Richardson with invaluable support. If it hadn’t been for the friends he made there, he may not be in Canada today. But helping him learn how to live (and stay) in Canada wasn’t the only support they provided.

Where his singing, dancing and feminine ways made him a target of violence in Trinidad, SOY welcomed him with open arms. He joined their FLAME program (a performance mentorship program for queer youth 16-29 years old), which led to further dance and lip synch performances at fundraisers and a Pride Prom. Dancing since he was 14 years old, he was thrilled to finally find a community who valued his queerness and provided a platform for his artistic gifts.

Two days after his refugee claimant hearing, in the midst of tears and anxiety, he received the invitation to be Youth Pride Ambassador. And the wording of the invitation made him realize how much impact his performances and work with SOY had in the community. “The email talked about me ‘gracing the halls of SOY’ and how much help I had provided,” Richardson recalls. “I was shocked. I’m just here vibing, doing all this stuff because I like doing it. I didn’t think of it like a job – it was me giving back.”

“How do I do Pride right?”: on his first Pride

Because Richardson arrived in Toronto in Fall 2019 (a few months before the pandemic hit) this year will be his very first Pride. “I can’t wait for it to happen, but I also don’t know what’s going to happen,” laughs Richardson. “I’m just really excited. I’m going to Pride! How do I do Pride right? I have no idea!”

Luckily, he’s not going alone. Toronto has been good to Richardson, and his new community of queer friends are super excited to take him to this first Pride.

“We all live on the same planet”: on environmental sustainability in the queer community

When it comes to how the queer community has taken up the cause of environmental sustainability, Richardson feels that we all need to contribute. “We know it’s happening. But people think that someone else will handle it, that we don’t have to do much,” Richardson explains. “But we can’t just all lay back. If we lay back, then nothing gets done. After all, we all live on the same planet.”

“Aren’t we all supposed to be supporting each other?”: on racism in the queer community

When it comes to racism in the queer community, Richardson has seen many queer folks raising awareness on social media. But we still have a long way to go. “Aren’t we all queer?” asks Richardson. “Aren’t we all supposed to be supporting each other? This shouldn’t be a thing still.”

He is frequently frustrated by the racial divisions he sees in the community. “You get categorized as a Black gay, a white gay, a Spanish gay. Then we have issues with each other, and it becomes racism.”

When it comes to how the straight, Black community views gay, Black men, he has a message: “You don’t have to be gay, but why you gotta be mad?” wonders Richardson. “This is what a lot of people need to understand about someone else being gay. What they do behind closed doors does not affect you at all.”

He also sees a lot of competition amongst white and racialized gay men in terms of who has suffered most. “Y’all need to stop. We keep dividing ourselves – but why?”

“Everybody needs somebody”: what keeps him advocating and celebrating

As he gears up for his first Pride, what keeps his advocacy fire lit? “It really awakened when I told my sister that I was gay – and she was all for it,” says Richardson. “Just knowing that someone out there actually cares about you, is huge. Not everybody has someone to tell them that its OK to be yourself. Everybody needs somebody. Let’s be real, y’all can’t be loners.”

What keeps him celebrating the queer community? No longer willing to hide or tone it down, it’s all about being his true self. But the real lesson came when he was named the Youth Pride Ambassador. “When I heard about this opportunity from SOY, I pulled away. I was worried that if they sent me back to Trinidad, I wanted to have as few ties as possible, so it wouldn’t be a big deal when I left,” Richardson explains. “But when I spoke to other people at SOY about it, they said, ‘We missed you, we miss you being you’. Then I wondered, why did I pull away? I was in a group of people who supported me.”

This newfound confidence comes just in time for this first Pride. “I want to celebrate now. I’ve got to celebrate myself and celebrate other people,” says Richardson. “I dropped the ball by pulling away. I’m back – and I’m staying.”

Social Media and Website Links

  • IG: theprincemouse21
  • TikTok:@cyanidepirate

My Pride Story written by: Anna-Liza Badaloo (she/her) is a writer and consultant working at the intersection of health, environment and social justice.

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