Here are all the fantastically amazing entries posted during September, 2007

Anti-Gay Group Throws In The Towel

September 28th, 2007

Flying Pig

Anchor your bacon, kids! The euphemistically titled Institute of Marriage and Family Canada has officially given up lobbying against same-sex marriage. Dave Quist, the executive director of the (ordinarily quite rabidly anti-gay) organization, cited the “incredibly low” numbers of same-sex marriages in census figures as the reason for abandoning the group’s original purpose. (Same-sex marriages in Canada have risen 32% since the last Census.)

Mr. Quist, parenthetically, was the guy that had called for a royal commission on marriage as early as January, saying that, because of same-sex marriage, “the institution of family will be eroded—resulting in dire consequences for all of us.”

So, what will Dave and the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada be doing with their time now? Frankly, given their fanatical opposition to gays in the past, I never thought I’d see the day they’d move on to other issues. Perhaps they’ll lobby against snowcone exports now that the molten caverns of the underworld have… well, you know the cliché.

The Gay-less Countries

September 26th, 2007

Road Slap

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Columbia University on Monday. When pressed by a student about Iran’s treatment of gays, Ahmadinejad had this to say:

In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have this.

While the comment elicited derisive laughter from the audience, I found the words chilling. Iran executes homosexuals. A television report produced by the CBC in February detailed a few of the stories coming out of Iran, and the horror is unimaginable.

Iran isn’t the only country to persecute gays by law and then deny they exist, either. When Canada’s own Coalition gaie et lesbienne du Québec first attempted to gain Observer Status at the UN so they could officially report on human rights attrocities around the world, Egypt voted against admittance, saying they “don’t have a gay problem in [Egypt] because there are no gays there.” Egypt actively entraps and tortures homosexuals.

Really, one only needs to look at traveler warnings to see the extent of persecution faced by gays worldwide. Misinformation and denial about homosexuality is widespread and troublesome, and this is reflected in the cruel laws of many countries.

Remedying this won’t be easy. Given Canada’s own denial of the dangers faced by gay refugees, a local start isn’t too far back.

More Updates From The (Pink) Road

September 24th, 2007

Road Slap

Still on the road, kids! But here are some stories and updates that caught my eye:

Two high school students in Nova Scotia have turned their school into a sea of pink in support of a first-year student who was bullied for wearing a pink shirt. Hmm… I wonder if they’ll do anything about Nova Scotia’s other bully problem.

Speaking of Nova Scotia, a lesbian woman is suing the province for refusing to recognize her parental status of her partner’s newborn. Jamie O’Neill was told that she must adopt her son, born through invitro infertilization, because only one woman can be listed on the birth certificate. Luckily, after legal threat, the province seems to have re-considered.

Zesty’s, the Vancouver comedy club in which a comedian exploded into an anti-lesbian tirade, has been renamed. While owners say the name change has been underway for some time, it’s not a bad strategy! Michael Richards should take note.

Finally, an Australian lesbian couple is suing their fertilization clinic after they gave birth to twins instead of just a single child. Let that be a lesson to doctors: Don’t do your job too well!

Until Wednesday, kids!

Family-Friendly Means Different Things For Different People

September 21st, 2007

Guest Slap

deBeauxOs, a mother and regular contributer over at BirthPangs, has written an excellent article about the hijacking of the phrase “Family-friendly” by special interest groups. As someone who often feels clubbed over the head with this phrase, I’m extremely pleased that deBeauxOs has agreed to share her post with us today. Her article is reproduced here in its entirety.

Family-friendly. Who would have ever thought that the juxtaposition of these two words could be so contentious? That an expression could encompass so many contradictary meanings. That it could be exclusively claimed by some and denied to others.

If you google “family-friendly,” you discover that the expression was coined by feminists who attempted to reconcile paid and unpaid work, to validate both women and men’s parenting roles and to secure employment conditions that are not discriminatory towards workers who have children. And as family responsibilities shifted, the notion also grew to include caring for ageing parents.

