Monday, May 26, 2008

Tory MP Tom Lukiwski's empty apology

When the Tom Lukiwski scandal broke last month (after it was revealed he used hateful, homophobic language in a 1991 video), I was impressed by his immediate and seemingly heartfelt apology. He looked like a deer caught in headlights. I remember thinking at the time there was no doubt his apology right down to the wording had been carefully stage-managed by the PMO to minimize embarrassment and damage to the government.

I must admit it seems I and many others were fooled into believing Lukiwski's apology was genuine. After reading stories like this, it now seems clear Lukiwski's remorse was as meaningless as Harper's climate change plan. Since the scandal, after Lukiwski dealt with the national media, he seems to have forgotten about the very people he was slamming in the 1991 video and to whom he owes more than a simple, swift apology. He has yet to respond to any requests for meetings from local LGBT groups in Regina.

The hateful words Lukiwski uttered in the 1991 video betrayed a truly ignorant attitude, cloaked in humour. Spoken at age 40, many observers doubted that he could've changed his opinions much since. The Tory defence was to claim Lukiwski never believed the words he spoke in 1991, that he was just joking around for the Tory cameras.

I doubt Lukiwski has truly learned anything from this (except how to orchestrate damage control in the national media). To date, it looks like Lukiwski simply got away with making some hateful comments against gays. It also seems the Harper government is sending out the message that hatred against the LGBT community is completely tolerable. This is disgusting.

My message to Lukiwski is clear: the words you uttered in that video are so hateful and despicable, you still need to make peace with the LGBT community in this country. What you've done to date simply doesn't cut it. This scandal will not fade away (and I'm glad some media outlets continue to report on it).

Until Lukiwski reaches out to his LGBT constituents and asks directly for their forgiveness, this matter will not be closed and Lukiwski will just be another politician who got away with spouting off bigotry.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

John McCain has nutty religious friends too...

I wonder if the U.S. media and the greater (white) American public will hold McCain as accountable for the lunatic ravings of some of his high profile religious supporters as they did Obama? It's sad that McCain was eager to embrace Hagee's support when it was widely known Hagee had described Hurricane Katrina as God's retribution for homosexual sin. It's unfortunate McCain seems to think that kind of statement is tolerable. Only now with other statements by Hagee uncovered, like that God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land, has McCain cut his ties with this extremist.

As far as I'm concerned, these incidents mostly neutralize the Reverend Wright controversy for Obama, or at least I hope they do.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Two countries, two rallies

I simply wanted to point out today two rallies held this past weekend in two very different communities, both in favour of greater understanding and acceptance of homosexuals. My heartfelt congrats to the organizers of both rallies. The universal fight for dignity continues...

"Gay rights groups rallied in Pictou County, Nova Scotia on May 17, to speak out against the recent decisions by some rural counties to ban rainbow flags on government flagpoles.

But rather than fighting the counties, gay groups have adopted a new positive strategy: reach out to the local governments and ask them to confirm their commitment to diversity.

Four local governments in Nova Scotia, including Pictou, have adopted government-flags-only policies in the past year, after Truro town council rejected a request to fly a rainbow flag in Aug 2007."

The second rally this weekend took place in Havana, Cuba.

"Cuba's gay community celebrated unprecedented openness — and high-ranking political alliances — with a government-backed campaign against homophobia on Saturday.

The meeting at a convention center in Havana's Vedado district may have been the largest gathering of openly gay activists ever on the communist-run island. President Raul Castro's daughter Mariela, who has promoted the rights of sexual minorities, presided.

"This is a very important moment for us, the men and women of Cuba, because for the first time we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics," said Castro, director of Cuba's Center for Sexual Education.

Mariela Castro joined government leaders and hundreds of activists at the one-day conference for the International Day Against Homophobia that featured shows, lectures, panel discussions and book presentations. A station also offered blood-tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

Cuban state television gave prime-time play Friday to the U.S. film "Brokeback Mountain," which tells the story of two cowboys who conceal their homosexual affair.

