Ottawa Xtra

How one book wants to get Canada talking about the challenges faced by LGBT youth

20 April 2017 - 7:22pm
Author and queer activist Christopher Gudgeon has never shied away from themes of isolation and loss in his work, and his latest book is no exception. Encyclopedia of Lies is a collection of short stories about the enduring prevalence of suicide in LGBT communities, underscoring the dire need for support and resources for at-risk queer youth. It’s an issue close to Gudgeon, who recently became executive director of It Gets Better Canada, an international affiliate of the American organization focused on suicide prevention amongst LGBT youth and anti-bullying initiatives through the use of social media. In The Encyclopedia of Lies, Gudgeon has stitched together a web of narratives from Buenos Aires to West Hollywood. While Gudgeon has written in several genres throughout his career — 2016’s compilation of poetry Assdeep in Wonder topped Amazon’s Canadian poetry bestseller list and was shortlisted for the Canadian League of Poets’ prestigious Gerald Lampert Memorial Award — he says he’s most at home crafting short stories. “I don’t know where I’m going, ever, until I get to the end and realize I have to start all over again,” he says. “And poems are more — even though they take a long time — they’re more spontaneous. But short stories, I think I understand the craft better than any other kind of writing. It’s because they’re short.” One of the stories in The Encyclopedia of Lies is The Widow, a Chilean woman learns that her deceased fiancé lost his virginity to his cousin in a pigsty and later enjoyed a tryst with a “perfumed sodomite in a Buenos Aires Turkish bath.” The story underlines the inevitable disappointments of intimacy through its grim, disquieting humour. Gudgeon’s penchant for conjuring vulnerable, dynamic characters is clear in The Encyclopedia of Lies, perhaps most vividly in Jericho — a bewildering tragedy about a burgeoning friendship that recalls Gus Van Sant’s queer cult classic My Own Private Idaho. The story, which takes place as the Orlando massacre unfolds live on a TV screen in a gay bar in West Hollywood, provides a chilling insight to the realities of queer suicide. Told from the first-person perspective of the narrator, Jericho describes a frightening scenario that continues to play out for some LGBT youth: “I tried to keep my mind occupied, but I kept going back to the note and the fact that Jericho was in the room beside me in whatever condition he was in. I wished I was one of those guys who could do something in a situation like this, like administer CPR or something, and I wished I could have done something to help him before it got to this. I don’t know what I could have done, though. All I could have really done is talk to him and I did that all the time. I shut my eyes and placed my hands on my knees. I thought I should cry or something, that that would be the appropriate thing to do. But I didn’t. I just sat there, hands on my knees, cigarette still pinched between my lips, breathing in smoke and distant conversation, wishing someone would come and turn off the light so I could be alone in the darkness,” Through his work with It Gets Better Canada, Gudgeon hopes stories like this will become less common in our cultural narrative. The organization aims to link queer youth with better access to community resources, such as better mental health support. Gudgeon believes challenges facing Canadian queer youth are unique and complex. He says many LGBT youth continue to struggle with isolation, both socially and geographically, especially since Canada’s relatively few urban centres are far-flung.   “We have, I think, much less clear lines of support,” he suggests, comparing services available to LGBT youth in Canada to services available in the US. It Gets Better was started by columnist Dan Savage in 2010 in response to a string of queer teen suicides in the United States. Since then, the organization has gone global and provided critical support to LGBT youth and their families. Gudgeon hopes It Gets Better Canada will achieve a similar goal by building more content and conducting further research on how to best serve vulnerable LGBT youth. “We also want to engage other youth, LGBT, two-spirit, allied, unaffiliated, undecided, to do an education around what the issues really are and also to engage them in developing those really positive messages and developing content,” Gudgeon says.

Federal politicians spoke out against bullying on Day of Pink

20 April 2017 - 4:22pm
Queer and trans activists, federal politicians and allies gathered in Ottawa on April 12, 2017, to take stock of the successes and the challenges still facing LGBT people in Canada. The annual Day of Pink started when two Nova Scotia high-school students chose to wear pink in 2007 to support  a classmate who was being bullied over his shirt. This year the day was marked on Parliament Hill through a morning session in the Senate chamber, where Senator Mobina Jaffer invited elementary school children wearing pink T-shirts to hear about the dangers of bullying. Senator René Cormier, who is gay, spoke about being picked on as a closeted child, saying that life is still not easy for many young Canadians despite a rapid increase in societal acceptance.  “Silence is intimidation’s best friend,” he said in French. [[asset:image:309551 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Senator Ren\u00e9 Cormier addresses students gathered in the Senate for the annual Day of Pink anti-bullying campaign on April 12, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Dylan C Robertson\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Later that evening, about 250 people gathered for a gala in downtown Ottawa run by the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), including environment minister Catherine McKenna and members of Parliament from the three main parties. At the gala, MP Randy Boissonnault, the prime minister’s special advisor on LGBTQ2 issues, urged people to phone senators to tell them to support trans-rights bill C-16, which is scheduled for hearings at a Senate committee for four days, starting May 4. “There’s still work for us to do,” Boissonnault said. “We need some lesbian members of Parliament; we need trans members of Parliament; we need two-spirited members of Parliament.” Multiple speakers mentioned the reports of gay men being rounded up and killed in Russia’s Chechnya region. Some, like NDP MP Randall Garrison, explicitly called on the federal government to demand Russia investigate the situation (which Canada’s foreign minister did in a statement three days later, but still won’t say whether Canada will take more refugees). Garrison also raised the government’s “unfinished business,” like apologizing to queer people arrested for their sexual orientation and those purged from the military. [[asset:image:309554 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["NDP MP Randall Garrison (left) presents an award to Karen Benoit, in honour of her deceased wife Lori Jean Hodge, at the Day of Pink Gala hosted by the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity in Ottawa on April 12, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Dylan C Robertson\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Jeremy Dias, head of CCGSD, said any donations collected at the gala will go to Russian activists. He said the gala made a point of starting with an indigenous circle dance to recognize two-spirit people. “Intersectional, diverse communities are really starting to speak up louder, which is incredible and awesome,” Dias said. “Our job is to make the LGBTQ community stronger and better.” The gala also awarded advocates, including elementary-school students, Toronto trans activist Susan Gapka, and Lori Jean Hodge, an Ottawa musician and activist who died last year from cancer. “For me to see youth coming up like that, it's a real hope for the future,” said Karen Benoit, who accepted the award on behalf of Hodge, her late wife. Andrée Cooligan, Canada’s ambassador to Finland, was in town on a vacation. “It was proud and loud and really well represented,” she said, adding that the gala could be a model for countries bordering Russia. “We have to support them,” she said. “Those countries are really struggling with their human rights these days.”

Out in Toronto: April 20–26, 2017

20 April 2017 - 4:22pm
Thursday, April 20 Brown Rice: Potluck  Brown Rice, the recurring party focused on queer and trans people of colour, hosts a very apt 4/20 celebration: a potluck. Munchies-plagued party people come early to snack and then stick around to dance to the music of Ace Dillinger, Wei Back and others. Allies welcome. The venue is mostly accessible (there are no buttons to open the front door or accessible washroom door).  10pm–2am. Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook  [[asset:image:309569 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Brown Rice, the recurring party focused on queer and trans people of colour, features music by Ace Dillinger (pictured) and takes place on April 20, 2017, at Glad Day Bookshop."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Yannick Anton"]}]] Friday, April 21 Arabian Knights Spring Party One of the Village’s newest recurring dance parties celebrates spring with some Middle Eastern heat and amazing music. Nominated for the a 2017 INSPIRE Award for Inspiring Organization of the Year (the ceremony is in June), this queer Middle Eastern event is all about dancing, drinking, flirting and enjoying Arabic music. Everyone is welcome. DJ Louay spins house beats and pop tracks. 10pm–3am. Club 120, 120 Church St.    Saturday, April 22 El Convento Rico 25th Anniversary Show The much beloved bar celebrates 25 years supplying fun and big beats with a Latin flare. This huge party takes place outside, across the street from the club. It has just about everything — food, hot dancing men from Magic Male Revue, lots of music (by DJ Kno, La Firma Santana, Natalie Castro and others) and drag performances (Courtney Act, Derrick Barry and many others).  2–11pm. El Convento Rico, 750 College St. For more info, visit Facebook   TO Chechnya with Love  The community gathers to express its outrage and grief at Chechnya’s recent persecution of gay men. According to recent news reports, Chechen officials has begun detaining gay men in camps, and there have been reported cases of torture and even murder. The event includes a rally, several short speeches and a march. To ask questions or to volunteer, contact  2–4pm. Barbara Hall Park, 519 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Beef Curtains: Children of Yasss Gawd  Dottie Dangerfield’s new, vagina-inspired night of burlesque and drag returns for a third installment. It’s all about providing a space for diverse performers who aren’t always welcome at other venues and events. This edition of the party features performances by Igby Lizzard, Helena Poison, Boa, Tanya Cheex, Jacklynne Hyde, Lilith Cain, Atmos Fierce, Dolly Berlin, Aura Nova. DJ Johnny B Goode provides the soundtrack for the evening.  10pm–2am. The Steady, 1051 Bloor St W. For more info, visit Facebook.  [[asset:image:308779 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Drag performer Dottie Dangerfield\u0027s Beef Curtains: Children of Yasss Gawd\u00a0takes place at The Steady on April 22, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Dottie Dangerfield"]}]] Sunday, April 23 Ten Oaks Project Acorn Prance  This annual dance-athon raises funds for the Ten Oaks Project. Folks are invited to raise take pledges — this year’s goal is $30,000 — and come and prance the afternoon away for a good cause. Based in Ottawa, Ten Oaks Project provides programming (including a camp, called Camp Ten Oaks) for children and youth from LGBT families, identities and communities. To register to dance, visit website.  2–5pm. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. For more info, visit Facebook.

This LGBT group just made history in Vancouver’s Vaisakhi parade

19 April 2017 - 10:20pm
The 17 members of Sher and their allies are smiling as they get ready to walk in Vancouver’s Vaisakhi parade on April 15, 2017. Their participation in this year’s Sikh New Year celebration marks a historic moment. It’s the first time that organizers know of an LGBT South Asian group being invited to join the parade. Tears well up in Kayden’s eyes as he embraces another Sher member. A college student in computer science in Vancouver, Kayden (whose real name Xtra agreed not to publish to protect his identity) was born Sikh in Punjab, India. He says his parents disowned him after he came out last fall. He was cut off financially and thrown out of the Surrey home where he was staying with relatives, and beaten by a cousin, he tells Xtra. Kayden says he reached out for help but found none until, desperate, he emailed Alex Sangha, Sher’s founder, through the group’s website. Sher, an LGBT support group for South Asian people founded in 2008, helped Kayden find a temporary residence and started a crowdfunding page for his tuition. The pain is still raw, but the invitation to participate in the Vaisakhi parade helps, Kayden says. “There are people who are accepting of who we are and how we feel. It’s just one step forward for me. I feel grateful and it’s definitely emotional.” Sangha calls Sher’s open presence at Vaisakhi a first and says he’s not aware of LGBT South Asian groups participating in Sikh celebrations like this one elsewhere in the world. [[asset:image:309557 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Sher members and allies march in the 2017 Vaisakhi parade."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Janet Rerecich\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Sangha was invited to bring Sher to this year’s Vaisakhi parade by the Khalsa Diwan Society, which operates the gurdwara on Ross Street, one of the largest Sikh temples in North America. Pall Singh Beesla, outreach coordinator for the gurdwara, told the Georgia Straight in March that he reached out to Sher because love and compassion for all people is a key component of the Sikh faith. “Our faith teaches us to fight against injustice, very boldly and courageously,” he told the Straight. Xtra contacted Beesla after the parade to ask how it went, but he declined to comment further, replying only by email to say, “Vaisakhi is an inclusive event open to all.” Sangha says Beesla’s invitation, though historic, required navigating public opinion cautiously. Sangha opted for a subdued presence in this year’s parade. Tucked in discreetly between a marching band and a huge semi truck with a colourful flatbed float, the 17 Sher marchers wore black shirts with the group’s pink logo visible underneath their jackets. They carried no banner (Sangha says he wanted to bring it, but it was dirty). “Even though there is nothing homophobic in the Sikh culture or the Sikh bible, the culture hasn’t caught up to that,” he says. “Change is baby steps, if you’re yelling and screaming in their face a lot of people get their backs up,” he explains. “We didn’t want to alienate ourselves, or otherwise it never happens again. Different groups take different approaches, but we decided to do it this way.” [[asset:image:309560 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_credit":["Janet Rerecich\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Sher marched only the Marine Drive portion of the six-hour parade route, from the temple at Ross Street to Main Street at 63rd Avenue (a 19-minute walk according to Google Maps), missing the vast majority of onlookers and tents on the more pedestrian-friendly Main Street where the festival was concentrated. Along the way on Marine Drive, several community members approached Sangha to congratulate him, and some walked partway with the group. One event photographer noticeably stopped shooting when Sher walked by, then resumed once they passed. Otherwise, the group saw no aggression or open disapproval. “There’s support for us in the Sikh temple but I don’t know if it’s 100 percent support,” Sangha says. “I’m not sure how we’re going to go forward, but this is one step.” “There are many areas where we can work together to reduce suicidal ideation, depression, educate our community about HIV and STDs,” he suggests. “There are a lot of areas the Sikh temple can partner with us to promote the health and wellbeing of the community.” Sangha says the media attention on Sher’s participation and the fact they were invited by an influential gurdwara has meaning for queer Sikhs, even in India where the government reintroduced anti-LGBT legislation in 2013, making it once again a crime to be gay. “If gay Sikhs can march in Vancouver, this gives hope to people in India. We can set an example and be role models,” he suggests. [[asset:image:309563 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Alex Sangha says he was warmly received at Vaisakhi 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Janet Rerecich\/Daily Xtra"]}]] But one Sikh queer activist, who asked to remain anonymous for safety concerns, says the anti-gay Indian government benefits from shows of acceptance by influential gurdwaras in countries like Canada. “Our concern is that there is some pinkwashing going on,” the activist told Xtra, suggesting that both the gurdwara and the Indian government might benefit from progressive-seeming distractions. But Jaspal Sangha, Alex’s mother, says she feels grateful to the gurdwara for being a leader in following the true tenets of Sikhism. “Just one father is the supreme soul, God, and we are all the children, in humanity we are all brothers and sisters with many paths to the destination. This is the message from Guru and now, they practice on it,” she says. For her, seeing her son feel equal to the rest of the congregation was a moment long overdue. “I’m feeling so happy and comfortable and peaceful,” she says. “I was kind of worried about how people might react, but it took 25 years for me to go through that type of life with my son and finally we accept him like we do all the other congregation. It’s a very big personal achievement for me that they see my son and he is recognized.”

