Here are all the fantastically amazing entries posted during May, 2008

P.E.I. To Finally Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

May 30th, 2008

Oblivious PEI

No, that’s not an old headline or a misprint. Prince Edward Island, the place that brought us the book that inspired just about every gay bed and breakfast out there, is finally updating the law books to officially recognize same-sex marriages.

P.E.I. was one of only two provinces in Canada to deny same-sex marriage before the federal Bill C-32 was passed in 2005. After that, gay people could get married in the province, but they didn’t have the same legal status as opposite-sex unions. All of that’s changing with the introduction of new legislation that passed through all three readings on Wednesday.

Attorney General Gerard Greenan responded to questions of why the process took so long:

Honestly, it certainly was a task. It took seven months to put this bill into place.

Well, that, and I guess an additional two-and-a-half years to take their eyes off the breathtaking scenery and start the process in the first place. It’s the P.E.I. curse, I suppose.

So, to all the happily married couples in P.E.I., congratulations on officially getting your hospital visitation and power of attorney rights!

Russia Reverses Gay Blood Ban; Canada Still Lags

May 28th, 2008

A bloody goodbye

The Russian Health Ministry announced this week that it has ended its ban on gay blood donors.

This news came as somewhat of a surprise, as homophobia remains a large problem in Russia. Moscow’s first gay rights parade, for example, was met with violent protesters, condemned by the mayor, and banned by the courts. Authorities did nothing to stop violence against the marchers, many of whom where shoved, punched and kicked. This was in 2006.

Still, Russia has recognized what Canada fails to acknowledge: That allowing gay donors does not increase the risk of contaminants in the blood supply. Just last year, the American Red Cross called gay blood donor bans “medically and scientifically unwarranted,” and statistics support them.

In Canada, the fastest growing HIV demographic is young, heterosexual women, which makes up 25% of all HIV infections in the country. More worrying, however, are the statistics from the aboriginal community. In 2005, 22.4% of Canada’s HIV infections were among aboriginals, of which 53% were injection drug users, and 38.9% were women. More locally, a Manitoba study released in March showed that only 18% of HIV transmissions in the province were between gay men, with heterosexual intercourse transmissions climbing to a staggering 32%. The rest of the infections were caused by a mixture of injection drug users, birth transmission, travel, and other causes.

To suggest that young women and aboriginals should be banned from donating, though, would be irresponsible. Recent advances in HIV screening can identify—in only 60 seconds—if a person is infected with HIV with 99.96% accuracy. This is an important change, as when the blood ban was first enacted in Canada there was no effective screening at all.

Still, despite medical evidence and a nine-year low in Canadian Blood Service’s reserves, Health Canada is actually regressing. In January, Health Canada officially banned gays from donating organs, even to dying patients, despite a dangerous and time-sensitive shortage. Many doctors have refused to comply.

This puts Canada in a very strange situation. If medicine and statistics aren’t supporting the gay blood ban, then who is?

One particularly unsurprising group of supporters is lobbyists. Having Health Canada and Canadian Blood Services implement unfair policies toward gays gives an air of legitimacy to homophobia, and the anti-gay lobby jumps on the opportunity. Jim Enos of Hamilton’s Family Action Council has already suggested that since gay blood donors are permanently deferred, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board should cut its anti-homophobia and bullying policies protecting gay students.

Clearly something is awry, and it’s about time that Canada followed Russia’s lead in putting real medical and statistical data first. Canada is desperate for blood donors and classifying blood based on risky practices instead of risky people would increase both the safety and quantity of blood.

President Threatens Mass Beheading of Gays

May 26th, 2008

Gay Ichabod Crane

Yahya Jammeh, the president of The Gambia, Africa, announced last week that he will introduce laws “stricter than Iran” in dealing with homosexuality. He said that gay people in the country have exactly 24 hours to leave, and that he will “cut off the head” of any gay person he finds left.

