Ottawa Xtra

Trump-loving evangelist brings his homophobic, racist rhetoric to Vancouver

1 March 2017 - 4:58pm
As a born-and-bred Vancouverite, I always assumed rain was God’s curse on the city, a punishment for our paganistic worship of craft brews and real estate. But Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelical minister Billy Graham, is setting me straight. “Mr President, in the Bible rain is a sign of god’s blessing,” Graham junior imparted on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. “And it started to rain Mr President when you came to the platform.” That must be why Graham is making a pilgrimage to what is surely the most blessed city in the world. If you haven’t yet heard, in a few days Graham will be headlining Vancouver’s Festival of Hope, a three-day extravaganza full of prayerfulness, Christian rock, and the wholesome comedic stylings of Leland Klassen, Canada’s self-proclaimed “premier clean comedian.” But all that gentle Christian merriment will only layer a transparent veneer over Graham’s brand of hateful preaching. Graham is loud and proud about his repugnant views. Gay people are the enemy who “want to devour our homes; devour our nation.” They don’t adopt children, they “recruit children into [their] cause.” Islam is a “very evil, very wicked religion.” Despite expressing empathy for Syrians, he has consistently praised Putin’s indiscriminate bombing campaigns, and he supports banning Muslim Syrians from entering the US. So Graham is the kind of Christian who wants to love his neighbour as long as they’re not actually, you know, his neighbour. Samaritan's Purse, Graham’s international charitable organization, pays Graham $350,000 . And on top of that, he receives another $669,000 as the head of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, bringing his total annual salary to $1.2 million. In other words, he’s a lot like the American president he so admires: a greedy, loathsome man who owes his success to his father and uses his unearned power to stomp on the marginalized and to enrich himself. Graham’s views are sure to find a welcome home in the hearts of many Vancouverites. Despite vocal opposition from Mayor Gregor Robertson, city councillors and Christian leaders, I’m not naive enough to believe that there aren’t thousands of people in the city who won’t embrace his hateful screeds. But then again, the very fact of the backlash is reason to be optimistic. When Graham did the same song-and-dance in Toronto in 2014, it was barely commented upon, let alone resisted. Vancouver is a city that is still dealing with the legacies of institutionalized racism and homophobia. But it’s also a city where thousands of Muslims and gay people live openly and side-by-side. So I’d like Graham to know that when the rain comes down, as it inevitably will, during his Vancouver visit, it’s not because God is blessing his hate-filled carnival. It rains in Vancouver all the time. Maybe God doesn’t have a problem with us after all.

George Smitherman seeks political comeback

1 March 2017 - 4:58pm
Seven years after leaving Queen’s Park to launch an ultimately unsuccessful bid for mayor of Toronto, George Smitherman is attempting a political comeback, with his announcement that he intends to run for one of the newly-created wards in downtown Toronto in the 2018 municipal election.  First elected in 1999, Smitherman was the first openly gay man to serve in the Ontario legislature, and served as deputy premier, minister of health and minister of energy and infrastructure in the McGuinty Liberal government from 2003 until he left provincial politics. As health minister, Smitherman reintroduced public health coverage in Ontario for gender-confirming surgery after a long campaign by trans activists.  Smitherman says he wants to return to politics to fight for the marginalized, including the queer and trans community.  “The downtown continues to be a place where LGBT people are calling home, amongst them are many that are struggling against marginalization,” Smitherman says over the phone. “I think in particular about the trans community, where I’m proud of the history that I have, but I recognize that collectively we’re all failing to meet the needs of the community.”  “Toronto Centre is home to an increasingly diverse population of LGBT people that have come to Canada as a safe haven. I look forward to continuing my history of queer activism around issues of refugee health,” he adds. One of the most fraught municipal issues the community is dealing with in Toronto is its relationship with the police, in the wake of the Project Marie sting and the ongoing dispute with Black Lives Matter Toronto over police harassment of people of colour, trans people and sex workers.  Smitherman says he hopes he can be a conciliator as a councillor.  “I’m a gay man of a certain age and to some people that’s white privilege and I accept that. I’m also the father of a mixed-race child, and I’m disheartened by the systemic racism . . . that I think is still prevalent in our society,” he says.  “I’m sure that Black Lives Matter and trans people have very legitimate concerns about their treatment and relationship with the police, but I remember the police too. I went to my first Gay Pride in 1986 and the police that were there that day were not a happy police presence,” he says.  “Over time the community worked very hard on the relationship and I think the police did too, so I know improvement is possible,” he adds. “At the end of the day, there are social justice concerns that are legitimate, and I want to be part of helping to bring those to light and finding common ground that’s based on a commitment to progress.” Building consensus will be a new thing for Smitherman, whose hyper-partisan style earned him the nickname “Furious George” in Queen’s Park. He now says he has no desire to return to the legislature, and the non-partisan system at Toronto City Hall is what’s drawing him to municipal politics.  “I don’t want to work in a place where the desks are set up two sword-lengths apart and you wake up in an opposition mentality,” he says. “I look forward to the kind of environment at city hall where you can strike consensus with people who are not necessarily of like point of view on everything.” But, although Smitherman and Mayor John Tory sparred frequently when they sat across the aisle in Queen’s Park, he has no desire to challenge Tory at the polls. “There’s a reasonable prospect in the next election I’ll vote for the mayor, and if I’m elected I’ll look forward for all opportunities possible to work alongside him,” Smitherman says.  After losing the 2010 mayoral race, rumours constantly circulated that Smitherman would run for the federal Liberals, but he was repeatedly passed over for star candidates the party recruited to run in downtown Toronto.  In 2013, Smitherman’s husband Christopher Peloso passed away after a long battle with depression. Since then, Smitherman has been a single father to their two children, Michael and Kayla. He says the city’s services have been important to his family. “As a parent it’s given me a much broader, clearer perspective of a lot of the issues that affect the city,” he says. “I have survived the last three years because of the community that has wrapped itself around me and my kids, that’s our school environment and our after-school programs.”

Out in Ottawa: March 1–15, 2017

1 March 2017 - 4:58pm
Wednesday, March 1 Snowblower  This annual week-long festival is all about promoting gay, bi and queer men’s health and wellness. Established in 2007, and hosted by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, the festival features a series of workshops, activities and parties. This year’s event includes a talk on HPV, the PrEP Pancake Party, the Chomp brunch and more.    Runs until Sunday, March 5. For info on specific events at the festival, visit aco-cso.ca/snowblower.    Finishing the Suit  It’s 1972 and being out and gay can get you jailed, but inside a Jewish tailor’s shop, all secrets are out in the open on the measuring table. For this play written by Lawrence Aronovitch and directed by Joël Beddows, the audience eavesdrops as a tailor remembers and mourns the two great loves of his life.  Runs until Saturday, March 11, various showtimes. The Gladstone Theatre, 910 Gladstone Ave. thegladstone.ca/finishing-the-suit    Saturday, March 4 Filthy Dirty Art Show Opening Night Each year, the local sex shop holds a dirty, sexy group art show featuring the work of many local artists. The opening night is a chance to meet some of the contributing artists, have a drink and maybe buy some art. This year’s show is also a celebration of the store’s 16th anniversary. Funds raised go to the Venus Envy Bursary Fund.  8–11pm. Venus Envy, 226 Bank St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Hella Glitter  Celebrate in a stigma-free environment at this party, hosted by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and Queering613. DJ Dan Valin spins for the dancers, boylesquer Don Jovi performs for the gawkers, and the Ottawa Wolves rugby club helps with the drinks. Glitter encouraged. Proceeds go to programs and services for people living with HIV/AIDS.  10pm–2am. Happy Goat Coffee Co, 35 Laurel St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Sunday, March 12 Major! Film Screening  Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is a black transgender activist who’s been fighting for the rights of trans women of colour for over 40 years. Queering613 and the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women host a screening of Major! a documentary that deals with Griffin-Gracy’s life. The venue is somewhat accessible (the bathrooms are not wheelchair accessible). 3pm. Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Tuesday, March 14 Talking Dirty for Everyone I want to feel your soapy body in the shower. I want to clean you. But not because you’re dirty. Just because I want to feel your soapy body. I mean, you are dirty, but in a good way — Ugh! Sex talk can be tricky. Open to everyone, this workshop is about making talking sexy just as great as sex itself. 6:30pm. Venus Envy, 226 Bank St. venusenvy.ca

If the Liberal government abandons hundreds of LGBT refugees, does anyone care?