Out in Vancouver: April 20–26, 2017

19 April 2017 - 7:20pm
Thursday, April 20 Connect: The Gathering Place’s Annual Art Show Looking for a diamond in the rough? Some of the talent in this show will floor you. Connect showcases artwork from some of the area’s most vulnerable populations alongside established artists who live or work in the community. Over 200 works of art will be displayed, including paintings, photography, sculpture, pottery and mixed media. Proceeds go to The Gathering Place, which helps GLBT street youth. The show opens tonight, then runs every night until Sunday, April 30. 6–8pm. The Gathering Place Community Centre, 609 Helmeken St.   Sidekicks Returns This is a duos-only sketch comedy show — and what better duo than the amazing, beautiful, sexy and vivacious Amy Goodmurphy (and, oh yeah, Ryan Steele.) Ten duos will make you LOL so hard they’ll be selling panty shields in the lobby. 8pm–12am. The China Cloud, 524 Main St. Cover $10.   Friday, April 21 Spring Fling 55+ I’ve always wondered, are these LGBT seniors parties are just coffee, cake and chit chat, or do they all throw their keys and Life Alert buttons into a free-for-all bowl and have some fun? Qmunity’s Spring Fling is a social soiree where seniors and older adults in the LGBTQ community toast the brightening days, the budding freshness of spring, and the early flirtations of summer, among friends, family, and community. Come enjoy an evening of light refreshments and entertainment. 5–8pm. Haro Park Centre Penthouse Suite, 1233 Haro St. This is a free event but please RSVP to More at   Eye Roll: Another F$%&ing 90s Party It’s been a quiet couple of weeks on the Cobblah front, but she’s back — and that does deserve an eye roll. Peach Cobblah returns with the 4th edition of this 90s messiness. Along with Peach are Misty Meadows and DJ Jef Leppard. Sweat out that puffy vest, rock out your man capris, and hyperventilate wearing hypercolor. If you’re looking for Peach, she’ll be at the front door eating egg rolls, because she can never get the name of the party right. 10pm. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Cover $6.   Faux Girls Coronation may be over — big sigh of relief — but now the events all need a bit of royalty in attendance to make the soiree special. This is Empress XLVI Jane Smokr’s first Faux Girls benefitting the DMS charities, HIM, Zee Zee Theatre, Rainbow Refugee and WAVAW. Maybe you will get to touch the crown, unless Tommy D is playing with it at home again. 10:30pm–12am. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $5.   Saturday, April 22 Mabel League Kickoff Tournament None of that West End slow-pitch for this league. This is down-and-dirty fastpitch that will keep your eyes glued to the field. Spring is here and that means the Mabel League is underway with their yearly kick-off tournament. The Mabel League is a softball league for lesbians, bisexual women, queer and trans folk and women allies in the Vancouver area. Come out to the kick-off celebration to play mini ball games with all levels of players, get free t-shirts, and win lots of prizes. 1–8pm. Connaught Park, 2390 West 10th Ave. $25 drop in fee to cover insurance for women not on a team.   Gay Music Bingo If our bingo was like this, we’d have Del Stamp and Robin Graves singing all night with a little Conni Smudge thrown in — that’s when you appreciate alcohol, my friends. Join Mission's gayest bingo callers for an evening of fabulous music bingo, great prizes, fun and lots of laughs! Stay after bingo for dancing till late. 7pm–12am. The Stage in Mission, 32998 1st Ave, Mission. $5 cover.     Fundraiser For WAVAW You don’t have to be a woman to support Women Against Violence Against Women. Help the cause by joining Tantra Fitness for a night of intoxicating and empowering performances featuring 14 of the most talented performers in dance, pole and aerial artistry. Please help an amazing cause. 7:30–9:45pm. The Odyssey, 686 West Hastings St. $25 at door.   Evilyn 13 Birthday Bonanza Most people age gracefully, a few wrinkles here and there, a few grey hairs, mostly pubes, but I swear Evilyn 13 gets younger every year. Like a fine wine, she just gets better with age. Celebrate this alternative model, fashionista, cosplayer and DJ’s special night. 9pm. No cover. The Hindenburg, 23 West Cordova St.   Glitter & Skin I told you Peach is back, and when the Cobblah is around you can count on a lot of nudity — not hers thank God — but other guys. She just has this control over them; the music plays and things start to drop. All amateurs, all bodies and builds, all rhythms, and a lot of smiles. Tonight features a whole new crop of cuties, who will dance, or fumble, or just plain streak to their hearts, and your eyes, content. The makeout corner has returned, just make sure Peach is finished “auditioning” in there. 10pm–2am. The Odyssey, 686 West Hastings St. $7 cover.   Sunday, April 23 Sing! With Little Shop Of Horrors I can get into a lot of things, but I just never caught on to a giant singing Venus flytrap. It must just be me, since it keeps coming back. Now you can sing along with the plant and unleash your inner monster, with a sub-titled movie and an entire bar to join in. 6–10pm. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Entrance by donation.   Investiture 46 Their Most Imperial and Sovereign Majesties Emperor XLVI Tommy D and Empress VLXI Jane Smokr will be announcing their beneficiary charities for the year, and will be bestowing titles to community members and welcoming title holders into the 46th Imperial House of Vancouver — The House of Delusion. Though he would tell you otherwise, when you see his majesty Tommy D out around the village you do not have to bend down on one knee and kiss his ring, or anything else he puts in front of your face. That would be the Pope. 6:30–9:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $5 with all proceeds going to DMS charities.   Monday, April 24 QueerProv Workshop Think you’re funnier than me? Well, that’s not hard to do: just watch my friend Syd play pool. Drop-in workshops open to the community, facilitated by QueerProv performers and guest teachers, will help heighten and expand your improv skills. Everyone is welcome, and after classes there will be a QueerProv show at XYYVR. 5:30–7pm. Qmunity, 1170 Bute St. $10 drop in fee every 2 weeks.   Tuesday, April 25 Sounds Like Fire: Femme4Femme In this femme-focused showcase, witness brilliant magic born of community and coven, care and creativity, among four radical, vulnerable, and fiercely capable femmes: Amber Dawn, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Kama La Mackerel, and Kai Cheng Thom. Thom’s book, a place called No Homeland, launches in Vancouver at this event. 8–11pm. The Cultch, 1895 Venables St. Tickets $15 advance at or $20 at door.   Wednesday, April 26 Flirting With Fido Every gay guy needs a dog. Large, small, medium, they all attract guys on the seawall if they are cute, cuddly and trained — the dog, that is. Imagine if your cute pooch were trained to go after the cutie you were looking at and tug on his sweats until you came to get him. Dogs have a better track record than eHarmony, and you don’t have to fill out a dozen questionnaires. This non-profit saves and adopts out dogs. Because some of these dogs require training and extensive vet care and new homes, they are throwing a fundraiser to help. TVs will be displaying a list of dogs that are currently looking for home! That home could be yours. 5pm–1am. The Capital, 1178 Davie St. No cover. More info at   Surviving To Thriving This is a 10-week support group for self-identified lesbian, bisexual, trans, two spirit and queer women who have experienced or are experiencing violence and abuse, including intimate partner violence and childhood sexual abuse. Topics will include forms of abuse, impacts of abuse, personal values, relationships, sex and sexuality, emotions, community, and more. Before registering for this group, all interested participants will be invited to an initial meet-up with the facilitators to assess safety concerns and how they can best ensure safety, support, and confidentiality. 5:30–7:30pm. Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver. For confidentiality purposes please call 604-687-1868 ext. 315 to obtain the address.   End Of The Rainbow Back in the days of The Castle and The Royal, drag shows and numbers were classy. No Britney, no Gwen, no Christina, but instead Judy, Barbara, and Patti LaBelle. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Willie Taylor do Patti better than she could herself. This show promises just that, the life of an icon. Electrifying, intense and real, this production will leave you breathless. End of the Rainbow is a true account of an all-too-mortal goddess on the eve of her destruction. End of the Rainbow surrounds the events of Judy Garland’s last comeback attempt in 1968. 8–10pm. Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St. Tickets $25 general, $20 senior/student at Show runs until Saturday May 20.   Gossip Anniversary Not only is it the third anniversary of Davie Street’s only ’90s/’00s/R&B/dance/hip-hop night, but also the double-header birthdays of DJ about town G-Luve, and the hottie we all want to take home, Todd Hoye. Come wish the boys happy birthday; you may just get a smooch. 10pm–3am. 1181, 1181 Davie St. No cover.    

What does Barbados’ prime minister have to say about the country’s harsh buggery laws?

19 April 2017 - 4:20pm
Xtra asked Barbados’ prime minister, Freundel Stuart, about his country’s buggery law when he spoke at an open town hall meeting at the University of Toronto on Sept 25, 2016. Some of this interview was used in a recent Xtra feature on LGBT Bajans and their experiences of discrimination on the island, where fundamentalist forms of Christianity are spreading homophobic rhetoric.   Xtra: Prime minister, thank you for being here and for giving us this opportunity. Despite progress on acceptance of LGBT people and on fighting HIV, Barbados still has the harshest buggery law in the Western hemisphere. Now I know that the laws around buggery and serious indecency are rarely enforced, but over the past decade, over 300 LGBT Barbadians have left the country and applied for asylum abroad, including over 100 in Canada. Will your government commit to decriminalizing buggery, and if not, why not?   PM Stuart: Thank you very much for telling me about life in Barbados, I didn't know much about it.  I have been a lawyer for the last 34 years now. And I am not aware that we have what you call harsh buggery laws. If the offence of buggery, it is an offence on the statute books of Barbados. But if the offence of buggery is committed, the prosecutor needs to have somebody push the case. If the prosecutor doesn't have somebody to push the case [inaudible] he has no buggery charge. If the patient, the language of the law uses the agent and the patient, if the person buggered does not go and complain to the police, or if he's a consenting person, there's no issue. The law of buggery has to do with abuse, where A abuses B without his consent. Which is the equivalent of the law of rape, where A has sexual intercourse with B female without her consent. But in terms of Barbados being a place where if two men or two women are seen together, any presumption can be made that they’re involved in any improper relationship and we try them before the courts, none of that exists in Barbados.  I want you to just equate in your own mind, buggery with rape. Rape is the offence committed against in a heterosexual relationship and buggery is the offence committed in a same-sex relationship. At the kernel of both is the absence of consent and therefore a protesting party who wants to ensure that he or she gets justice through the courts.  There is a lobby that is trying to get the government, trying to get successive governments in Barbados to decriminalize as they say homosexuality. But you can only decriminalize something that is already a criminal offence. As I say, if buggery is an offence, then buggery takes place if A has anal intercourse with B without B’s consent. But as far as I’m aware, homosexuality is not criminalized in Barbados. So there is nothing to decriminalize. Those people who feel that we should create an environment where they can practice their lifestyles in public on high noon on a sunny day, or whatever, want even the very limited controls we have, removed. We have not reached a stage yet where we think that we want to do that. But we allow people to conduct their lives in accordance with their orientation or practices. Those people who have decided, I don’t know, went abroad and said, and made untrue representations of Barbados in this regard, about people being in prison and being persecuted, that has not happened in the country over which I preside and it didn’t happen in the country over which any of my predecessors presided. Barbados is a safe place for that, we don’t believe the state should be any policeman in anybody’s bedrooms. I want to make that very clear. But having said all of that, Barbados is still a predominately Christian society. They are values that have helped to make Barbados the strong country that it has been over its entire history, but certainly over the last 50 years as an independent nation. And we are reluctant to discard things that have worked for us over the last 50 years, for the better part of our history. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? And therefore, we will continue to monitor the situation and if further intervention is required, we will do it. As far as I know, and I think I know a little about Barbados, in practically every family, not in all but in practically every family, there is likely to be somebody challenged by that kind of orientation. And I don’t know that Barbadian fathers or mothers or uncles or aunts disown nieces and nephews and children because they have those orientations.  We respect that as long as you don’t become too evangelical about it and want to convert all of us to it. But just enjoy your own orientation.

