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!