28 February 2017 - 1:57pm
What would you do? Imagine for a moment that you were a gay teenager living under a regime that executes people like you. That when your family found out, they subjected you to electroshock therapy. And when you fell in love with an older man, who took advantage of you, the people in your town heard about it, beat you and ostracized you. Would you run away? I would. I’d find any means necessary to get away, even if it meant ending up alone and in an unknown country.  And that’s exactly what what Amirhossein Zolghadri did. He made his way to Turkey, a country that wouldn’t imprison or execute him because of his sexual orientation.  For so many LGBT Iranian refugees, Turkey is a waypoint, a necessary pitstop. But it’s a dangerous one. Zolghadri has been harassed in public. He’s been subjected to abuse. Raped.  But he stayed in Turkey, because Canada made a promise to him. The Canadian government assured him that it would fairly assess whether he was entitled to resettlement in Canada. Canada broke that promise. After a year of processing his application, Canada suddenly told him he’s not welcome. He’s not Syrian. He should apply to the United States instead. And then, President Donald Trump signed his infamous executive order suspending refugee resettlement and banning anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries. Though the fate of that order is uncertain, what is clear is that the American president will do everything in his power to keep people like Zolghadri out of the country. So now Zolghadri sits in his borrowed apartment in a mid-sized Turkish city, painting and thinking. He thinks back with regret to the human smuggler he turned down. And he watches Canadian politicians debate his fate. “There is no door open, no hope,” he told my colleague Dylan Robertson over Skype. “The options to me right now are either suicide or a hunger strike.” If you were him, would you see any other alternatives? The Trudeau government has so far not addressed the fate of hundreds of LGBT Iranians like Zolghadri, despite being pushed to address the question in Parliament. Instead, Ahmed Hussen, the new immigration minister who was himself once a teenage refugee, petulantly objected that he wouldn’t take lessons on compassion from the Conservative Party. With the exception of CBC Radio, the story of hundreds of LGBT Iranians stranded in Turkey has been ignored by Canadian media outlets, though The Guardian and BuzzFeed have gone in-depth on the issue.  I find it hard to believe that if the Harper government had ended a hugely successful LGBT refugee resettlement program, that the Liberal Party and progressives around the country wouldn’t be enraged. We have a special responsibility to people like Zolghadri. He’s stuck in Turkey because of a promise made, then broken, on our behalf.  So what would you do if you made a promise to a vulnerable young man and broke it, leaving him stranded and alone? If you’re the Liberal government, the answer appears to be nothing at all.

Moonlight, trans wrestling and queer sports

28 February 2017 - 1:57pm
[[asset:image:309128 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] Moonlight wins best picture Gay drama Moonlight took best picture at the Oscars this weekend, becoming the first film featuring gay people to win the award. The award was first announced going to the film La La Land, but then hastily corrected during the ceremonies. Read more at Salon.   LGBT teens half as likely to do sports A new study from researchers at the University of British Columbia shows that queer youth are half as likely to participate in sports as straight youth. Researchers say a lack of queer sport role models is at least partly to blame. Read more at the Globe and Mail.   Texas trans boy forced to wrestle against girls, wins Mack Beggs, a teenage boy from Texas, wanted to wrestle against other boys. But because his birth certificate said he is female, he was forced to wrestle against girls. And now that he won, some people are upset that he had an “unfair advantage.” Read more at the Toronto Sun.   Chinese companies target young gay customers While same-sex marriage remains illegal in China, and gay acceptance is still low, Chinese companies are jumping on the opportunity to advertise to gay young people. Supporting LGBT rights makes Chinese companies seem in touch with millenial values. Read more at the Chicago Tribune.   Philippine city finally passes anti-discrimination ordinance After a five year process, the Philippine city of Baguio has finally passed an ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT people. The ordinance faced opposition from national political leaders, including boxing star and politician Manny Pacquiao. Read more at the Baguiao Sun Star.

Are public health recommendations sex-negative? (Part 2)

27 February 2017 - 7:56pm
It’s no secret that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a serious problem and at a historic rise today; but to suggest that the only way to stop transmission is by not having sex or through monogamy isn’t practical at all. It’s also not realistic to say that men who have sex with men (MSM) should just wear condoms to avoid STI transmission. Many STIs can be contracted whether a condom is used or not, PrEP or no PrEP.   We need real solutions that resonate,and that don’t sound so sex-negative.  In looking back at the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s, we learned that taking a more compassionate and light-hearted approach to sexual health resonates with MSM, as opposed to the approach of local health officials in New York who simply stated that HIV was spread by anal and oral sex, justifying the shutdown of bathhouses and other venues where gay men had sex. It didn’t work.  So what can we learn from the past to help create messages that resonate around sexual health and STI prevention today in combating rising transmission rates? First, it’s important to understand that there is a legitimate concern surrounding STIs, and it should be taken seriously. Though STIs today aren’t nearly as devastating as HIV was back in the ’80s and ’90s, they’re still a problem. In 2015, the combined cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia were the highest they’ve ever been in the United States according to the CDC’s annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report. There’s a long tradition in the media of demonizing gay culture, and shaming us for just being. The New York Times was guilty of such misrepresentations in the ’80s during the AIDS epidemic with the headline, “At Homosexual Establishments, a New Climate Of Caution.” In that article they depicted the gay scene as one of pornographic bookshops, sadomasochism clubs and back rooms. Though I’m proud to say that this is a part of gay culture, by only talking about this side of it within the context of the epidemic vilifies our community. We still see this today with the crazed reactions to chemsex, as though drugs with sex was invented by the homosexual. “The chemsex party scene was reimagined as if it was akin to a gay suicide cult,” Richard Smith wrote in Vice, explaining how such a panic in the media has demonized gay men yet again. Our community is still most at risk today. MSM are disproportionately affected by HIV and other STIs). The CDC links HIV and STI rates to us for, among other things apparently having multiple anonymous sex partners and substance use. Although these facts aren’t sex negative in and of themselves, it’s really a matter of how they’re presented. When this information is distilled by media, it can be counterproductive.   With the new drug-resistant strain of gonorrhea (which is found in the highest rates among MSM), the CDC suggests that the only way to avoid or reduce transmission is abstinence, monogamy or wearing a condom every time you have sex. This recommendation doesn’t acknowledge the realities of gay sex, and has the potential to shame and stigmatize men. Since these are some of the messages coming out of public health, of course, to some PrEP has become the supervillain in the fight against STIs. The reason being that some who are taking it are motivated to start PrEP because because they want to have bareback sex, or so they can continue to do so safely. Blaming PrEP, however, does a huge disservice to fighting the STI epidemic, and it becomes a mere scapegoat for the real issues such as lack of comprehensive sex education, and access to testing and treatment.  “When it comes to the wonderful fantasy that people have that PrEP is responsible for the accelerated rates of STIs, that is something that the media has glommed onto and used as click bait on the internet to misguide and distort the facts as they are,” says Damon Jacobs, a renowned PrEP educator living in New York City. STIs were well on the rise before PrEP was commonly used, but there simply aren’t enough people taking PrEP to have that sort of impact.  The Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance in Toronto launched a new website called, The Sex You Want, . It’s an anti-stigma, sex-positive, affirming campaign that delivers information about sexual health to MSM, including trans men.  “People appreciate the tone of the campaign,” Dane Griffiths tells me from Toronto. He is the acting director of Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance, and involved in the development of the campaign. “It doesn’t feel preachy and stigmatizing, and finger waving but it’s friendly, it’s accessible, and that people are enjoying their time on the site.” He compares the experience of reading the information online to talking to a friend, which makes it less clinical and more approachable.      Griffiths confirms that the delivery is just as important as the information being presented, acknowledging that everyone has a different way of learning. For that reason, the campaign includes animated videos, web copy, colorful infographics, and hot sex comics to talk about things like condom use, the meaning of an undetectable viral load and STIs.  The site isn’t just fun — it’s a comprehensive resource. A lot of the content on there was vetted through focus groups with people living with HIV as well as those who are HIV-negative. The creators also worked with 30 different organizations in various communities in Ontario.  “Every piece of biomedical information on the site was vetted through a scientific review committee,” Griffiths explains. What’s best is that they don’t act like sex isn’t an important part of our lives. It’s not something we want to stop having just so we can reduce national STI rates. And I personally don’t need to be told that sex leads to STIs any longer — I get it! We now need real strategies for the type of sex that we’re having.  “The dialogue I don’t think is new, but I think the way in which it’s being presented is fresh and different to other things you would see out in the world,” he adds. It definitely beats those horrible fact sheets. When discussing HIV or STIs, what they’re saying is not necessarily anything that the CDC hasn’t already said but it has more impact because of their down to earth, and relatable. There’s a human quality to the whole campaign. And it’s not fear-mongering.  “Everyone should know better by now than to develop fear based campaigns and messages,” Griffiths tells me, “because they don’t work.”