“Family-friendly” is often used by commercial establishments who are willing to accomodate the combined needs of adults and children as clients, when offering services and goods such as housing, travel, entertainment, home furnishings, convenience foods and dining.

Now it’s become a weapon appropriated by those who consider themselves to be in absolute possession of the right to attack any other definition of family that is unacceptable to their standards. And they also use it to shield themselves against criticism.

In case you were wondering who are these people, let’s refresh your memory.

According to them, DisneyLand™ and DisneyWorld™ are NOT family-friendly because same-sex spousal benefits are provided to their gay and lesbian employees.

Planned Parenthood is NOT family-friendly because it respects: women and men’s choice to forego breeding, women’s choice to limit the number of children they want to bear, and women’s choice to end an unwanted pregnancy.

For Better or For Worse is NOT family-friendly because its creator Lynn Johnston included a sympathetic gay character inspired by her brother-in-law, in her family-oriented comic strip.

Lawrence is gay

Moms who breast-feed in public places are NOT family-friendly because… because some people say so.

Affordable daycare is NOT family-friendly because such people don’t use it and won’t support it.

What they consider to be family-friendly on one of their websites though, are hateful screeds that incite violence against the sons and daughters of parents who love them very much exactly as they are. Gay men and lesbians have families too—mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons.

But I digress. At this feminist board, parenting discussions include advice about baby poo. There have been long, heartfelt and supportive threads about sometimes difficult pregnancies, by women who choose to give life, and those who support their decision. In the last year, five babies were born; many vicariously shared the joys of the new parents. This is what family-friendly looks like.

If you would like to hear more from deBeauxOs, head on over to Birth Pangs.

Updates From The (Pink) Road

September 19th, 2007

Road Slap

Hey, kids! Well, I’ve successfully defended my master’s thesis, and now it’s time to head even further west to see family. While on the road, here are some stories and updates that caught my eye:

The town of Truro, Nova Scotia, has adopted an official flag-flying policy to avoid any more situations like this summer’s Pride flag fiasco, in which the mayor compared gays to pedophiles. The new policy is straightforward, too: From now on, government flags only.

Statistics from the 2006 national census are in, and when it comes to the same-sex figures, things are clearly up for interpretation:

Speaking of census data, a Calgary SUN article has asserted: “Calgary is holding the fort in a country where the notion of the traditional family is increasingly under siege, states a federal census.” Really? The federal census states the traditional family is under siege? Or perhaps this is just a little bit of phrasing bias coming from Alberta’s gayest city.

With all the attention Alvaro Orozco has been getting, there’s a great article in NOW magazine reminding us that this is not an isolated case. Leonardo Zuniga, another gay refugee, is slated for deportation within the next few weeks. Why not take a couple minutes to help him out?

Until Friday, kids!

Gay Refugee Speaks

September 17th, 2007

Guest Slap

Edward Lee is a student of social work at McGill university, focusing on gay refugee and imigration issues. In Part II of his two-part series, Ed has asked Alvaro Orozco to share his story in his own words, and outlines what we can do to help.

Alvaro Orozco is a young gay man who fled Nicaragua and is seeking refugee status in Canada. For numerous reasons it is unsafe for him to be in Nicaragua, including recent media attention in his country of origin, and the fact that it is a punishable crime to be gay there.

After months of advocacy and community action, Alvaro received his latest Pre Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) decision on Friday, September 14th. While the application was, again, rejected, Alvaro and his supporters were, fortunately, able to convince the immigration officials that he was not a flight risk and so he was allowed to go back to Toronto (versus getting arrested or deported immediately). The reasons behind the rejection included that the letters of support are “hearsay” and do not provide solid proof that Alvaro is in fact gay, and that Nicaragua is a safeplace because there are many cruising spaces, like parks and ruins where people can have gay sex.

Alvaro now is under a new deportation order for October 4th. Please read Alvaro’s thoughts on what is happening in this article and help him stay in Canada.

