Thursday, December 20, 2007

Living in a queer community -- intentionally

How having three roomies proved a good move
PERSONAL POLITICAL / Lessons learned on the intentional community front

Ariel Troster / Xtra.ca / Thursday, December 20, 2007

There's no such thing as too much information at Queer Nation. That's the moniker that my roommates and I have given to our eclectic household, composed of an AIDS outreach worker, a government computer analyst, a police officer and a writer. Recent dinner-table conversation topics have included the joys of prostate orgasm, the fact that kale is the new vegetable du jour, and which $10 bottle of wine should become the house red.

We also muse about when we're finally going to get off our butts to take over the local community association and reverse its long-standing policy of targeting the sex workers who work down the street from us. Every few days, we haggle over who's going to do the grocery shopping and clean the bathroom — you know, family stuff. Because that's what we are to each other.

If you had told me two years ago that I would be sharing my home with three people, one bathroom and two cats, I would have laughed at you. I never thought I was one for communal living. The concept always conjured up images of white kids with dreadlocks, vegan slop, and seemingly endless consensus-building sessions. None of these things are bad per se, I'm just not the "back to the land" type. I like privacy and some degree of individual space. I spend so much of my time focussing on politics and activism, the last thing I want to do when I get home is join an impromptu committee meeting.

But at this time last year, I faced a dilemma. I had just split with my partner, and found myself in possession of a big house, an even bigger mortgage, and only the vaguest idea of how to care for it. My ex and I had already taken on two roommates in an effort to pay the bills, so when she moved out, I added one more. I decided that as a single woman, I couldn't afford the financial or emotional burden of running a large household on my own. So I asked my housemates to pitch in. Before I knew it, I had unintentionally created an "intentional community." And the transformation that took place in the last 12 months has left an indelible mark both on my domestic life and on my activism.

Read more about life at Queer Nation over at xtra.ca.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Riot, don't diet!

Queers have a stake in the war against fat people
PERSONAL POLITICAL / Riot, don't diet

Ariel Troster / Xtra.ca / Thursday, November 29, 2007

My ass has never been so politically unpopular. The fashion industry has despised my rounded belly and curvy thighs for at least 40 years, but it's only recently that politicians have been weighing in, so to say.

If you read the news, you've no doubt heard about the obesity "epidemic" that's been gripping the Western world. The hysteria alone could be enough to convince you that chubby girls like me will be single-handedly responsible for destroying Canada's health care system, creating a future backlog of medical ailments triggered by my inability to resist the urge to eat that second cupcake.

Chubby kids have always had it hard, but the vitriol being directed at fat people these days seems unprecedented. The US Surgeon General has called obesity "a greater threat than weapons of mass destruction," and the British Health Secretary called it a "potential crisis on the scale of climate change."

After a plus-sized model won a recent season of American Idol, pundits lined up on network TV to debate whether or not size-12 Jordin Sparks was too fat to serve as a role model for young women.

Nothing makes me want to dive into a bathtub of pad thai more than the way this debate seems to be placing the blame for a whole series of societal problems — including poverty and lack of food security — squarely on the shoulders of curvy kids. And as queers, we have a stake in the war on fat people, whether or not we wear jeans with elasticized waists.

If you look closely at how discussions of obesity have been framed in the media, you'll notice a faint echo of the way the HIV/AIDS debate played out in the 1980s. Fat people are painted as lazy slobs who are placing an undue burden on the medical system, due to their "unhealthy" choices.

This sounds awfully like the way HIV-positive people were castigated in the media several years ago for sexual promiscuity and drug use — suggesting that they somehow deserved to be sick.

Read the rest over at Xtra.ca.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Gay squared!

The new theme of my column for Xtra.ca and Capital Xtra is "Personal Political" -- uncovering the ways our lives intersect with our politics and the world around us. My editor asked me to focus on sexual rights issues, so this column takes a look at the sometimes prescribed categories we assign within the queer community.

You're gay - now experiment
PERSONAL POLITICAL / When dykes and fags get together, it's gay squared

Ariel Troster / Xtra.ca / Thursday, November 08, 2007

You are who you fuck.

That's been the mantra of the gay rights movement for the last 30 years. And even in the age of metrosexuals and bi-curious women making out in straight bars, many of us have continued to encourage people to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans. Because those of us who work for political change know that by naming ourselves, we create communities for us to live in and organize around.

Coming out is an important milestone in the evolution of our sexual orientation and gender identity. It's a fearless act that creates space for younger queers to discover themselves. And it helps remind us that even though we have very much in common with our straight friends and family members, we also have something different to offer the world — a unique take on love and relationships. I'm talking about sexual freedom.

Despite its buttoned-down reputation, the Ottawa queer community is quite diverse. The circle I hang out with, for example, includes at least two queer-identified women whose primary partners are men, but who also maintain passionate relationships with other women.

A few months ago, I attended a "pre-loved" sex toy party, where we all brought the silicone implements that had fallen out of our favour to trade with each other. At least two straight men in attendance extolled the virtue of being pegged by their female partners, as they traded in their less ambitious dildos that had fallen by the wayside. And all of us — gay and straight alike — engaged in a considerable amount of flirting that evening.

When I first came out as a lesbian almost 10 years ago, the scene I just described would have been unthinkable. Lesbian women partnering with men? Straight men buying phallic sex toys? The queer world seemed very black and white to me at the time. If someone slept with a member of the opposite sex, I reasoned, they must be straight — or bisexual at least. But after a few years, I came to understand that sometimes what — and who — we do, doesn't always fully describe who we are. And in some cases, the gay and lesbian community might be guilty of enforcing the same kind of restrictive norms that make many heterosexual people unhappy.

Read the rest over at xtra.ca
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Two film reviews

Xtra.ca just posted two reviews that I wrote of films that will be screened at this weekend's Inside Out (LGBT film fest) in Ottawa -- Red Without Blue and The Chinese Botanist's Daughter.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to make the fest, as I will be in Kelowna for the Council of Canadians' annual general meeting.

But I recommend that folks in Ottawa check out the film fest. Since the demise of Making Scenes a few years ago, Ottawa, has been left without a queer film fest. Still, Divergence Movie Night has been filling the void, with monthly screenings of underground queer documentaries. DMN is co-sponsoring the screening of Red Without Blue this weekend.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Leave no one behind

Wait your turn. I’m sure we all heard those words as children, as we stood in line for rides at amusement parks, or impatiently allowed siblings to play with coveted new toys. But in the fight for human rights, should we be telling anyone to wait their turn when it comes to such urgent matters as hate speech protections and workplace anti-discrimination laws?

This is a question that the queer rights movement in the United States is grappling with right now, in regard to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a piece of legislation that has been on the books in one form or another for over 30 years. Because believe it or not, it is absolutely legal to fire someone for being gay under U.S. federal law, and in 31 states. And this is the first time in U.S. history that the ENDA has enough Democrat votes to make it through the House of Representatives relatively unscathed.

The most recent version of the bill, which has been floating around for several months, included language that would protect people based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. This version of the ENDA had wide support from hundreds of queer and trans organizations in the U.S. But on September 28, Congressman Barney Frank announced his intention to split the ENDA into two bills – one that would protect sexual orientation (and would likely pass), and another to protect gender identity (that would surely fail).

Frank’s argument is that it’s better to pass the partial legislation and protect millions of gay and lesbian people in the workplace, than to sacrifice the ENDA at the alter of trans rights. He argues that the American public hasn’t had enough time to absorb and understand trans issues, and that if the gender provisions were to be struck down at this stage, it could force politicians into a corner. Because if they were to vote against trans rights due to a lack of understanding or constituent support, they could be forced to stick to that position in the future, due to intense scrutiny of perceived "flip flopping" on issues that are brought to the House for a vote.