Afghans, female bosses and the orgasm gap

25 February 2017 - 7:54pm
[[asset:image:309122 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] Study: Orgasm gap comes down to core techniques A new study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour suggests the “orgasm gap” between men and women comes down to core sexual techniques, fingering, oral sex and deep kissing, that help women orgasm. Lesbian participants in the study were shown to orgasm during ex nearly as often as straight men.   UK Home Office to deport gay Afghans Under new guidance from the UK Home Office, gay Afghan refugees can be deported back to their home country, where they are likely to face persecution. One expert summed up the new attitude to refugees as, “Pretend you’re straight, move to Kabul and best of luck.” Read more at the Guardian.   Female bosses more likely to hire LGBT workers In a study at the University of Essex, researchers found that female managers were more likely to pick a resume of an LGBT candidate, while men were more likely to pick straight candidates. The study is the first to show that LGBT candidates could have any advantage — however particular — on the job market. Read more at the Evening Standard.   Trump revokes trans bathroom guidance The Trump whitehouse has reversed a directive, signed by former president Barack Obama, that American schools should let trans kids use the bathrooms of their choice. The reversal dashes some hopes that Trump would be a more progressive Republican on LGBT rights. Read more from Reuters.     Facebook pulls conversion therapy ad Facebook has pulled an advertisement by an evangelical group targeting LGBT people for conversion therapy. The eight-minute video, which depicts a man who has “quit” being gay, amassed 200,000 views before it was taken down. Read more at Gay Star News.

A client wanted me to hold a knife to his throat (Part 1)

24 February 2017 - 10:53pm
I’m standing in a grassy field next to some train tracks in midtown Toronto. Power lines are buzzing above me against a darkening sky. I’m dressed all in black with a balaclava over my head. There’s a guy kneeling in front of me with my dick in his mouth. I’m holding a steak knife to his throat. Twenty minutes earlier, we had met at a seedy 24-hour diner a few blocks away. I’m sitting on one of the orange vinyl stools at the counter, staring into a cup of undrinkable coffee when a short, slight man in his mid-40s dressed in jeans and a denim jacket comes through the door.  He clocks me at the counter, but does a quick survey of the place to confirm that I’m the one he’s there to meet. Realizing I’m the only other person there (besides the condiment-spattered cook sitting on a cardboard box behind the counter), he sits down next to me and flashes a nervous smile, before glancing at the cook. “A coffee?” he says, as if he’s genuinely unsure whether this is possible. The cook grunts, stands and drags himself to the glass carafe that’s probably been sitting on the burner since yesterday.  The cook pours a cup and sets it down so roughly on the counter that a bit spills out. He doesn’t bother to wipe it up. He just turns, grabs two creamers from a bowl next to the coffee machine, drops them next to the cup and waddles back to his box. “So,” I say. “How are you feeling?” “Nervous,” the guy says. “But ready to do this.” “So I’m going to go ahead of you,” I say. “Give me about a 10-minute head start and then you can follow. If you see anyone walking into the field, wait an extra five minutes for them to pass.” “Okay,” he says.  “You’re good then?” I say, standing. He pauses, and swallows.  “Yes,” he says softly. “Great,” I say, punching him softly in the shoulder. “See you on the other side.” I toss some change on the counter for my coffee, head out the door and start making my way towards the train tracks where we’re going to do the scene. As I’m walking, I finger the crumpled pages folded in my pocket. I’ve already memorized them, but I brought them just in case I felt nervous and needed to look them over. Two weeks earlier, he had sent me the whole scenario by email. With complex role-play, I often ask clients to send a written description in advance, both so I can have a chance to study it and to give them a way to put their thoughts in order.  Usually clients send me three or four sentences. This guy sent eight double-spaced pages, including dialogue. He’d even given it a title, “Impending Darkness.” Since my earliest days in the sex business, I’ve always included something about doing unusual requests and fetishes in my profile. This guy (he hadn’t even given me his name, let alone a pseudonym) had called me from a pay phone a month earlier to ask about my ad. He told me he wants to be accosted in a public place, held at knifepoint, and forced to give a blowjob. He’s very ‘discrete’ (code word for closeted) so he doesn’t actually want to be caught. It’s mainly a rape fantasy, with a tiny dash of exhibitionism thrown in.  I’m immediately curious, as it seems like a scenario that could put my performance chops to the test. His script actually includes a back story for my character. Apparently I’m a practised mugger, robbing people on a regular basis. The scenario is that I initially want to rob him, but then when I see he doesn’t have enough money I get mad and force him to suck my dick.  Since it’s in public, we need to find an excuse for why we might be doing what we’re doing in case we’re seen. As a precaution, I’ve suggested that if we do get caught, we say that we’re actors working on a short film and wanted to explore the reality of the characters.  It’s a good excuse for the knife. But the blowjob will be more complicated to explain. But in the event we do get caught, the person is likely to be so confused that we just need to blurt out some quick excuse and then run in different directions to escape. I’d spent a few days biking around, looking at different locations, but this one seemed like the best choice. It’s not a proper park, so it’s less likely to have evening dog walkers passing through. If anything, there might be teenagers, doing whatever. But since it’s around dinner time, it’s a bit too early for that. I cross under a graffiti-scribbled bridge, walk through a parking lot and then pass through a gap in a chain-link fence. From this point on, it’s just a sort of empty space; train tracks on one side and the blank wall of some sort of long building that looks like a disused warehouse on the other. It’s mostly just gravel and sand in the middle, but patches of grass have sprung up on either side. There are a few scrubby bushes near the train tracks, which I’ve decided in advance will be my hiding place.  Masked by the leaves, I turn back in the direction I came and crouch to the ground. Dusk is setting in and the first traces of stars are visible between the clouds. I take the knife out of my jacket pocket, put on a pair of leather gloves, pull a balaclava over my head,and wait, staring back at the break in the fence . . . 

HIV is not a crime, say protesters

24 February 2017 - 10:53pm

Vancouver police have come a long way. That doesn’t mean they should march in Pride