I asked Alvaro to write—from his own perspective—about what happened to him and the decision from the IRB. Here is what he had to say:

The Canadian immigration re-sent the letter from the old PRRA decision
of 2005 as my new decision for 2007 (9th august). In 2005, I used to have a different lawyer and I had lost my case. My new lawyer is El-farouk Khaki, who sent 3 months ago 2 new applications, the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) and the Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds application for a stay. Immigration told my lawyer that they had no record of him sending anything. so then immigration called my lawyer and told him that they want to give me one more time until the august 28. but on the 26th (2 days before the deadline), immigration called my lawyer telling him that they have the new application decision of the PRRA of 2007,
but I have to show up in Niagara falls on august 28 to pick up the
decision. And as i am not feeling well and my stress levels and anxiety are affecting my health, my doctor advised me not to go, so I didn’t show up.

one week after that, immigration called my lawyer and told him that
they issued a new date for me to show up to pick up the decision and that is on september 14, this is the 3rd time that immigration are dealing with this application, is clear what they are willing to do with me. to take me away from Canada.

my message:

Before I filed my case, I was hoping that I can be granted status in this country because this country is a model for human rights for many countries around the globe. But with the way things have happend, I feel disapointed and am struggling to get over it. This has affected me physically and emotionally. It is not fair the amount of struggles I had since I was a kid and that I never really had a normal life, and I escaped from many countries hoping to find freedom and respect in Canada. But now I am facing this situation where I am being judged on my physical appearance by canadian immigration autorities, and they believe that my life is just a joke and I never been through this kind of life, but I’m a honest person and I always keep what I say and I always work for my dreams. I keep my self positive that better things will happen and I can get over this.

the most important:

the most important for me is not only win my case, it is that other
people who feel scared to speak out can have a voice and someone who can speak for them but not only people who just speak about immigration issues, but people who care about human rights, about peoples future and equal respect.

There is still something that you can do to help raise awareness about what is happening and help Alvaro to stay in Canada. Here is what you can do:

  1. Check out his website and read the latest press release
  2. E-mail and/or send a letter to Federal Immigration Minister Diane Finley at Finley.D@parl.gc.ca. Let the MP in your riding know what is going on and ask them how they will help Alvaro.
  3. Sign Alvaro’s online petition
  4. Keep talking about Alvaro with friends, family, media, join his facebook group, etc.
  5. E-mail Alvaro and help keep his spirits up!
  6. If you want to do more please contact Suhail at SOY Toronto

Thanks again to Ed for sharing his thoughts on this story, and his communications with Alvaro. If you would like to see more of Ed, check out his short film, Invisible Son, included as a special feature on the Margaret Cho Assassin DVD.

Related Update: Bruce at Canuck Attitude has dug up a story about a convicted criminal in Canada whose deportation ruling was reversed because he is in the midst of a “religious conversion.” In the meantime, Alvaro’s safety is in danger because he can’t prove he’s gay. Outrageous.

Gay Refugee Needs Urgent Support

September 14th, 2007

Guest Slap

Edward Lee is a student of social work at McGill university, focusing on gay refugee and imigration issues. In Part I of his two-part series, Ed has agreed to share his stories and insights on Alvaro Orozco, a gay refugee from Nicaragua, who faces immediate deportation from Canada and urgently needs our support.

Alvaro Orozco will be going to the immigration office, today, Friday, September the 14th, to pick up his rejection letter from IRB. That is the only way he can fight the rejection, but at the same time, in going to pick up the letter, he very much risks being put in jail, or worse, deported on the spot to the USA (and eventually Nicaragua). Your support and well wishes are needed now more than ever.

First of all, I would like to thank Mark for allowing me some space on his funky, yet timely website to talk about this important current event. I love your cartoons and your intellectual wit! [Aw, shucks. Thanks, Ed!]

I first met Alvaro when he arrived for the first ever North American Outgames in Calgary (April, 2007). We held a youth welcome event at Quickdraw Animation Society, as we invited all the youth that had been granted a bursary to attend the week long festivities—including Alvaro. He was so personable, gentle in a way, with eyes that spoke of a life of hardship and hope. Very clearly gay, he was excited to meet the other queer youth gathered at this event, happy to be among his peers. There was no doubt to Alvaro’s gayness. No doubt at all.