"Antidiscrimination legislation is always partial," Frank writes. "It improves coverage either to some group or some subject matter, but never achieves everything at once. And insistence on achieving everything at once would be a prescription for achieving nothing ever."

Frank’s decision has ignited what several writers have referred to as a "family feud" within the U.S. queer community. Hundreds of bloggers are grappling with the question of what’s more important – pragmatism or principle – in regard to the ENDA. But after an absolutely deafening outpouring from hundreds of queer advocates, the consensus that seems to have emerged (even belatedly supported by the squarely mainstream Human Rights Campaign), is that people want to see a united ENDA, and will not stand for gender protections being parsed off into an un-passable bill.

The arguments in support of a united ENDA vary. Many people simply refuse to leave their trans friends to fight another decades-long battle for employment protection on their own. They argue that the trans community has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with gay activists since Stonewall and have been instrumental in the fight against AIDS and in support of same sex marriage. They recognize that the political climate in the U.S. is so hostile to gays and lesbians, that it’s virtually impossible to conceive of a stand-alone trans rights bill passing during their lifetimes.

Others argue that the gender protections in the ENDA don’t just protect trans people – they protect everyone. Lambda Legal recently released an analysis of the stripped-down ENDA, arguing that it is riddled with loopholes that would erode any protection of gays and lesbians in the workplace, specifically "lesbians, gay men and bisexuals who may not conform to their employer's idea of how a man or woman should look and act." In other words, "straight-acting" queers might be offered come level of protection under the split bill, but butch women and effeminate men could easily be fired, if their employer claimed that "their conduct was actually based on gender expression, a type of discrimination that the new bill does not prohibit."

In Canada, employment rights for gays and lesbians have been on the books for more than 20 years, and some argue that the provisions in the Charter of Rights and in provincial human rights codes based on "sex" provide sufficient protection against gender-based persecution. But trans activists are working hard – particularly in Ontario – to see gender identity explicitly protected in provincial and federal laws. Their campaign is gaining momentum, and it seems likely that unlike our allies in the U.S., we will see this legislation passed within the next decade.

Unfortunately, the deep soul-searching over the ENDA in the U.S. really boils down to a matter of semantics. Because the bill probably doesn’t have enough votes to pass through the Senate, and if it does, President Bush will veto it. Given that the decks are so stacked against U.S. queers, doesn’t it make more sense for the community to stand together and let no one be left behind?

-- Cross-posted to BlogThis!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Resisting war, escaping homophobia

Check out my latest article for xtra.ca, an exclusive interview with Bethany "Skyler" James, a 19-year old woman who recently fled the U.S. Army to protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to escape homophobic treatment in the military.

Here's a snippet:

But unlike some of the other US war resisters, Skyler had another factor motivating her decision to come to Canada: she is an out lesbian, which directly contradicts the military's infamous "don't ask, don't tell" policy. And Skyler, with her close-cropped hair and penchant for slim-fitting shirts and skinny ties, refused to hide her sexual orientation. In fact she flaunted it — even hanging a rainbow flag in her room at the military base, despite a rule which prohibits anyone who "demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the US Army.

"I didn't want to hide," says Skyler, who knew she was gay when she signed up for the military, but said she figured she could keep it under the radar. "In the end it didn't work out that way. I was ridiculed daily by the other soldiers and even received hate letters."

Visit xtra.ca for the full story. And to learn more about how you can help Skyler and the other war resisters living in Canada, visit www.resisters.ca.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Femme and femininity

Femme and femininity
WORLD WITHIN / Changing radiators - wearing heels

Ariel Troster / Xtra.ca / Thursday, September 27, 2007

When I first came out as a lesbian, I wore "the uniform": khaki pants, short boy-cut hair, button-down shirts and combat boots. Like every dyke in Montreal, I tried to walk with a little bit more swagger, and desperately wished I was thinner through the hips, so men's clothes would hang out my curvy body with more panache. But after a few years, there was no hiding who I really was: a femme in disguise.

I came out as a feminist before I came out as a dyke. And it took almost 10 years to embrace the label of "femme." Because what's the first thing a thinking teenage girl does to rebel against societal expectations of beauty? She ditches the lipstick and the skirts, shoves her hair under a hat, and demands to be recognized for what she has to say, rather than how attractive she may be to men.

For some women, this represents their most comfortable state of being. But for those of us who covet the mascara and low-cut tops, it can also represent a different form of oppression — this one from our chosen community.

The lesbian feminist movement has a long history of valuing androgynous gender expressions over feminine ones. The demise of butch-femme culture in North America came at a time when feminism was burgeoning in the 1960s. In an effort to free women from sexism and the drudgery of housework, feminists ignored the women who wanted to smash the patriarchy without burning their bras. They assumed that women who wore lipstick were simply complying with the patriarchy, and hadn't been liberated yet. This trend continued for many years, and still touches women today.

As writer Julia Serano argues, "While femininity is in many ways influenced, shaped, and enforced by society, to say that it's entirely 'artificial' or merely a 'performance' is patronizing toward those for whom femininity simply feels right."

Read the rest over at xtra.ca

Queer activism through the generations

Nicholas Little is one of the sweetest men I've ever met ... he's one of the gay mens' outreach workers at the AIDS Committee Ottawa. He works with my roommate Adam, the other sweetest man I've ever met.

He just wrote the most wonderful article for Capital Xtra, and he had some really touching things to say about me. You can read it here.

Nicholas really captured something I've been thinking about for a while now: the need for more intergenerational activist exchange.

Anyway, this is the photo he refers to in the article -- Me and Marie Robertson, and her daughter Ana at the Ottawa Dyke March this summer. It makes me really happy.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, September 10, 2007

Like clockwork ...

We knew that when Harper cut Status of Women Canada and the Court Challenges program, it would lead to the further disintegration of women's groups across Canada. Here's another example:

Dear friends,

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that, because of the Conservative government’s changes in funding policies to women’s groups, the National Association of Women and the Law is forced to lay off all staff and shut down its national office. NAWL’s Board will keep the organization alive on a volunteer basis, but our capacity to consult with women’s groups and advocate for feminist law reform will be greatly diminished.

We will be holding a Press Conference on September 20th at 11:00AM on Parliament Hill to denounce the silencing of NAWL and other advocacy and research organizations by the Harper government.

The press conference will be followed by a Solidarity Lunch hosted by NAWL. If you are in the Ottawa region, please join us to celebrate 33 years of feminist engagement with the law, and to mark this new phase in the life of NAWL. There is no cost for the lunch. Donations are welcome.

Please RSVP by Tuesday September 18 to Jackie Steele at:

communications@nawl.ca

We will be sending you more information on the NAWL transition in the next few days. As I will be leaving NAWL soon, communications will be coming from the NAWL Board members.

We will also be posting more information on our website at www.nawl.ca

In solidarity,

Andrée Côté

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What I learned on summer vacation

What I learned on summer vacation
WORLD WITHIN / The lessons of Camp Trans

Ariel Troster / Xtra.ca / Wednesday, September 05, 2007
"Hello, my name is Ariel, and I use feminine pronouns." That's how I introduced myself to a circle of more than 100 people, at my first community meeting deep in the woods of Hart, Michigan in August. I had just arrived at Camp Trans, the activist gathering set up a few paces down a gravel road from the Michigan Women's Festival. The camp was originally created in 1991, after an out trans woman was evicted from the festival for violating its "women-born-women" policy.

Within a few years, legendary activists including Leslie Feinberg and Riki Wilchins helped turn it into an annual pilgrimage for trans people and their allies to organize, socialize, and for a few days each year, create a space where a plethora of pronouns and gender identities are respected and celebrated.