Prejudice against homosexuals remains deeply rooted in Cuban society, but the government has steadily moved away from the Puritanism of the 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuals hid their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed, fired from work or even imprisoned.

Now Cuba's parliament is studying proposals to legalize same-sex unions and give gay couples the benefits that people in traditional marriages enjoy.

Parliament head Ricardo Alarcon said the government needs to do more to promote gay rights, but said many Cubans still need to be convinced.

Things "are advancing, but must continue advancing, and I think we should do that in a coherent, appropriate and precise way because these are topics that have been taboo and continue to be for many," Alarcon told reporters."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

May 17th: International Day Against Homophobia

On 17 May 1990, the General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. But the fight for the recognition of equal rights for lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender people did not end there.

Today around 80 countries in the world still criminalize homosexuality and condemn consensual same sex acts with imprisonment, of these 9 (Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) still have the death penalty. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is still not recognized formally by the member states of the United Nations (even though human rights mechanisms such as the Human Rights Committee have repeatedly condemned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity).

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) has been fighting against discrimination and for the recognition of equal rights of lesbian, gays, bisexual and transgender people since its creation in 1978. That is why ILGA is strongly committed to celebrating this second International Day Against Homophobia, launched one year ago by the International Day Against Homophobia Committee (IDAHO).

For more information, go to IDAHO's website.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ontario to re-instate funding for sex change operations

I think this is the right move. Delisting OHIP funding for sex change operations 10 years ago seemed vindictive and petty, considering the tiny cost to the provincial treasury, and more inspired by the "Us versus Them" approach to public policy under Mike Harris.

A good friend of mine is a F-M transsexual. I met him when he was female and we both worked for one of the worst employers we both ever had. Despite the working conditions, we hit it off and became good friends. Several years ago, he took me aside and told me he'd always thought of himself as male, even though he had been born female (and was still at that time). He told me how he used to look in the mirror before puberty hit and see himself as a boy. Once puberty hit, it was downhill from there, depression set in and many years of anxiety and confusion. For him, sex re-assignment surgery was very necessary for his mental health.

For me, this is an issue of compassion and acceptance of reality. While $20,000 in one-time funding isn't much for the province to provide, it is a huge expense for individuals struggling to make ends meet.

There are, of course, many other urgent health care needs that the province should fund for the mental health and betterment of all Ontarians (IBI programming for autistic children being one that easily comes to mind, which the McGuinty government has shamefully failed to improve as promised).

But a good policy decision should be applauded and this is one.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Equal marriage wins (for now) in California!

Wonderful and historic news from California's Supreme Court, which ruled today that a ban on gay marriage was unlawful, effectively leaving same-sex couples in America's most populous state free to tie the knot in a landmark ruling.

In an opinion that analysts say could have U.S.-wide implications for the issue, the court panel voted 4-3 in favor of plaintiffs who argued that restricting marriage to men and women was discriminatory.

"... limiting the designation of marriage to a union 'between a man and a woman' is unconstitutional and must be stricken from the statute," California Chief Justice Ron George said in the written opinion.

Before Thursday only one U.S. state - Massachusetts - allowed gay marriage, although California, New Jersey and Vermont have legislation which grants same-sex partners many of the same legal rights as married couples.

This decision could no doubt throw a wrench into this year's presidential race. All three major candidates for President are on record opposing gay marriage. It remains to be seen if the American public will react as it did in 2004 after a similar court ruling in Massachusetts, or if Republican John McCain will attempt to use this issue to bolster his support among U.S. evangelicals, who will no doubt be horrified by today's ruling.

Equality opponents are already preparing for a possible referendum on the issue in California this November to try to write discrimination into California's constitution and overturn today's decision. To counter these moves, the Human Rights Campaign has already sent out an email to supporters calling for donations to a special fund – the HRC California Marriage PAC – to fight against the anti-equal marriage ballot initiative. You can donate directly to this fund here.