Jammeh said that he wants to make The Gambia “one of the best countries to live in,” adding that he has spent over $100 million US dollars since 1994 to help promote the country’s development.

While I guess it’s nice that he’s giving gay people a day’s head start, the comments were immediately condemned by human rights groups. Carey Johnson of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council was appalled by the mass death threat:

What president Jammeh fails to realise is that there are a significant population of Gambians who are gay, and he has no right to ask them to leave.

Jammeh made international headlines last year when he announced that he had discovered the cure for AIDS: A mixture of herbs to be eaten and rubbed over patients’ bodies.

Church Bans Peace Activist Over Gay Marriage Stance

May 23rd, 2008

Church Gay Barrier

Poor James Loney. The Christian peace worker, made internationally famous after being held hostage in Iraq for several months, has been barred from speaking at another religious shindig simply because he’s gay.

Loney was booked to speak at Sacred Heart Cathedral yesterday night by a Roman Catholic group, but cathedral staff forbade the event after discovering the speaker was gay. While officials indicated the ban was due to Loney’s views on same-sex marriage, he was not scheduled to speak on the topic.

You’ve got to admire James’ courage, though. Sticking to your faith in a church that actively denounces your existence can’t be easy. After nearly giving up his life for his religion, Loney has now been barred from quite a few religious events because he’s gay.

In October, The Campaign Life Coalition successfully lobbied to ban him from speaking on the subject of social justice at a church-sponsored peace conference, calling him an “unrepentant, active homosexual;” the year prior, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton rescinded their annual funding of a peace forum because Loney was the keynote speaker on the theme of “The Price of Peace.” But the real kicker was two summers ago, when the Ontario Catholic Youth Leadership Camp shut down entirely because the Knights of Columbus, who financed the camp, said that having Loney working there signaled that the camp was “promoting the homosexual lifestyle.”

Vancouver Study: Gays More Likely To Be Attacked

May 21st, 2008

New attack method

Gay men are twice as likely as heterosexual men to be victimized by violent crimes in Vancouver according to a nine-year study on the subject.

Researchers at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS surveyed 500 gay men as part of an effort to document the rate of physical violence in the Vancouver area. While the gay statistic wasn’t particularly surprising considering the continued persistence of homophobia, researchers were struck by the age of the victims. Gay men who came out of the closet before the age of 24 were attacked more frequently.

Dr. Thomas Lampinen, one of the researchers, said that the age findings highlight the importance of tolerance initiatives in schools:

In schoolyards all across the country, if ethnic and racial slurs were being uttered at this rate, it would be tolerated for about a New York minute. And yet, somehow, it seems OK for kids to be saying daily, “Oh, that’s so gay,” or calling people “faggot.”

Anti-gay and religious groups routinely oppose anti-homophobia measures in schools. One group called Defend Traditional Marriage and Family successfully pulled an optional teacher’s resource booklet on diversity from teachers lounges, and the Catholic Civil Rights League has launched a similar, grassroots assault against draft guidelines in B.C. Three Catholic School boards have even refused to let researchers distribute optional student surveys designed to measure the extent of homophobic bullying in school.

With such an organized assault on anti-bullying initiatives, it’s no wonder some people get the message that violence against gays is OK.

California’s Equal Marriage Ban Reversed

May 16th, 2008

Happy California

The California Supreme Court reversed a state ban on same-sex marriages yesterday, allowing gay couples to legally wed in as little as 30 days. Chief Justice Ron George ushered in the ruling with a very nice annoucement:

Our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual’s sexual orientation—like a person’s race or gender—does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.

Religious and social conservative groups are upset, as usual, and will challenge the ruling. They’ve also started the process of introducing a constitutional amendment to ban equal marriage rights, which would undercut the justice system.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has indic—you know, you think I’d be used to that by now, but, seriously, Arnold Schwarzenegger? Anyway, Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated that he respects the Supreme Court’s decision and will not support a marriage banning amendment.

