Archive | May, 2012

Taking it personally

30 May

Wow. Thanks to everyone who read and re-posted my submission to the Ontario government on Bill 13. After writing this blog in total obscurity for months, it’s hilarious to see my readership stats jump from a handful of people to hundreds. It seems that I touched a nerve with my submission, and I am so happy about that. Writing and presenting the piece was a great way to launch my year “off” as a full-time parent, occasional writer and more engaged activist.

I am so pleased that the Ontario government is doing the right thing, after accepting amendments to the bill from the NDP that only makes it stronger. They are putting the needs of LGBT students first and appear ready to fight the Catholic school board in court, if necessary. I am thrilled that the issue of public funding for homophobic and discriminatory Catholic schools will finally have its day in court. I will be following this issue closely in the coming months. As a soon-to-be-queer-mama, this one is close to my heart.

Now that I am “out” as the author of this blog, I can share a few more details about myself. My name is Ariel. I live in Ottawa. I used to write a column for Xtra and a blog called Dykes Against Harper. My day job is at a kick-ass public sector union, where I wrangle media and do a lot of writing. I took three years off of blogging to do an MA in women’s studies and to ride the crazy fertility roller coaster that brought me to my current state. I am now 36 weeks pregnant and will be home for the next year — first gestating, and then care-giving. You can follow me on Twitter if you’d like. I tweet a lot about pro-choice politics, sex worker solidarity and queer issues. Though I’ve been whining a lot lately about indigestion and other thrilling third trimester foibles.

I will admit that I am still daunted at the idea of being home for more than a year. It’s a privilege — one that parents in the U.S. and many other countries don’t have access to. Paid maternity leave is a win-win for families and for employers. It’s a right that women fought for on my behalf and I am so thankful. But I am also curious to see how this fundamental shift in identity sits with me. I have always been rather work-focused. I get excited about being politically engaged and working with a dynamic team of other campaigner types. I am a bit of a home body, but I don’t sew or craft. I’m a great cook and a terrible gardener. Though I am anal-retentive about tidiness, my wife and I outsource toilet-cleaning, dusting, vacuuming and mopping to someone that we pay every two weeks. I believe that domestic labour is hard and skilled work that deserves to be compensated accordingly. But I have no desire to be a stay-at-homer for longer than a year. I grew up with a lawyer Mom who was always passionate about her job and the world around us. This is the kind of role model modelling I hope to pass on to our daughter.

That being said, my mother-in-law is an equally kick-ass woman, but she stayed home and raised kids / volunteered for 30 years. Also a valid and noble choice — just not one that I think I would particularly enjoy. It will be interesting to see how I feel after embodying this role for a year. To be honest, I am worried about getting bored and isolated. My wife and I worked very hard to get me pregnant and are so excited about becoming parents. But it will be interesting to see whether I start feeling like a Desperate Housewife by December.

Advertisements

Why Ontario needs Bill 13

22 May

I just came back from presenting to Ontario’s Standing Committee on Social Policy, showing my support for Bill 13: The Accepting Schools Act. I knew little about this bill until a couple of weeks ago, when I started following Andrea Houston‘s live-tweets from the Toronto committee hearings. The extent of the homophobic (and frankly nonsensical) vitriol that was directed at queer youth during the hearings shocked me and motivated me to action. I recommend that you check out Xtra’s excellent and extensive coverage of the Toronto hearings, for more background. Pasted below is what I said to the committee today. I was proud to be accompanied by a representative from Camp Ten Oaks (and her adorable 6-month old baby!). As I prepare for parenthood, my activism is taking on a new dimension. Suddenly the issue of safety in schools is of paramount importance.

————

Good afternoon,

My name is Ariel. I am a concerned citizen of Ontario, a long-time LGBT activist and a soon-to-be-parent. My wife Caitlyn is here in the audience with me today. We are expecting our first baby in approximately five weeks.