In recent years, California lawmakers have also voted in favor of gay marriage but the bill was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said that the matter is for the state's court system to decide on.

Today, Schwarzenegger released this statement: “I respect the Court’s decision and as Governor, I will uphold its ruling. Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling.”

Legal analysts say Thursday's court ruling could have wide-ranging implications for other US states, noting the California Supreme Court's history of landmark rulings.

"The California Supreme Court's example is often emulated and it often is sort of a groundbreaker," said David Cruz, a law professor at the University of Southern California and an expert in constitutional law. "In the 20th century California was the first state to strike down laws against inter-racial marriage. They did that 19 years before the US Supreme Court got around to it."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Should Hillary be Obama's running mate?

Yesterday's huge victory for Hillary Clinton in conservative, mostly rural, mostly white West Virginia underscores the huge amount of work that Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama must undertake in order to beat John McCain in November (like most, I agree that Obama's lead is now too large for Hillary to overcome.)

Today's endorsement of Obama by former candidate John Edwards shows the party is embracing the likely nominee after a protracted race.

Yet the considerable strengths that Clinton has brought to this campaign highlight an important point for me. Should all of that support and good will she has earned be all for naught?

Could Obama choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate? Speculation is rampant as we know. I'm well aware of the possible downsides of Obama choosing such a huge personality (who comes with a famous spouse of even larger personality and ego) to be his running mate. But it seems to me that an Obama-Clinton ticket would be a fitting finale to this historic race. It would also largely shore up some if not all of Obama's lingering weak spots. If Obama risks losing the general election without Hillary next to him, why should he care now if working with Hillary (and Bill) after a victory might be at times testy? He'd be President of the U.S., of course. I'm sure he could handle the dynamics.

Think back to previous running mates and how well they helped or didn't help the nominee. The most successful running mate choice in recent times I can recall must be Dick Cheney, whose obvious brains and experience added considerable weight to George W. Bush's 2000 run. I remember clearly the commentary then how Cheney would be essentially running the Bush White House.

Of course, I'm certainly not comparing Obama to Bush, or Cheney to Clinton. But it might be highly worthwhile for Obama to take advantage of the considerable street cred that centrist Clinton has earned over the course of this campaign, not to mention how it might soften the blow of the defeat for the first major female presidential candidate.

I've heard that Hillary just might be gunning now for the V.P. spot next to Obama. Such a position would keep her dream alive, no doubt. It might make the establishment far more comfortable with the prospect of an Obama presidency. I can't think of any other possible running mates who would provide equivalent strength to the ticket.

We'll see what happens. It just better not be John

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Proud Canuck strips for U.K. Cosmo Charity Naked Edition 2008

Ouch, hot! That's certainly what I thought when I came across this pic of Canadian actor/heartthrob Shawn Ashmore posing for England's Cosmopolitan June 2008 edition (out May 12, across the pond.)

Every year, the mag gets a variety of male celebs, mostly British, to pose tastefully in the buff to help raise money and awareness for Everyman, the U.K.'s leading male cancer charity.

Heck, I can't be serious all the time, can I?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Let's not forget who the KKK hopes will win in November...

Who would've thought U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain would forget so soon his pledge to campaign on the high road? His Rove-esque claim about Hamas favouring an Obama victory in the November election (should he win the Democratic nomination) is quite the smear. Of course, I'm seriously not surprised by this bullshit rhetoric.

Obama's response to this smear has been more measured and, dare I say it, more statesmanlike.

I think every time McCain or some other Republican underling hurls a similar attack on Obama (and I'm sure there'll be tonnes of low blows), we would all do well to remember which candidate America's own home grown, white-bred terrorists, the Ku Klux Klan, no doubt favours in November.

Right back at you, Republican assholes!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

So religious bigotry should trump my right to earn a living, Christina?

I thought I'd comment on yet another typical opinion piece today from Toronto Sun writer Christina Blizzard, who can be thoughtful when she wants to be, but not today.