How were lesbians affected by the anti-LGBT Lavender Scare?

19 April 2017 - 10:18am
In the United States in the 1950s, thousands of homosexual men and women lost their jobs or had their lives ruined because of McCarthyism.  A response to the fear of Soviet influence and Soviet spies in the period following the end of the Second World War, McCarthyism (named for its most memorable proponent, Republican senator Joseph McCarthy) was a Communist witch hunt. Often with little evidence, this movement saw many people including teachers, government workers, Hollywood film stars and screenwriters ousted from their jobs or sent to prison for supposed Communist ties.  McCarthyism also targeted homosexuals working government jobs or serving in the military, or persecuted them in other areas of their lives. Proponents of McCarthyism argued that homosexuality and Communism were in some way linked. They said that homosexuals were inherently subversive. They said that because homosexuality could get you fired from a government job, homosexuals could be blackmailed and controlled by Soviet spies.  The arguments for a link between homosexuality and Communism were all dubious at best (the blackmail concern loses its force when you consider that all the government needed to defuse the supposed  threat was to make it a policy that nobody could be fired for being gay). What’s more likely is that the momentum of McCarthyism was seen as an opportunity to persecute an unpopular group.  Homosexuals — “sex perverts,” as they were called at the time — were considered mentally ill in 1950s America. And many considered homosexuals a threat to so-called American values and the traditional American family structure. Whatever the justification behind it, the trumped-up homosexual threat was known as the Lavender Scare.  More gay men than lesbians lost their jobs and had their lives ruined because of their sexual orientation in this period, but that’s only because there were more men working the types of jobs that were targeted. Lesbians were hunted with just as much zeal. Lillian Faderman discusses how lesbians suffered in her 1991 book, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers.  Since many schools wouldn’t allow women to study to become doctors or lawyers in the 1950s, many middle-class lesbians who wanted to maintain their social standing had little choice but to take government jobs like teaching or social work, making them a target of McCarthyism.  Government employees were investigated for signs of homosexuality, sometimes using a lie-detector test. A lesbian could be fired based on accusations alone, and had little to no recourse. And of course she then had to cope with bigotry once the world thought she was a lesbian — whether she actually was or not.  It was nearly impossible to put up any kind of resistance to this treatment. Even the American Civil Liberties Union did not oppose the federal government’s firing of gay and lesbian employees.  A 1954 issue of Jet, an African-American magazine, said this about lesbians: “If she so much as gets one foot into a good woman’s home with the intention of seducing her, she will leave no stone unturned . . . and eventually destroy her life for good.”  According to Faderman, some lesbians, who were expected by their families to marry and settle down, felt the need to arrange to marry gay men so that both parties could have a cover, hiding their true orientations from their parents, employers and nosey acquaintances. According to Daniel Rivers, author of Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States since World War II, two women living together was less suspicious than two men, making it was easier for lesbians to pursue non-traditional relationships and live with other women or alone with their children. However, there was some small pushback in the form of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), one of the first lesbian organization in the US. Founded in the mid-1950s as a private social group for middle-class lesbians, the organization became an activist group dedicated to promoting lesbian rights. It had several chapters across the country and a magazine called The Ladder. The DOB kept member identities secret for safety, but it wasn’t long before the CIA and FBI had informants sneaking into meetings. Many less affluent women chose a career in the military because there they could get training they wouldn’t otherwise get and travel the world. Unfortunately, the military was one of the most dangerous places for a woman to work if she was a lesbian — she could be kicked out without notice or even benefits.  According to Faderman, women in the US Navy were regularly given anti-lesbian lectures, and encouraged to inform on peers they thought were lesbians. Even military doctors and chaplains were supposed to help find and boot out lesbians.  Women in the Air Force were subject to similar treatment.  They were routinely questioned, and some women had their possessions routinely (and without warning) searched for evidence of “homosexual tendencies.” You got in trouble even if you only had one encounter with another woman and even if it was years before joining up. Even being the friend of a lesbian was enough to get you in trouble.  Entrapment was routine in the military. Faderman says that during the Korean War (a conflict that ran from 1950 to 1953), women from the criminal investigation division were sent into lesbian bars as bait. Female agents were also put on military softball teams to catch lesbians.  Faderman’s book includes several firsthand accounts from women who lived and worked during the McCarthy era. The most brutal case she relates, from 1954, involves an army nurse and her lover. An officer accused them of being lesbians, and then, according to the nurse, the officer raped the nurse’s lover “to teach her how much better a man was than a woman.” He was not punished.  In January 2017, then-US Secretary of State John Kerry apologized for the persecution of LGBT State Department and foreign service officers who were gay. The McCarthy era was traumatic for many lesbians. So much so that decades later, when Faderman was talking to people and gathering information for her book, she had to promise anonymity (and even with that promise, many were still afraid to speak). But Faderman points out a bit of an upside to it all. It forced women to band together, helping to create a subculture. And the persecution, awful though it was, gave publicity to lesbian desire, letting more women know that a lesbian life was possible.

Bisexual men, Tribeca and virtual reality

18 April 2017 - 10:16pm
[[asset:image:309542 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] Reaction to Chechnya After reports of the arrest, detainment and torture of gay men in Chechnya, the US Ambassador to the United Nations says the human rights violations “cannot be ignored.” Meanwhile, the reporter who broke the story says she fears for her life, and may have to flee Russia.   Pain and vindication for bisexual men In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, UK reality star Ollie Locke spoke about being ridiculed for coming out as bisexual. Meanwhile, an Australian researcher presented evidence that bisexual men in relationships with women were less misogynistic, and more sexually exploratory.     A gay game designer turns to VR Video game designer Robert Yang has been known for exploring gay sex and culture in his games. Now he’s enlisting virtual reality for even more depth. Read more at Kotaku.     The queer films of Tribeca The Advocate surveys this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, from whodunit investigation of the death of legendary “street queen” Marsha P. Johnson, to the story of the gay artist known as Tom of Finland.   The disappearing lesbian bar At the New York Times, Krista Burton grieves the disappearing lesbian bar. With more LGBT people out than ever, she wonders, shouldn’t there be dedicated spaces for them to go?

Abbotsford’s new LGBT policy doesn’t go far enough, says educator

17 April 2017 - 1:14pm
After missing the deadline to protect LGBT students in schools across BC, the Abbotsford school district has now passed a policy that is raising concern with one of Vancouver’s longtime gay-education activists. BC’s ministry of education ordered all school boards to explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) language to their codes of conduct by Dec 31, 2016. The Abbotsford school board was scheduled to meet about the SOGI policy on Nov 1 2016, the same day 13-year-old Letisha Reimer was fatally stabbed at Abbotsford Senior Secondary school. Shirley Wilson, chair of Abbotsford’s board of trustees, maintains the school board was always in compliance with the ministerial order because the code of conduct had a link to the BC Human Rights Code. “It was never out of compliance, we just took the extra step to completely add all of the language from the Human Rights Code,” she says. The board also decided to create an administrative procedure to help guide schools, she adds. James Chamberlain, a Vancouver vice-principal who has been pushing for LGBT-friendly schools for 20 years, says Abbotsford’s record of supporting its queer students has been questionable. He points to the school board’s decision in 2008 to withdraw a Social Justice 12 elective course after parents complained about the content. “They wanted the LGBTQ portion of Social Justice 12 removed,” Chamberlain says. “They didn’t even want to run it as an elective in their schools unless they could brand it in their own way, which basically flew in the face of the provincial curriculum — and it still does.” After students protested the withdrawal, the school district relented and decided to offer the course but only with parental consent. Chamberlain, who went to school in Abbotsford, says the district’s current policy and administrative procedure pale in comparison to policies passed by other districts. “Other policies lay out that there need to be safe contacts in schools, [that] the board explicitly supports the formation of gay-straight alliance clubs, that counsellors will be trained on LGBTQ issues, that they’ll examine school libraries from an anti-bias lens around materials that would be deemed homophobic or transphobic or outdated. None of those things are in this policy.” Chamberlain says the policy doesn’t mention parent and teacher education which he calls a “glaring omission.” “The education of parents is huge in a very conservative school district like Abbotsford.” Chamberlain notes. “The faith-based beliefs of some families will butt up against the equal rights of LGBTQ people. The human rights protection is one thing but changing people’s hearts and minds is about education.” But Wilson says the school board has met the ministry’s requirements. “There was no requirement to do anything other than change the policy,” she  says. “We took the extra step to add the AP [administrative procedure].” Chamberlain contends that the policy and administrative procedure don’t give explicit support to teachers to teach about LGBTQ issues, either. “Unless teachers have the permission to teach in conservative districts, they’re often fearful,” he notes. “The status quo, which is basically silence or omission in Abbotsford, can continue,” he says. Wilson says the school board is working to ensure that no student feels isolated in Abbotsford schools. “We care about each student individually and their success,” she says. Caleb Boulter, who left WJ Mouat Secondary School after Grade 10, thinks the new SOGI language will help LGBT students in Abbotsford schools. “If there had been a policy when I was in Grade 9 or 10 at Mouat, it would have basically saved my life,” Boulter says, adding that access to a gender-neutral washroom would have helped a lot. “At that point, gender-neutral washrooms weren’t even something I was thinking about let alone fighting for because I was closeted,” Boulter explains. “I ended up missing a whole bunch of school in my Grade 10 year because of how uncomfortable I felt there.” Boulter says the new policy is a good sign but there is much to be done for queer students in Abbotsford. “Do training with teachers,” Boulter urges. “Listen to what the students actually need. Hear their voices, their perspectives, their stories in the school district and prevent further damage, as well as giving queer students a step up in coming out and being in a safe environment in school.”

Out in Ottawa: April 16–30, 2017

16 April 2017 - 4:12pm
Sunday, April 16 Embassy Q: The Show  Meghan Murphy and Angus Wright are two comedians who want to make space for, and meet, queer talent in Ottawa. This new recurring event begins with a drop-in improv workshop (for those who want to come early and try it out), followed by a variety show (featuring stand-up comedy, improv, music and more). Takes place the third Sunday of each month.  Drop-in improv workshop at 6pm; variety show at 7pm. The Improv Embassy, 176 Rideau St.  [[asset:image:309494 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The new recurring comedy event takes place the third Sunday of each month at the Improv Embassy."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Embassy Q"]}]] Thursday, April 20 Hard Cover Book Club: Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  Four friends decide to dive into life and make the big move to New York City. They have no money, but they have each other. Over the decades, their friendship deepens, and, in some cases, darkens, as the friends experience success, failure and addiction. At this book club, men gather to discuss Hanya Yanagihara’s novel Little Life, about love and life in the 21st century. 6:30pm. Centretown CHC, 420 Cooper St. For more info, visit Facebook   Saturday, April 22 Oh My Jam: Spring is Here, Lettuce Turnip the Beet  Love hip hop? Love strange vegetable-themed dance parties? Then this one is for you! The Queer Mafia, a group that throws events and supports causes in Ottawa, hosts a big queer party. Features D-luxx Brown, Yes Yes Jill and Sammy Rawal spinning hip hop, dancehall, R&B, reggae and more. Proceeds go to Westfest, the three-day celebration of arts and culture. The venue is accessible. 11pm–2:30am. Babylon Nightclub, 317 Bank St. For more info, visit Facebook  [[asset:image:309500 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Oh My Jam, organized by The Queer Mafia, takes place on April 22, 2017, at Babylon Nightclub."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy The Queer Mafia"]}]] Monday, April 24 Knotty Fun: An Intro to Rope Bondage Whether you’re actually dominant in bed or just like to pretending you’re a proper olde-tyme melodramatic villain tying people to train tracks, this workshop is for you. It covers all-things basic bondage, including topics such as safety, buying gear and the best knots. It includes hands-on practice (attendees are provided with a length of rope to practise with.  6:30pm. Venus Envy, 226 Bank St.   Saturday, April 29 Written in the Body: A Performance by Jan Andrews Written in the Body is the story of a woman’s lifelong struggle with gender issues — from growing up in England in the 1940s and 1950s to coming out as a lesbian in her late 40s, to turning 70 and seeing friends transition and wondering “what if?” Jan Andrews gives a live performance based on her book Written in the Body. Books are for sale at the event. 2pm. Christ Church Cathedral, 414 Sparks St. For more info, visit website   Manajiwin: LGBTTQ+ Fitness Space The gym is one of the most intimidating places — especially for people from marginalized communities. That’s why Kind Space and Odawa Native Friendship Centre provide an exercise space for queer people. Folks can get workout tips from on-site volunteers (if they want), and work out in a pressure-free environment. This takes place every Saturday. 5–8pm. The Odawa Native Friendship Centre, 250 City Centre Ave, Bay 102.   Show Tune Showdown 2017  The LGBT choir Tone Cluster hosts its annual musical theatre-themed extravaganza. Performers on various teams compete by singing songs from Broadway and off-Broadway musicals for a panel of celebrity judges. This year’s judges are China Doll, Robert Fillion and Alan Neal.  This is a massive event (the venue has nearly 1000 seats) that usually sells out.  8–10pm. Centrepointe Theatres, 101 Centrepointe Dr. For more info, visit Facebook. [[asset:image:309503 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Show Tune Showdown 2017 takes place on April 29, 2017, at Centrepointe Theatres."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Jay Dee Photo"]}]] Sashay Spring: DJ Stephan Grondin The massive (as in, it’s probably the largest queer dance party in Ottawa outside of Capital Pride) seasonable LGBT dance party returns. Montreal’s DJ Stephan Grondin is back once again to provide a thrilling soundscape for the evening. Ottawa’s own DJ Ashley Gauthier opens. Features drag performances by Markida Brown, Kiki Coe, Koko Shennel and Jasmine Dymond.  10:30pm–2:15am. Barrymore’s, 323 Bank St. For more info, visit Facebook.