I attended Camp Trans as an ally. I wanted to learn more about how to incorporate trans issues into my queer activism. I prepared myself for the experience of feeling like "the other." I imagined that as a non-trans women, I would somehow feel out of place. I was wrong. What I discovered was a gender- and body-accepting utopia, where I felt more comfortable expressing my identity as a femme dyke than anywhere else I've been.

The diversity of gender expression at Camp Trans was as vast as any gay pride march, nightclub, or supermarket in a cosmopolitan neighbourhood. If your only image of trans people comes from films like Transamerica and Boys Don't Cry, you would have been in for a shock. I met one woman who preferred female pronouns, but insisted on masculine forms of address. Another person identified as a "femme-identified trans boy." Others preferred gender-neutral or plural pronouns.

It made for a bit of a linguistic mud pile, but it was actually more difficult for me to adjust to living without running water, than it was to respect people's gender identities. I screwed up a few times, tripped over terminology and pronouns. Thankfully, there was no language policing at Camp Trans.

But like any ally, I had a few things to learn. While I still pine for the sun-dappled woods, I have tried to carry the spirit of the place with me in the last few weeks by applying some of the lessons I learned.

Read the rest of the article over at xtra.ca.

And if you want to know more about what you can do to support trans rights in Canada, check out this recent article on a campaign that's being launched in Ontario to have gender identity enshrined in the provincial human rights code.

Also, if you want to know what Riki Wilchins is doing these days, take a look at the website for Gender PAC -- an amazing U.S. organization that is tackling gender issues on so many levels -- sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. It's a real inspiration to see such an accessible, intersectional approach to gender-based activism.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

SPP Protest: Union Leader diffuses suspected provacateur

Some of you might have heard that yesterday in Montebello, the president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union helped diffuse a situation where a rock-throwing protester attempted to breech the "green zone," by pushing through a line of riot cops.

Dave Coles from CEP did in fact break-up a potential incident, but we're pretty convinced that the "protestor" was actually a cop ... Although we can't confirm this for sure, we happened to have Paul Manly (a filmmaker) with us ... he caught the whole thing and put it up on YouTube this morning. You'll notice at the end of the scuffle that the cops just let him through, and the arrest appears to be staged ... the other black-clad protesters in the crowd were convinced he was a cop. We suspect that he was a provocateur working for one of the security forces who was instructed to shake things up to justify the police response.

Dave Coles and Joel Harden from the CLC were AMAZING in diffusing the situation, saving families and grannies from getting tear-gassed:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sometimes activism is just about taking up space

Kiss-in commentary
WORLD WITHIN / Sometimes activism is just about taking up space

Ariel Troster / Capital Xtra / Thursday, August 16, 2007

Let's just say it felt like an odd place for a radical action. It kind of felt like a wedding. There were people applauding and clinking their drinking glasses. Every time they clinked, we kissed harder. The setting was Mexicali Rosa's restaurant near Dow's Lake in Ottawa. After Adam Graham and Phillip Banks were told to "cool it" for kissing softly on the restaurant's patio in July, a few of us decided to organize a queer kiss-in to demonstrate that we won't tolerate homophobia — even at a relatively benign family restaurant.

It was empowering to feel so visible — even if only for a few moments. My usual low-maintenance femme attire generally means that strangers don't recognize that I'm queer — unless I'm holding hands or sucking face with my lover in a public place. The kiss-in was a conscious attempt to draw attention to our queer identity and sexuality.

In the end, we were able to extract an apology from the restaurant's management, but the real success was that we organized more than 30 people on a moment's notice. We took over a hetero-normative space, and turned it into a queer and sex-positive one. And it was so much fun.

For me, the kiss-in confirmed the fact that fighting discrimination and injustice isn't always about changing people's minds through carefully worded education campaigns. Sometimes it's about staking claim to physical spaces — without asking permission.

People in the environmental community have known this for years. The Reclaim The Streets movement was born in London in the mid-1990s, and has since spread to cities all over Europe, Australia, North America, and Africa. The premise is simple: ignoring traffic regulations and permits, activists invade major intersections and throw spontaneous street parties, transforming car thoroughfares into vibrant community gatherings. The parties help people imagine what their cities could look like if the streets weren't ruled by cars and commercialism.

At a now-legendary Reclaim The Streets party in Toronto in 2000, late activist and mayoral candidate Tooker Gomberg rolled out a flatbed truck full of sod onto York St. Within minutes, people were dancing barefoot on the grass in front of the Toronto Stock Exchange. Activists are now advocating that the city create a new network of bike lanes called "The Tooker" in his honour.

Toronto is rife with other inspiring examples of reclamation of public space. The group Streets Are For People has been sponsoring car-free Pedestrian Sundays in various neighbourhoods all over the city. They've also been throwing "parking metre parties," where people throw some money into a parking metre, then set up a tea party or picnic in the space they're just rented. The action is good for a laugh, but it also demonstrates just what you can do with a tiny space and allows people to imagine what their city could look like if parking lots were replaced with public squares.

I think there's an analogy to be made between the inadequacy of physical urban spaces, and the difficulty in finding truly queer-positive social spaces. Right now, gay and lesbian community members and business are working with the city to designate a stretch of Bank St as a Rainbow Village. This is a good first step.

In the same week as the kiss-in, I was hassled three times by creepy dudes while holding hands with my girlfriend on the street. One man muttered, "This whole city is turning gay," prompting me to yell back, "Yes, and we love it."

It makes me happy that the local Business Improvement Association understands that a gay village will make Ottawa a more welcoming and celebratory destination for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But I have to wonder if the need for a Rainbow Village only got the attention it deserved a few years ago, when activists painted a pink line down the middle of Bank St as part of Pride. There was no denying who owned the street that day — or for the weeks afterwards that it took for the paint to fade.

The enthusiastic reception to the kiss-in at Mexicali Rosa's proves that there's an appetite for direct action in Ottawa's queer community. We've already got a local branch of Critical Mass — the group of bicyclists who flood the streets during rush hour once a month. Perhaps it's time we imported an idea like Guerrilla Gay Bar, which has taken off in Los Angeles and New York. A bunch of queers get together every month to take over a straight bar, "planting a gay flag wherever they fancy," according to a recent article in the New York Times. Instead of confining their affection to the village, they spread the love — and the gay — wherever they choose to.

We've conquered Mexican cuisine and we soon may lay claim to part of Bank St. Where should we plant the flag next?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Get off the internet ... I'll meet you in the streets

Okay, I also meant get out of the boardrooms, the back-rooms where lobbying happens, out of the press scrums and cocktails parties. Get off the BBQ circuit. Make an old-fashioned placard and take up some space in the streets. For once. Once again.

Here's my latest column for Capital Xtra. Enjoy!


Take it to the boardrooms
WORLD WITHIN / But what about street protests?

Ariel Troster / Capital Xtra / Thursday, July 19, 2007

Is street protest dead? That's a question I often ask myself, as my placard-making supplies languish in the back of my bedroom closet.

Pride season is in full-swing across Canada, and though I love to see queers and their families filling the streets, there is rarely a political slogan to be found. And while it's valuable to be visible and build community through festivals, parades and social events, I can't help but wonder whether or not our community has lost its edge.

In fact, as I write this column, I am wracking my brain to remember if I've ever participated in a large-scale demonstration for queer rights. In the last few years, I have marched against George Bush's visit to Canada, in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in support of public health care, and against trade agreements like the Free Trade Area Of The Americas.

But when the Harper government introduced a motion to re-open the same sex marriage debate last year, there was nary a whimper, much less a street demonstration. And when the Conservatives gutted Status Of Women Canada and cut the Court Challenges program in September, it was a small group of feminists who took to the streets. Queers were noticeably absent, and national lobby group Egale Canada took several days to decide whether or not to sign on to a statement opposing the loss of program. Even though queers have undoubtedly benefited the most from Charter cases funded by Court Challenges, some members of the Egale's board were reportedly leery of alienating potential allies within the Harper cabinet.

