Tag Archives: queer

Our grief is not a cry for war

12 Jun

Screenshot 2016-06-12 13.07.06In between museum visits and snuggle time with kiddo, I have spent today glued to my social media feeds, watching the horror of the Pulse mass shooting unfold in front of my eyes.

First the news that 20 — now 50 — people had been killed when a gunman opened fire at a Pride event in a primary Latino gay bar.

And then the immediate Islamophobic speculation from the very same right-wing politicians who fight to put more guns in people’s hands and against the very rights that the LGBTQ community is fighting for.

I can only imagine the horror of the people in that club last night, in a space that was supposed to be celebratory and safe.

It’s easy for those of us who live privileged queer lives to forget that there are people who want us dead. But we can’t forget that the latest spike in anti-queer, transphobic laws across the U.S. have legitimized anti-queer political rhetoric.

The very people who are most vulnerable to violence (queer/trans people of colour) are characterized as the bogeymen. A political culture that interrogates and refuses to believe women who survive sexual assault also claims to be wanting to protect us from “bathroom predators.”

Let us remain critical of the people who will use this tragedy to discriminate. As a group of peace activists declared in the days after 9/11, “Our grief is not a cry for war.”

Some things to remember during these immediate dark days:

  1. Pulse is a club that primarily caters to the Latino LGBTQ community. Many of the victims are likely queer people of colour. Do not erase this. Elevate queer/trans POC voices.
  2. The shooter’s name is a common one. Despite rampant speculation, there is currently no evidence that he was motivated by Islam.
  3. The Christian Right has introduced more than 200 anti-LGBT bills in the U.S. in last six months. Homophobia and religious fundamentalism kill.
  4. The shooter beat his ex-wife. He was violent and abusive toward women. Toxic masculinity kills.
  5. The gun used by the shooter to murder more than 50 queer/trans people is “owned by around 3.7 million American households, making it the country’s most popular rifle.” Guns kill.
  6. In the midst of this tragedy, gay and bisexual men (as well as women who sleep with bisexual men) are banned from donating blood unless they have been celibate for a full year.

Screenshot 2016-06-12 13.39.57.png

Homonationalism, Exhibit A

It’s up to us queers to make sure that this tragedy is not used to justify Islamophobia and racism. The people who wish us harm are using our pain to score political points. Don’t let them.

Stand together. Always.

Our grief is not a cry for war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on the pinkwashing of the Day of Pink

9 Apr
me and d

I do wear pink occasionally. But only in the form of hot pants.

Well, then. I guess a few people liked the post I put up in haste the other night, while simultaneously entertaining my almost three year-old and responding to a flurry of Tweets. Or they disagreed with me, but felt compelled to read it. Either way, I’m grateful.

My reason for criticizing the choice of Laureen Harper as the ambassador for the Day of Pink was very clear to me. I believed strongly that we needed to make sure that queer/trans youth knew we had their backs — not just in a symbolic sense, but politically too.

I remember when I testified in Ottawa in support of provincial legislation mandating gay-straight alliances in publicly funded schools. I listened to speakers from the Catholic board and the evangelical right use syrupy language to try and strategically remove the queerness from any anti-bullying efforts. They spoke of the need for “diversity clubs” and other meaningless monikers that obscure the specific and excruciating struggles that queer, trans and gender non-conforming youth face in schools.

We need to keep the focus on the specific experiences of kids like Leelah Alcorn, Blake Brockington and Jamie Hubley (may they rest in power and peace). And that means fighting school boards to ensure that queer/trans kids are supported and given spaces in which to meet. It means advocating for trans human rights legislation like Bill C-279 and naming and shaming the politicians like Don Plett who are holding back progress. And it also means holding LGBT organizations accountable when they choose respectability politics over the rights of the people they purport to serve.

I want to take a minute to address some of the criticism I have seen over the last couple of days. Much of it was thoughtful and I would like to acknowledge the people who engaged with me on Twitter and in other online spaces.

1. Why are you judging Laureen Harper by the actions of her husband? 

I am judging Laureen Harper by her complicity in the Conservative publicity machine. See? She even has her own page on the party’s website. She has stood by her husband during every election and has allowed herself to be used as a humanizing factor to help tone down his look of evil. (Well, that, a sweater vest and kittens). And her rather vapid statement in support of the Day of Pink did not make a single mention of queer or trans youth.