Earning my red hankie — two fists at a time

14 April 2017 - 5:39pm
There I was, on a Saturday night in Washington, DC, just days away from Trump’s inauguration, surrounded by a few thousand guys in leather, feeling depressed and a bit lost. I’d had a fight earlier with the guy I was seeing. He’d stormed off and wasn’t replying to my texts. So I started messaging guys I knew in the area to see if anyone wanted to hang out. I got a reply. A Facebook friend from the Midwest, Paul, asked how it was going and what I was up to. I told him I wasn’t up to much and asked if he wanted to hang out. His reply: I’m looking for someone to fist me! Okay, this guy is super hot, lean but toned, always a big grin on his face, and I’d wanted to get my dick in him for some time. But fist? I’d only fisted someone once before. It was certainly an interesting experience. A group in Vancouver had organized a fisting event at Steamworks. I was friends with a lot of the guys at that party and I spent much of it observing as they explained their techniques. After some observation, a big daddy friend of mine called me over to the sling his boy was in. Daddy was six foot three and built like a boulder. His hands were slightly smaller boulders. He explained he’d been working on his boy for months, but that he hadn’t managed to take a whole hand yet. Apparently, that’s where I came in. The boy would like to say he’d taken a whole hand, and since my hands were slender and gently tapered from my wrists to forearms, daddy asked if I could fist his boy. I spent the next 20 minutes learning what to do, the daddy explaining everything as my slippery gloved hands slid inside the boy. It was certainly an interesting experience but I wouldn’t say I got a lot emotionally out of it. I was so focused on listening to the daddy and making sure I did everything he told me that I wasn’t able to really enjoy the time. But, as I say, I’ll try anything three times. Not once, three times. You can’t tell if you like something sexual if you only do it once. And DC was my opportunity to try a second time. I was determined to earn that red hankie. So I told Paul I’d be into fisting him. Then he said a friend of his also wanted to get fisted, if I were game to do both of them. Well, why not. I was on the verge of crying at this point, so I might as well get my mind off it. I didn’t come to DC to mope. I got up to their room and Paul introduced me to his friend Taylor, an attractive bearish guy with a trimmed red and grey beard. We chatted for a bit, then they took turns going into the bathroom to make sure they were still clean for some deep penetration. The three of us went upstairs to another room that was apparently set aside for fisting action over the weekend. We knew when we got there — a red hankie dangled from the doorknob in place of a Do Not Disturb sign. About seven guys were lounging around inside the room when we got there — they had been fisting for much of the evening and were taking a break. We grabbed some drop cloths and I put on gloves. Paul and Taylor got on their knees at the edge of the bed side by side, their butts in the air facing me, Paul on the right, Taylor on the left. One of the guys began pouring J-Lube on my hands and I made sure he added plenty. I coated my hands with the thick stringy lube. Paul said he was newer to this than Taylor so I thought I’d start with Paul as he’d likely be tighter. I started with two fingers in Paul’s ass, getting his hole nice and lubed up. Then I pulled them out and worked my three middle fingers in. Then four. I was pulling them gently in and out, twisting my hand around and feeling his cavity. I started to work my thumb in alongside, gently, slowly, twisting. Paul’s moans got louder, almost straining. I asked him if I could just leave my hand in so I could begin working on Taylor with my left hand. As my right hand remained inside Paul, someone applied more J-lube to my left. I did much the same with Taylor as I had done to Paul. However, all of a sudden, I felt a cavity left of my hand, so I began to explore in that direction. SLURP! My hand was sucked in without any effort. It was as if his insides dragged my hand deeper without my even pushing. Taylor moaned loudly and pulled his head back. I asked him if he was okay and he moaned what I heard as a “Yes.” With my left hand now deep inside Taylor, I could pay attention to both my bottoms at the same time. I began working both my hands together, twisting, pulling out, slipping back in. I was doing it. I was riding the chariot. I’d heard the term before, but didn’t imagine I’d be doing it only the second time I fisted. We went on for some time before they asked if they could take a break. I was getting tired, and it was late, so I said I’d probably call it a night. I left their room feeling a sense of accomplishment. Red hankies had always been the most intimidating of all the fetish colours to me. I felt something this time, though, that I hadn’t felt the first time. When my hand was drawn into Taylor, it felt like we were attached, more than any feeling you get from a cock in an ass. It is incredibly intimate to explore someone’s insides, to see your arm engulfed by someone’s body. I’m now dying to do it more often. I didn’t need to try fisting three times to find out I enjoyed it — only two. Once I’d gotten over the anxiety about injuring someone, I could just let the moment take me, get lost mentally inside someone’s cavity. I’m hoping to see these two guys again in a couple of months. I’d certainly like to try again with them, particularly because I feel so comfortable with them now.  Maybe one day I’ll even get fisted as a bottom. It won’t happen any time soon, but I know a cute pup in Seattle with small hands who I might be calling upon.

Trans education, Chechen retribution and reality television

14 April 2017 - 2:39pm
[[asset:image:309536 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] Trans man outed on Survivor A contestant in the reality show Survivor was unexpectedly outed as trans on television in an episode this week by another contestant, in an attempt to vote him off the show. The tactic backfired, and the outer was voted off instead. Read more at the New York Times.   World calls for end to Chechnya crackdown The United Nations, as well as various nations and international organizations, have spoken out against the Chechen crackdown on gay people, in which men have been reportedly rounded up and tortured. Meanwhile, the Russian newspaper that first reported the violence says it fears retribution for its reporting.   Indian university offers free tuition to trans people Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has announced it will offer free tuition to transgender students. The university’s vice-chancellor says educational opportunities will help to raise the position of transgender people in Indian society. Read more at The Hindu.   Study: Same-sex marriage good for health A study at the University of Washington shows that gay people who are married are healthier and better off than singles. Part of the result may be because married gay people are more likely to be out.   Orlando police release Pulse report A report on the Pulse Nightclub shooting from the Orlando Police has revealed more details of the attack, which killed 49 people. The report did not answer whether any of the victims were killed by friendly fire from police officers. Read more from the Orlando Sentinel.

Battleground Barbados: LGBT activists face off against North American homophobes in the Caribbean

