Tag Archives: #canqueer

Why Black Lives Matter and Gay Tories Don’t

3 Jul

I made a new post on Storify about Black Lives Matter, Toronto Pride, and the tantrum of a formerly closeted Conservative columnist.

 

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Today was a big deal

17 May
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Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and 10 year-old Charlie

I cried in the halls of Parliament today. It wasn’t the first time. But luckily in both cases, they were tears of joy.

The first time my face leaked on Parliament Hill was in 2005, when we packed the visitors’ gallery to hear the government pass equal marriage legislation. I was only 26 at the time, cynical about the institution of marriage, and unsure about whether or not the new law would ever have an impact on my life. But being surrounded by queer activists who had fought for 30 years to reach that momentous day – it had an impact on me. We don’t get a lot of victories, and that was a big one.

Shortly after gay marriage became the law of the land, we entered the dark Harper years. I was on the board of Egale Canada when the government cut the Court Challenges program – a funding source that had been crucial to securing legal victories for the gay community in the 80s and 90s.

Trans advocates were understandably dismayed. They pointed out that human rights laws did not specifically include gender identity or gender expression, leaving trans people unprotected in a lot of sectors. And as all of the big-money gay donations dried up after the marriage fight, there was no money left for trans folks to fight their case in court.

Progressive wilderness

As progressive voices raged in the wilderness of a conservative majority government, NDP MPs Bill Siksay and Randall Garrison attempted to enshrine trans rights in the law seven times. In two cases, the bills passed third reading in the House of Commons. But neither bill made it through the Senate.

The last attempt was particularly enraging, because retrograde Senator Donald Plett took it upon himself to foment fear about trans people and bathrooms. Yes, the exact same rhetoric that was recently used to pass discriminatory legislation in North Carolina. (The very same law that the US Department of Justice is now fighting — THANKS OBAMA).

I take this issue personally, as a friend, lover and family member to trans people. Everyone deserves explicit human rights protection under the law. But trans people face very specific barriers to employment, health care and housing. Explicit legal recognition is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling these issues, but it is still a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Nerd party on the Hill

It felt like a family reunion on the Hill today, as the government announced it would be adding both gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and federal hate crimes laws.

I saw many activists and former colleagues who have been at this fight for decades. But what struck me most were the kids. Trans children as young as 10, including the incredible Charlie Lowthian Rickert. Seeing their eyes brim with proud tears and their chests puff up with pride, was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever witnessed.

Charlie is a kick-ass fighter already. When only nine years old, she and her mom visited Senator Plett, and told him directly how his fear-mongering was making life unsafe for trans kids like her. And just this week, she addressed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a meeting of trans advocates, and explained why this bill was so crucial to her.

Today Charlie took centre stage with the Justice Minister, and told a packed room full of reporters why this law matters:

I know that the law won’t change the daily reality of bullying, but it may stop those heartless bullies who can’t accept who I am from doing more than just calling me names.

There is so much more work to be done to improve the lives of trans people in Canada. Access to health care and housing are key. And the decriminalization of sex work would help stop the cycle of criminalization that often targets trans women. All of this is important and requires our urgent attention.

But the fight on this bill is far from over. It is very likely to pass through the House of Commons, but it could get held up in the Senate again. And we are about to encounter one helluva backlash.

But today? Today is a good day.

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Awkward Hill selfie with two amazing trans advocates.

Thank you Venus Envy

30 Sep

Two stories flashed across my news feed today that made me profoundly angry. First: another treasured young trans person (Skylar Lee of Madison, Wisconsin) has taken their own life. Second: a local Ottawa sex shop received a bylaw infraction ticket for selling a chest compression vest to a trans youth under the age of 18. These stories are related.

For those who don’t live in Ottawa, Venus Envy is a education-oriented sex shop. Well, it started that way over a decade ago and has become much more than that to all of the queers in our city. It’s a well-lit, beautiful store where you can buy porn, dildos, vibrators and lube. They display local art in their stores, run workshops on a variety of topics related to sexuality, and they sponsor fundraising dances for their bursary fund, which has given out more than $15,000 in scholarships to LGBTQ students over the last 10 years. Venus Envy has truly become a cultural hub for the queer/trans community in Ottawa. Many of my friends have worked there, or continue to do so.

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My wife and I with writer Julia Serano at Venus Envy in 2007. Yes, that is a wall of dildos. Deal with it.

But in addition to the more explicit material for sale at Venus Envy, you can also purchase LGBT-friendly children’s books, an array of queer/trans literature and a couple of specialty items designed for folks who seek to better express their gender identities. This includes compression vests, also known as “binders.”

According to the store’s owner Shelley Taylor, the store typically sees four or five young people a week seeking binders or gaffs, usually with their parents. The store’s staff are trained to deal sensitively with requests of this nature and make sure young people can find a good and comfortable fit.

Last week, a person under the age of 18 bought a binder at the store without their parents’ knowledge. And when their parents discovered the purchase, they called the City of Ottawa and had the store charged with a bylaw infraction. Because technically Venus Envy is a sex store and people under the age of 18 are not supposed to be allowed through the doors.

Members of the local queer/trans community are understandably outraged. First of all: it seems absurd that sexually active young people should be barred from accessing information about safer sex. If they are permitted to buy condoms and lube from a pharmacy, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so from a store that specializes in sex education? But secondly, the fact that this is the only store that carries binders and gaffs (which are items not even remotely related to sex) points to a bigger problem. Trans youth need access to essential services and a sex shop shouldn’t be the only place for them to purchase items that are crucial to the expression of their gender identity.

There are lots of ideas brewing in the community about how to fix this. A benevolent anonymous purchasing program that allows adults to buy these items for the teens who may need them? An arrangement with a local social service agency to provide binders and gaffs? A campaign to change the bylaw, so young people can gain access to spaces that support their sexuality and gender identities?

I hope that the outrage over this ticket reaches the young person who was brave enough to enter Venus Envy last week and make a purchase that was obviously so important to them. I want this kid to know that we have their back. That there is a whole community to support them. That one day, they will be free of their parents’ authority. That their voice and their choices matter. I don’t want to lose another Skylar. We need to do better. In the meantime, I want to say this to the staff at Venus Envy: thank you.

You can support Venus Envy by buying from them, either in store or online. I have a feeling you may find something there you like. 

*** UPDATE: I just heard from Shelley Taylor that the ticket has been waived. Venus Envy is going to be granted an all-ages license to make sure that youth can access the store. The only concession they had to make was to stop selling porn DVDs, which is not a huge loss for them. They are also going to start a “par-it-forward” program so community members can help purchase binders and gaffs for the youth that need them. This is the best news. Special thanks goes to city councillor Catherine McKenney and her amazing staff for making this happen. ***