I got to know him as he attended the OutRights conference, OutFest cultural activities (PRIDE dance) and finally winning a medal at the OutGames, in the running event. By the time he flew back to Toronto, Alvaro become someone that I had come to admire and respect, someone who is so hopeful and optimistic about the world, even though the world has been so cruel to him.

The memory that will never leave me was hearing Alvaro speak at the Youth Roundtable that we held at the North American OutRights conference (held in Calgary prior to the OutGames). Some 40 youth leaders (and those involved with youth issues) were sitting around the table; teachers, lawyers, activists. Then there was Alvaro, with his limited english and shy demeanor, as he was introduced and began to speak of his experience as a gay refugee, traversing 4 different countries to end up in Canada, speaking at this conference to help save his life and be granted refugee status.

All of us sat there, intently listening as he very bravely told his story. He began his story with growing up in Nicaragua, being seen as gay, and the abuse inflicted upon him by his parents. As he spoke about this abuse, he broke down, and wept. Even though I was co-facilitating, I couldn’t help but weep with Alvaro. After what felt like a lifetime, he regained himself, and continued his story. As his right hand moved in a rolling, circular motion, as if to comfort and help him to continue, he spoke of escaping Nicaragua, then being in hiding in the US, sometimes with homophobic churches, and then coming to Canada. His face began to light up as he spoke of Canada, where he finally began to feel a sense of hope of being able to live in a country where it wasn’t illegal to be gay (it’s illegal to be gay in Nicaragua—meaning you can go to jail).

Sometimes, there are moments in your life that stick with you, that are burned in your memory, an emotional scar, for better or worse, will always be felt when you close your eyes and take yourself back to that memory. All of us at the roundtable were shell shocked as Alvaro took us on a virtual ride of his unimaginable, powerful life. This was one of those moments for me, one of the most powerful moments I have ever been a part of.

How sad it is that Calgary Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator Deborah Lamont was so clearly lacking in sound and equitable judgement when back in February, at his first hearing, didn’t believe Alvaro’s story (read the Globe and Mail article for actual quotes of what she said). How utterly insane and incomprehensible it is that 6 months later, after articles various news media, press conferences, rallies, and Alvaro’s participation at the Outgames/fest/rights, the IRB (Immigration and Refugee Board) came back with the same negative response—re-inforcing Deborah Lamont’s heterosexist and unfair judgement. Alvaro’s last recourse is to be granted a stay from Immigration Minister Diane Finley based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

I can’t tell you how sad and upset this makes me. I only knew Alvaro for a week, but I saw someone who was so vulnerable, who had so many incredibly challenging life experiences, and yet, even with these hardships, he is someone who is so kind, so extremely open to others and hopeful about living life in this country, safe from persecution, safe from harm. As we speak, because of the IRB negative response, Alvaro is in fear of being deported, unable to work, relying on the generosity of others, not wanting to be deported to the US and eventually to Nicaragua.

As I write about this, there is still something that you can do to help raise awareness about what is happening and help Alvaro to stay in Canada. Here is what you can do:

  1. Check out his website and read the latest press release
  2. E-mail and/or send a letter to Federal Immigration Minister Diane Finley at Finley.D@parl.gc.ca. Let the MP in your riding know what is going on and ask them how they will help Alvaro.
  3. Sign Alvaro’s online petition
  4. Keep talking about Alvaro with friends, family, media, join his facebook group, etc.
  5. E-mail Alvaro and help keep his spirits up!
  6. If you want to do more please contact Suhail at SOY Toronto

The Self-Repressed Heterosexual

September 12th, 2007

Road Slap

Whenever asked what I like best about being openly gay, a curious example pops into my head: the ability to comfortably order girly drinks. Now, before answering this aloud, I almost always interpret and correct this ridiculous thought to mean “freedom,” though I rarely elaborate on what that’s supposed to mean. I may not have understood it myself.