Blizzard goes after Ontario Human Rights Commission chief Barbara Hall over some recent rulings/statements, criticizing Hall for speaking out against racial stereotyping (Mark Steyn's case) and ruling against a publicly-funded organization's ability to fire LGBT employees (Christian Horizons, which fired Connie Heintz, by all accounts an excellent worker, simply for being a lesbian.)

For this, Blizzard claims that Hall is exceeding her mandate as the head of an organization charged with promoting and maintaining human rights in Ontario. Come on, Christina, if the OHRC head can't speak out against ethnic stereotyping and protect vulnerable citizens like LGBT citizens from being fired from their jobs, what should she be doing with her mandate?

Blizzard's reasoning is even less complex than Michael Coren's continuous tirades against same sex marriage. On Hall's ruling that publicly-funded religious organizations, like Christian Horizons, must respect the rights of all members of the public, Blizzard writes: "This comes perilously close to telling people of faith what they may and may not believe. It reinforces fears expressed when same-sex couples won the right to wed that religious institutions that are morally opposed to same-sex marriage would be forced to perform such ceremonies. It's a slippery slope. Attorney General Chris Bentley and Premier Dalton McGuinty should rein Hall in before she tramples every right we hold dear."

Right-wing columnists now don't even have to provide any reasoning whatsoever to make their 'sky is falling' claims, it seems.

Same sex civil marriage does not force religious institutions to perform such ceremonies and never will. It's true that many of the recent equality gains made by LGBT citizens illustrate extremist religion's loosening grip on mainstream society. They've lost their absolute power to destroy the lives of others; this isn't an infringement on the rights of the religious, as Coren and Blizzard would have us believe. It's affirmation of equality and a clarification of the division between church and state.

I'll write more on this touchy subject in greater detail soon.


In Blizzard's story, she quotes Tory MPP Christine Elliott: "In basic legal terms, [Hall's comment on the Mark Steyn/Maclean's Magazine case is] a denial of natural justice or the right to be heard because you can't just go out there and say things about people when they have no ability to respond in any forum."

Am I the only one to see the irony in this statement? Steyn and Maclean's Magazine have no ability to respond in any forum? As we know, it was Steyn who originally went "out there and said things about people" and promoted anti-Muslim stereotypes in his article published in Canada's national magazine, Maclean's. Then the magazine refused to give those Muslim law students any opportunity to respond to the attacks in the same forum. Thus forcing them to take the only avenue open to them, a human rights complaint.

Obama inches closer to the nomination, Hillary loses momentum...

I'd say Barack Obama did what he had to do in the primaries Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana.

He won North Carolina in a landslide and almost won Indiana. He's gaining strength. She's losing it and that means it's likely all over for Hillary Clinton. She's behind and she's losing momentum. Putting aside my preference for Obama's candidacy, it's a shame to see someone so extraordinary like Hillary go down to defeat. 'Tis the price we pay for watching closely in an incredibly historic election year.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

No gay kissing allowed in the Cayman Islands?

It's clear that queers in Canada enjoy a bit of an oasis, an open-minded paradise in a world still largely homophobic and hostile to our human rights. It's easy to take that for granted, only to occasionally be reminded of different, more hateful attitudes still prevalent in many other places. Take the Cayman Islands, a place I wouldn't have assumed would be so homophobic. But this incident last week seems to have shone a rather negative light on the British territory.

Twenty-three-year–old Aaron Chandler from Amherst, Massachusetts was dancing at a local club, the Royal Palms, with his partner last Wednesday night. His partner’s sister and brother–in–law also came along to the popular nightspot. The two gay men were showing each other some affection on the dance floor and, to their surprise, were asked to stop.

"I do display affection when I’m with my boyfriend, publicly," said Mr. Chandler. "It’s never anything most people would consider obscene however; usually it’s in the form of holding hands or a quick kiss."