13 April 2017 - 8:38pm
On a sunny day in April last year, at an ocean-side resort just steps from one of Barbados’ famous white-sand beaches, a hate group was hosting a conference. Dozens of neatly-dressed church and community leaders, including a Barbadian senator, packed into meeting rooms and diligently took notes as speakers opined on the evils of abortion, contraception, sex education and LGBT rights. The World Congress of Families, one of the largest and most influential anti-LGBT networks in the world, had invited a murderers’ row of homophobic speakers. Scott Stirm was there. He’s an evangelical missionary from Texas who was one of the most virulent critics of the effort to decriminalize homosexuality in Belize, arguing gay tourists come to the country to corrupt children. He also believes that Haiti made a pact with the devil 200 years ago when it broke the bonds of slavery. So were Phil Lees, a Canadian who travels the world condemning the evils of Ontario’s comprehensive sex education curriculum, and Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian LGBT opponent, who claims queer and trans advocates are conspiring with Boko Haram. Philippa Davies, who perpetuates the false belief that homosexuality and peodophilia are linked, provided lessons learned from the fight to maintain homophobic laws in Jamaica. And Don Feder, who inveighed against Harriet Tubman going on the US $20 bill because “American history was made by white males,” gave a lecture to the mostly black audience about the fast-approaching “demographic winter.” The World Congress of Families was using the playbook it had perfected in Russia, Nigeria and Uganda, where it is credited with helping pass some of the world’s most vicious anti-gay laws.  The message was clear: unless Christians in the Caribbean draw a line in the sand, their countries would become havens for feminism and gay rights, just like the United States and Canada. It wasn’t exactly the kind of company Ro-Ann Mohammed, a queer woman, is used to keeping.  Mohammed, a co-founder of Barbados Gays, Lesbians and All-Sexuals Against Discrimination (B-GLAD), one of Barbados’s few LGBT advocacy groups, had snuck into the conference with a handful of other activists.  “It was the worst thing I have ever been to, honestly,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it was happening in this day and age.” And Mohammed couldn’t shake the sense that  history was repeating itself. “It was mostly the white American men speaking to a crowd of predominantly black Barbadian people and telling them what to do,” she says.  “We have these attitudes that were brought to us through imperialism and colonization. And then there are these people coming from North America telling us that we’re too progressive.” Mohammed grew up in Trinidad, but moved to Barbados to attend university. There, she and Donnya Piggott co-founded B-GLAD in 2011 as a queer students’ organization. When people from outside the university began to join, Mohammed and Piggott realized they could do more good if they expanded to the rest of the island. Before B-GLAD, the LGBT movement in Barbados was centred around HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, catering mainly to gay men. Queer women, homeless LGBT people and trans youth had especially few options. “We realized that these people don’t have anywhere to go,” she says. “And people wanted help.” B-GLAD became a country-wide LGBT advocacy organization and Mohammed decided not to return to Trinidad. “I found that if nobody else wanted to pick up the mantle in this space, I didn’t see why I wouldn’t be able to do so,” she says. And now, five years later, she was sitting in a room at a seaside resort, watching influential Bajans lap up homophobic and misogynistic propaganda from wealthy North Americans. “It was fear-mongering at its best,” she says.   [[asset:image:309509 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["An intersection in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados."],"field_asset_image_credit":["westend61\/Getty Images"]}]] Barbados, a small, windswept island-nation on the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea, has had a history of outsiders coming in and causing trouble. First, it was Spanish slavers, who decimated the indigenous Taino and Kalinago inhabitants in the 16th century. Then came waves of British settlers, who brought with them sugarcane, West African slaves and the racial hierarchies and puritanical Christianity of imperial Britain. But throughout the colonial years, Barbados was much more permissive of homosexuality than the mother country, owing to the fact that it was overwhelmingly single men who came to settle. And the West African slaves came from cultures where there was spiritual and social room for relationships between men. This all changed in the Victorian era, when panic around moral decline led to the British Parliament passing harsh laws against gay intimacy. But despite the statutes, which remained on the books when Barbados became independent in 1966, people who didn’t fit into the restrictive sexual or gender norms still found a country where they were often tolerated, and even occasionally celebrated. Visibly queer and gender nonconforming people carved spaces for themselves, as rum shop owners, jewellers and dressmakers. Gay men would socialize together in semi-private events in rented rooms or backyards. And the Queen of the Bees pageant, an annual drag show where all segments of society would dress up in their finest, was a social highlight and was even held at the National Stadium at the height of its popularity. [[asset:image:309512 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Barbados is an island nation in the Caribbean. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["TUBS\/Wiki Commons"]}]] But the 1980s brought with it drugs and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and with them an increased interest in fundamentalist forms of Christianity, such as Pentecostalism and Seventh Day Adventism. The tolerance that LGBT Bajans had enjoyed was tested, and some people began to flee the island.  Today, Barbados continues to criminalize buggery and gross indecency, two provisions that essentially refer to gay sex. The punishment for buggery is life imprisonment, the harshest sentence for this charge of any country in the Western hemisphere.  Though the law is rarely enforced, its very existence stigmatizes LGBT people and turns them into unapprehended felons, say activists. And while violence against LGBT people is not as high as in other English-speaking countries in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, advocates say that discrimination and harassment is common.  There are no anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT Bajans, and the handful of political victories that have been won over the past few years continue to come under assault from a resurgent fundamentalist Christian movement fuelled by North American homophobes. As Barbados celebrates a half-century of independence, queer and trans Bajans feel they’re still not being afforded the respect and recognition they deserve as citizens of a free nation. And some fear that things may be about to get worse.   [[asset:image:309515 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Freundel Stuart, who leads the Democratic Labour Party, has been Prime Minister of Barbados since 2010. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["OEA\u200a\u2014\u200aOAS\/Flickr Creative Commons"]}]] In September 2016, Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart came to Canada and held an open forum at the University of Toronto as part of the festivities around the anniversary of independence. Dressed in a powder-blue Tommy Hilfiger shirt, the 65-year-old attorney addressed a lecture theatre without a microphone, fielding questions from members of the Barbadian diaspora who had come to hear him speak. In a professorial tone and with a penchant for historical tangents, Stuart went into the weeds on issues such as Barbados’ debt burden, how to enhance the tourist economy and the ins-and-outs of obtaining building permits.  But when Xtra asked him if his government would commit to repealing Barbados’ harsh buggery laws, Stuart reverted to the sharp-witted attorney, rejecting out of hand the question’s very premise. “I have been a lawyer for the last 34 years now,” he said. “And I am not aware that we have what you call ‘harsh’ buggery laws.” Stuart maintained that the buggery laws were merely the same-sex equivalent of rape laws. “Rape is the offence committed against in a heterosexual relationship, and buggery is the offence committed in a same-sex relationship,” he said. “At the kernel of both is the absence of consent.” First, there must be a complainant who can bring forward the allegations so that a prosecutor can push the case, Stuart said. Therefore, if the sex is consensual, there can’t be a case.  “There is a lobby that is trying to get the government, trying to get successive governments, in Barbados to decriminalize, as they say, homosexuality,” Stuart said. “But you can only decriminalize something that is already a criminal offence.” He acknowledged that almost every family includes people who are LGBT, but stated that the country’s Christian character precludes any further steps to change the law. Stuart then launched into a condemnation of many of the aims of his country’s LGBT rights movement. “Those people, who feel that we should create an environment where they can practise their lifestyles in public on high noon on a sunny day,” he said, “want even the very limited controls we have, removed.” “We respect that — as long as you don’t become too evangelical about it and want to convert all of us to it,” Stuart said, prompting a round of laughter in the room.    [[asset:image:309518 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The Parliament of Barbados, the country\u2019s seat of government."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Flavio Vallenari\/Getty Images"]}]] While the prime minister argues that the buggery laws are about consent, he’s contradicted by a prosecutor who actually brought forward charges last year. Elwood Watts, principal Crown counsel in a buggery case, said in no uncertain terms that buggery does not require consent. “As long as the penis enters the anus, and there is a complaint, it is an offence,” Watts explained. “It does not matter if you claim the person consented or did not consent.” And according to LGBT activists, the prosecutor’s views reflect how the law is viewed by everyday people, the police and the courts. Speaking on the phone from Barbados, Shari Inniss-Grant and Stefan Newton, both directors at Equals Barbados, an LGBT-rights group, say they’re disappointed, though not surprised, by the prime minister’s stance on buggery. “What he said about the law is a misstatement of the law,” Newton says. “And he’s an attorney — he should know better.” “It’s clearly understood around the world, in the Commonwealth and particularly in Barbados, as something that’s criminalizing homosexuality,” Inniss-Grant says. “And it has the effect of stigmatizing individuals who are queer and really promoting discrimination against them.” The text of the law itself is clear and makes no mention of consent. “Any person who commits buggery is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life,” it reads. And when someone is charged with buggery in a rape case, the result can be a conflation of homosexuality and peodophilia.  When a scout leader was charged with buggery for raping a 12-year-old boy, the chief scout commissioner didn’t speak out against child predators, but against gay men. “My organization will not tolerate any practice of homosexuality in its ranks, whether boy scout to boy scout, leader to leader or leader to boy,” he said. And the laws can sometimes lead to vigilante violence. “Some persons perpetuate violence against LGBTQ individuals because they even think they’re privately enforcing the law,” Newton says. The prime minister’s denial that the buggery law is “harsh” is absurd, Newton says, considering that it comes with the most severe penalty for any sexual offence.  As for his comments about people “practicing their lifestyles in public on high noon, on a sunny day,” Newton is perplexed.  “I don’t think two men are going to be out and buggering each other in the middle of the road,” he says.   [[asset:video_embed:309521 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["Barbados GLAD\/YouTube"]}]] About a month after the World Congress of Families conference, the gossip writer for the Nation, Barbados’ leading newspaper, gleefully recounted the public rape and humiliation of an LGBT Bajan. “She has been a good ‘man’ to many women,” the column began. “Her habits are no secret and she prefers to be referred to as the masculine sex.” “You see, she had one too many drinks in a farming community recently, and while out cold, a man had his own way with her. He even left the evidence on her body.” The victim, who hadn’t been seen for days because of the humiliation, had photos of the aftermath of their rape distributed online. “Some fear ‘my gentleman’ may never be the same after being emasculated,” the writer concluded. The LGBT community and its allies were horrified and demanded a retraction. The piece was pulled by the paper, which issued an apology to “right thinking members of our community,” but not to the victim. Though violent hate crimes against queer and trans Bajans are less common than in other parts of the region, harassment, discrimination, property damage, verbal abuse and occasional episodes of violence are a reality for many LGBT people on the island. And there’s no guarantee that police will help. A recent study showed that 75 percent of LGBT Bajans who went to the police said they were denied assistance.  Sometimes, the police themselves are accused of being the perpetrators. In September 2016, Raven Gill, a 25-year-old trans woman, complained that she was verbally abused, publicly humiliated and forced to strip in front of male officers after she was arrested for causing a disturbance. Gill claimed that officers repeatedly questioned her gender and placed her in a male holding cell. Gill, along with René Holder-McClean-Ramirez, a director of Equals Barbados, filed a complaint with Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who promised to look into the matter. According to Holder-McClean-Ramirez, many LGBT people are wary of any interactions with the police. “You’re not treated as a person reporting a crime,” he says. “There’s always this other layer where you’re guilty of some behaviour, or encouraged what happened to you.” “And sometimes the same policemen are the persons who are inflicting violence on LGBT persons,” Newton adds. B-GLAD has hosted multiple sensitivity training sessions with Barbadian police officers. Mohammed says that while she doesn’t think that the police force is resistant to change, there’s still a long way to go. Discrimination, especially in housing and employment, remains far too common. Mohammed and a former girlfriend were evicted from their home by their landlord for being in a relationship. “She didn’t want lesbians living in her apartment building, and we had to leave,” she says. “And in Barbados, there’s no way for us to challenge that.” The lack of recourse is one reason why Barbadian activists have made an anti-discrimination law one of their top priorities.  “It just makes daily social interactions hard if you are a member of the LGBTQ population,” Newton says.    On Nov 6, 2016, hundreds of Christians adorned in the national colours of blue, gold and black held a rally to decry sexual immorality for the second year in a row. Amid the festivities, which included gospel music and dancers, speakers made the case that LGBT Bajans represented a moral and demographic threat to the soul of the nation. Johanan Lafeuillee-Doughlin, a local lawyer and pastor, said Barbados should not decriminalize gay sex, and begged the crowd to not give into the cultural imperialism of developed countries. But despite the nationalistic rhetoric, Americans featured prominently in the night’s proceedings.  Charlene Cothran, a once-prominent LGBT activist and publisher who became ex-gay in 2006, said that no one is born gay, a fact she claimed to be certain of because she had previously chosen to become a lesbian. “I gave myself fully over to it,” she said. “The lesbian spirit saturated every part of my conscious and subconscious mind.” Judith Reisman, a conservative activist who claims that homosexual “recruitment techniques” rival those of the US Marines, and that Nazism was a “German homosexual movement,” delivered a powerpoint presentation from the stage. She went on a conspiratorial rant about Alfred Kinsey, the influential sex researcher, claiming he was a sado-masochistic psychopath, beastiality enthusiast and pedophile, whose work is responsible for many of society’s ills. “He actually was involved in the sexual torture of 300 to 1,000 infants and children,” Reisman said, matter-of-factly. She argued that comprehensive sexual education would turn children into “little sexual deviants,” bedeviled by substance abuse, AIDS and venereal disease.  After the event, Steve Blackett, the minister of social work, told a Barbados’ newspaper that he wholeheartedly agreed with Reisman’s presentation.  Barbados must stand firm against the foreign evils and foreign values that threaten the country, he said.    [[asset:image:309524 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Mia Mottley, the head of the Barbados Labour Party and the Leader of the Opposition."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Barbados Labour Party\/Facebook"]}]] In 2003, then–attorney general Mia Mottley spoke out in favour of decriminalizing buggery and prostitution. “Law, which seeks to discriminate in a society whose history has been scarred with the cancer of discrimination, has in fact, to be reformed,” she said.  But even after a government report recommended reform the following year, change didn’t come. Since then, support for the buggery laws has fallen significantly, though a majority of Bajans still support them. Today, no one in government is speaking about decriminalizing homosexuality. Some government ministers have spoken out against discrimination, while others remain firmly fundamentalist.  But recent comments from a high-ranking government official presage that politics in Barbados may take a homophobic turn.  Speaking at a constituency meeting for the ruling Democratic Labour Party in November 2016, Chris Sinckler, the minister of finance, said that his party would make morality a key issue in the next election, which will take place sometime before early 2018. “In my mind, if it is not in other people’s minds, that the next election is also going to be fought for the moral heart of this country,” he told the crowd. “When you lay down at nights and you get up with the Grace of God in the morning, think about the ethics and morals that underpin this country.” Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the government is thinking about making this push when Mottley, who pushed for decriminalizing homosexuality, is now the leader of the opposition and poised to form the next government.  One clergyman heard the dog-whistle loud and clear. “His reference to morality is restricted; it would appear to refer to sexual issues surrounding homosexuality,” Canon Wayne Isaacs, a senior Anglican cleric, wrote on Facebook.  “We must not allow our thinking on moral issues to be influenced by a ‘right-wing’ form of Christianity coming out of North America that is not in our interest politically, socially nor morally.” A few months later, government Senator David Durant viciously attacked a comprehensive sex education curriculum aimed at fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, calling it “one of the greatest assaults on the health and innocence of children.” That was followed by an HIV/AIDS counsellor arguing the curriculum was turning children gay.  To Maurice Tomlinson, this rhetoric is all too familiar.  The Jamaican-Canadian lawyer who is challenging Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws in court, says that the Jamaica he grew up in was considerably friendlier towards LGBT people than today.  “We had ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ — everybody knew who was gay,” he says.  But things started to change.  “In the late ’80s and the early ’90s, we ignored the rising rhetoric of the churches, when the evangelical North Americans started to come down to Jamaica with their hateful rhetoric,” he says. “After the religious rhetoric started to rise, we started to see the attacks.” The combination of well-financed outside organizations like the World Congress of Families and the politicization of homophobia is a dangerous cocktail for Barbados. But Tomlinson, who lived on the island while he was attending law school, thinks it’s not too late for the nation. “I’m hoping that in the case of Barbados, we can be more proactive, we can nip it in the bud,” he says. “We can call it out, we can prevent it from escalating.” “Because I don’t want to see us lose Barbados, the way we’ve lost Jamaica.” [[asset:image:309527 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Queen Elizabeth II, Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the leaders of other Commonwealth nations gather in Malta for Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in 2015."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Matt Cardy\/Getty Images"]}]] During a trip to la Francophonie summit in Madagascar last November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke up for LGBT rights to the assembled leaders, which included 10 who lead countries where homosexuality is illegal.  “Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities suffer in too many countries, including certain members of la Francophonie who are here today,” Trudeau said. “We owe them the same respect, the same rights and the same dignity as all other members of our society.” Barbados is the third-largest destination for Canadian foreign investment. Canadian banks have a strong presence in the country and Canadian tourism dollars contribute greatly to the economy. The Canadian government isn’t above using that klout to pressure the Barbadian government around LGBT issues. On April 11, the Canadian High Commissioner raised the issue of Barbados’ buggery laws to Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who denied that LGBT Bajans are persecuted.  To B-GLAD co-founder Ro-Ann Mohammed, that smells like colonialism all over again. “It creates more problems than anything when entities from the global north come and say, ‘This is what you should do,’” she says. “‘We left you with these laws, but now you’re wrong and you’re backwards and you’re savages.’” Much of the opposition to LGBT rights in Barbados is galvanized by what they see as imperial bullying from countries like Canada, the US and the UK. “That’s a huge part of their argument — pushing back against any sort of progression for the movement,” Mohammed says. After then–British prime minister David Cameron threatened in 2011 to cut aid to countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality, there was significant pushback in Barbados.  That doesn’t mean that foreign entities don’t have a part to play in the struggle for LGBT recognition in the Caribbean. “Instead of going above them, try reaching out to community leaders,” she says. “What resources can I provide you with? How can we be of assistance? How can we strengthen or fortify your movement?” Despite the increasing influence of North American Christian fundamentalists in Barbados, organizations like B-GLAD, Equals Barbados and their predecessors have made significant progress over the years. Acceptance for LGBT people in Barbados is growing, though most people still think the buggery laws should be maintained. And even while some members of the government appear to be on the verge of adopting more hateful rhetoric, others are approaching the issue with compassion.   B-GLAD is helping organize sexual education seminars, and Equals Barbados is fighting back against police mistreatment. As Christian organizations host pro–family values rallies, LGBT people are now holding counter-rallies. Queer and trans activists from across the eastern Caribbean are partnering together to advocate for their rights. And there’s more visibility for LGBT people than ever before. “We can slowly see that there’s a shift and a change,” Mohammed says. And though LGBT Bajans must contend with a suspicious public, a sometimes-hostile press, vacillating politicians and well-financed North American homophobes, the progress made over the past few years speaks for itself. “We weren’t always homophobic — this was brought to us,” Mohammed says. “But we have the burden of trying to reverse it.”

