Tag Archives: LGBT

Today was a big deal

17 May
charlie.png

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.

hill selfie

Awkward Hill selfie with two amazing trans advocates.

Working mama

4 Aug
I like getting to dress like a grown-up again

I like getting to dress like a grown-up again

I never pictured myself as a stay-at-home mom. My own mother is a lawyer and writer and always took great satisfaction from her career. I have been lucky enough to find work over the years that stimulates me, challenges me, and also reflects my political and moral values. I know how lucky I am to have a job at a labour union only a 5-minute bike ride from my house. I work with progressive, creative and hilarious colleagues who I count as dear friends. And my workplace is incredibly family-friendly. So needless to say, I wasn’t dreading my return to work last month.

Still, I did surprise myself with how much I enjoyed the slow pace of maternity leave. Even though I was often tired, I rarely had to get out the door to go anywhere before 10 am. If I felt like I was wandering through a fog of sleep deprivation, I could just nurse my cup of coffee and sit on the floor while my baby handed me blocks. I got used to the easy camaraderie of the neighbourhood baby drop-in and the hilarious exchange of text messages with my fellow mat leave mama friends. I looked forward to Daphne’s weekly music class, mostly because it meant lunch afterward with a few of my favourite women and their children. Despite my initial fear that mat leave would be boring or isolating, I wasn’t in a rush for it to end. I probably could have continued for a few more months, but I would have eventually started missing the world of adults and ideas.

Overall, it’s been a smooth transition. We found a truly amazing daycare provider, so I have complete confidence that our baby is being cared for in a nurturing and stimulating environment. And one of the very best byproducts of day care has been the way that it’s shifted and consolidated Daphne’s sleep cycles. Now that she is down to one nap a day, it is easy to get her to sleep for her nap and for bedtime at night. She still wakes a couple of times a night and drinks a few ounces of milk some time between 1 and 4 am. We’d really like to stop having to get out of bed to feed her. But we are trying to make the change as gently as possible, given how much adjustment our baby has had to endure over the last few weeks. Overall, Caitlyn and I are doing a good job of making sure that each of us gets at least some decent sleep. But the dream of eight hours solid is still elusive. We continue to wait it out.

So far, a year of parenting has taught me that it’s not worth it to try to parent by a book. I have little patience for orthodoxy in general. While I feel some affinity toward Attachment Parenting, I don’t feel the need to define my personal and political philosophy through the lens of motherhood. In fact, it’s quite the opposite for me. They way that Caitlyn and I parent our daughter is an extension of our feminist, queer and social justice values. I worry that even the most “gentle” of parenting trends lean on essentialist notions of gender and continue to place the entire burden of child-rearing on to women. Parenthood doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The way we model justice in our home needs to reflect the ways we fight for it in the broader community (and vice versa).

….

In addition to returning to work, a lot happened in the last couple of months that I meant to blog about:

1. Our friends in the U.S. can now have their same sex marriages legally recognized. There are so many other struggles left to fight, but this win was a big one. My heart swells for people like Larry Kramer and David Webster and for our dear friends Maddie and Rachel. This is not the end of the queer movement, it’s just one major achievement. Now it’s time for universal health care — what do you say Americans?

2. The brutal oppression of queers in Russia continues. But once again, we need to be careful before supporting unilateral calls for boycotts. Dan Savage is telling people to boycott Stolichnaya vodka, when in fact the company is based in Latvia (not Russia) and is outspoken in its support of the LGBT community. Do your research and listen to the voices from within the Russian LGBT community before taking action.

3. The awesome Offbeat Families picked up my blog post on raising a kid downtown. to all of the new readers who found me through OBF, welcome!

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.

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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.