Still, the gay and lesbian community isn't the only group of people who have traded street protests for more "reasonable" negotiations in recent years. Since 9/11, the North American anti-globalization movement has shied away from some of the massive "summit-hopping" street fights that characterized the "Battle in Seattle" in 1999 and the tear-gas fueled protest against the FTAA in Quebec City in 2001. Now, many are pushing for concrete positive solutions, like fair trade coffee, forest-friendly paper and local, organic produce.

A recent article by Joseph in Hart in Utne Reader suggests that the age of protest is over, and tells activists to "dump your signs and slogans — it's time to make change." He uses the example of the environmental movement, pointing to the blockades and boycotts that led to over 1,000 arrests and helped to save old growth trees in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia. Some of the same activists who chained themselves to trees in the 1990s, are now sitting across the boardroom table with logging company CEOs, working together to find common ground in an effort to preserve Canada's forests. Does this mean they're selling out or getting real? It depends who you ask. But it's fair for people to try changing things from the inside.

What's problematic is when the activists who have moved to "the inside" — whether that means joining a political party or joining the board of a more established NGO — deride protestors as being obstructive or counter-productive. We saw that dynamic at play in Ottawa last month, when certain members of the Police Liaison Committee scuttled a demonstration that was planned in support of drag personality Dixie Landers. Instead of channeling the rage that was about to hit the streets, they told people that what they should really be doing is attending a meeting. They seem surprised when the meeting almost exploded due to the queer community's frustration at the lack of information provided at that meeting.

So, while it's good to have people working on the inside, it's equally important for others to organize protests and follow outsider strategies, such as civil disobedience. The whole point of civil disobedience is that when you are not getting the response you need and deserve from the people in power, you willingly take personal risks, in an effort to highlight the cause you care about.

During last month's First Nations' Day of Action, media commentators were quick to complement the people who marched on Parliament Hill, while simultaneously condemning protestor Shawn Brant for daring to blockade a highway and some railway tracks. Some characterized his actions as "violent." But were any of Brant's actions violent, or did they simply cause inconvenience and economic disruption? There's a big difference. By forcing CN Rail to cancel its trains on June 29, Brant and the more radical protestors helped fuel the Assembly Of First Nations' peaceful march on the Hill. Together, the two sets of actions signalled that First Nations' people won't stand for poverty and mistreatment. And they demonstrated the fact that a diversity of tactics can lead to potent political and social change.

With George Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon set to meet Stephen Harper in Ottawa from Aug 20-21, we can expect to see thousands of people protesting against the secretive Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. Plans are already underway for a giant demonstration and a bike caravan from Ottawa to Montebello, Quebec, where the leaders will be meeting. It's exciting, because it feels like the spirit of Seattle may be making a comeback.

In the queer community, I wonder what issue will be powerful enough to propel us out of our boardrooms and bedroom communities and back onto the street.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ottawa City Council chooses NIMBYism over public health

I can only describe my mood today as "infuriated, but not surprised." Yesterday, Ottawa City Council voted to shut down a crack pipe exchange program, despite the strenuous objections of city health officials and local community workers. This came on the heels of an anti-drug demonstration staged by the Sandy Hill Business Improvement Association, who argued that the program led to increased drug use in Ottawa's touristy Byward Market.

The business owners arrived to a sympathetic audience at city hall. Mayor Larry O'Brien had promised to end the program as part of his municipal election campaign, and yesterday, he teamed up with councillor Rick Chiarelli (and 13 others) to cancel a program that cost a mere $8,000 a year, and had the potential to save a significant number of lives.

Local bloggers are going apeshit about this. Vicky Smallman points out the fact that "Ottawa has an alarmingly high rate of HIV and Hepatitis C infection among Intravenous Drug users - at 21%, it is 9 times greater than Toronto’s infection rate." Yep, you heard her right. Nine times higher.

And even through city councillors claimed that there was no evidence to suggest that the program was working, they simply chose to ignore a study that the city itself commissioned last year from epidemiologist Lynne Leonard. The study demonstrates that while the program did lead to an increase in crack smoking, it also radically reduced users' sharing of drug paraphernalia, providing "significant scientific evidence" that the program reduced the harm associated with crack smoking.

As Adam Graham from the AIDS Committee of Ottawa explains, pipe and needle exchange programs also act as a first point of contact between users and health professionals, allowing them to access health services, therefore increasing the likelihood that they'll also seek out addiction counselling. In the case of crack smoking, a program like this prevents people from using burning metal pipes and cans, which cause open sores, and lead to HIV and hepatitis transmission.

But of course, these rational, health-based, scientifically-proven arguments mean nothing to bunch of city councillors who are more concerned about the "messaging" associated with handing out crack pipes. They've chosen to protect knee-jerk sensibilities over people's lives. It's simply shameful.

Still, local activists haven't given up the fight. The AIDS Committee of Ottawa announced that it would continue the program, even without city funding. And the new Ottawa Police chief has urged the city to conduct another study before burying the program for good.

Let's hope that city council smartens up, and chooses to listen to the facts. I'm not holding my breath.

-- Cross posted to BlogThis!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

RCMP, U.S. Army block public forum on the Security and Prosperity Partnership

MEDIA RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 11, 2007

RCMP, U.S. Army block public forum on the Security and Prosperity Partnership

The Council of Canadians has been told it will not be allowed to rent a municipal community centre for a public forum it had planned to coincide with the next Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) summit in Montebello, Quebec on August 20 and 21.

The Municipality of Papineauville, which is about six kilometres from Montebello, has informed the Council of Canadians that the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) and the U.S. Army will not allow the municipality to rent the Centre Communautaire de Papineauville for a public forum on Sunday August 19, on the eve of the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership Leaders Summit.

“It is deplorable that we are being prevented from bringing together a panel of writers, academics and parliamentarians to share their concerns about the Security and Prosperity Partnership with Canadians,” said Brent Patterson, director of organizing with the Council of Canadians. “Meanwhile, six kilometres away, corporate leaders from the United States, Mexico and Canada will have unimpeded access to our political leaders.”

As well as being shut out of Papineauville, the Council of Canadians has been told that the RCMP and the SQ will be enforcing a 25-kilometre security perimeter around the Chateau Montebello, where Stephen Harper will meet with George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón on August 20 and 21. According to officials in Montebello, there will be checkpoints at Thurso and Hawkesbury, and vehicles carrying more than five people will be turned back.

Founded in 1985, the Council of Canadians is Canada’s largest citizens’ organization, with members and chapters across the country. The organization works to protect Canadian independence by promoting progressive policies on fair trade, clean water, safe food, public health care, and other issues of social and economic concern to Canadians.

For more information about the Security and Prosperity Partnership, visit IntegrateThis.ca.

Friday, July 06, 2007

YGA Mag responds

Young Gay America Magazine has posted a response to Michael Glatze's statements on their site. They are soliciting feedback, and have also published an open letter to Michael from Daniel DeRitto from ThoughtTheater.com.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The journalists formerly known as gay

When I read the news a couple of days ago the Michael Glatze, former editor of Young Gay America Magazine, and one of the filmmakers behind the incredible queer youth documentary Jim In Bold, had come out as "ex-gay," I was flabbergasted. That makes two editors of queer magazines in the last several months that have "found Jesus" and become poster children for the lunatic right. The other "journalist formerly known as gay" is Charlene Cothran, publisher of Venus Magazine, which used to be aimed at queer women of colour. After being miraculously cured of "the gay," Cothran has now re-focused the magazine to speak to women who want to escape "the life."

As a lesbian writer, I'm not sure what part of this story makes my skin crawl more. The idea that even journalists are susceptible to propaganda? The thought that that Glatze and Cothran's previous good work is now tainted by their own self-hatred and denial? The fact that queer teens are now being condemned by a couple of their former most trusted allies?

