Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Voting Essentially (aka more Shameless Self Promotion)

Here is an article I just wrote for Briarpatch's March gender/sexuality special issue. It builds on some of the issues I've been bouncing around in this blog.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Neither sleet nor snow ...


A photo from the vigil against the Institute of Marriage and the Family last week. We braved the cold and showed the fundamentalists that not even a brutal ice storm will keep us from standing up for equality.

In case you missed John Robson's giddy article about the Institute (he was one of the keynote speakers at the launch), check out Gilles Marchildon's article about the danger of these so-called "research" groups that are really ideologically-motivated lobbying organizations.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Feminist SOS

Audra Williams' article in the new issue of This Magazine made me want to jump up and down and scream yipppeeee. (Unfortunately the article is not online yet, so I will give you a taste).

Audra muses about whether or not young women should revive the near-dead National Action Committee on the Status of Women, especially in the face of Harper and his cronies. She describes young feminists this way:

We don’t join. We’re not sure if we should, and we can’t seem to navigate the movement as it is. Some of us have tried to get involved with established groups, and it has not gone well. We’ve almost always been the only “young” person present and have then either felt too much pressure to speak for Young Women Everywhere, or have been expected to be silent until we’ve somehow accrued enough credibility to be heard. So most of the young feminists I know don’t belong to a feminist organization.
I couldn’t agree with her more. Most of the kick-ass women that I know are involved in some form of activism, but none of this activism takes place under the auspices of any formal feminist structure. And since NAC has been gasping for air since before the Internet age, there isn’t one unifying body to help harness the energy of the young women who have the potential to move feminism forward – whether or not they identify as feminists. With a Justice Minister who is beholden the religious right, and upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court, we could be treading the same ground as the feminists who came before us. But without any outlet for mentorship and knowledge-sharing, how could we possibly take on the fight?

Also, as Audra points out, activists in their 20s and 30s have a lot to teach older feminists. We don’t necessarily accept binary notions of gender, and we welcome our trans sisters into the fold. We have been influenced by the DIY culture of independent music producers like Kathleen Hanna and Ani Difranco. Many of us reject the notion that traditionally feminine roles like cooking and sewing are by nature oppressive (although I can’t even sew a button). We take our activism seriously, but we know that a round of radical cheerleading is the best way to pump up any crowd. And we understand that to be truly effective, feminism needs to get back to its roots in the streets, so we can support the more exclusive world of lobbying and legislative change. We know that activism works best when it’s fun, and when there’s actually something for people to do.

But we are not going to advance women’s rights in Canada though an endless series of Stitch and Bitch sessions. We aren’t na├»ve enough to think that we can go it alone, without the wisdom and experience of the women who came before us.

That’s why we need to revive NAC (or something like it) RIGHT NOW. There’s no time to waste. We simply need a national voice to help advance the rights of women, or we are going to see our rights slip away piece by piece.

Now, Audra’s article touches on one of the problems with NAC – to be a member of the national body, you need to be a member of a local organization that can then appoint you to be involved in NAC. She suggests that young women should start forming new organizations between now and May, so we can have a strong presence at NAC’s AGM this spring …

Sounds like a good strategy to start shaking things up, but it might prove to be a difficult barrier for some women (with lots of other things on their plates) to undertake.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Check out the first installment of my new monthly column in Capital Xtra.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Reflections on Language

Words are so sticky and imprecise sometimes. Or they are so precise that they are completely inaccessible to most people who aren't "in the know."

I bring this up because of a few interactions I've had over the last few days:

1) Early this week, I received an email from a prominent trans activist in the Ottawa community, urging same sex marriage campaigners to make bisexual and trans people more visible in any future communication about the marriage campaign. The request is that the tag line of the "movement" be changed to: "Equal Marriage for same-sex couples, bisexual and trans people."

2) On Thursday evening, I attended a meeting about the redevelopment of Bank street (for those not in Ottawa, it's one of the city's main streets, with a cluster of queer businesses and services located a few blocks south of Parliament Hill). City officials were consulting with the queer community about how best to recognize the burgeoning gay village on Bank street -- whether it means hanging rainbow flag from lamp posts, or investing in fancy signage, etc.