I felt compelled to come forward and speak in favour of Bill 13, after reading about some of the truly vile and homophobic rhetoric that was expressed at the previous meetings of this committee in Toronto. I want to state clearly and unequivocally that I believe that legislation of this nature is urgently needed in Ontario schools. I don’t want to have to make a presentation of this nature in 14 years when our own daughter enters high school.

You have already heard from established organizations including the Ontario GSA Coalition and Egale Canada that provided a detailed clause-by-clause analysis of Bills 13 and 14. I will not repeat the same arguments, but I will say that I support their analysis. It’s my understanding that Bill 13 contains a few problematic gaps in language, including the exclusion of the terms gender identity, gender expression and a lack of recognition of the problems associated with biphobia and transphobia. It also doesn’t explicitly state that students should be specifically permitted to name their groups Gay Straight Alliances or any other title of their choosing. This is an omission that needs to be corrected.

In addition to some of the flaws in Bill 13, Bill 14 has been specifically designed to exclude any mention of LGBT youth and the specific nature of the bullying that they face in schools. I would encourage you to take Egale and the Ontario GSA Coalition’s wise and well-studied criticism seriously, in an effort to make anti-bullying legislation as strong and effective as possible.

That being said, I am here to tell you why I support Bill 13 and want to see it implemented without delay.

1. LGBT youth are targets of bullying and they need protection.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth – or those perceived to be – are targets for bullying and at risk of depression and suicide. There have been quite a few high-profile suicide cases in recent years including the recent tragic death here in Ottawa of Jamie Hubley. When I attended the vigil following his suicide, I pledged to do everything I could do at a personal level to support queer youth in high schools. Even one death is too many. Again, I would reference the presentation made by Egale and the Ontario GSA Coalition for more detailed data on the bullying that queer youth face on the streets and in schools. Despite attempts by fundamentalist groups to gloss over the specific torment that LGBT youth experience every day – there is clear evidence that our youth need to be supported and protected by the educational system.

2. Queer youth are demanding the right to form GSAs – and we need to listen to them.

The strongest and most convincing advocates for GSAs (or similar support networks) continue to be queer youth themselves. Andrea Houston has spent the last couple of years documenting in Xtra the relentless and brave fight by queer youth in Catholic schools to have their rights respected. In one case, students were banned from displaying rainbows in their Catholic high school and instead they subversively baked them into cupcakes. They have done everything in their power to advocate for themselves and now it’s time for us to advocate with them and for them.

To my knowledge, the name “gay straight alliance” seems to be the only club title that school trustees and religious leaders are seeking to ban or change. As the Ontario GSA Coalition has pointed out, clearly it’s not the words “straight” or “alliance” to which religious leaders object. The right to name ourselves is a crucial part of our liberation and struggle for human rights. High school students should be able to name their clubs whatever they deem to be appropriate. They should not have to adopt a generic “respecting differences” name as mandated by the Catholic board. By erasing the name of their groups and attempting to neutralize their right to self-identify, Catholic trustees are telling LGBT youth to erase their identities. We cannot sit by and allow this to happen.

3. LGBT rights only exist on paper if our youth cannot exercise their rights in schools.

The LGBT community ha s fought for more than 40 years to achieve legal equality and we are almost there. The legalization of equal marriage across Canada in 2006 was a crucial victory after decades of street protests and court battles. And just this month, the province of Ontario gained all-party support to add human rights protection for trans people to the Ontario Human Rights Act. I applaud you for that.

But the reality is that these legal rights have no effect on the lives of vulnerable teenagers if young people are not permitted to exercise their rights at school – if they are told that their identities are dangerous and that adults don’t support them. That’s why legislation of this nature is so crucially needed.