Liberals’ superficial Criminal Code reform betrays sex workers and queer artists

13 April 2017 - 8:38pm
Did you know that it’s illegal to sell Superman comics in Canada? According to Section 163 (1) (b) of the Criminal Code, anyone who “makes, prints, publishes, distributes, sells” a “crime comic” – defined as any comic book that depicts a real or fictitious crime – is guilty of an offence. That would include any comic where Lex Luthor kidnaps Lois Lane.  It’s also illegal to sell or advertise Viagra, the morning-after pill, any cure for a “venereal disease,” or any other medicine or service that claims to improve virility, cause an abortion, or cure a sexually transmitted disease under S163 (2) (c).  Other parts of s163 criminalize the creation and distribution of obscene written matter and photos, exhibitions of a “disgusting object or indecent show.”  Despite the obviously unconstitutional impingement on free speech , it’s not one of the provisions that’s targeted by Bill C-39, an “Act to amend the Criminal Code (unconstitutional provisions,” that justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced into the House of Commons on March 8, 2017.  Among the provisions that are under scrutiny here are several clauses struck down by the courts related to the definition of murder, how breathalyzer tests can be administered, vagrancy and publishing fake news. And the sodomy law repeal, which has been stalled in Parliament since Wilson-Raybould introduced it in November 2016, is folded into this bill as well. The bill was timed for release on International Women’s Day to call attention to the formal repeal of the abortion law struck down in 1988. (Bizarrely, the ban on advertising abortion services would remain. Nobody mentioned that when Trudeau used the same day to announce a new global fund to provide abortion services in developing countries.)  It’s all well and good that the government is finally doing what the Supreme Court ordered, in some cases, several decades ago.  But why do they have to wait for the court to rule on laws that are obviously unconstitutional, or flat-out stupid, to change the law? A close review of the Criminal Code could probably find a dozen other unconstitutional provisions,, including vague provisions related to public morals and obscenity that have come under Supreme Court scrutiny for their use against LGBT people and businesses. Chief among them ought to be the provisions added by the Harper Conservatives’ “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act” — the sex work law.  The Conservatives introduced the law after the Supreme Court struck down the previous provisions on sex work. The new law got cute with the Court’s ruling, by criminalizing the clients rather than the sex workers themselves, and also struck new ground in offence to free speech by criminalizing the placement of ads for sexual services. That included criminalizing anyone who works at a newspaper that places such ads. Although a Supreme Court challenge is years away, it doesn’t take much analysis to recognize that the current sex work laws recreate exactly the same dangers for sex workers that the Court found violated the right to their security of person. Indeed, shortly after being sworn into office in December 2015, Wilson-Raybould committed to “reviewing the prostitution laws and making sure that we’ve adequately addressed the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court.”  As a candidate for office, Toronto Liberal MP Adam Vaughan went further.  “It concerns me substantially that the federal government would take steps that put free speech at risk,” Vaughan said back in June 2014. “When Charter issues are abridged, it’s something all Canadians need to worry about.”  Indeed, these sections of the Criminal Code are not just insulting to sex workers and queer artists. They directly impact fundamentals of free speech and the free press.  That the government tabled this incomplete review of the Criminal Code betrays its superficial commitment to upholding our Charter rights.

‘How many months can we stay alive?’: Meet the Iranian-Indian couple abandoned by Canada

13 April 2017 - 5:38pm
Alireza and Kiran eat one meal a day.  Since the gay refugee couple arrived in Turkey in November 2014, they’ve struggled to find paid work.  “Every day we think: ‘This is our budget, how many months can we stay alive?’” Kiran says before their Friday evening meal. He has a notebook listing the cost of each vegetable and grain from the shops around town, because some ingredients cost a half-lira less (18 Canadian cents) at the supermarket across town. Xtra previously reported on Canada selecting scores of LGBT Iranians for resettlement before abandoning their cases. But immigration department data suggests the UNHCR Canada Fundraising Office (UNHCR) stopped referring almost any cases to Canada in 2016, instead opting for the United States, which has ceased virtually all resettlement since late January 2017. That’s left people like Alireza and Kiran languishing in deteriorating conditions in Turkey after fleeing violence in Iran and India, where the former is punishable by death, and the latter is illegal. Shared struggles The pair met online in 2010. Alireza was a student in Iran who made documentaries and blogs about LGBT issues, while Kiran worked as a fashion designer in his native India. They bonded over their art, as well as shared experiences of their families rejecting them and trying to force them to marry women. Alireza’s problems started in the summer of 2004 when his family got wind of the low-key social events he occasionally held with other gay men in Tehran’s Mellat Park. Alireza’s parents drugged him and admitted him to a mental hospital for a month, he says. Then they kept him locked in his room, with visiting doctors that used counselling, pills and injections trying to make him straight. He pretended it worked, but occasionally dated men discreetly. But problems persisted, especially after the country’s 2009 Green Movement protests, which Alireza photographed. When spies tracked Alireza’s friends, they asked about him. When a man he’d dated was charged, they put allegations of sodomy in Alireza’s criminal record. In Mumbai, Kiran’s homosexuality led to bullying that made him drop out of college in 1998, while coworkers blackmailed him for money. When his mother suffered a paralyzing hematoma, Kiran’s siblings blamed him for the stress his homosexuality caused, leaving him as caretaker for her last four years. He says he was lured by men who mugged him for cash and kept his identification card, warning that if he complained to police they would out him. Once, when he had gay friends over, police knocked on the door and threatened to charge him under the penal code. They took him to the police station. “I was slapped several times, and the duty officer pulled me by my ears and took me to a room, kicked and hit me with his baton on my buttocks, saying ‘Now do you enjoy it?’” he recalls. His sister bailed him out with a bribe, after police made him sign a promise to not engage in homosexual acts. Kiran moved across the country to a friend’s family home in Jammu for six months in 2010. But they too figured out he was gay, and started taunting him. In December 2010, Kiran visited  his other sister in Iran for two months and attempted to find work. He took the opportunity to meet in person with Alireza, who talked of moving to India, yet Kiran pushed him away. “I said, ‘let's live our separate lives.’” But Alireza was growing increasingly paranoid. Friends were getting arrested, while a hard drive disappeared from his private office. He moved to India to live with Kiran in 2011, earning an MBA in media management. But their gay friends were extorted and mugged, and Kiran started seeing psychiatrists for depression and anxiety in 2013. When Kiran’s sister sued her husband for domestic abuse in 2014, he retaliated by  following and harassing Kiran and Alireza. The man threatened to have both arrested, after India’s highest court upheld the country’s law against homosexuality in 2013. The two fled to Iran, where things felt just as unsafe. On the advice of non-profit groups in both countries, they left for Turkey in November 2014. Deteriorating conditions Upon arrival, the UNHCR told them to wait 21 months for their first interview — a process that used to take less than a year. Like a lesbian couple who spoke with Xtra, the UN placed the pair in the conservative city of Denizli. When they arrived, landlords turned them away, saying too many foreign “friends” turned out to be homosexuals. They heard the same complaints when they applied for jobs at textile factories, so they found part-time work at a café. They’ve tried to find small gigs for money. Recently, Alireza and Kiran both ruined their pants while unloading furniture for a showroom manager, who disappeared without paying them.  They’ve switched apartments multiple times, such as when their landlady burst in with her son threatening to beat them. She evicted them without returning three months of paid rent. Because millions of Middle Eastern refugees have fled to Turkey in recent years, the country has struggled to issue social insurance cards. Alireza, now 34, and Kiran, now 39, waited 16 months for access to doctors, treating flus and colds with home remedies.  “This is our life. We are not like two young gays who are being supported by their families to migrate to Canada and live a gay and happy life in Canada,” Kiran says. “That is not who we are.” Turkey allows Syrian refugees to move around the country, but all others are assigned a host city where they must report to local police every week. The couple make a point of alternating their routes and timing ever since Alireza’s family started trying to locate him in Turkey.  While he doesn’t know if they want to harm him or bring him back, Alireza’s friends back home say his family figured out he’s living in Denizli. And though the couple read articles about other LGBT refugees in their city, Kiran says they’re hard to spot and ask for advice. “It hurts me more when I meet them and see the conditions they are living in, the food they are eating, the way they are surviving. It’s terrible,” he says. “They really are depressed; it will take a lot of time for them to come back to life.” When Kiran tried continuing his treatment for anxiety and depression, the UNHCR booked appointments, but with a counsellor who doesn’t speak English. When he found one in Ankara who does speak English, he was denied a permit to leave Denizli. It’s lonely there, Kiran says, because no one speaks English among the local Turks and the foreigners from neighbouring countries. ‘We’re being forgotten’ The pair provided UNHCR documents showing the agency granted them refugee status in spring 2016, and selected them for third-country resettlement on the grounds that they were particularly vulnerable in Turkey. The couple asked to be referred to Canada, where they have a few friends, on the advice of Arsham Parsi, who runs the Toronto-based Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees. But the UNHCR told the couple that Canada was only taking Syrians — that Iranians and Iraqis might make a waiting list, but not for a few years. Since arriving in Turkey, they’ve watched others arrive in Denizli then go abroad. “We are being forgotten because many other issues are happening in this region,” Alireza says. “What did we do, to be forgotten in this land?” In September, the US took on their application, starting interviews and scheduling medical checks. But  America has twice tried to suspend all refugee resettlement, before being blocked by courts. With uncertainty from American officials, Kiran has written to Canadian lawyers, MPs and private-sponsorship groups. Those who respond say they can’t help. Recently, the couple withdrew their US application, hoping Canada or another country would take their case. [[asset:image:309533 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Alireza (left) and Kiran\u2019s (right) UNCHR documents showing their case had been submitted for third-country resettlement to the United States."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Alireza and Kiran"]}]] Kiran is perplexed by a discrepancy between media images of Canada as a welcoming haven and the quiet shutdown of a program that brought hundreds to safety.“We want equal rights like other humans. We don't want to be scared that we cannot go out of the house,” Kiran says.  He admits the problems have put a strain on their relationship — but he also says their bond is a source of strength. If they make it to Canada, they plan to get married. “The best thing is that we are together,” he says. “We wouldn't have survived long if we'd not had faith in God, not believed in Him, that one day this will all be over,” he adds. “I am trying my level best to fight and not give up.”

Out in Toronto: April 13–19, 2017

13 April 2017 - 2:37pm
Thursday, April 13 The Book of Mormon When two young Mormon missionaries travel to Uganda to spread the so-called good word, they find the locals preoccupied with more important matters — AIDS, famine and warlords. Written by the creators of the cartoon South Park, this musical comedy mocks The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The venue is accessible (visit website for more information). Runs until Sunday, April 16, various showtimes. Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St W.  [[asset:image:309188 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The Book of Mormon runs until April 16, 2017, at the Princess of Wales Theatre."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Joan Marcus"]}]] Buffy Made Me Gay! Buffy the Vampire Slayer just turned 20 (the TV show began in 1997), so why not kick off the Easter long weekend with a big queer dance party celebrating the life (and resurrection?) of Buffy Anne Summers? There will be a costume contest with 1990s/early 2000s fashions suggested. The venue is mostly accessible (there are no buttons to open the front door or accessible washroom door). 10pm–2:30am. Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook. [[asset:image:309491 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Queer dance party Buffy Made Me Gay takes place April 13, 2017, at Glad Day Bookshop."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy 20th Television"]}]] Friday, April 14 Kinky Jesus: The Second Coming Back and more blasphemous than ever, the Toronto Sisters (those whacky, charitable drag nuns) host a pageant where the title of “Kinky Jesus” is up for grabs. Folks compete in a variety of categories to see who will be the new Kinky Jesus and save us from the tribulations of vanilla sex. The venue is not accessible. 3–5pm. Club 120, 120 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook. [[asset:image:309482 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Kinky Jesus: The Second Coming takes place on April 14, 2017, at Club 120."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtest Twisted Fister"]}]] Saturday, April 15 Hot Damn It’s a Queer Slam: Finals with Queen Sheba Seven slam poets compete, but only one will be named the champion. At this edition of Hot Damn It’s a Queer Slam, the recurring event where folks get on stage and express themselves earnestly and loudly, this year’s champion will be chosen. Features a special performance by Queen Sheba, a renowned slam poet from Atlanta. 7:30–11pm. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. For more info, visit Facebook.   Cherry Bomb: Queer the Long Weekend Spring has sprung, love is in the air and queer women and their friends are dancing the weekend away in Kensington Market. One of the most popular and longest-running parties for queer women in the city returns, with, of course, DJs Cozmic Cat and Denise Benson spinning club hits old and new.    10pm–3am. Round, 152 Augusta Ave. For more info, visit Facebook.   Tuesday, April 18 That’s My Drag! Fundraiser for ACT  The now-and-then drag fundraiser with all proceeds going to the AIDS Committee of Toronto returns. It’s a night of fun and frivolity (and screaming and wigs and glitter and big shoes) for a good cause. Features the drag styles of Sapphyre Poisone, Nikki Chin, Devine Darlin, Ivory Towers and others. For more info, contact   8–11pm. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. For more info, visit Facebook  [[asset:image:309485 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Devine Darlin will be performing at the That\u0027s My Drag fundraiser on April 18, 2017 at Buddies."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy David Hawe"]}]] Wednesday, April 19  Altered States: Naughty Comedy Hypnosis Show Las Vegas-trained hypnotist Brandon Dean’s monthly hypnosis show is a surprising, goofy and sometimes dirty peek into the subconscious mind. During his show, Dean calls adventurous (or perhaps foolish) volunteers up on stage and guides them through an entertaining journey into imaginary environments for the amusement and delight of the audience. 8–10pm. The Tranzac, 292 Brunswick Ave. For more info, visit Facebook. [[asset:image:309488 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Hypnotist Brandon Dean\u0027s show takes place April 19, 2017, at The Tranzac."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Alex Hill"]}]]  