An unintentionally comic part of the evening occurred when the president of the local Business Improvement Association asked the 60-or-so people at the meeting what the "right" term would be to describe the neighbourhood, at which point the earnest chair of the up-and-coming queer community centre project piped up with the suggestion of "geographical community of LGBTTQ people."

The audience burst into laughter -- not at the attempt at inclusion, but at the image of all of those letters squished onto a street sign. Not exactly catchy.

3) At a demonstration/vigil to protest against the new Institute for Marriage and Family Canada (and special thanks to all of you who braved the bitter cold to attend the event), the same trans activist mentioned in point #1 wrinkled her nose at me, because none of the placards that I had prepared for the protest included the words "trans" or "bisexual." (They included slogans like "Love Makes a Family" and "Don't Leave our Families Out in the Cold").

I find these kinds of discussions difficult for a few reasons. First of all, I think there's a fine line between encouraging inclusiveness, and jumping down people's throats for not using the "correct" words. Sometimes we use shorthand because it's catchier. Or we pitch our language at the level we think our audience is at (and although we try our hardest to get the mainstream media to reflect the diversity of our communities, they are still tripping over the word "gay" -- the BLTQ part of the equation often doesn't even factor in there). Does that mean that we are purposely excluding elements of our community? I don't think so.

In the case of equal marriage for example, the campaign has benefited from zoning in on the specific issue of same sex marriage, using it as a jumping off point for other discussions of oppression. But in some cases, you can't put the cart before the horse. With a fundamentalist justice minister and a new cabinet full of whackos, we might have to use very plain language to drive our point home: discrimination is wrong, all families deserve equality, Canada doesn't get to pick and choose rights, etc.

Are these statements exclusionary? Or do they provide a "big tent" for all sorts of different people to mobilize under? Or do they whitewash our community by making our identities implicit rather than explicit?

I don't know the answer. But I do know that the ever-changing and ever-more complex terminology can sometimes be a barrier to those who want to participate. And the process of consciousness-raising is a slow one, and it begins where people are at right now. If "equality" is the hook, and "gay rights" is the line, and "trans protection" is the sinker, maybe we are doing a good job.

We can learn some lessons from second wave feminism, an activist movement that struggled with similar issues, when women of colour challenged the white liberal hegemony of groups like the National Organization of Women (in the U.S.) and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (in Canada). While these organizations grappled with recognizing their own internalized racism, they also lost a lot of good people in the process. Women were afraid to speak at meetings, without "naming their oppression" first. It became a battle of wills -- of who was the most disadvantaged, and therefore had the right to speak.

Censuring each other is not the best way to bring about change. There has got to be a more gentle way to grapple with the difficulties of language, without losing hardworking, well-meaning activists in the process.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

VIGIL TO SUPPORT EQUAL FAMILIES

For those in Ottawa ....

Don't leave our families out in the cold!

Thurs. Feb. 16th, gather at Human Right Monument on Elgin St. at 6:00 pm

Tomorrow (Thurs. Feb. 16th) is the official launch of the Institute of Marriage & Family Canada, a new lobbying group set up by Focus on the Family, a far-right group based in the United States led by James Dobson, who advocates such views as:

* a "war" on equal marriage
* referring to abortion as "the baby holocaust"
* establishing "abstinence only" sexual health programs
* conversion therapy for gay, lesbian and bisexual people through the organization's frequent "Love Won Out" seminars
* a stance against universal child care (or many other social programs for that matter)

While this new Institute has attempted to strike a moderate tone, its intentions are clear:

* to turn back the clock on equal marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-identified people
* to use the marriage debate as a launching pad to reverse other rights and freedoms we have won for our communities
* to prevent the establishment of universal childcare programs

Join us at the Human Rights Monument, TOMORROW at 6 pm to demonstrate that Canada supports an inclusive definition of "family."

Don't leave our community out in the cold!