I also don't want to condemn Glatze and Cothran simply because they had a religious awakening. Lots of radicals (or former radicals) have discovered some sort of spiritual side -- most famously, American feminist Naomi Wolf, who recently described seeing a vision of herself as a 13-year-old boy confronting Jesus (I kid you not). Still, to my knowledge, Wolf hasn't sworn off feminism or told young girls that they should now ascribe to the "beauty myth." In fact, she seems a bit embarrassed by the whole thing, and has skillfully steered the rest of her public statements to focus on her work, rather than her private hallucinations.

I've been stumbling to find some way to analyze this, other than saying that's it's sad, upsetting, and puzzling. I especially feel bad for Benjie Nycum, who was co-editor of YGA Magazine, and co-producer of Jim In Bold. I used to sit on the board of directors of an LGBT rights organization with him, and once profiled him for Capital Xtra. I can only imagine what it feels like to wake up one morning, and see someone that you worked so closely with denounce everything that you strove to do together.

Wayne Besen has an interesting comment about this fiasco on 365gay.com. He maintains that both Glatze and Cothran went looking for God, after their long-term relationships failed. "In a sense," he writes, "it seems like these break-ups caused nervous breakdowns where the embittered party tried to punish an 'ex' by becoming ex-gay."

Still, it's never too late to say you're sorry. Last week, three former leaders of Exodus International (the most prominent "ex-gay" group in the U.S.) apologized for "the isolation, shame, fear and loss of faith that [the anti-gay] message creates."

The press conference featured Michael Bussee, the co-founder of Exodus, Jeremy Marks, former president of Exodus International Europe, and Darlene Bogle, the founder and former director of Paraklete Ministries, an Exodus referral agency based in California. Also present was Rev. Mel White, founder and president of the faith-based gay rights group Soulforce. White was the ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell's autobiography and later came out as gay.

Perhaps Bussee's approach holds out hope for a reconciliation between the newly converted and "formerly" gay:

"God's love and forgiveness does indeed change people," said Bussee. "It changed me. It just didn't make me straight."

-- Cross-posted to BlogThis!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

No justice, no peace ...

.... f$#k the police. At least, that's the slogan they used to chant at all of the anti-police brutality demos in Montreal.

I would say that my analysis is a bit more nuanced than that. I do think that it's important for the queer community to keep an open line of communication with the cops. That's how we help scuttle bathhouse raids and arbitrary arrests. But how close is too close? Where's the fine line between sharing our issues with the police, and allowing them to co-opt our concerns and tell us how to react?

I touch on these questions in my latest column for Capital Xtra. There's also a really interesting piece in the Toronto edition of the paper, about a proposal in Toronto that all queer community reps to the liaison committee be subject to police checks. Predictably, this proposal is getting a universal thumbs down from the LGBT community.

But now for some late-breaking good news on the Dixie Landers case. The Ottawa Police have made two arrests ...keep checking xtra.ca for updates as more info becomes available.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

CALL TO ACTION AGAINST THE SPP!








Council of Canadians to mobilize in Ottawa, Montebello and across the country from August 20-21


From August 20-21, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be meeting in Montebello, Quebec with U.S. President George Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The Council of Canadians will be there to tell them what Canadians really think about the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.

Ottawa-based activists are already planning a giant weekend demonstration and possibly a bike caravan from Ottawa to Montebello.

We’ll be posting information about actions in Ottawa, Montebello and across Canada at IntegrateThis.ca, as details emerge. So drop by often for up-to-the-minute information.

But in the meantime, here’s plans are shaping up:

SUNDAY, AUGUST 19, 7:00 p.m. — PUBLIC FORUM

The Council of Canadians is working with a other labour and social justice groups to organize a public forum near Montebello. This event will feature Canadian, U.S. and Mexican speakers, focusing on how the SPP affects energy security, water, the environment, security policy, and other key issues. More details to come.

MONDAY, AUGUST 20 — NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION

The Council of Canadians will be organizing a National Day of Action Against the SPP on August 20. This will allow people across Canada to “plug in” to the resistance at the Montebello summit. Council of Canadians’ chapters will be organizing public forums and community picnics, lobbying of Members of Parliament, distributing handbills, and speaking to the media. We will be posting information about events across the country at IntegrateThis.ca, as details develop.

MONDAY, AUGUST 20 — PROTEST IN MONTEBELLO
The Council of Canadians will be joining with other groups from across Ontario and Quebec to protest at the summit site in Montebello. More details to come.

For more information about the Security and Prosperity Partnership, visit IntegrateThis.ca. We’ll post new information about the Montebello summit as it becomes available. Visit often for up-to-the-minute updates.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I heart feminist graffiti!

There's this awful anti-choice poster on Bank Street in Ottawa. One of my favourite morning activities is to see what wonderful feminist graffiti has arrived to "re-decorate" the sign.

I took the first photo this morning. The sprayed-on text says, "[Abortion] is so fun! I get one every day. I heart abortion."

My girlfriend took the second photo last week. It says "MISOGYNY SUCKS. Keep abortion safe and legal."

'Nuff said.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Making sex work safe

goodhandys pride.JPG

I just returned from Toronto's gay pride celebrations, and I was so thrilled to spend a few hours on Friday night at Goodhandy's, Toronto's "pansexual playground." The bar is only one year old, but in that short period of time has established itself as a gathering place for trans people and their allies, alternative burlesque performers, feminist activists, queer musicians, and sex workers. It's rare to find a space that serves so many functions, and proves that diverse communities can co-exist in harmony.

The bar, which hosts more mainstream musical events and dance nights, also features a members-only Diamond Room, where sex workers (largely trans women) can entertain clients in a safe space -- one that is protected by a security guard and, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, shielded from raids by the cops.

In December 2005, the Court overturned the conviction of Montrealer Jean-Paul Lebaye for running a "common bawdy house" for the "practice of acts of indecency" after police busted his club, L'Orage, in 2000.

"Consensual conduct behind code-locked doors can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society," wrote Justice Beverly McLachlin at the time, opening the door for the establishment of businesses like Goodhandys.

But the refreshing thing about Goodhandy's is that the owners don't try to hide the fact that the space is used as a meeting place for sex workers and their johns. In fact, they celebrate this fact, and recently started opening at 4pm on Thursdays, "to develop an after-work crowd of businessmen who want a discreet chance to meet t-girls," according to co-owner Todd Klink.

As it is, it's quite difficult for sex workers to find clean, safe spaces to work in, where they aren't likely to be harassed by bad dates or by the cops. The Sex Professionals of Canada are currently launching a constitutional challenge to Canada's solicitation laws, which they say are discriminatory and expose sex workers to danger. They recently held a fundraiser to support their cause at -- where else -- Goodhandy's.

After spending some time in a space that represents a real jewel in the crown of the sex workers' rights movement, I was disturbed to read this police bulletin about a recent "prostitute/john sweep" in my neighbourhood (Hintonburg, an inner city community to the west of downtown). My 'hood has a history of anti-sex worker vigilantism, which I took to task in a recent column for Capital Xtra.

How long will it take for the Ottawa police and city officials to realize that criminalization of sex workers only exposes them to further abuse and mistreatment?

Hooray for Goodhandy's for supporting Toronto sex workers. Is anyone in Ottawa willing to make a similar statement?


-- Cross-posted to BlogThis!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fatspiration!

Beth Ditto.jpg

Whenever I hear media commentators bemoaning the scourge of childhood obesity, I always wince a little bit. Even though I understand how important it is for kids to get active (and for parents to help them eat nutritious, unprocessed food), the reality is that there are many factors that affect a person's weight and girth. In many cases, poverty and food insecurity are an issue. In other cases, it's a simple matter of genes. There are many of us who work hard to stay fit and healthy, but will never ever fit into a size 8 -- which is the biggest size in Kate Moss' new clothing line for Top Shop in the UK.