Out in Vancouver: April 13–19, 2017

12 April 2017 - 8:37pm
Thursday, April 13 Queer Arts Festival AGM No, you haven’t slept your summer away. Things are just moving so quickly that it’s already time for the Queer Arts Festival annual general meeting. Looking to get involved or just curious about updates and sneak peeks into this year’s festival in June? Join organizers to find out more about what’s coming up. 7–10pm. Mainspace Amenity Space, 350 East 2nd Ave.   Downtown: Lesbian & Queer Party One good thing about our city is that when it rains, it pours — especially when it comes to long weekend parties. You’ll notice that 90 percent of this week’s listings are all new, so get out and enjoy. This is one of the newest events in the city, featuring DJs Skylar Love, Krista, Bellaella and ManyBothans. A unique dance experience for Vancouver’s lesbian and queer scene, right in the heart of the Village. Stop saying we’re no fun, for once, and check out something new. Who knows? You may like it. 9pm–2am. Lux Lounge, 1180 Howe St. Tickets $10 online at or at the door.   Hershe: The Glow Party Seems like it’s been a while since a rousing Hershe Party — perhaps because spring seems to have forgotten us, so nobody has the spring hornys yet. But Flygirl is about to change all that with a glow party. A real glow-in-the-dark experience with video-mapping of the DJ stage from a Shambhala master, face painters, a glow-in-the-dark art room, and more. Get those white tees and shoes out and paint the glow pants on. 10pm–2am. The Red Room Ultra Bar, 398 Richards St. Tickets online at   Friday, April 14 Mr Ruff 2017 It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since the first Mr Ruff event. Half-naked men, jockstraps bulging, go-go bears — no wonder I feel like that hangover lasted months. Now I’m set to do it all again. Who will be adorned with the crown of Mr Ruff — Chris, Jesse, Boy Spence or Addison? All are handsome, most are hairy, and they are all definitely packing. It’s all for a good cause too: donations go to the Vancouver Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe, a chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Donations can be made online, in person at the event and at performances by the candidates. I think Addison might need a bag for donations, since that jock is already pretty stuffed. See you there; I’ll be the one counting the donations in the jocks. Run, Addison, run. 7:30pm. The Pint, 455 Abbott St. Tickets $20 at Top Drawers, 809 Davie St and online. $25 at the door. Info and voting at   Queen Please Finally, a new night to showcase the raunchiest, funniest, trashiest and most sexually explicit queen around — all in a fun way of course. Can you guess who it is? If I said the woman can deep throat a bottle of beer and pull it out empty, would that be a clue? That’s correct! Joan-E, both with the bottle trick and without, is one of the drag pillars of the Village and always a crowd pleaser. Tonight, she’s joined by Ilona and Coco Klein, so expect the totally unexpected and outrageous. 9:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. $5 cover.   Saturday, April 15 The Chair Series Preview Night Although the show doesn’t open until next month, these clever people are holding a preview night to get you interested. Then when you bring your friends next month, you’ll be the queen bee for picking a hit. A great concept: individual monologues written for individual actors by John McGie. No props, no set, no costumes. Just words and a chair. Bare bones theatre? Theatre unplugged? Really cheap producers? Take your pick. Some monologues are heartfelt, some hysterical and some hypnagogic, making each showing a roller coaster for the heart and a wonder for the mind. Produced by David C Jones, you already know this monthly endeavour will be a hit. Opening show is Saturday, May 20, continuing the third Saturday of every month. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will order the drink special! 8pm. Seven Dining Lounge, 53 West Broadway St. Tickets $7 at Info at   The Judy Show: 2 Fast 2 Judy We all have one — a Judy that is — and no, Judy is not the special name I give my private parts (that would be Kong.) A Judy is a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically outside sexual or family relations. So grab your Judy, or borrow someone else’s for the night, and have fun. Request songs, watch drag, make new friends and make out with cute people. Come in and meet the Judies: Dee Blew, Dust, Amy Grindhouse, Molly Poppinz, Karmella Barr and many others. 9pm–3am. The Odyssey, 686 West Hastings St. Cover $7.   DJ G-Luve & Diana Boss When they talk about that little powerhouse of a DJ that is the King of Funky, they aren’t referring to the smell. It’s the best Funky, Nudisco and House sounds in the city: DJ G-Luve. Tonight with special guest Diana Boss, enjoy a modern, metropolitan atmosphere with a contemporary, urban attitude in a boutique lounge that oozes style, fun and comfort. 10pm. 1181, 1181 Davie St. No cover.   Sunday, April 16 Ninten-Dance I’ve lived a long time and seen lots of things, but you have to get me pretty wasted to show up at a Nintendo-themed Mario dance party in costume when it’s not even Halloween. Geekenders and the Mushroom Kingdom (now that I know there are mushrooms I understand) are partnering for a party you’ll never forget. Dress up in your best cosplay, enjoy two costume contests (Nintendo-themed costumes and general costumes), or enter a Nintendo trivia contest, all with prizes from Golden Age Collectables and performances by Kitty Glitter, Fiona Ample, Artemis Lark and more. 7pm–1am. The Odyssey, 686 West Hastings St. Cover $15 at door, $12 in costume.   Erase Una Vez: Once Upon A Time Brought to you by Caliente Night to celebrate International Children’s Day, this event was a hit last year for bringing out the audience’s inner child. Join again or for the first time and reminisce with your favourite childhood characters. Dress as your favourite cartoon character and join the best costume contest. 10pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $5.   Monday, April 17 Banks: The Altar Tour After Party You, me and hundreds of others didn’t get tickets to the sold-out Banks concert tonight, so after standing outside the venue all night trying to catch the sounds, head over to 1181 where DJ Dyco Rake will be spinning the music for the Banks: Altar Tour After Party, where you can pretend you were at the show. Oh, and entry to this event won’t cost you an arm and a leg. 9pm–3am. 1181, 1181 Davie St. No cover.       Launch Party I thought the change in this night might have been because Del’s Extended Weekend earned him an extended stay on one of those rehab shows, but no such luck. The show has morphed into a new monthly drag night that takes over Del’s spot every third Monday. But have no fear, you won’t be without the Delster too long; he’s the DJ for the night as well — of course. One of the hardest working DJs in the city, he would never abandon his flock. Tonight Coco, Ilona and Del bring you drag magic and spotlight performances by Sherrie Blossom and LUX. 11pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. $5 cover.   Tuesday, April 18 Men 55+ Can’t relate to the spiky-haired, tattooed, jockstrap-wearing twinks who think a dry Manhattan is a place in New York? Join a monthly safe space to talk, listen and share your experiences of conscious aging with other gay men. Topics include isolation, motivation, financial issues, physical health, sex, and more. 7–9pm. #310-1033 Davie St. To register, phone 604-488-1001 or email   Wednesday, April 19 VML Wings & Pool Social Spring is when the not-enough-friends blues really hits. Christmas and New Year’s are long gone. Guys that were sedentary during the long lousy weather of early spring are all out jogging, hiking, or biking to get body-ready for Wreck Beach. What’s a guy to do? Get out with a great group of friendly guys who get together every week for a mess of wings and a night of pool, chatting and beverages. It’s a quick and easy way to get involved and make a few new friends. You may even learn a thing or two from the Vancouver Men in Leather. 6–7:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St & Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St.  