More info:

Ariel Troster
ariel.troster@gmail.com

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Punishing our youth -- without their consent

Well, Vic Toews' seat is barely warm, and he's already thrown a bone to the Religious Right. In fact, groups like The Campaign Life Coalition can barely contain their glee at the number of Cabinet appointees that agree with their views on issues like gay marriage and abortion.

While Harper waits around for the perfect moment to drop the marriage bomb, Toews is moving forward on a dangerous initiative that -- horrors -- has the support of all three opposition parties.

It's this little matter of the legal age of consent for sexual activity -- which was set at 14 in 1892. Yes, 1892. Toews has support from the Liberals, the Bloc and even the NDP to move forward on legislation to raise the age of consent to 16.

Now, before I get into the reasons why criminalizing teen sex is a terrible idea, I should explain that the only sex act excluded from the general age of consent is anal sex -- unless it is performed by married (straight I assume) people in the privacy of their homes. It's the only sex act in Canada with its own special age of consent -- 18. So theoretically, teens under the age of 18 can be thrown in jail if their parents walk in them while they're "in the act." Or if anyone walks in on them, for that matter ...

Toews' proposal has made no mention of lowering the required age from 18 to 16 for anal sex (wouldn't you just love to hear him utter those words?), but that's not the point. This legislation would do nothing to"protect young people from adult sexual predators." Canada already has sufficient legislation in place to punish abusers. This initiative would represent nothing more than a moral victory on behalf of the anti-sex religious nuts, and have the following negative consequences on young people -- particularly queer teens:

  1. It would prevent health workers from doing effective HIV/AIDS prevention. Youth workers have a difficult enough time convincing teens to use condoms. But if the age of consent is raised to 16, they will have difficulty counseling teens, particularly if their advice meant that they were somehow encouraging youth to engage in illegal activity. This law would open the door to more "abstinence-only" sex education programs -- just watch.
  2. It would leave queer youth vulnerable to homophobic parents. It already sucks to be a gay teen. It would suck worse if homophobic parents dragged their kids to the cops after walking in on them.
  3. It would prevent gay youth from dating outside their peer group. The reality is that gay teens don't often meet each other in high school. They go to drop-in centres and gay villages. They sneak into gay bars. They find any way to be themselves, without getting the shit beaten out of them by the football bullies (especially if they are the football bullies). They often date people that are a few years out of their peer group. That means that sometimes a 15-year old might date a 19 year-old. It happens because kids "come out" at different stages in their adolescence. While Toews promises a "close-in-age exemption," this wouldn't address the reality of gay youth. Some poor 18-year-old could get labeled as a sexual predator for dating another teen. It sets a very dangerous precedent for the regulation of sexual activity in Canada.
  4. It would criminalize teen sex. Even if none of the factors listed above were a concern to our communities, the mere fact that this legislation seeks to punish teens for having sex is abhorrent. The fact that the Christian Right wants to have society follow community standards that are pre-1862 demonstrates that their notions of morality are absolutely prehistoric.
And the scary thing, is that all of the other political parties seem willing to go along with Toews' proposal, as they all fight to appear both "progressive" and "mainstream."

Meanwhile, Canada's youth will bear the brunt of our politicians' moral posturing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Meetinged out -- already!

Geez, Harper was only sworn in on Monday, and I've already spent 21 hours in meetings since then. I know that all of the talking is an important component of the work, but it sure is draining ....

One of the great things that I got to participate in is a workshop on creative campaigning led by Andrew Boyd, formerly of United for a Fair Economy in the United States, and the central architect behind Billionaires for Bush. Lots of good activist food for thought .... I'm thinking we should start a new Lesbians for Toews campaign ... we could hold up signs saying things like "We bow to the moral majority" and "Filibuster me baby." We could dress like church ladies, and flagellate ourselves in front of his office. But I digress ...

I had hoped to post an in-depth analysis of the new Cabinet this week, but all of that, um, meeting got in the way. But Gareth Kirkby over at Capital Xtra did a great job of pointing out two key whackos who will now be leading this country.

I will have more to say after I recover from all of the strategic chatter I've been participating in. But remember girls, I warned you.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Let them stay

Last week, I attended an event sponsored by the War Resisters' Support Campaign , as well of a bunch of unions and NGOs.