She has never made a public comment that contradicted the policies of the Conservative party. And Laureen certainly has not said a word about trans rights or Bill C-279. Should she choose to prove me wrong one day, I would be thrilled. But until that day arrives, she has positioned herself politically as Mrs. Harper and that is what I will call her.

2. Why are you wasting your energy criticizing a group that does good work?

Because this organization — formerly known as Jer’s Vision — has re-branded itself as a national LGBT organization. By choosing the new name of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, this group is carving out a voice on the national stage. And that comes with responsibility. The fact that the CCGSD’s first action out of the gate is to associate themselves with the Harpers is really bad news. It shows a preference for name recognition and banal “awareness-raising” over real justice for queer and trans youth. And their misstep only serves to benefit the politicians and right-wing evangelicals who would be thrilled to see queer and trans people banned from public bathrooms.

It seriously concerns me that the CCGSD’s reaction to public criticism yesterday was either to invite people to have private conversations with them (and therefore take the conversation offline) or implying that critics were contributing to toxic activist cultures by not being kind enough. I and many others responded publicly to a very public piece of communication. The discussion and process of accountability should remain in the public sphere.

3. But have you heard the rumour about Laureen Harper?

I live in Ottawa and I have heard the rumours that Laureen may be a secret member of “the family.” But unless she distinguishes herself from the Conservative machine, she’s never going to be invited to any lesbian potlucks. To paraphrase an old Ani Difranco song, “I don’t give a fuck who she’s screwing in private, I wanna know who she’s screwing in public.”

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!

Pink is just a colour

14 Feb

in pink snowsuit

Every time I dress my baby girl in pink, I wonder if I am disappointing the Feminist Authority. Though it may seem like I am taking myself too seriously, I hang out in circles that spend a lot of time and energy deconstructing gender norms. Caitlyn and I socialize with the kind of people who asked us if we were even going to assign a gender to our baby at birth. Many of them use gender neutral or plural pronouns to describe themselves, or identify with a gender that their parents still don’t quite understand. We attended the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference for several years in a row and gushed over the amazing parents of gender independent children who give their kids the freedom to explore gender without boundaries or limitations. That being said, I am not so naive as to think that it’s possible to raise a child gender-free (Baby Storm notwithstanding). I also identify as a femme dyke — someone who willingly embraces femininity and “girl stuff,” even though my usual uniform of vintage dresses and red lipstick has been replaced with jeans and barf-absorbing hoodies as of late. So needless to say, I spent some time thinking about how we would dress our daughter.

The first issue at hand was how to deal with the mountains of hand-me-downs and gifts we received — 80 per cent of which involved some shade of the colour pink. As a thrifty mom and someone with an environmental conscience, it seemed foolhardy to reject free clothing. So I weeded out the stuff that made my stomach churn and mixed and matched the other stuff with primary colours and bold patterns. When I buy clothes for Daphne, I make an effort to select other colours than pink (green looks great on a redhead), but I am hardly dressing her in a gender-neutral manner. And I don’t think I should. Because as our dear friend (and brilliant writer ) Julia Serano points out, “girl stuff” is just as valid as masculinity or androgyny. Queer communities tend to default to masculinity as neutral territory. But this ends up erasing the identities of people who enjoy feminine gender expressions. Eliminating femininity does nothing to challenge the patriarchy — if anything, it renders many women (and feminine men) invisible. It reinforces the notion that you need to “man up” in order to be powerful and sends the subtle message that “girly girls” are somehow less strong or articulate.

And as much as I am loathe to admit it, we tend to dress our children in our own images until they develop a firm opinion about such matters. I have a dear friend who dresses her daughter in black hoodies and jaunty bandanas, just like she does. Another mama in my circle has already procured a mini Ramones onesie for her baby Milo. All of our kids may rebel by the age of two, insisting on tutus and/or trucks. At that point, there is really not much we can do about it.

So my kid is wearing pink today. It looks good on her. And I will try not to freak out when she turns 16 and chooses to shave off all of that beautiful red hair.

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.