24 February 2017 - 7:52pm
I’m sorry too. I’m sorry that I didn’t have the courage to speak up sooner. My heart sank when I saw the petition to keep Vancouver police in the Pride parade and the racist comments it inspired from some supporters. My heart sank, but I hesitated. Call it caution, call it a desire to carefully hear and consider differing perspectives before I speak out in a heated community debate. I hesitated, even as I ardently wished that the level of racist vitriol swirling through Toronto’s LGBT community hadn’t resurfaced here too. And while I hesitated, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) stepped up. Not fully,  but sufficiently, in my view, to give those of us with a platform a firm push to use it. To use our privilege to support what’s right. “As activists are entitled to do, Black Lives Matter Vancouver has made some pretty clear demands. And, as a result of those demands, their members have faced racist backlash, hate mail, death threats and other forms of violence,” the VPS says in a Facebook statement posted Feb 22, 2017. The VPS “condemns that type of behaviour unequivocally” and says the backlash makes it clear “that there is a significant amount of anti-Blackness and racism within our LGBTQ2+ community.” “This is not okay, and we must all do our part to speak out against it whenever we see it. The Vancouver Pride Society acknowledges we have not been quick to act in the past, and for this we are sorry.” So am I. “All the people who are posting hateful things, they’re adding to the need for us to step up for allyship,” VPS co-executive director Andrea Arnot tells Xtra. Last week, in the context of supporting the call to keep uniformed police in the Pride parade, someone invoked the name of late community leader Jim Deva and asked what he would think of kicking the police out after all his hard work to build bridges with them. If Deva were still alive, I think he’d be the first to say that he reached out to the Vancouver Police Department strategically, as a means to an end — and that end was to get the protection we deserve as a community. For all members of our community. Not just the ones who have been embraced into society’s fold since 2001, when Aaron Webster was murdered in Stanley Park. Back then, in the aftermath of that fatal gaybashing, the Vancouver Police Department was less than enthusiastic about the gay community as a whole. I remember covering the VPD’s reluctance to recruit potential new officers at Pride, despite its recruitment efforts at non-gay community events and its then-urgent need for more staff, especially from minority groups. “It’s more of a Mardi Gras affair,” the head of their recruitment team told me in 2001, using barely veiled code for Pride’s too gay. “It’s not the typical type of forum that we would attend.” I also remember covering the VPD’s repeated mishandling in the early 2000s of gaybashings, which officers often dismissed as random assaults rather than targeted, homophobia-fuelled attacks. Into that framework, Deva deliberately reached out, helped form a liaison committee and opened communication between our community and the police to educate the institution and teach its members how to better understand, serve and protect LGBT people. And in that framework, Deva and other community members without a doubt made significant progress, and were willingly joined, as time went on, by more and more Vancouver police officers from all ranks all the way up to the top. The changes Deva helped foster continue to this day. Of the gaybashings we’ve covered in recent years, most are well handled by a more diverse team of sensitized, educated police officers, who recognize them for what they are and investigate them accordingly. But clearly, while many members of our community finally feel they can rely on the police to serve us as they should, and are ready to forgive and embrace the VPD and even walk side by side with its officers at Pride, some members of our community are still targeted and harassed. And they deserve justice too. They don’t deserve to be silenced or admonished to toe the party line, especially when they have yet to be fully invited to the party. I don’t pretend for a second to know what it feels like to live as black and queer in Vancouver or anywhere. But I can learn to listen. And what I hear right now is that some members of our community are still targeted and mistreated by police and don’t want to walk quietly and complacently alongside them in a celebration that doesn’t genuinely value and reflect all queer lives. What I hear from black members of our community, from people of colour, indigenous people, trans people and others within our community is that many feel excluded from a celebration that should embrace them. What I hear is that the work Deva started is important but not done. How could it be done until all members of our community feel safe, welcome and heard? Remembering Deva’s commitment to the more marginalized community members among us, I believe he would stand with Black Lives Matter Vancouver and ask police to respectfully step fully back from Pride to embrace this opportunity for meaningful continued learning and growth. As should we all. I am grateful to the courageous members of Black Lives Matter and everyone else who has boldly stood up, against a storm of protest, to share their lived experiences and to demand the room they are due at our community table and in our flagship parade that was once an angry protest against oppressive institutions, including the police, as well as a celebration of our courage and freedom to love. It’s a great achievement that so many LGBT police officers now feel comfortable openly celebrating their Pride too, and that so many community members now feel protected and well served by a more diverse and supportive police force that we helped educate. But it’s not enough. The work that Deva did remains incomplete as long as some of us are excluded from what should be, first and foremost, a space devoted to our community. “When it comes down to it, the people who are the most marginalized and the most vulnerable have to be listened to,” Arnot says. I strongly believe that Deva would agree. I do, and I’m sorry it took me so long to say so.

What does a tailor shop have to do with queer relationships?

24 February 2017 - 7:52pm
Queer playwright Lawrence Aronovitch and his husband, director Joël Beddows, have teamed up to stage Finishing the Suit, premiering at the Gladstone in Ottawa on March 1, 2017. Their previous collaboration, 2011’s The Lavender Railroad, resulted in three Prix Rideau awards, including best director for Beddows.  The new play takes place in a Jewish tailor’s shop and centres on a tailor finishing a morning suit as he reminisces and mourns about two men he loved. Aronovitch discusses his new play, working with his husband and the Duke of Windsor in this edited interview.   Xtra: When you first met Joël, did you have any inkling you’d one day be referred as a “powerhouse duo” or an “award-winning” team?   Lawrence Aronovitch: Ah, no. We both work in the theatre and we’ve had the occasion to twice work on the same project and it’s gone quite well in both instances. It’s a professional relationship that works. The fact that there’s a personal relationship is actually not part of the equation in this context, other than we all have personal relationships with people we work with in the theatre and hopefully we get along with them and are able to create good theatre together.   You’ve said Finishing the Suit originated with a conversation with a tailor in Dublin who was going to make the suits for your wedding. What was it about that conversation that sparked the idea for this play?   He was telling stories about his life, career and his plans for the future, which from his perspective were looking a bit dim because this is a profession that he didn’t think had much future. Who goes to tailors to make suits anymore? Who wears suits anymore? He was very much casting himself as the last of his kind and there was something that struck me as a bit bittersweet about that aspect of his story. I thought I could take the metaphor of making a suit and get a story out of it. That tailor in Dublin isn’t my tailor [in the play]. My tailor is a Jewish tailor from the lower east side in New York City.   The play is set in 1972, back when homosexuality was against the law. How does the history of the criminalization of being queer inform LGBT relationships today? One of the reasons I thought it would be interesting to set the play as I had is to try and understand what it must have been like back then. I also set it in 1972 because that’s the year the Duke of Windsor died and the tailor used to make suits for him. Coming a few years after the Stonewall riots in New York City, it [gives us a chance] to reflect on what things were like. What kind of relationship was possible to have if you were a gay man? That’s what the tailor is reflecting on as he grapples with his own personal history.   The Duke of Windsor is still someone people talk about, especially with The Crown on Netflix. What made you want to write about him? I wanted my tailor to be one of the world’s great tailors making the greatest of suits, so I looked for someone in mid-20th—century history who personified the wearing of the perfect suit. I think many people would agree that whatever else his life might have represented, as depicted in The Crown or elsewhere, the Duke of Windsor sure knew how to wear a suit.   Anything you’d like to add? I have been so excited to work with all of the people involved with this project. The rehearsal process has been astonishingly wonderful for me as the playwright. The script got completely rewritten as a result of the kinds of questions that the director and actors and designers and stage managers and producers brought to the table. There’s no question in my mind whatsoever that the script, as it stands today, is far stronger than it was the first time these people sat around the table together. Everyone was so invested in making the work as good as it could possibly be. To the extent that it is successful, that really is due to everyone’s efforts.

Vancouver Pride condemns racist backlash against BLM and apologizes for slow response

23 February 2017 - 7:50pm
The Vancouver Pride Society has apologized for its slow response to “anti-Blackness and racism within our LGBTQ2+ community,” in its monthly newsletter released on Feb 22, 2017. The apology follows a meeting that VPS board members and executive directors had with members of Black Lives Matter Vancouver, who presented examples of the racist comments they’ve endured since asking Pride to oust police from the parade.   At the Feb 21 meeting, members of BLMV showed the VPS screenshots of death threats, racist, violent and hateful comments that had been posted to various social media channels. The VPS unequivocally condemned the backlash against BLMV and called it “absolutely not acceptable,” both in its newsletter and in a Facebook statement posted the same day. “As activists are entitled to do, Black Lives Matter Vancouver has made some pretty clear demands. And, as a result of those demands, their members have faced racist backlash, hate mail, death threats and other forms of violence,” the VPS states. “This is absolutely not acceptable, and the Vancouver Pride Society condemns that type of behaviour unequivocally. “These events, along with comments we have read on social media, news stories, and in correspondence we have received, make it clear that there is a significant amount of anti-Blackness and racism within our LGBTQ2+ community,” the VPS continues. “This is not okay, and we must all do our part to speak out against it whenever we see it. The Vancouver Pride Society acknowledges we have not been quick to act in the past, and for this we are sorry.” VPS co-executive director Andrea Arnot elaborated by phone. “All the people who are posting hateful things, they’re adding to the need for us to step up for allyship,” she tells Xtra. “When people make hateful comments like that it reinforces that, yes, there is actually a problem out there.” If the commenters’ goal was to tear down or undermine BLMV’s stance, their comments have had the opposite effect, she says. Arnot says the VPS had already been monitoring its social media channels and comments posted by community members, but seeing all the hate directed at BLMV and others in one place was “very impactful” for the board of directors, Arnot says. “It brought to light that there is racism and, as BLM put it, anti-blackness, happening within all these conversations, so they asked us to make a statement. They said they need help from people who are in positions of power and privilege, who have a voice to make those statements and be firm about them.” In its newsletter and Facebook post, the VPS also updated the community on suggestions they made to police earlier this month regarding their participation in the 2017 Pride parade. “We know the Parade in 2017 needs to be different to make everyone feel safer, so we have made some suggestions,” the VPS says. “These were inspired by Black Lives Matter Vancouver's open letter from 2016, as well as community consultations that have taken place over the past six months.” The VPS says it has asked the Vancouver Police Department to march in t-shirts rather than in uniform; to reduce its presence among the City of Vancouver’s other civic services (since police have at times represented up to 45 percent of the City’s parade entry); to enter fewer vehicles in the parade; and to commit to “further meaningful engagement” with populations who feel unsafe at the parade. Arnot says the VPS is still seeking a solution that will allow for some police participation but with a smaller footprint. She says she is mindful that some community members are proud of their positive relationships with law enforcement, but she says Vancouver is no exception to the systemic transphobia, homophobia, racism and sexism still permeating powerful institutions such as the police. “There are many members of the queer community who can remember a time when they were scared of police, and we are working really hard to have police participate and to have them want to participate. But when it comes down to it, the people who are the most marginalized and the most vulnerable have to be listened to.” Spokespersons for BLMV declined to comment for this story, opting instead to address the VPS’ police suggestions in a Facebook Live video on Feb 22. “Hopefully we can have a conversation around the police responsibilities to the LGBTQ community, and how they can show that to us moving forward with these events,” BLMV co-founder Daniella Barreto said online. Barreto noted the Halifax police as a positive example of stepping out of their local Pride parade for the good of the community. She hopes Vancouver police show up without their uniforms and step out of the parade too, so that everyone can feel safe. “All the backlash from people saying that they have worked hard to forge relationships with the police — if those relationships are real, then police officers with whom they have relationships . . . will show up without their uniforms to support these communities at these events. They should step out [of the parade] so that everyone can feel safe,” she said. Co-founder Cicely-Belle Blain added that BLMV’s ultimate goal remains the complete removal of police from the Pride parade. In a Feb 9 email, Staff Sergeant Randy Fincham, media spokesperson for the VPD, told Xtra that police are planning to participate in the Pride parade. “The VPD is looking forward to working with our community partners with Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver Pride Society, and have our volunteers and civilian and sworn staff walk with pride for our 21st year in the 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade,” he wrote.

