Dkéama Alexis Shakes up the LGBTQ Community
The Black Queer & Intersectional Collective co-founder forces a racial reckoning in Columbus.
The Black Queer & Intersectional Collective had humble aspirations when it debuted in 2017 with a zine featuring contributions from Black and transgender Central Ohio residents. Then, a week after the zine’s release party, an event redefined the organization—the arrests of four Black activists at the annual Columbus Pride parade. “We shifted gears very quickly into grassroots defense,” says BQIC co-founder Dkéama Alexis.
Alexis galvanized support for the demonstrators, later known as the #BlackPride4, who blocked the parade route to draw attention to police brutality and violence affecting transgender people of color. BQIC also called out Stonewall Columbus, the organizer of Columbus Pride, for a tepid response to the protesters’ cause and even sponsored an alternative event to Stonewall’s annual festival in 2018.
Though it marked Alexis’ first organizing effort, BQIC made a big impact in Columbus. The organization helped force a racial reckoning within the local LGBTQ community, leading to the 2018 resignation of Stonewall executive director Karla Rothan and a 2019 apology from Stonewall to the four activists “for the harm and trauma they experienced from Stonewall Columbus.” In many ways, the tumult previewed the broader reckoning that the rest of the city and country would go through following the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
As a student at the University of Colorado, Alexis,who is transgender and an activist for trans rights, was drawn to Black feminist and revolutionary thought and was also stirred to activism after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail after her arrest for a traffic stop. Barely out of college and shortly after moving to Columbus, Alexis formed BQIC with Ariana Steele in March 2017.
Since then, Alexis has been a consistent presence at demonstrations throughout the city. Alexis and another activist, Mia Santiago, were arrested at the city’s 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Breakfast for protesting the killing of Julius Tate Jr. by Columbus police. In June, during the height of the George Floyd-inspired protests, Alexis delivered a speech at Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther’s home in support of defunding the Columbus Division of Police.
Densil Porteous, Stonewall Columbus’s current leader, didn't attend the 2017 Columbus Pride parade, but he was aware of the #BlackPride4 incident and similar demonstrations at pride events nationwide. He credits activists in the trenches like Alexis for forcing difficult conversations within the LGBTQ community. In June, Stonewall Columbus called for the resignation of then-Columbus police chief Thomas Quinlan—a forceful statement that might not have occurred prior to BQIC’s emergence. “Sometimes we need to have these moments that spark positive change,” says Porteous, who is Black. “It’s made space for those voices who for so long had not been taken seriously or weren’t being heard.”
As BQIC celebrates its fourth anniversary in March, Alexis, now 25, will step back from activism this year to rest, recharge and experience Columbus in a different way. But Alexis remains supportive of BQIC’s growth, including plans this year to secure its own space. “I think that truly revolutionary change is on the way, because I don’t have the luxury of believing anything else,” Alexis says.