Still, I am so happy to see so many foxy and fierce women bucking the body-hating trend. Beth Ditto, the uber-cool lead singer of the indie band The Gossip recently posed in all her naked, curvy glory for NME Magazine. Feminist icon Germaine Greer praised Ditto for her courage, saying, "Her intention is to force acceptance of her body type, 5ft tall and 15 stone, and by this strategy to challenge the conventional imagery of women."

Lilly Allen, the British pop star who achieved fame after posting her songs and writing on MySpace, has spoken out repeatedly about her desire to maintain her sanity in the face of celebrity body-obsession. She sings, "I want to eat spaghetti bolognese and not worry about it for days and days."

But like many of us, Lilly had a "bad body day" a few weeks ago, and posted an entry on her MySpace page claiming that industry pressure had led her to emotional collapse, and that she'd spent a day researching gastric bypass surgery. Her fans responded in droves with words of encouragement.

When I'm having a "fat day," I take my inspiration from the amazing Leslie Hall, fearless gold pants-wearing hip hop artist and keeper of the biggest Gem Sweater collection ever.

Or I watch this:



-- Cross posted to Blog This!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Let's give 'em something to talk about

Tell it all - to everybody
WORLD WITHIN / Let's give 'em something to talk about

Ariel Troster / Capital Xtra / Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pierre Trudeau's famous comment about the state having no place in the bedrooms of the nation seems rather antiquated these days, given that so many of us are sharing information on the Internet that earlier generations of queers saw as private.

It seems I can't go to a party or get on a bus or grab a cup of coffee, without hearing the word "Facebook" anymore. Embraced for a couple of years by university students primarily in the US, the highly sophisticated (and extremely addictive) social networking website has been grabbing hold in Canada, especially among the tech-savvy arts and activist sets. Within Ottawa's queer community, it only reinforces the one-degree of separation between most of the people we cruise on dating sites, meet at community events, and march in demonstrations with.

There's no denying that this kind of "over-sharing" fosters community. In the last few days, I've received invitations to barbecues and block parties, been informed of protests being planned for George Bush's August visit to Canada, and stayed up-to-date on a friend's bathroom renovations. This is not to mention the daily updates of who's been hooking up and breaking up. And sites like Facebook have become impromptu gathering places after communities experience tragedies, like the Virginia Tech massacre, the recent high school shooting in Toronto, and closer to home, the beating of Ottawa drag queen Dixie Landers.

But like many people over the age of 25, I initially found the tell-all nature of these websites a little scary. I mean, did I really want to be contacted by the person I sat beside in high school band? And do people really care what I'm eating for lunch or the fact that my cat just puked in the hallway?

Read the rest of my latest column for Capital Xtra here.

And feel free to leave comments here or on xtra.ca. Do you think we're sharing too much information on the internet? Does this help or harm the queer rights movement? Does it bring us closer together or does too-much-information drive us apart?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

When tragedy strikes, community media steps in

dixie.jpg
If you aren't from Ottawa, you might not have heard of Dixie Landers. And if you don't read the queer press, you probably haven't heard that the popular and well-loved drag personality has been in a coma for the last three days, after being severely injured in a bar fight. The story hasn't hit the mainstream press, but Ottawa's queer community is getting up-to-the minute information on Dixie's condition from Capital Xtra, where readers are also posting comments to debate a case where there have been allegations of police inaction and possible mistreatment by emergency personnel.

Meanwhile, friends and supporters have set up a "Get Well Dixie Landers" group on Facebook, which now has almost 350 members. And people posting on Egale Canada's e-list are talking about the case, wondering aloud why more people didn't come to Dixie's defence, whether or not this was a gay-bashing, and what the community can do to prevent further violence.

Not a single word about this story has appeared in print or in any mainstream media outlet. But hundreds of people are staying updated on Dixie's condition, discussing the case, and organizing a community response to anti-queer violence.

A very sad case, but a truly inspiring moment for community media and online networking.

Get well soon, Dixie. Ottawa's pulling for you.

-- cross-posted to BlogThis!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gay rights are children's rights

Gay rights are children's rights
WORLD WITHIN / Uncovering the family first rhetoric

The cat's out of the bag. Lesbian mothers are just as good, if not better for children, than heterosexual parents, according to a study commissioned by the federal justice department in 2003. The report only surfaced last week, after its author, Paul Hastings from Concordia University, obtained it under the Access to Information Act.

You see, it's no surprise that Stephen Harper's Conservative government wanted to suppress the report, which references about 100 studies on parenting and demonstrates that children living with two mothers are no worse off than kids living with a mom and a dad. In fact, they may even have marginally better social skills.

But this kind of information really pisses of the fundamentalists and so-called ethicists like Margaret Somerville who choose to ignore any empirical data that contradicts their bunk argument that gay and trans rights ignore "children's rights."

Keep reading here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Speaking ill of the dead

I know I'm not the only one who started singing "ding-dong the witch is dead" when I heard yesterday that gay-hating televangelist Jerry Falwell had kicked the bucket. I felt not a second of hesitation before letting out a little cheer, imagining an afterlife for Mr. Falwell filled with teletubbies, feminists and sodomites.

Does this make me a mean, terrible person? Should I be filled with grief for his family, and do the charitable thing and forgive Falwell for his transgressions against black people, women, queers and anyone else he judged to be immoral?

Well, let's look at the evidence. To quote Maisonneuve MediaScout's analysis:

  • Falwell "was known to call the civil rights movement 'the civil wrongs movement;
  • He supported South African apartheid;
  • He said that the prophet Mohamed was a terrorist and the Antichrist was a Jewish man;
  • He warned of the deleterious moral effects of watching the children's program Teletubbies, as one of the characters seemed to him to be a gay role model;
  • And, in a move that finally alienated him from mainstream America, he laid part of the blame for the 9/11 attacks on '...the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians ... all of them who have tried to secularize America' - all this, and much more of the same, while wielding considerable influence in Washington."

GLAAD in the U.S. is urging the mainstream media to avoid glossing over Falwell's legacy of discrimination against queer people, and had posted a series of video clips of him making some of his more outrageous statements.

And today in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson has no qualms about speaking truth to Falwell's legacy, calling him a "big, booming, bigoted man."

Michelangelo Signorile also doesn't mince words about Falwell, saying,:

I don't really buy the "don't speak ill of the dead" argument, not with 24-hour news cycles that throw out pre-fabricated obituaries and are done with the story by the end of the cycle. And no, I don't have any sympathy for his family nor care about respecting them: They didn't respect me, nor the many others who lost loved ones to AIDS, suicide or gay-bashing, enough to stand up and speak out against their monster of a relative. Let's never forget that this man is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands due to AIDS because of the stranglehold he and his "mobilized" Christians had on our government as the health crisis emerged in the 80s within the gay community. The grotesque negligence of the Reagan administration was dictated by Jerry Falwell, who would then go on to hatch many dozens of little Falwells over the past several decades who inspire the hatred against gays -- and the violent gay-bashing and teen suicides -- that we still live with today.
And blogger sabotabby dismisses the notion that Falwell's critics are being uncharitable during his family's time of mourning, writing:

I suppose what I'm saying here is that I don't think it's wrong to speak ill of the dead. I mean, it's wrong to denounce them to their grieving friends and families, but it's not inherently wrong. And what I'm also saying is that it's okay to be intolerant .. Gloves off, kids. Reagan wanted most of you dead. Falwell wanted even more of you dead. These men consider you, your friends, your families, and most of the world, subhuman. It's fine to hate them - they hated you too -if your personal moral code allows for hate. It's fine to be relieved that they're gone.
What do you think? Do we have a responsibility to express remorse when a truly hateful person dies? Does it detract from our cause when we speak ill of the dead?