Pink Triangle Press names David Walberg as executive director

23 February 2017 - 4:50pm
David Walberg has been named the next executive director of Pink Triangle Press (PTP). Wallberg, who is currently the company’s chief digital executive, will take over the ED position on April 3, 2017. “David Walberg will lead Pink Triangle Press with tremendous energy and skill,” says Gillian Rodgerson, a member of PTP’s board of directors. “His accomplishments as an activist and as a publisher, and his imaginative approach to our work, made him the right choice.” During his more than 25-year-career with PTP, Walberg has led major initiatives on both the journalism and business sides of the organization. A former editor-in-chief and publisher of Xtra in Toronto, Walberg helped bring Xtra online and introduced in-house video production at PTP. He was also a co-creator of Squirt.org, an online dating and hookup service for gay men, that has become the primary revenue source for PTP. In recent years, Walberg has led the latest round of strategic planning for PTP that has brought financial stability to the Press, making it one of the few digital journalism enterprises in Canada that is sustainable and financially independent to strive for sexual freedom and champion LGBT rights. Walberg will take the reins at a time of renewed growth at PTP. Squirt.org continues its international expansion, while Xtra expands its audience engagement, having shifted to an entirely digital journalism operation after print editions in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa ceased publication in 2015. Walberg will be the second executive director in PTP’s history. He is taking over for Ken Popert, who has led the organization since 1986. Popert, who began writing for Xtra’s predecessor The Body Politic in 1973, has helped see PTP through a number of financial and legal challenges. He was one of three journalists charged with publishing obscene materials in 1977 after the publication of “Men Loving Boys Loving Men.” All three were cleared after lengthy court fights. When Popert announced his retirement in May 2016, he expressed hope that PTP would continue to fight for sexual liberation. “There has to be somebody who speaks with a logical and clear voice about sexual issues,” Popert says. “So there’s still a very big piece of work there that somebody’s got to do. And it can’t be just us alone, but I would hope that the Press would continue to be a voice for a logical discussion of sexuality.”

Out in Toronto: Feb 23–March 1, 2017

23 February 2017 - 1:50pm
Thursday, Feb 23 Women Who Kill  Morgan and ex-girlfriend Jean run a true crime podcast. They may or may not still have feelings for each other, and one of them may or may not be a serial killer. Ingrid Jungermann’s very funny feature film screens as part of the Insight Out LGBT Film Festival’s More Play Screening Series. The venue is accessible. 7:30pm. TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St W. For more info, visit Facebook.  [[asset:image:309110 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":[" Ingrid Jungermann\u2019s feature film, Women Who Kill, screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Feb 23, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy The Film Collaborative"]}]] The Elephant Girls  History buff Margo MacDonald’s award-winning play is based on a real-life, all-woman gang that existed in London, England, from about 1870 to 1950. The one-woman show features MacDonald in the guise of Maggie, the gang’s tough-as-nails enforcer.  Runs until Saturday, Feb 25, various showtimes. Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St W. For more info, visit Facebook.  [[asset:image:282412 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The Elephant Girls runs at Red Sandcastle Theatre until Feb 25, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Andrew Alexander"]}]] The 38th Rhubarb Festival The local queer theatre’s annual festival of new works returns for a week or so of creativity, poignancy and nonsense. According to billing, it’s “the place to see the most adventurous ideas in performance.”  Includes a youth movie night and the Rhubarb Haunted House.  Runs until Sunday, Feb 26, various showtimes. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com    My Night with Reg  A tale of London’s gay community in the mid-1980s (AIDS crisis included), British playwright Kevin Elyot’s piece follows a group of friends over several years. Studio 180 Theatre’s Joel Greenberg directs the Toronto production of this Olivier Award—winning bittersweet comedy. The venue is mostly accessible (visit website for more information). Runs until Sunday, Feb 26, various showtimes. Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St. mirvish.com [[asset:image:309113 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["My Night with Reg runs at the Panasonic Theatre until Feb 26, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Cylla von Tiedemann"]}]] Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience To Mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, Cree visual artist Kent Monkman’s exhibit of paintings, drawings and sculptures gives his take on the story of Canada. The story goes back well before confederation and includes a humorous and searing critique of Canada’s colonial past.   Runs until Saturday, March 4. Art Museum at the University of Toronto, 15 King’s College Cir. artmuseum.utoronto.ca [[asset:image:309011 {"mode":"full","align":"null","field_asset_image_caption":["\u201cSeeing Red\u201d is one of Cree artist Kent Monkman\u2019s works at his new exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, which runs until March 4, 2017 at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Kent Monkman"]}]] The Bodyguard  When bodyguard Frank Farmer starts protecting superstar Rachel Marron from a stalker, they both get more than they expected — in the love department. Based on the well-loved movie, this musical includes Whitney Houston power ballads and shirtless male backup dancers. The venue is mostly accessible (visit website for more information). Runs until Sunday, April 9, various showtimes. Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St. mirvish.com  Saturday, Feb 25 Meaty Tuck 3  Performers Fay Slift and Fluffy Soufflé host a body-positive night of dancing and fun for “all meaty tuckers, big booty babes, chubsters, queers, misfits, kweens and friends.” The venue is mostly accessible (there are no buttons to open the front door or the accessible washroom door).  10pm–1am. Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Tuesday, Feb 28 BYOV Motown: Bring Your Own Vinyl  Bring the Motown albums you want to hear to the local bookshop-cafe-car and when you make a drink, food or book purchase, you get to request that a song be added into the rotation. Then DJ Chiclet mixes everyone’s selections together. James Fowler hosts this laid-back evening. 7:30–10pm. Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook. 

How can Canada respond when the world goes nuts?