I came to Alberta last week to defend my master’s thesis, and I think being re-exposed to Alberta’s artificial machoism helped me clarify things a little better. First, it’s exhausting playing a heterosexual male; I remember this from my closet days. The male image is particularly sexually charged in popular culture, and this clashes with the immense social pressure to not appear even remotely gay. So, sure enough, while looking around for a nice belt for my thesis defense, I overheard a young man as he passed through the store’s underwear section: “I like this brand, but what’s with the packaging? Ugh. I did not need to see that dude’s man package!”

Now, frankly, if a shopper is at all interested in the cut and style of the underwear he’s purchasing, then yes, he needs to see the model’s “man package.” Declaring otherwise has no purpose other than to annoyingly re-assert one’s manliness and heterosexuality, but—among young men—this must be done constantly.

Of course, I don’t suppose it was that many years ago when I might have stated something similar (despite being fascinated by models’ “man packages” for more than just the underwear’s cut and style). Simply put, pretending to be fundamentally bothered by any reminder of male sexuality is a cultural norm. That’s why Dove can run ads with happy women of all shapes, hugging and laughing and acting chummy in nothing but their underwear, but the same ad featuring men would be unairable—or, at the very least, unsuccessful.

So, in my closet days, I would pretend and announce—as everyone else would—to mind anything that could remotely challenge my (admittedly completely non-existent) heterosexuality. There was only one exception. A particular action that, when performed in the company of all-around heterosexual men, is destined to be judged as unmanly by any common definition. You see, having never acquired a taste for malt liquor (and, frankly, not being much of a drinker overall), there was nothing quite as embarrassing, but as tasty, as receiving a tall glass filled with fruit juices and schnapps, complete with umbrellas and orange slices.

So, what do I enjoy best about being openly gay? The freedom. To order girly drinks, yes, but more specifically from the ridiculous self-repression and scrutiny of my own actions.

It’s All About Maps

September 10th, 2007

Guest Slap

I’m extremely pleased to host Slap’s first guest post today. Arthur is a gay American who moved to New Zealand in 1995 to be with his partner, Nigel (who is a Kiwi). Arthur’s blog and podcast, AmeriNZ, regularly offers an international perspective on culture and politics. Today, he shares his insights on the perceived disconnectedness of the United States and how that relates to their attitudes, both domestically and multinationally.

We all laughed when South Carolina teen beauty contestant Caitlin Upton recently said the reason that twenty percent of Americans can’t find the US on a world map is that “some people out there in our nation don’t have maps.” You know what? She’s right.

The National Geographic Society has long championed geography education in schools, and points out how badly taught American students are. In their National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literacy Study, the most recent in a series, they found an appalling lack of geographic knowledge among 18-24 year olds in the US.

It’s not all just finding countries on a map, though it’s shocking that 63% couldn’t find Iraq on a map (or even some states within the US, for that matter). The study found some of the underlying reasons for the lack of world knowledge among young Americans.

Among other findings, 62% couldn’t speak a language other than their native tongue. While one in ten young Americans corresponded regularly with somone outside the US, most had no contact at all. 70% had not been outside the US in the previous three years, though most apparently couldn’t leave, anyway: Only about 22% had a passport.

The survey found that geographic knowledge was highest among those who travelled internationally, were university educated and who obtained their news from two or more sources. They were also more likely to own world maps.

As an American, I’ve often been embarrassed by lack of world knowledge among my fellow citizens. When I moved to New Zealand, a university-educated, internationally travelled person told me with great certainty that New Zealand was west of Australia. I showed him a map. He still couldn’t believe it.

Another, even better educated American asked me if we have the Fourth of July in New Zealand. “Yes,” I said, “It’s between the third and the fifth.” He meant the holiday, he told me, not the day.

So if Americans are so ill informed about the world, is it any surprise that they don’t understand other countries or that they may expect other countries to be like the US? I couldn’t possibly count the number of times that I heard of an American not realising that Canada is a country, or even sometimes that New Zealand isn’t one of its provinces.

I grew up with maps, had good geographic education in school, I’ve travelled, and now I live in another country, so maybe my perspective is skewed. But I can’t help thinking that if the folks in my homeland knew a little more about the world, we’d all be better off. They might realise that those of us who live in another country aren’t automatically any less free. They might be more respectful of people who are different from them in some way. They might come to realise that there are other countries that treat their gay citizens as, well, citizens. Heck, they might even finally adopt the metric system.