Congratulations, California! It may not be over yet, but this is a phenomenal and important step.

Study: Gay Students Feel Threatened

May 14th, 2008

DUH Magazine

More than two thirds of gay students in Canada feel their safety is threatened at school according to a survey conducted by Egale Canada. The 1,200-student questionnaire was distributed in schools across the country, except for several Catholic school boards which declined participation.

Further to the banner statistic, the survey also revealed that fourty-one per cent of gay students reported having been sexually harassed at school (as opposed to only nineteen per cent of straight students), that fifty per cent reported having been verbally harassed, and nearly half reported having mean rumors spread about them at school.

Dr. Catherine Taylor, a researcher at the University of Winnipeg, was particularly bothered by the results:

This [sexual harassment] figure is shocking. Homophobia and transphobia is linked to poor performance in school, drop-out rates, and teen suicides.

Helen Kennedy, Egale’s executive director, was also worried by the results, saying that the high numbers could have been prevented:

There’s no issue around sensitivity training so the teachers, we are finding, don’t have the resources that they need to address this issue.

I agree completely, although it will be tough to make educators aware of the problem. Religious lobby groups have already successfully pulled optional diversity training guidebooks from teacher’s lounges.

Religious Group To Appeal Discrimination Ruling

May 12th, 2008

Some sound rationalization...

Christian Horizons, a government-funded charity organisation, is appealing a ruling that found them in violation of human rights codes. Connie Heintz, a gay Christian, was forced to quit her job after co-workers discovered she was a lesbian. She filed a human rights complaint and won.

Since Christian Horizons is funded with public tax dollars, it is obligated to respect the rights of the public—including gay employees. With this in mind, I’m interested to hear on what grounds the appeal is based. Religious duty has never included ensuring that no employee is gay, even if you object to their orientation.

On Being A Gay Teacher

May 9th, 2008

Guest Slap

I’m extremely pleased to present today’s Guest Slap. The author, who prefers to remain anonymous, is a gay high school science teacher here in Canada. Today, he shares his thoughts and experiences on what it means to be gay in a complex learning environment.

To be out or not to be out: That is the question; whether it is better to suffer the slurs and taunts of outrageous cowards, or take care with every word you say, and keep your true self guarded. This choice is faced by many in my school and every other school. The purpose of high school is all about learning who you are, more than about learning Archimedes’ Principle, conic sections, or how to play the flute. But because of the highly judgmental nature that exists in a milieu of teenagers, the decision of whether or not to come out of the closet is difficult for anyone in a high school, especially someone like me, a teacher.

I bet that many students who read this had never even considered the prospect that the person standing in front of you on Monday morning droning on and on about some dead poet could possibly be gay. After all, everyone knows that teachers live in the school, never take off their work clothes, and disappear in a puff of chalk dust on the weekends, only to re-materialize the following Monday in the teacher’s lounge. They certainly don’t have emotions, parents, friends, social lives, or sex. My students couldn’t believe that I went out for karaoke with my co-workers, and when I told them that—even though I don’t have kids—I bought a Nintendo Wii, they asked “What do you use it for?” So I’m pretty sure that if I were to tell them that I am gay, their brains would implode; it would be that difficult for them to comprehend.

When I was student teaching just a few years ago, I realized that it wouldn’t be long before I would have to make that decision about how out I would be at school. Every school has a different atmosphere when it comes to how well minorities are accepted, and thankfully, at mine both the administration and general student body are relatively open-minded and accepting. For example, on one of the first days of the year, I saw a group of kids surrounding two boys who were scuffling around. Immediately I thought “Oh God, I’m going to have to break up a fight.” But it turned out that they were having a dance-off to a Pokémon song they had invented. Still, no group of teenagers is free of bigotry. Everyone who has gone through high school knows that picking on the minority is an effective way to increase one’s social standing among the majority. So because of that, some gay teachers try to live a completely closeted professional life, and don’t open up their true selves to anyone at school. Others are completely fine with being out and proud to everyone, and even wear their leather outfits to school on Halloween (yeah, I’m not kidding there).