- Cross-posted to BlogThis!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fundie newsflash

According to last week's edition of the Hill Times, Darrel Reid, former director of Focus on the Family Canada, is now the deputy director of policy and research in the Prime Minister's Office. Reid was most recently chief of staff to Rona Ambrose (when she was Environment Minister).

Just FYI, FOTF maintains that homosexual people can be "converted" through therapy, and its U.S. leader James Dobson has referred to abortion as a "baby holocaust." Reid was (and still is) a vocal anti-gay marriage and anti-choice spokesperson. He was instrumental in setting up the FOTF-funded Institute for Marriage and Family Canada, which disguises itself as a neutral research organization, but its studies so far have attacked the usual Conservative annoyances -- universal daycare, non-hetero families, etc.

If you are curious about Reid, and just how far the Christian Right has infiltrated Parliament Hill, check out this article by Marci Macdonald from a back issue of the Walrus.

-- Cross-posted to BlogThis!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Union could learn meaning of true solidarity

Buzz Hargrove is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. Is the head of the Canadian Auto Workers' Union pissed at the Conservative government for selling out Canadian workers in global trade talks? Or for cutting millions of dollars from the Court Challenges program and Status Of Women Canada? Or for axing what promised to be Canada's first attempt at creating a universal child care program?

No, you guessed wrong. Buzz is mad at those pesky environmentalists for daring to suggest that climate change is enough of a threat that people should think twice before using their gas-guzzling SUVs to drive to the corner store.

You can read more of my rant against Buzz and other observations about the true nature of "solidarity" here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Little Matter of Consent

Well, it looks like the federal justice committee has just cleared the way for the passage of Bill C-22, which will raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. The Conservatives are calling it the "age of protection," and are falling all over themselves, claiming to be protecting children from exploitation.

I've made my opinions on this issue known in Capital Xtra, and for a short while, I was Egale Canada's spokesperson on the issue.

In a nutshell, this law is bad news because it will only serve to repress young people's sexuality, put them in more danger of contracting STIs while also giving a nod to the religious right who would prefer if parents could keep their teenagers locked up until they turn 21. The law is also as superfluous as it is dangerous. Canada already has strict laws that criminalize any sexual relationship with a young person when there is any evidence of a power imbalance or any form of abuse or exploitation.

To add icing to the cake, the justice committee has also held up one of the last vestiges of Canada's anti-sodomy laws, by refusing to strike down section 159 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes anal sex unless it's being performed by two people over the age of 18 (unless they're married).

Yep, you heard me right. There is a separate age of consent for anal sex. And it's still on the books.

So in tribute to to all of the young people from the Age of Consent coalition that faced insurmountable odds when they presented in front of the justice committee, I offer you this video from Vancouver's The Wet Spots (WARNING: not suitable for work):



-- Cross-posted to BlogThis!

Friday, April 13, 2007

60 reasons to dump Harper

Hello dear readers,

This blog has become a bit of a static archive as of late. I've been posting more over at BlogThis, so I suggest you check it out. I assume that this blog will heat up if an election is called any time soon.

In the meantime, check out Xtra.ca's 60 reasons to dump Harper. And keep going back, as they'll be posting a new reason every day.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Let's choose not to be pitied

Cross-posted to BlogThis

Okay, take a look at the image for yourself. This is the photo that Fondation Emergence has chosen to illustrate this year's National Day Against Homophobia on May 17th. In my latest column for Capital Xtra, I argue that this kind of imagery elicits pity rather than celebration, and treats the queer community like we're something that should be tolerated, rather than celebrated. It also denies the reality of most queer and trans people's experiences, in an attempt to gain mainstream acceptance. It takes the sex out of homosexuality, and it harkens back to the days when gayness was considered to be a medical condition that could be cured.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bottling profit, not altruism








I just posted over at BlogThis about Starbucks' ridiculous new campaign to save the world's water by selling more bottled water. I kid you not. Check it out here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Camping on inclusive ground ...

Hey everyone -- I'm back on the column-writing train, and I'm actually very excited about the one that came out today in Capital Xtra (check it). It's where my brain has been at lately -- thinking about how to incorporate feminism into a queer perspective, and how to move queer activism into a more feminist space. I feel like mainstream feminism has a lot of sins to atone for -- especially against the trans community.

So read, enjoy, discuss. And really, no offence is meant toward all of you lovely women who do attend Michfest -- I value and support the concept of women-only spaces, and I am especially encouraged by the yellow armband movement to support the inclusion of trans women at the fest.

Oh, and to read more about Deep Lez, click here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Supremes give Harper the finger

While today's unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down Canada's controversial security certificates was not a direct attack on Stephen Harper, given his latest antics, I like to close my eyes and conjure up the image of the nine Supremes lining up to give Harper the finger. Actually, it's the Charter of Rights giving Harper the finger, because once again, the Court has acknowledged that arbitrary discrimination is completely unacceptable.

In this case, the Court ruled that it's unconstitutional to detain non-citizens indefinitely without giving them access to the evidence (or even the charges!) against them. And yeah, yeah, I know, this law way pre-dated Harper, but I like to think of this judgment as a little love letter to "Canada's new government."

I almost puked during the federal election, when Harper staged convenient photo ops with various cultural communities, spreading the message that gay marriage would threaten their religious rights. He used oppression of the queer community as leverage to try to attract immigrant voters.

And now he's at it again, surrounding himself with the families of the Air India victims, trying to bolster his bid to maintain some of the most egregious aspects of Canada's anti-terror legislation (preventative arrests and investigative hearings) ... claiming that he is somehow protecting minority communities by severely restricting their human rights. Because who is suffering the brunt of the anti-terror madness? People of colour, particularly of Arab descent, who are subject to racial profiling and discrimination based on their immigration status.

To read more about the experiences of minority communities under Canada's new anti-terror regime, check out the final report of the People's Commission on Immigration "Security" Measures.

I imagine that the Anti-Terrorism Act will land on the Supremes' desk some time soon ... no wonder "Steve" hates the courts so much.

- Cross posted to BlogThis!

Top court rules against security certificates

No time to write about this in detail right now, but YIPPPEEE. The Supreme Court just struck down Security Certificates, saying that they violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court gave the government one year to fix the problem, though, which means that the 5 detainees are still in jeopardy.

Still, this is a very, very exciting day.

-- Ariel (toes still frozen from protesting against Condi Rice in the blistering, sunny cold)


Top court rules against security certificates
Last Updated: Friday, February 23, 2007 | 7:51 AM ET
The Canadian Press

The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the security certificate system used by the federal government to detain and deport foreign-born terrorist suspects.

In a 9-0 judgment, the court found that the system, described by government officials as a key tool for safeguarding national security, violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But the court suspended the judgment from taking legal effect for a year, giving Parliament time to write a new law complying with constitutional principles.

Critics have long denounced the certificates, which can lead to deportation of non-citizens on the basis of secret intelligence presented to a Federal Court judge at closed-door hearings.

Those who fight the allegations can spend years in jail while the case works its way through the legal system. In the end, they can sometimes face removal to countries with a track record of torture.

The system was challenged on constitutional grounds by three men from Morocco, Syria and Algeria — all alleged by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to have ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. All deny any such ties.

More to come

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Find out what Rice and Chertoff aren't telling you

A message from the Council of Canadians ...


Rice and Chertoff visit Canada

Find out what they won’t be telling you about North American integration!

On Friday February 23, U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff will be in Ottawa to discuss North American integration with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts. This is part of a series of meetings aimed at bringing Canadian and Mexican policies in line with U.S. demands through an agreement called the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP).

The SPP is bad for public interest and bad for the environment. So far, only the CEOs of North America’s biggest corporations have been invited to the table. There has been no parliamentary debate and the public has been left out completely.