Too much to hope for? Maybe. But whoever sets up a “Maps for Americans” charity can count on a donation from me. After all, how can you find your destination without a map?

If you would like to hear more from Arthur, check out AmeriNZ.

Screening Breakfast With Scot

September 7th, 2007

Road Slap

Hey kids! I’m on the other side of the country for a little while to defend my master’s thesis, so I’m posting my very first Road Slap today! (For the astute, a Road Slap is just like any other post on this site, but thanks to soul-sucking jetlag, lacks illustrations or humour of any kind.)

While leafing through my usual news stories, I caught a handful promoting Breakfast With Scot. The Canadian-produced comedy film is a sweet tale about a closeted gay couple, each with “manly” sports professions, that unexpectedly becomes the guardians to a sissy and flamboyant 11-year old boy. Actor Tom Cavanagh shared what I thought were some nice insights into what the story is about:

I like the central conceit of the story. These two fellas who draw no attention to their private lives and sexual orientation are put in a position where they have to look after this young boy who doesn’t really understand what it means to be gay or straight, who is just being himself.

The story has been praised by reviewers, described as a film that that “celebrate[s] the uniqueness of children, and how they can teach adults.”

The anti-gay lobby, on the other hand, has burst capillaries over the movie’s production. Their reaction has been as funny as it is illogical: Both the Canadian Family Action Coalition and the American-based Americans For Truth Against Homosexuality started a public boycott of the NHL (whose Toronto Maple Leaf’s logo was licensed for the film), and bombared Richard Peddie—president of the Leaf’s—with emails he called “raw,” “live,” and “disappointing.” Brian Rushfeldt, head of CFAC, even went on record with this batty rant:

[The NHL’s endorsement of the film] is the epitome of almost evil intent. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the entire situation is that an 11-year-old boy is being promoted as a poster child for gay sex.

I’ve already made light of the phenomenal leaps of logic required to reach this conclusion, but considering that the lobbyists’ NHL boycott has failed so completely, I think it’s demonstrative of what the anti-gay industry has become: a cantankerous, disconnected minority.

So, for those available to see Sunday’s screening (6:30 pm Scotiabank 1 in Toronto), go and enjoy film; for those that aren’t, enjoy the NHL season. Others have tried to use their muscle, however atrophied, to ensure you would do neither.

Anti-Gay Organisation Claims Discrimination

September 5th, 2007

Anti-Gay

Americans For Truth Against Homosexuality, one of the United State’s largest anti-gay rights organizations, had their banquet room reservation canceled by the Naperville Holiday Inn Select after it was learned what the hall was to be used for.

Peter LaBarbara, AFTAH’s president, regularly uses obscene and pornographic material to try and illustrate the “gay lifestyle” and lobby against equal rights, earning him the nickname “Porno Pete.” He immediately declared the hall cancellation to be discrimination based on anti-Christian pretenses.

A spokesperson for the hotel cited a neighbouring wedding and security concerns as reasons for the cancellation. Personally, that rationale sounds a lot more polite and reasoned than certain other hall cancellations.

Anti-Gay Vandal Defaces Wrong Home

September 3rd, 2007

Anti-Gay Vandal

A St. John’s family was shocked and disturbed Thursday morning to find their home and vehicle defaced with homophobic graffiti. The words “fag,” “queer,” and various other profanities were spray-painted across the family’s property in large, black letters. The kicker: no one in the home identifies as gay.

Patricia Courage, the family’s mother, was horrified by the cruelty:

It’s very, very disheartening to think that Newfoundlanders would do such a horrible, horrible act of crime. [The vandals] are very low people to [do] such horrible things.

This is hardly the first time Eastern Canadians have been subjected to homophobia by mistake. Earlier last month, a Nova Scotia woman with the same name as gay rights rally organizer was shocked by a sudden wave of abusive, homophobic telephone calls.

So there you go: Being gay clearly isn’t a prerequisite to being a victim of homophobia.