22 February 2017 - 7:47pm
With all the political insanity that’s accrued in the United States since President Donald Trump won the election in November 2016, there are many within our community who have criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not taking the opportunity during his visit to the White House on Feb 13 to lambaste the US president as a dangerous racist sex offender. Leaving aside the likelihood that these critics would have also called Trudeau a hypocrite for doing so, there’s little to gain for Canadians if Trudeau were to take that tack. Sure, we could all enjoy a momentary perch on the moral high ground for calling out the president’s depravity. But ultimately, we’d be left with our prime minister having angered a famously temperamental man who’s known for his efforts to destabilize those who anger him.  It feels good to say “damn the consequences, this is about what’s right!” But the fact is that the consequences of Trump pulling any of the retaliatory levers available to him could be drastic. A trade war or border shut down — even the threat of one — would devastate the Canadian economy. We are uniquely exposed to the whims of the US president, with $400 billion of our exports — about 20 percent of the whole economy — destined for US markets.  Sparking a row with Trump will do very little to help women and minorities in the US; in fact, it’s likely to backfire. And it could make things a lot worse for minorities in Canada.  Trade, border or immigration wars with Canada would have crippling effects across our country. And any economic downturn would have the worst impact on Canada’s most vulnerable, including many queer people and the working poor, who tend to have precarious employment to begin with.  Moreover, by keeping an open line with the US government, Trudeau may be able to leverage a relationship to protect Canadians in the US — for example, by lobbying for Canadian Muslims or queer people who find trouble at the border.  Of course, I’m not letting Trudeau off the hook either. Canada should stand up for its values and show leadership in these times by setting the example.  In the near term, this should include working with Parliament and senators to advance the trans rights bill that’s currently stuck in the Senate, and the repeal of the sodomy law which hasn’t advanced beyond first reading. As the US government and several states target and eliminate LGBT rights, Canada should continue to show the alternate path. And as the government moves forward with plans to make identity documents more inclusive of trans Canadians, it will also need to have the ear of someone in Washington to ensure that, for example, trans people’s passports are accepted at the border.  On the issue of refugees, Canada should immediately move to accept more refugees, to put substance on the thus far empty words Trudeau tweeted in the wake of Trump’s “Muslim ban.” Xtra’s ongoing investigation into the shutdown of LGBT Iranian refugees and its consequences have brought the issue to attention, but the fact that Canada done nothing to address it is an absolute embarrassment and should spark an immediate reversal of policy. Expanding the private sponsorship program could also help move refugee claims more quickly.  Such measures, when played correctly, could actually have an impact in the United States. Photos and videos of Trudeau welcoming Syrian refugees played all over American news — and even on The Daily Show — last year. Continuing to be that counterpoint to the immigration hysteria in the US could move the needle on public opinion. Further efforts, such as a temporary suspension of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which bans refugees from entering Canada at regular border crossings, should also be seriously considered to stem a growing humanitarian crisis as refugees make the trek across the border on foot in the Canadian winter.  Trudeau should also slow plans to legislate for expanding the powers of the US border patrol at Canadian airports. While we can hope that this disaster of a presidency will be short, Canadians need to prepare for possibility that we may need to live with Trump for the long haul. The best defense for our values of inclusion and openness will be for us to demonstrate them fully ourselves.

Out in Vancouver: Feb 23–March 1, 2017

22 February 2017 - 4:47pm
Thursday, Feb 23 Lights Out Until this body is summer ready — I’m not committing to which summer — the beach is out, and what I need is a nice dimly lit space. Or better yet, completely dark. This infamous night, when the lights are lower than a burnt-out nightlight, is a great place to undo, unwind and unload, if you know what I mean. Keep the towel on or go au naturel as you work your way around, feeling with whatever part of you sticks out the furthest. A great night for the shy or the first time visitor and, don’t worry, if you happen to walk into something warm, wet and furry, just go with the flow. It’s probably DJ Gingerbear Todd. 4pm–4am. Steamworks Baths, 123 W Pender St. Weekday rates start at $13. steamworksbaths.com/vancouver/   Imelda Mae Santos Benefit Show One of the village’s own is down and the village queens are throwing a fundraiser to help out. Imelda Mae Santos recently had heart bypass surgery and is in slow recovery. The entry donation will go towards her recovery costs, so every bit counts. Hosted by Myria and Miss M, you will see some of the city’s finest entertainers, who always show up to help out with every benefit large or small. Show your support and donate what you can. Doors 6:30pm, show 7:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Entrance by donation. junctionpub.com/events/benifiet-for-imelda-mae-santos/   Friday, Feb 24 Imperial Turnabout Anyone who has dealt with a coronation of emperor or empress knows how confusing the court system can be. This is only more true at the actual events, where there are too many people in charge (or who think they should be in charge). But for all of us out front, the show goes off seamlessly — if you’re lucky. In the burgeoning beginning of the Imperial Courts, the key element of “camp drag” was used by both monarchs. In 1971, the founders set out to educate that the “title” and the “office” of emperor and empress were two different things. But when combined, the results were designed to make your experience both purposeful and humanitarian. Hosted by Miss M, with DJ Drew providing the music, this night of performances may make you feel like you are back at the ball. Doors 8pm, show 9pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $5. junctionpub.com/events/imperial-turnabout/   Spectrum Volume  2 I was telling a friend of mine about this event and mentioned that Ingrid Hakanson, Skylar Love, Patrick Kelly, guest dancers and performance artists were all involved. He asked if all these people would be giving a demonstration on stage, and I realised he was still gun shy after I sent him to a sex workshop last time, and he thought I had said this event was Speculum Volume 2. No such luck, Roger. This is an event of diversity and inclusivity. It doesn’t matter what your gender or sexual preference is, how much money you make, your religion or your ethnicity . . . all that matters is that you bring a positive attitude and nothing but respect for yourself, those around you and the space you occupy. The music will unite all. 9pm–2:30am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Tickets $12 at door. facebook.com/events/1239093319477723/   Saturday, Feb 25 Wild Fruit Queer Dance Party I love Saturday nights for partying; weekdays I get up at an ungodly hour when most of you haven’t even got your date’s pants off yet. Some friends forget that Friday is actually a weekday, so by the time I meet you to go out I’ve probably been up 16 hours. It’s not that I’m not interested in who is talking to me, it’s that I’m sleeping standing up. So tonight is the night, and where do I pick? A Flygirl party. Yes, it is a women’s party, but all are invited and the place usually rocks. Tonight it’s also in a new venue so get out and support one of the longest running parties in town. 10pm–3am. The Odyssey, 686 W Hastings St. Tickets $12 at flygirlproductions.com and eventbrite.ca. facebook.com/events/901102789992892   DJ G-Luve & Bikes 1181 has had every kind of night you can imagine, so why not a night to pedal a bike to power Alma B Itches spotlight? That girl needs a lot of light. Sorry, fitness junkies, but this is not that kind of show. Tonight you have a DJ who was dropped from the womb at a house party, probably to some funky house music, and a DJ who has been playing gigs around South Africa — a match made in heaven. Come enjoy something new at a spot with a metropolitan atmosphere and a contemporary, urban attitude. 10pm–3am. 1181, 1181 Davie St. No cover. facebook.com/events/264583167300886/   Absolulty Dragulous Anniversary The old gal has been around the village for years, entertaining us all. It’s hard to say who has had more of Carlotta Gurl’s crotch to the face, the ones who see the cartwheels up close or the groupies at the door after the show. It’s definitely a close call, but I’m going with the cartwheels. And tonight being the sixth anniversary show, I’m sure there will be much more than one thrown in. You just know every queen in town will drop by for a number or two, so don’t wake up Sunday and find out that this was the show of the year and you missed it — because that gurl will track you down. Doors 9pm, show 10:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $7. junctionpub.com/events/absolutly-drag-u-lous-2017-02-25/   Sunday, Feb 26 Teenage Lust Oh god, remember teenage lust? I spent two years using my textbooks to hide the continuous erection. Well, actually it was a book of maps, and I had been out of school for a long time. I guess that’s why I can’t go to the library without getting all hot and sweaty every time I pick up a book. The Sleepy Girls are back for round two of their show. Who was your first crush? What did they smell like? What did you imagine them doing to you? You’d better delve into the farthest reaches of your spank bank for this one. You’ll get stories about crushes; you'll get nostalgic performances that explore that awkward time in life. Not only will you get drag queens, but Karmella Barr and Kevin Bloomfield as guests, along with Rogue Queen, S-Stud and Pu$$y Melk. 8:30–11:30pm. Displace Hashery, 3293 W 4th  Ave. Cover $10 at door. facebook.com/events/315860125478298/   The Oscars Viewing Party This ageless doll has been around so long she posed for the original Oscar statue. Grab off the wig and you’ll see the resemblance is uncanny. For as long as I can remember, which these days is not long, Conni Smudge has been the go-to girl to host this annual Oscar party. You have not lived until you’ve had a few drinks and heard her Red Carpet Dish. Do your research, fill in your ballot and see if you’re right. The most correct ballot will pick up $100 and runner up $50. And yes, $100 will fit in Conni’s bra, along with your coat, slippers, and overnight items. Doors 3pm, Red Carpet Dish 4pm, Oscars 5:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. No cover. facebook.com/events/1361137523948445/   Monday, Feb 27 QueerProv Monday: Fruit Bowl You probably need a bit of cheering up after not one of your picks was right for the Oscars, but don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Although last year I only got one wrong, so there is hope for you yet. Fruit Bowl is back with two teams pitted (get it?) against each other, and The Funsies returning to defend their title. Fruit Bowl is hosted by the one and only big fruit, Dan Dumsha, improv comedian and teacher — and might I add a hottie. 8–9:30pm. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. No cover. facebook.com/events/402810770050548/   B-Roll: Pokemon Okay, so B-Roll has done Sex in the City, Harry Potter and Mean Girls just to name a few, but now they’re messing with the phenomenon of the year, Pokemon. I can’t wait to see Dee Blew as Jigglypuff or Jane Smokr as Jessie. Since these are drag queens doing Pokemon characters, will they still have their coloured hankie in the back pocket? I bet Jane has the coveted Rocket Snorlax hidden on her somewhere. Does Pokemon yellow stand for pee? I’ll have to go take notes; the game will never be the same. 9pm–12am. The Penthouse Night Club, 1019 Seymour St. Tickets $10 at eventbrite.ca or $12 at door. facebook.com/events/1843319305909177/   Answer Me If you’re like me, useless things just keep getting stuck in your brain. I had to stop watching Jeopardy because I would yell out an answer and scare my husband right off the couch. If you’ve got a stockpile of facts that range from useless to impressive lodged in your brain then head to the first edition of The Big Fat Frigging Quiz, hosted by Shanda Leer, with questions from general news, science, arts, music and more. Registration 7:30 pm, Trivia 8–9pm. The American, 926 Main St. No cover. facebook.com/events/165833030578521/   Tuesday, Feb 28 The Stunt Queen Tour With Mykki Blanco Michael David Quattlebaum Jr, better known by the stage name Mykki Blanco, is an American rapper, performance artist, poet and activist. Mykki brings his debut solo album "Mykki" on The Stunt Queen Tour with Cakes Da Killa and DJ Skylar Love.  9pm–1am. Fortune Sound Club, 147 East Pender St. Tickets $17 at fortunesoundclub.electrostub.com/event.cfm?id=178707. Info at facebook.com/events/1215477075204358/   Magic Mic With all the political ridiculousness going on around us, one good thing happening this year is the resurgence of comedy and amateur nights. Come in, turn off your cerebral cortex and just laugh till you cry, or bond with a song. You never know what is going to happen, so just let it. Hosted by Steev Letts and Oil Maughan, who are calling for comedians, musicians, and all performance acts. Sign up starts at 7:30pm and pros, amateurs and first timers are all welcome. 7–10pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. No cover. facebook.com/events/422946591430414/   Wednesday, March 1 In Penumbra This new multimedia Kinesis Dance work is inspired by the search for Utopia, how the insatiable desire to reach paradise brings out both the best and the worst in us, and the penumbra — the grey area between light and darkness — that clouds our quest for enlightenment. As part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, this intricate, experimental choreography is executed by a powerhouse ensemble of fearless dancers: Elissa Hanson, Renée Sigouin, Hyoseung Ye, Arash Khakpour, and Diego Romero. Tonight until Saturday, March 4 at 8pm. Scotiabank Dance Centre, 677 Davie St. Tickets $20 at kinesisdance.org/project/penumbra/.   Elbow Room Café: The Musical If you’ve ever eaten at The Elbow Room Café you’ll understand when I say to run, get up and run, or you risk snorting your drink out your nostrils because you can hear the next table getting torn a new one for asking for a coffee refill. Girl, we know better than to ask for anything. They took the order, and they brought it; what more do you want? If you didn’t want a bitchy server, you should have stayed home. This is the play in which Allan Zinyk leads a cast of campy misfits, drag queens, and the perpetually hung over. Written by Peach Cobblah’s alter ego, Dave Deveau, it shows he’s not just a pretty face in a frock. This is a hit. Tonight and Thursday, March 2, 8pm;  March 3–4 and 7–11 at 8pm; March 4, 5, 11 and 12, 2pm. York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr. Tickets $10–44 at thecultch.com. More info at thecultch.com/events/elbow-room-the-musical/