The Council of Canadians will be setting up an SPP information station outside the meeting to expose the facts about this corporate-led plan for North America. Join us on the 23rd to find out more and to let our leaders know that we will not let them shut us out any longer!

WHEN:

9:00 am – 11:00 am

and

3:00pm – 4:30 pm

WHERE:

In front of DFAIT -- 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

This will be a family-friendly event.

Visit www.canadians.org for a citizens' perspective on the SPP.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

New blogging gig!

Hi everyone,

I have just joined the team of web-savvy writers over at BlogThis, This Magazine's group blog. For those you that don't know This, it's a progressive news and culture magazine with a 40-year history. I was a ThisMag intern in 1999, and have been a faithful reader for over 10 years ....

So add BlogThis to your RSS feed. And check out my first entry here.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Gay refugee wins reprieve!

This is only one example of how the immigration/refugee system is unjust and rather arbitrary ... but in this case, people's phone calls, faxes and emails MADE A DIFFERENCE. This is a very good day for Alvaro Orozco, and for citizen action.

Nicaraguan wins reprieve in bid to remain in Canada

Alvaro Orozco, a gay Nicaraguan teen runaway who faced imminent removal from Canada after his asylum bid was rejected, has won a last-minute reprieve.

The Justice Department agreed yesterday to defer his removal for two months, giving him time to file an application to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, his lawyer El-Farouk Khaki said late yesterday.

Mr. Orozco, now 21, says he ran away from home before his 13th birthday after being beaten by his alcoholic father, who was angry about his sexual orientation.

Mr. Orozco's refugee claim was rejected because Immigration and Refugee Board member Deborah Lamont didn't believe he was homosexual.

Full story.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Burnett on Age of Consent

I have written pretty extensively about the Conservative government's legislation to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 -- not to mention the fact that the age of consent for anal sex is still 18 years old (hello, dinosaur-era laws) .... anyway, Richard Burnett picked up the same argument in his latest Three Dollar Bill column for Hour in Montreal. Check it out.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Act NOW to stop deportation of gay refugee

A quick update on the Alvaro Orozco story. His supporters have set up a website where you can send letters to the Immigration Minister and to his MP. I just did it -- it only took 5 minutes.

Click here, and ACT NOW!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Can't prove he's gay, teen is denied asylum

When I wrote the column about the Safe Third Country Agreement, I didn't dwell on the Canadian immigration system, because I was trying to make a point about the integration of Canada-U.S. immigration policy ... but clearly the Canadian system is still extremely flawed. I'd really like to know what Alvaro would have to do to prove that he's gay enough. And it's astouding that the immigration judge faulted him for not being sexually active at 12 YEARS OLD.

The article mentions that Alvaro has been recieving help from the Supporting Our Youth (SOY) group in Toronto. At least someone's in his corner. Click here to find out more about SOY, and to make a donation.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Refugee agreement hurts queers

Well, the Safe Third Country Agreement doesn't just hurt queers -- it hurts potential refugee claimants from all over the world. But I wrote this column with a GLBT audience in mind. It's part of my campaign to "get gay people to care about something other than themselves." Actually, Paul Gallant has some lovely things to say about that in the Toronto edition of Xtra.

For more information about the harmful impact of the Safe Third Country Agreement, visit the wonderful folks at the Canadian Council for Refugees. Their website is sadly lacking in functionality, but their reports are excellent ...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Stephen Harper on Kyoto

"Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations."

Check it.

"We are slowly dying in here"

A few months back, I wrote about the absolutely unconscionable treatment of Security Certificate detainees at Canada's "Guantanamo North." If case you didn't catch that column, here it is.

The short story is that Canada is holding people WITHOUT CHARGES and with NO ACCESS TO THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THEM. Sorry for the screaming caps, but they are definitely merited in this situation.

Anyway, the latest update is that two of the detainees are on a hunger strike to highlight the horrific way they are being treated. And the Canadian government still doesn't give a crap about them ... so please read the press release below and take action.

I will be so ashamed to tell my children about this chapter in Canada's history. I hope it ends soon.

Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada(416) 651-5800, tasc@web.ca

January 30, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

"We are slowly dying in here..."
Weekend Scare Underscores Very Real Danger of Sudden Death for Hunger Striking Detainees at Canada's Guantanamo North. Still No Medical Monitoring After Two Months Without Food

JANUARY 30, 2007 -- "We are slowly dying in here," Mohammad Mahjoub says over the phone on day 67 of his hunger strike, day 56 for Mahmoud Jaballahand Hassan Almrei. "Our situation is very bad."

The three men, held indefinitely under the much-criticized security certificate regime of secret evidence and deportation to torture, are kept at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC), dubbed Guantanamo North.

Despite last Thursday's visit by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who did not meet with the detainees, there has been no negotiation with the men, and no effort to end a critical situation that could turn deadly at any time.

NO MEDICAL MONITORING

Indeed, the detainees' lives are on the line as staff at the facility play a dangerous game of roulette: despite considerable medical literature spelling out the need for daily medical checks of hunger strikers who have passed day 10 without food, medical staff have NOT conducted a single physical check on any of the detainees, who are subsisting on water and juice.

... Stockwell Day did not get a full picture when he visited Guantanamo North. He was unable to taste the daily humiliation the men face at the hands of guards, nor to hear what it is like to be denied medical treatment for things like Hepatitis C, blood in the urine, or a double hernia.

Full press release and action alert here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

STOP THE SURGE!!!

Call-out from NOWAR-PAIX

STOP THE SURGE!!!

All over the world, people will demonstrate on Jan. 27 in solidarity with the US Peace Movement to call on the US government to stop the Bush administration from sending more troops to Iraq. The newly elected Democratic Congress, now in power because of the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, is reluctant to refuse funds for Bush's escalation.

THE WORLD MUST LET THEM KNOW THEY HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO ACT!

1PM, Saturday, 27 January
Sussex and York (US Embassy)
Ottawa

Bring your signs, banners and noise makers. Gather near the US Embassy, corner of Sussex and York. We will march through the Market, distributing fliers, ending at the US Embassy, Sussex and Clarence where we will have an open mike for your statements, songs and poems. (Keep in mind that children are welcome!)

NOWAR-PAIX
For more information,
info@nowar-paix.ca
www.nowar-paix.ca later today

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hasn't he suffered enough?!?

As part of my day job, I monitor and write about the integration of Canada's economic/military/security policies with the United States. Sometimes it feels like those issues are far-removed from peoples' every day lives, and I find it challenging to try to make that connection clear for my audience. But this is like a sucker punch in the gut. Last year, I had the privilege of hearing Maher Arar speak about his experiences battling the Canadian government to clear his name. And now this. Unbelievable. Unconscionable.

Maher Arar to stay on U.S. no-fly list: letter
from CTV.ca

The United States will keep Canadian Maher Arar on its security watch list.

Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have written a letter to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.

The letter says the two have reviewed the U.S. government's secret file on Arar. They think he should still be on the list.

The two said their decision is based on information obtained by U.S. authorities, independent of anything supplied by Canada.

"We want to ensure that this U.S.-derived information has been shared with Canada, and that both countries have an understanding of the facts. To this end, we welcome an opportunity to participate in a confidential meeting with appropriate Canadian officials at their earliest convenience," the letter said.

Day had raised the Arar issue during a visit to Washington last week. Day's position is that Canadian officials see no reason why Arar shouldn't be able to visit the United States.

Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained in New York while returning from a holiday in Tunisia. U.S. officials sent him to Syria, where he spent 10 months in prison.

His Syrian jailers tortured him into making a false confession about terrorism links.

Justic Dennis O'Connor conducted an inquiry into the Arar case. His first report, issued Sept. 18, cleared Arar. He found the RCMP supplied wrong information about Arar to U.S. authorities.
More to come ...