Brianna Roye documents LGBTQ+ Caribbeans in Toronto with ‘Out of Many, One People’
Beginning her creative journey in journalism, twenty-eight year old Brianna Roye found herself better able to express her thoughts and feelings through photography. Born and raised in Toronto, Roye began her ongoing project Out of Many, One People to represent the flourishing community of queer Caribbeans in Toronto.
Draped across the coat of arms of Jamaica reads “out of many, one people” highlighting the country’s multiracial roots. While the majority of people are of African heritage, many citizens are of mixed race descent as others immigrated from Europe, China, India, and Lebanon. Roye says she “hated” hearing this slogan as her parents drilled into her head the positive aspects of multiculturalism. Eventually, she came to understand that her annoyance was rooted in the contradictory feeling Jamaicans have towards queer people. “They say ’out of many one people’ to describe how diverse and welcoming the island is, but it’s not welcoming [to] queer and trans people [that] are Jamaicans,” she explains. “Diversity doesn’t stop at race and culture.”
Growing up, Roye saw her parents and other relatives pretend that Jamaica has no queer people. As a queer person herself, Roye recognized that representation of queerness across the Caribbean was lacking. Roye began Out of Many, One People with one simple goal — to speak for her community. “I just took it upon myself to start this series. [ … ] Why not just be the change that you want to see,” Roye explains. Through time, the project became more of a ‘living archive’ than solely a one-off multicultural project.
Toronto is home to Caribbeans from every part of the earth and Roye began this project to make the queer sector of this community known. “We’re kind of isolated and alone, within the queer community, and within our respective Caribbean cultures. There’s also so many of us here, and we just don’t know it,” she shares. “[The project] also acts as a way to kind of collect all of us — like an archive almost — just to document that there are a lot of us here [and we] are not as isolated as we may feel, as singled out as we may feel introspectively. [ … ] It’s also a way to communicate with people within the community. It acts as a hub for us to feel safe and feel welcome. It’s our own kind of language,” Roye adds. While showcasing a person from almost every island in the Caribbean, many are Roye’s friends. Her only instructions were for people to “come as they are” and bring along something that represents where they’re from.
From the start, Roye knew that she wanted these photos to be colourful. “I didn’t want the photos to be muted in color, because Caribbean people — we are colorful people,” she clarifies. Incredibly intimate and warm, every muse emanates from the screen.
In the last decade, identity politics and representation have become popular topics. Speaking with Roye, she said she wanted people to feel like “you’re not seeing [a] photo” but a whole human being.
Even though many want to see marginalized groups in the media to humanize them, there is a thin line between empowerment and voyeurism. Out of Many, One People isn’t just a photography project. It is an attempt to archive and document a thriving yet depreciated community that Roye is a part of. For her whole life, Roye says people talked about queer Caribbeans in an imaginary sense: “I want to humanize us. We are always talked about in this like, almost hypothetical way like ‘the queer community, queer Caribbean people’ – like no. [ … ] We’re actually people that are living in unison, interactive on a day to day basis, we’re people.” Though previously, the project’s emphasis was on gay men from Jamaica, that was just a stepping stone — Roye wants to keep extending the scope further.
Still ongoing, Roye hopes to photograph people from different generations. “Our elders are out there,” she says.
Would you like to be photographed for this project? Send Brianna a message on Instagram @briannablank.