Vancouver Pride says all options still open regarding police at parade

22 February 2017 - 1:46am
The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) is still deliberating police involvement in the 2017 parade and no petition outweighs any other form of community feedback, organizers say. The VPS received a petition on Feb 20, 2017, supporting fully uniformed police in this year’s parade. The petition runs counter to Black Lives Matter Vancouver’s online call for the complete removal of police. The counter-petition is spearheaded by Vancouver Gay Liberation Front co-founder Gordon Hardy, gay journalist Kevin Dale McKeown, trans and sex worker rights advocate Velvet Steele, and trans Métis two-spirit elder Sandy-Leo Laframboise, according to a media release. Hardy says local Black Lives Matter organizers have yet to prove that the relationship between the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and people of colour is as abusive here as it is elsewhere. “We know that relations between black communities and the police have been very fraught in American cities and we know that there have been instances of tension between the black community in Toronto and the police service,” he says. “It seems to me it’s up to them [BLM] to make their argument, provide verified examples of police harassment or abuse towards members of Vancouver’s black community, not the reverse.” Hardy says having the police and representatives of an elected city government, as well as churches, unions and other city services and politicians, march in Pride, represents the LGBT community’s progress from a time when such partnerships were unthinkable. He is not persuaded by the argument that these institutions historically disenfranchise some of the groups represented by BLM. “I’m sorry, I have to disagree. They can vote. They’re franchised. It depends how you see Canada, is it a racist oppressive society or is it an enlightened social democracy?” Hardy says he thinks most Canadians see Canada as a non-oppressive social democracy — “and that is one of the reasons we welcome the police.” For Laframboise, the parade is no longer a protest march but a show of progress. “While I understand BLM has suffered a lot of injustices and they are a marginalized group just like the queer community, the VPD was working with the LGBT community when the Toronto police were raiding the bathhouses in Toronto in the ’80s,” Laframboise contends. “I can’t say that this group suffered more than that group; what I can say is I suffered my own share. Did I fear them when I was being beaten, chased, misgendered by the police, absolutely. But it didn’t stop me from working with them. The parade is not the place to offer trauma counselling. ” According to Hardy, the counter-petition had 2,599 signatures when a printed copy was delivered to the VPS office on Monday. After receiving the printed petition, the VPS released a statement on Facebook scolding the counter-petition group for inviting media to their offices to film the presentation, suggesting this was disrespectful and could have potentially endangered some marginalized VPS staff and volunteers who may not be out. “We also want to be clear that while petitions can play a role in community consultation, important issues — especially those concerning human rights — are not always a popularity contest,” the VPS says in its Facebook post. “Vancouver Pride will continue to engage in respectful dialogue with any group, organization or individual who wishes to do so,” it adds. VPS co-executive director Andrea Arnot tells Xtra that all information will be taken into consideration. “Any feedback people have given us, including petitions, we take all information in at this point and we are reading it, we are discussing it and will all become part of our decision-making process,” she says. As Xtra has previously reported, the VPD is planning to participate in the 2017 parade, despite decisions by both Halifax and Toronto police to withdraw. Arnot says the VPS is still working with police to determine their level of involvement. But, she says, nothing is off the table while the VPS is still considering all feedback. “We haven’t made a decision, we are in process and anyone who wants to give us feedback is welcome.” She says anyone can request a meeting, send an email or comment online. “We are just asking people with strong feelings on both sides to please be respectful of everyone,” she says. “Everyone is a human being, we are all part of the larger community of Vancouver but part of a queer community. The comment sections on news articles and social media are horrific and vulnerable groups don’t need that. I saw a comment saying, ‘you need to be killed.’ We are asking people who have strong opinions to please be respectful in your opinions and not attack others personally.” 