For those of you that don't know, there is a growing group of young men who have moved to Canada, after leaving the U.S. military, because they refused to participate in an illegal and unjust war. Some may call them "deserters," but I would call them heros. People who don't think that there is a draft going on the U.S., are sadly mistaken. It's called a "poverty draft," and as military recruiters are desperate to find more people to go fight Bush's war for oil, they are misleading young people from poor communities, promising free health care and an education, in exchange for their military service. They're also telling people that they won't be shipped off to Iraq, and assuring them that they can always apply for conscientious objector status, if they don't feel comfortable in a combat zone.

At the event last week, Ryan Johnson talked about how he'd fractured several backbones during basic training, and how the military had been prepared to send him into a combat zone, where he would have carried a 60-pound pack for 18 hours a day. They offered to provide physical therapy for his injuries, only upon his return. The same young man was subjected to torture-like "dental appointments," where they used crude instruments like flathead screwdrivers to extract his cavity-ridden teeth (which had become so after 25 years of living in a poor community with no access to health or dental care). All of this, on top of the stories he heard from returning soldiers, convinced him that he had to find another option.

Jeremy Hinzman left the army, after being informed that when he shipped off to Iraq, he had to be prepared to shoot at non-combatants, for whom the Geneva Convention wouldn't apply. Other returning soldiers have told similar stories, about being forced to shoot cars at checkpoints, often filled with women and children.

The War Resisters' campaign has been supporting the former soldiers during their refugee hearings, and have been pushing Canada to open its doors to the resisters, much like we did during the Vietnam war. As Pierre Trudeau said, "Canada should be a refuge from militarism."

We have a responsibility and a moral imperative to let them stay.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Buzz pledges Harper hug to rally auto industry aid
Wed, February 1, 2006

By NORMAN DE BONO, FREE PRESS BUSINESS REPORTER

Buzz Hargrove can't wait to give prime minister-designate Stephen Harper a hug.

The Canadian Auto Workers national president said yesterday he wants to meet the new federal leader and lobby him to support the national automotive industry the same way outgoing Prime Minister Paul Martin did.

Hargrove grabbed national media attention for his support of Martin during the federal election campaign -- and also urged his members to support any candidate of any party that stood a chance to defeat the Conservatives.

At one point in the campaign, Hargrove hugged Martin to show his support for the Liberal leader.

Hargrove had stated a Liberal win would have been good for the automotive industry because the party had an economic incentive strategy to support automakers.

Harper has said tax cuts, and not financial aid, are the best way to support business and industry.

"I would love to be proven wrong, I would love to see them do what is necessary to strengthen the Canadian automotive industry," said Hargrove.

"I will give him a hug if he does."

On Monday, Hargrove sent Harper a letter requesting a meeting. He will follow up soon with a phone call asking for a meeting, he added.

Hargrove was speaking at a celebration by GM Canada yesterday marking the two-millionth vehicle made at Cami Automotive in Ingersoll.

Gotta Have Faith ....

Wow, I have George Michael echoing through my head at this ungodly hour. I am staring at the computer at 7:00 in the morning, because it seems to be the only opportunity to squeeze in some writing before my day job ...

I guess I have the song "Faith" in my brain because I have Lorna Duek's voice reverberating through my skull. You know her, the do-gooder evangelical Christian who writes comment pieces for the Globe, cloaking her hatred for queers in saccharine language. Yesterday, she waxed poetic about the joys of going to church, saying: "For some of us, the best thing about sliding into a church pew is an hour of sitting in a place where you don't do a thing except feel loved. This past weekend there were other emotions stirred into that routine. I'd bet the morning offering that every congregation in Canada prayed for our new government. It was a moment where the country's Constitution and its spiritual beliefs merged as we followed the dedication of the Charter, and offered Parliament up to the supremacy of God."

As a secular Jew, all of this praying for politicians seems contrary to the concept of social justice that I grew up with ... but there are lots of people of faith who have been praying that Canada continue to promote equality.

Here's a list of faith groups and cultural associations that actively campaigned for same sex marriage.

It's time for the Religious Left, I tell you ...