So I made the decision to make no decision; just to be myself. To any colleagues who I consider my friends, I am completely out. I’ve gone out for drinks with them, played Scrabble with them, taken them to see drag shows, and invited them over for dinner to meet my same-sex fiancé. With anyone who I know strictly on a professional level, like the principal of my school, or my students, I haven’t shared that side of my life.  But if they find out, or if it comes up in conversation, I’m not going to hide anything; I’ll just be honest about who I am.  After all, my students aren’t my friends; we can be friendly, but we can’t be friends. The rare teachers that do treat their students like actual friends, telling them about their night out at the bar… well, they’re just creepy to the exponent creep.

Sometimes I wonder if I would be a better role model for those students who are questioning their sexuality if I were more open about my homosexuality, even though it would mean opening myself up to personal attacks from homophobes. When I was in grade 12, would it have helped me to know that my Canadian History teacher was gay? Would it have helped me to come to terms with my sexuality easier?  Would it have hindered my understanding of Wolfe & Montcalme?

Eventually, I just realized that being out doesn’t have to involve being out to everyone—just everyone you care about. So I choose simply to be who I am.  After all, isn’t that what coming out of the closet is all about?

Thanks again to today’s special guest author!

Children’s Story Most Controversial Book Of 2007

May 7th, 2008

Penguin Hate

The American Library Association released their annual list of most challenged books on Tuesday. Topping the list for the second consecutive year is And Tango Makes Three, a true story about a couple of male penguins at the New York Central Park Zoo.

The story is actually pretty cute; the penguins pair off as a couple and begin incubating an egg-shaped rock as if it were their own. Eventually the zoo-keeper takes notice and replaces the rock with a real egg that another penguin had abandoned. The two penguins take turns sitting on the egg until it hatches into an adorable baby chick, which they raise together.

The book, complete with really sweet, colourful illustrations, generated more formal complaints and was pulled off more library and school shelves than any other book since 2006.

Complainants charge that the book leads impressionable children to accept the penguin lifestyle.

Age Of Consent Changed, Unless You’re Gay

May 5th, 2008

Sex Education discusses the age of consent

Teenagers have some brushing up to do on their sex education after the federal Tories updated the law books this month.

The age of consent—that is, the age at which it is legal to consent to sex—has changed from 14 years to 16 years in Canada as part of an effort to deal with online sexual predators. To stop short of outlawing sex between teens, however, a “close-in-age” exception has also been added so that people fewer than five years apart can still have sex with each other—unless one of the persons is in an authority position or under the age of 12.

That’s for heterosexual couples.  (Following me so far?)

For gay guys, the age of consent for… let’s call it backdoor shenanigans—remains firmly set at 18, with absolutely no exceptions, even for consenting teens close in age. Health workers say the inconsistency will prevent teens from seeking information about safe sex, since they’d have to admit interest in illegal activities to obtain such information. While some provincial courts have already ruled the gay sex ban for teens to be unconstitutional, the Tories have so far refused to update the law.

Teens reportedly understand all of this and will immediately change their attitudes and behaviours accordingly.

Island Of Lesbos Sues Gay Group Over Term “Lesbian”

May 2nd, 2008

Two lesbians

Here’s something new: Three residents from the Greek island of Lesbos are suing the Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece for using the term “Lesbian” in their title. Dimitris Lambrou, one of the plantiffs, explains:

My sister can’t say she is a Lesbian. Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos.

The court papers says that Greece is so ashamed by the word Lesbian that they’ve changed the island name to Mytilini, after its capital. Still, if the lawsuit is successful, the islanders plan to bring about similar lawsuits internationally.

So, I guess that means we should start looking for a new word for gay women—just in case.

I suggest “Albertan.”