Sherlock Holmes, homosexual detective

21 February 2017 - 7:45pm
In August 1889, fresh from the modest success of his 1887 debut consulting detective story, A Study in Scarlet, which featured the fictional private detective Sherlock Holmes, Doyle was invited to a dinner party with Oscar Wilde and John Marshall Stoddart, managing editor of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. During this dinner, Stoddart convinced Doyle to write his second book, The Sign of Four, which also included the character of Sherlock Holmes. Wilde also agreed to write a novel for the magazine — The Picture of Dorian Gray. Both were published in 1890. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most well-known fictional detectives, with Guinness World Records listing him as the most portrayed literary human character in TV and film history. Doyle wrote 56 short stories and four novels featuring Holmes, who was so popular that many people thought his character was actually real.  Holmes’ powers of deduction may have been inspired by real-life surgeon Dr Joseph Bell of the University of Edinburgh Infirmary, whom Doyle had once served as an outpatient clerk, but it’s not a huge leap to say Doyle borrowed Holmes’ aestheticism from Oscar Wilde. Sherlock Holmes, after all, is one of a long line of aesthetic, homosexual detectives. Doyle drew inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe’s private eye, C Auguste Dupin, introduced in The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841. Historian Graham Robb details the encoded homosexuality of Dupin in Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century. We learn that “a variety of untoward events” have reduced Dupin to poverty, and he now only goes out at night. The narrator of The Murders in the Rue Morgue meets Dupin in an “obscure library” and writes how he.“felt my soul enkindled within me by the wild fervour, and the vivid freshness of his imagination. Seeking in Paris the objects I then sought, I felt that the society of such a man would be to see a treasure beyond price; and this feeling I frankly confided to him. It was at length arranged that we should live together during my stay in the city.”  Having listed the signifiers for Dupin, Robb soon turns his sights on the Baker Street detective. Robb’s signifiers for Holmes are quite extensive. In The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, Holmes claims to be related to Arabic Orientalist Horace Vernet, and tells his friend, Dr Watson, that Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”  In Doyle’s first short story A Scandal in Bohemia, Watson observes that Holmes “was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.” The softer passion being those for women. In fact, the only woman to whom Holmes shows any respect is Irene Adler, the antagonist of Bohemia, something of a female analog of himself who, like Holmes, cross-dresses as the need arises. Holmes also regularly attempts to dissuade dear Watson from “the softer passions” to keep their little crime-solving household together. They take a break when Watson marries Mary Marston from The Sign of Four, but Watson returns to 211B Baker St, Holmes’ home, after her death.  Robb also picks out a telling scene, when Watson is shot in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs: Then my friend’s wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair. ‘You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!’ It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation. That’s a revelation of love straight out of the gayest movie moment, if I ever did read one. Lastly, in the 1901 The Hound of the Baskervilles, Robb notes that Holmes adopts Billy, the 14-year-old telegraph boy as his valet, “which was hardly an innocent act after the Cleveland Street scandal,” in which the government was accused of covering up the discovery of a male brothel patronized by aristocrats and other important people.  When Watson returns to 211B in The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, he glances about the apartment. “Finally, his eyes came round to the fresh and smiling face of Billy, the young but very wise and tactful page, who had helped a little to fill up the gap of loneliness and isolation which surrounded the saturnine figure of the great detective.” Doyle may not have realized he was hitting all these homosexual signifiers, but he built on Poe’s foundation of the homosexual detective: an intellectual, urban aesthete, with a taste for exotic, eccentric decoration, indulging in cocaine to take the edge off and a predilection for male company, who stalks the seedy underbelly of London solving crimes. Doyle’s own take on homosexuality was based on a medical standpoint, not criminal. In 1924, he wrote on the trials of Oscar Wilde: “I thought at the time, and still think, that the monstrous development which ruined him was pathological, and that a hospital rather than a police court was the place for its consideration” — not an unusual attitude for a medical professional to take. I love to imagine queer men picking up the Sherlock Holmes omnibus, enjoying the lovely domesticity and great adventures of the Baker Street bachelors, homosexual subtext and all. I also like to think that both Poe and Wilde left their stamp on the consulting detective — even a description of Holmes’ physical characteristics could be substituted for the great dandy. Also like Wilde, Holmes is great for snappy one-liners. As Holmes says, “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

US Customs block Canadian man after reading his Scruff profile

20 February 2017 - 7:43pm
A Vancouver man was denied entry into the United States after a US Customs and Border Patrol officer read his profiles on the gay hookup app Scruff and the website BBRT. The officer suspected the man was a sex worker because he found messages from the man saying he was “looking for loads,” and assumed it meant he was soliciting sex for cash. While the misunderstanding might sound funny, it underscores the bitter reality that non-Americans have very few rights at the border, and that even suspicion of criminal behaviour can be used to deny non-Americans entry.  André, a 30-year-old Vancouver set decorator who declined to give his full name for fear of retaliation from US Customs, describes the experience as “humiliating.” André says he was planning to visit his boyfriend, who was working in New Orleans. But when he was going through Customs preclearance at Vancouver airport last October, he was selected for secondary inspection, where an officer took his phone, computer and other possessions, and demanded the passwords for his devices. “I didn’t know what to do. I was scared, so I gave them the password and then I sat there for at least an hour or two. I missed my flight,” André says. “He came back and just started grilling me. ‘Is this your email?’ and it was an email attached to a Craigslist account for sex ads. He asked me, ‘Is this your account on Scruff? Is this you on BBRT?’ I was like, ‘Yes, this is me.’” When the officer asked him what he meant by “looking for loads,” André says he tried to explain, but the officer kept grilling him. “I could tell just by his nature that he had no intentions of letting me through. They were just going to keep asking me questions looking for something,” he says. “So I asked for the interrogation to stop. I asked if I go back to Canada am I barred for life? He said no, so I accepted that offer.” A month later, André attempted to fly to New Orleans again. This time, he brought what he thought was ample proof that he was not a sex worker: letters from his employer, pay stubs, bank statements, a lease agreement and phone contracts to prove he intended to return to Canada. When he went through secondary inspection at Vancouver airport, US Customs officers didn’t even need to ask for his passwords — they were saved in their own system. But André had wiped his phone of sex apps, browser history and messages, thinking that would dispel any suggestion he was looking for sex work. Instead, the border officers took that as suspicious. “They went through my computer. They were looking through Word documents,” André says. “I had nude photos of myself on my phone, and they were questioning who this person was. It was really humiliating and embarrassing.” “They said, ‘Next time you come through, don’t have a cleared phone,’ and that was it. I wasn’t let through. He said I’m a suspected escort. You can’t really argue with them because you’re trapped,” he says. André says he lost at least $1200 on non-refundable flights and hotels on the two cancelled trips. But non-Americans have few options when they’re at the border. Only Americans have an absolute right of entry into the country, and a Customs officer would need a warrant to search an American’s phone or laptop. A non-American who is asked to hand over their devices and passwords is faced with the dilemma of protecting their privacy or being denied entry to the US. For Esha Bhandari, staff attorney for the speech privacy and technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union, this presents a host of civil rights issues. “Our mobile devices contain every detail of our lives. Financial information, health information, personal relationship information. If you’re a doctor or a lawyer, you might have attorney-client or doctor-patient privileged material on there. Some people that travel for business have very sensitive business information, trade secret information,” she says. “I’m hopeful that CBP will put in place policies that limit what they’re searching and that they’re only conducting searches when they’re absolutely necessary for purposes of immigration and custom, rather than doing an end run around constitutional limits on search authority and looking through people’s entire private lives,” she says. “Thus far, CBP has asserted a very broad authority to search visitors to the United States,” she says. “There aren’t a lot of cases testing the limits of that, especially in this new digital context.” There are several websites that offer advice to protect the privacy of your data at the border, but ultimately, if US Customs officers want your data, they will either get it or keep you out of the country. You can limit the risk to your privacy by not traveling with your devices or deleting apps, messages and photos from your devices, and logging out of social media sites before you travel. “For Scruff members traveling to a country that may demand access to profiles and social media apps before entry, simply deleting the app and reinstalling upon re-entry is always an option,” says Scruff CEO Eric Silverberg. “Scruff synchronizes your profile to the cloud, so after reinstalling you may login to regain access to your messages, favourites, albums, etc.”  “That said, the best defense against unwarranted searches and seizures by the government is to work to elect leaders who share these ideals and values,” Silverberg says. Because US Customs operates on Canadian soil to provide preclearance at many Canadian airports, issues of Canadian Charter rights are also at play. The Canadian government has introduced a bill to implement an agreement reached under Harper and Obama that would greatly expand US Customs’ power to detain, question and strip-search people in Canada trying to enter the United States. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is reviewing the bill. “We have concerns,” says Brenda McPhail, director of the Privacy, Technology & Surveillance Project at the CCLA. “Clearly we wouldn’t support an increase in powers that would result in Canadians not being allowed to disengage and return to their homes.” For Jon Davidson, legal director of the US LGBT organization Lambda Legal, André’s experience also speaks to the ignorance and prejudice of front-line officers. “This is outrageous. He should file a complaint,” Davidson says. “Their agents need cultural awareness training to not misunderstand that people who simply are leading a normal sex life are not prostitutes.”

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