4. Sometimes children need protection from adults.

I followed the last three meetings of this committee with great interest, both in the mainstream media and on Twitter. While I was impressed at how articulate and passionate LGBT youth were in advocating for their rights, it was the adults whose behaviour appalled me. One person who presented to this committee referred to homosexuality as a “toxic delusion.” Another trotted out the false and unsubstantiated notion that homosexuals have a higher likelihood of committing murder. Yet another suggested that the best that queer youth could hope for is tolerance, because “acceptance is unacceptable.” And to top it off, Catholic school trustees have confirmed that they will never allow students to use the term “Gay Straight Alliance.”

If this doesn’t make the argument in favour of implementing this legislation, I don’t know what else does. Clearly, LGBT youth need protection from the adults who would shame them or wish them harm. Ensuring their safety and the quality of their learning environment should be our primary and paramount concern. If anything, the reaction from some parents and religious leaders underscores why this law is so important. There is nothing criminal or immoral about young people’s need to get together with each other, share resources and plan social events. If anything, the fear that this bill provokes is proof of its necessity.

These hearings have been dominated by people claiming to represent organized religion, when in fact there are many people of faith who are entirely accepting of LGBT people. My uncle and two of my cousins are rabbis. They happily attended my wedding and continue to fight for queer and trans rights.

As a citizen of this province, I am appalled that publicly funded schools continue to act with impunity against queer youth. If Bill 13 lands the province in court with the Catholic school board, so be it. I urge you to be brave and stand up for LGBT youth who both need and deserve protection under the law. I sincerely hope that when my daughter starts high school, this struggle will be long behind us.

Thank you.

Nesting

6 May

After nearly eight months of cautiousness and semi-denial, the nesting instinct has kicked in — with a vengeance. When I first got pregnant, I had this “wait and see” approach, incredulous that I was actually pregnant and skeptical that it would result in a real, live baby. And here I am, nearly 33 weeks pregnant. That means seven (or so) weeks to go. It means I need to start thinking seriously about what comfort measures I want to try during childbirth. Caitlyn is ready to pack the hospital bag … my pleas that “we have lots of time” seem less and less rational. I spent the weekend doing many loads of tiny laundry — pre-washing hand-me-down clothes, toys and cloth diapers. Cait assembled the nursery furniture with her Dad yesterday. The curtains from E.tsy are set to arrive at the end of the month. I suddenly have this uncontrollable urge to get everything done RIGHT NOW.

I think some of this has to do with the illusion of control. I keep telling people that I hope this baby is a few days early or right on time, not a week late. As if I have any control over the situation. This baby will arrive when she decides that the time is right, but this is a difficult thing to accept, when you are used to scheduling everything weeks in advance.

Also, the nesting is likely helping me deal with some of my anxiety. I am not particularly worried about the pain of childbirth. Millions of women have done this before me and I know that I am in excellent hands with our midwives, our wonderful BFF/doula and Caitlyn, of course. I am more gripped with fear about potentially surprising  outcomes. What if she’s not breathing when she comes out? What if she has a disability or illness that wasn’t detected in the 19-week ultrasound? What if something goes terribly wrong right at the end?

I am trying to put these fears out of my head and not focus on them too much. But they are definitely humming along in the back of my head. It doesn’t help that every movie or TV show I turn on seems to have a subplot of a baby dying. Gah.I had to text my friend the other day, so she would tell me to turn it off.

All of this to say, my pregnancy has been ticking along in a relatively boring and uncomplicated fashion. I only have a few complaints and they are very minor — sore lower back, aching hips, indigestion, leg cramps. But I am still getting a decent amount of sleep and I am quite mobile. Cait was amazing to see that I can still bend over and touch my toes. I have no idea how much I weigh, but I am guessing that I have gained about 25 pounds. I can’t wait to get physically active again this summer, but in the meantime, I am making due with short walks and occasional prenatal yoga.

I hope to make more of this blog after the babe is born. Most of my friends and family have no idea that it exists, and I kind of like it that way. But I plan to actually seek out a readership and begin reflecting on the personal and political implications of parenthood in the near future. In the meantime, you’ll probably find me purging closets and doing laundry. So. Much. Laundry.