Mr. Chandler and his partner ignored the requests to stop and continued dancing and showing affection. About a half hour later – about 11pm – an unidentified woman approached the two men and asked Mr. Chandler to follow her to meet a friend. The friend turned out to be an off–duty police officer.

"He told me he did not want me to show public displays of affection," Mr. Chandler said. "He said it was against the law for two people of the same sex."

Later on, just before his party was going to leave the Royal Palms, Mr. Chandler said he kissed his partner again.

"The officer grabbed my wrist and told me he was placing me under arrest."

Mr. Chandler and his partner were detained for a while by the police, but were never charged.

You can also read about this story here and here.

Now of course any gay men who showed open affection in a place notoriously homophobic as Jamaica, Egypt or Saudi Arabia could be accused of stupidity. But Chandler and his partner were on vacation in a British territory. This story struck a chord with me due to the fact I could easily picture myself in Chandler's shoes. How would I react if strangers in a bar on vacation demanded I stop showing open affection to the love of my life and threatened to arrest us? It's hard to say.

Most gay men in Canada use a certain amount of discretion when it comes to public displays of affection. For me, I don't typically hold my partner's hand in public anywhere, except during Pride festivities once a year in the downtown Toronto core. I simply don't like the stares we receive the rest of the time, so we don't do it. Call it internalized homophobia, if you will. However, we will on occasion hug and kiss in public and no one in Toronto (or anywhere in Canada, as far as I can tell) really seems to mind such quick displays of affection.

This incident shows how lucky we are in Canada and how far the rest of the world still has to come to catch up with us. It's one thing to succumb to one's internalized homophobia, it's quite another to be forced under alleged power of law to stop showing one's partner the affection he deserves. Sad, indeed.

***************UPDATE (May 7, 2008)*****************

Good news: Aaron Chandler received this week a written letter of apology from the Cayman Islands's Director of Tourism, Ms. Pilar Bush.

"On behalf of the entire Department of Tourism, I apologise for your upsetting experience and want to assure you that the Cayman Islands is a welcoming jurisdiction to all people," Ms Bush wrote to Mr. Chandler. "What happened to you was an isolated incident, and is not representative of Cayman. We know that thousands of gay and lesbian visitors travel to the Cayman Islands every year and enjoy their vacation."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Toronto's Inside Out fest, Lesbos fight Lesbians and Aussies take baby steps toward equality

Toronto's Inside Out Lesbian and Gay Film & Video Festival opens its box office to the general public tomorrow. The festival, now in its 18th year, takes place from May 15 to the 25th. Glancing at this year's schedule, there seem to be a few interesting features worth checking out.

Meanwhile, a friend sent me a link to this amusing news story today. It seems some residents of the island of Lesbos are resentful over the use of the term "lesbians" to denote women who like other women.

Lesbos, of course, is home of the ancient poet Sappho, who praised love between women. Now a group of Lesbos residents have taken a local gay rights group to court for using the word lesbian in its name. One of the plaintiffs said yesterday that the name of the association, 'Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece', "insults the identity" of the people of Lesbos, who are also known as Lesbians.

"My sister can't say she is a Lesbian," said Dimitris Lambrou. "Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos," he said.

I'll watch to see how this amusing court action plays out, but surely they're fighting a losing battle?

And finally, the new Labour government in Australia under Kevin Rudd is taking action to weed out some discrimination against gay couples left on the books by Stephen Harper's conservative buddy, former P.M. John Howard. Still, Rudd's changes fall short of giving Aussie queers full equality under the country's marriage laws. That's a pity.

I haven't seen any Australian polling on the subject of gay marriage, but I imagine opinions are similar to those in the U.S. Like America, it seems that Australia is about 10 or so years behind countries like Canada when it comes to equality. Still, incremental progress is incremental progress. We queers in Canada didn't move from second-class citizenship to full and equal marriage rights in one swoop - we had gradual change too.

I predict we'll see gay marriage in Australia within five to ten years.