The painful truth about being gay at Canada’s largest Christian university

12 April 2017 - 5:37pm
By the time he enrolled in BC’s Christian evangelical university, Jacob was already deeply in the closet. Reluctantly, he’d admitted the truth to himself when he was 14. He liked boys. But he didn’t dare tell anyone in high school. How could he? His peers had threatened to kill him on the mere suspicion that he might be gay. “We hate everything about you and you better watch your back because we’re going to kill you on your way to school,” a fellow student messaged him online. By the time he set foot on Trinity Western University’s small campus in the suburban community of Langley, BC, he was determined to keep his sexuality a secret. “It felt like if I didn’t talk about it, then it might not be real,” he says. I meet him in December 2016, at the end of semester in one of a handful of low-rise buildings scattered around TWU’s leafy campus, located about 45 minutes east of Vancouver in BC’s Bible Belt. The rules at TWU have made headlines in recent years, as the school’s now-infamous community covenant strictly forbids homosexual activities or any form of “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” Of course the covenant also prohibits lying (and other supposedly un-Christian acts like adultery, gossiping and booze), leaving students like Jacob in a double-bind. Though it’s shifted over the years from a signed document to a box checked online, every student and teacher at TWU must pledge their allegiance to the covenant every year. As Jacob and I roam the halls searching for an empty classroom in which to conduct our interview, I’m mindful of the risk he’s taking to share his story. My camera bag bumps conspicuously against my leg with each step. I tuck my notebook away. Finally, we find a classroom we can use.   We close the door and I agree to withhold his name and identifying characteristics for this story. Jacob is not his real name. Still he seems nervous during our interview, and sometimes asks to speak off the record. He tells me about another moment in another classroom, feeling pinned under an unwanted spotlight as his classmates suddenly focused on him, wondering out loud who he’d rather sleep with, men or women? He tells me about the TWU teacher who was in the room and who did nothing to intervene. Feeling trapped, Jacob says he once again ducked the question. I met Jacob through a handful of Trinity Western alumni that I interviewed for this piece earlier last fall. When I asked each of them if they knew any openly queer students currently attending TWU who might be willing to share their experiences, they were skeptical. They said they would ask around but warned me not to expect much of a response. Current students likely won’t want to rock the boat, they said. They were right. Jacob is one of only two queer students currently enrolled at TWU who contacted me. According to its website, Trinity Western boasts a student population of 4,000. [[asset:image:309440 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Navigating life on campus isn\u2019t easy for queer TWU students."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tyler Dorchester\/Daily Xtra illustration; Ross Johnson\/Daily Xtra photo"]}]]  I ask how he felt when his classmates grilled him about his sexuality. He says it’s difficult enough trying to figure out his own sexuality without having other people project their assumptions onto him. “I loved the community here so much that I didn’t want to jeopardize those relationships,” he says. He acknowledges that non-religious queer people also risk losing friends or family members when they come out. But it’s different in a Christian context, he says; the risk of rejection is amplified. He tells me that he has been wrestling with his feelings about Trinity Western. First he says it’s a great place to go to school. This is where he got his undergraduate degree, and he has now returned to complete some prerequisite courses in order to enroll in the education program. The professors and students here are “amazing,” he adds. He says he wants to continue his studies here, but he changes his mind every week. “There definitely are things on campus that I hope wouldn’t be the case everywhere else,” he hesitantly admits. He remembers walking across campus one day and overhearing a group of students laughing about someone’s “lesbian haircut.” He wanted to object but couldn’t say a word. Other campuses are rife with homophobic comments too, I want to assure him, though most now have queer resources, rather than a covenant that explicitly forbids same-sex relationships.   Trinity Western’s covenant has sparked controversy across Canada for years, especially since the university announced its intention to open a law school in 2013. Many lawyers objected to seeing future members of their profession trained on a campus governed by what they consider a discriminatory policy against LGBT students. Several provincial law societies have outright refused to accredit the school’s future grads. (Ontario said no, BC initially said yes then changed its mind, and Nova Scotia said it would only recognize TWU’s grads if the school changes its covenant.) The question is now making its way through several court cases, which have so far all yielded different results. In a June 2016 ruling in Ontario, the justices found TWU’s covenant discriminatory and said LGBT students deserve equal access to law school. A month later, Nova Scotia’s court of appeal sided with TWU, saying the school is entitled to its religious freedom. Five months after that, BC’s court of appeal sided with TWU as well. The evangelical school has a right to its beliefs, the court ruled, even as it acknowledged that the covenant is “deeply offensive and hurtful to the LGBTQ community.” The Supreme Court of Canada has now decided to weigh in on the appeals with what is sure to be a landmark ruling in the case. The judges’ decision will likely determine whether graduates of an evangelical law school can practice as lawyers in Canada. [[asset:image:309443 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The covenant strictly forbids any \u201csexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.\u201d "],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tyler Dorchester\/Daily Xtra "]}]]   And as the court prepares to deliberate, the covenant continues to hover over students and staff at Trinity Western, stifling not only their sexuality but their ability to openly discuss the topic at all.   Queer students, past and present, tell Xtra that when they speak out about homosexuality, they’re met with suspicion, hostility and even outright censorship from TWU’s administration.   When Jacob first started at TWU, he tried to live by the covenant. First he stayed celibate. Then he tried dating women. “Being a student leader on campus means you have to agree to not just live by the community covenant, but help others to live by the community covenant,” he says. I ask him if he feels like he has violated the covenant now.   “Initially, for most of my undergrad, I felt like I was upholding the covenant. I would say I am still upholding the covenant,” he says. “I’m not dating, and even if I was dating someone of the same gender, it wouldn’t actually break the covenant.” But doesn’t the covenant prohibit same-sex relationships? “It says that you can’t have sex,” he points out. “So, if you aren’t having sex, you wouldn’t be breaking it. And if you were, I think some people would just be like, ‘Well, I know that there’s straight people having sex, too.’”   Corben meets me in the parking lot by the tennis courts and together we walk across campus to the theatre department, me in my Blundstones and Corben in his glittery Doc Marten-style boots. We sit down in an empty dressing room. The first half of our interview is sprinkled with pauses as we wait, or lower our voices, whenever anyone walks by the closed door. Though Corben seems more comfortable than Jacob, he still asks that his last name not be published. He tells me he’s from Valleyview, Alberta, population 1,972. Like many queer youth who grow up in small towns, Corben moved away to an urban area as soon as he graduated from high school, so he could live openly as a gay man. For four years, he did just that. He moved in with a supportive cousin in Abbotsford, about an hour east of Vancouver, found a job in customer service, made friends, went to parties and loved the downtown nightlife. He also gave up his faith during this time. His family and community had told him that he couldn’t have a relationship with God and be gay. Then, in 2014, he enrolled at Trinity Western University, largely because it was the only university his parents would pay for. “My parents, I think, kind of wanted Trinity to be for me sort of like reparative therapy, which is why they would only help financially with this school,” Corben says. Reparative therapy refers to the now-discredited and increasingly banned practice of trying to convert or “cure” queer people of their sexuality. His parents did not trust a secular drama department because they thought it would nurture his homosexuality. [[asset:image:309446 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Corben\u2019s parents hoped TWU might curb his gayness."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Layla Cameron\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Corben came out to his family when he was 18, shortly after graduating from high school. He had come out to himself years earlier, watching YouTube videos late at night after his family went to bed. He still remembers the first image he found of two women kissing on YouTube. He hadn’t known that people of the same sex could behave that way. Later that night, it occurred to him that YouTube might also have videos of two men kissing. They weren’t that hard to find. “That’s when I knew — because I just continued to watch,” he says. “It revolted me. Growing up in a Christian home you’re just like, ‘that’s not allowed.’” But his mom was tracking the family computer. She eventually stumbled across some messages that Corben had sent his boyfriend at the time over Facebook. His family has since told him that his partner will never be welcome in the family home, that they will never attend a gay wedding for him, and that they’ll denounce his sexuality to any children he might have in the future. “I know their love for me will never go away, but that’s not going to stop them from never talking to me again.” He prayed for six years to change his sexuality. Unsuccessful, he now considers it a sign from God that nothing is wrong with him. Though if God had granted his prayer to be straight, he says he would have gladly accepted. Corben says he’s only had positive experiences on campus related to his sexuality, but suggests that students who are still struggling with their sexuality when they arrive at TWU, or who discover they’re queer while on campus, may feel isolated without support. “I haven’t had a lot of people who are searching and closeted come to me, but I do get a few,” he says. “I try to help them the best I can. They just want answers, and I tell them I can’t give them answers . . . I tell them that no one is going to know this answer until we’re standing face-to-face with God.”   I reach Ren Lunicke via Skype in New Zealand. Lunicke graduated from Trinity Western in 2007 and remembers quietly signing the covenant in their first year. “I believed the covenant and didn’t think it was a big deal to follow it,” says Lunicke, who now uses the gender-neutral pronoun they. Back then, Lunicke had a boyfriend and identified as straight. By second year, a somewhat emboldened Lunicke, who had fallen in love with a woman at school, signed the covenant but crossed out the parts they didn’t agree with. At first, Lunicke thought they had gotten away with it. But when they tried it again the following year, TWU administrators intervened and asked Lunicke to meet with a counsellor. Lunicke sidestepped the intervention by submitting a signed but still-amended form to a different registrar. But other queer students sought counselling to try to “get better,” Lunicke says. TWU encouraged students to seek reparative therapy, and brought in speakers to chapel sessions who talked about homosexuality and how “God’s love can bring you out of it,” Lunicke alleges. [[asset:image:309449 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["TWU teaches queer students to feel shame, says graduate Ren Lunicke."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Philip and Tina Goad\/Goad Studios"]}]]  Even over Skype, Lunicke’s frustration towards Trinity Western is palpable. They are adamant that the school is not a safe space for queer students, and they are determined to push for change. The atmosphere on campus stifles students’ sexuality and self-exploration, Lunicke says. Some students really struggled to reconcile their feelings with their learned sense of shame. “I was terrified while I was attending the school that at any point I could be found out,” Lunicke says. “Nearly all of us had a reverberating effect for years after finishing at Trinity that made it difficult for us to get away from the shame.” “We might be out and proud, but then we have to put so much separation between us and our upbringing, our friends from that time in our life.” Lunicke, who studied theatre and psychology, remembers one class where a professor started a debate about whether homosexuality, as defined by Christian values, should be labelled a mental illness.   “They have incredible power to tell people that their natural experience of themselves in the world is wrong, and if you’re not ashamed of it and if you’re not trying to fix it, then you don't belong and your experience doesn’t count,” Lunicke says. The overall message Lunicke says they received from TWU staff was that queer culture is morally bankrupt, flagrantly sinful and not just bad for Christianity — but bad for the world.   TWU’s president, Bob Kuhn, a practicing lawyer for over 30 years, is no stranger to defending religious rights. In 1997, an elementary school teacher named James Chamberlain wanted to use three books depicting families with same-sex parents in his kindergarten classroom in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, BC. Kuhn’s law firm represented the Surrey school board in the ensuing legal battle, after it refused to allow the books into its classrooms. The board claimed that children were too young to learn about homosexuality, and that schools should not use books that conflict with some parents’ religious beliefs. In 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the board, stating that “tolerance is always age-appropriate.” Two years before Chamberlain’s request precipitated the Surrey book-banning battle, TWU had applied to the BC College of Teachers to accredit its teacher-training program. Like the lawyers associations would do nearly 20 years later, the teachers’ association rejected TWU’s application, saying the school’s covenant violates its anti-discrimination policy.   Kuhn represented TWU in the case and led it to victory when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in its favour in 2001. The court found no evidence that teachers trained at the evangelical university would discriminate against gay and lesbian students in their classrooms. TWU now offers a five-year teacher education program. [[asset:image:309452 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Shortly after seeking approval for its law school, TWU hired a lawyer well versed in religious freedom cases as its new president."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tyler Dorchester\/Daily Xtra illustration; Ross Johnson\/Daily Xtra photo"]}]]   In 2005, Kuhn’s firm also represented the Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance in the Kempling versus British Columbia College of Teachers case. Chris Kempling was a high school counsellor in the northern town of Quesnel, BC, when he was suspended by the BC College of Teachers for sending anti-gay letters to the editor endorsing reparative therapy. This time the teachers’ college won. Kempling left the public school system three years later, after the college accused him again of conduct “unbecoming” of a teacher. According to his TWU bio, Kuhn studied at TWU in the early 1970s before pursuing his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of British Columbia. While at TWU, he served as student-body president. Kuhn was awarded an honourary doctorate from TWU’s board of governors in 2012. He was also president of the TWU Alumni Association at the time. He stepped in as interim president in 2013 and was then named president and vice chancellor of the university in March 2014, three months after TWU got preliminary approval to open its proposed law school. (Under pressure, BC’s education ministry rescinded its approval one year later.)  Kuhn calls me on a Saturday evening in January to talk about life for queer students on campus. I ask him about the covenant.  He says it’s unfair to characterize the university or its covenant as unfriendly to gay students. “The basic principle is that we believe marriage is, in a biblical context and a Christian context, between a man and a woman, so sexual behaviour outside of that . . . is something that we don’t agree is correct,” he says.   Some students are afraid of backlash from the administration if they speak out, Jacob suggests, when I ask him why only two students responded to my request for interviews. Jacob says he and other students were encouraged to speak with Kuhn before ever talking to media.  [[asset:image:309467 {"mode":"440px_wide","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Bob Kuhn, seen here in October 2014, has done his share of media scrums as TWU battles for law school accreditation. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["Jeremy Hainsworth\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Alexandra Moore, a queer TWU alumni, says she faced discipline for challenging the covenant when she was a student at the university from 2000 to 2007, prior to Kuhn’s arrival.  She says she was working as a teaching assistant when she wrote an article in favour of same-sex marriage for the student newspaper, Mars’ Hill. Shortly thereafter, she says, she was pulled into the office of the professor she was working for and nearly fired.    In a detailed post about her years at TWU, Moore, like Lunicke, says the school is not a safe space for queer people. She says students are discouraged from openly expressing any views inconsistent with the beliefs of evangelical Christianity. She tells me that she chose not to be publicly out about her sexuality while attending TWU because her she didn’t want to jeopardize her career. Like Corben, her family would only financially support her if she stayed at TWU. “It was a practical move for me,” she says. Interestingly, after her Mars’ Hill story was published, another professor wrote a piece in the newspaper’s following edition that was also in favour of gay rights. Moore says it was the first time she had seen a professor publicly voice their support; she believes that most staff chose not to for fear of losing their jobs.  [[asset:image:309455 {"mode":"460x300","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["TWU graduate Alexandra Moore says she was nearly fired from her teaching assistant job for supporting same-sex marriage."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Alexandra Moore"]}]] Kuhn tells me he has a good relationship with students on campus, and denies the allegation that he encourages students to speak with him before speaking to the media. Although, he says, if he has a good relationship with a student, he would rather they come speak to him without involving the media. But there is no school policy on speaking to the media, he says, adding that he has extended an open invitation to journalists who would like to visit the university’s campus. “It’s a pretty casual environment,” he says. “It’s not like there’s a heavy-duty administrative imposition of rules and regulations.” “People come to talk to me about all kinds of things,” he continues, “including their sexual identity or issues related to homosexuality.”  Kuhn says he has not dealt with a single case of someone who has breached the covenant’s prohibition against same-sex relationships in his four years as president.    Ultimately, he says, each student makes a personal choice to join the TWU community.  University spokesperson Amy Robertson echoes Kuhn, saying the school’s administrators are open and responsive to all students, including queer ones. “I can speak specifically for the president, because I work with him closely, that his door is open to talk and share their stories,” she tells me by phone in January, two days before leaving her position at the school. Robertson said the covenant is not about punishing people. “It’s about learning together and growing together.” “Our goal is for students to stay and have a positive time here,” she said. Many students choose to attend TWU because of the covenant, she added, as it “creates the kind of safe community space they’re looking for.” If anyone does violate the covenant, “there’s an accountability process in place.” The process is determined on a case-by-case basis, she explained: it might mean having to speak with the director of student life, or completing an educational project such as writing an essay. “To put that type of moral requirement for getting a university degree is problematic,” Moore contends. “But that’s part of why my parents were comfortable with sending me there.”    Nicholas Noble, who graduated from TWU last year, alleges he was quickly pulled into a meeting with Kuhn when he publicly challenged the covenant. Noble was skimming Facebook in July 2016 when he read a post by a TWU graduate on the university’s law school battle and how the covenant could potentially be reworked to build bridges on campus. Skeptical, Noble, who describes himself as a straight ally to the LGBT community, posted a long reply critical of the university. Within just a few hours, the president of the university himself had replied to Noble’s comment. [[asset:image:309458 {"mode":"440px_wide","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["TWU president Bob Kuhn responded directly to student criticism on Facebook on July 27, 2016."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Facebook"]}]]   Kuhn questioned Noble’s definition of community, then suggested a meeting. “Perhaps we could get a time to discuss this when you return, rather than rely on well written, but perhaps overstated, argument and accusation. Just my opinion though. Would love to sit down and have a coffee,” he posted. Noble says he was surprised that the university’s president quickly and publicly refuted his comments. But “Bob Kuhn never rescinds or drops his lawyer persona,” Noble says. Partly it’s a personal touch, Noble acknowledges — “at the same time, it was 1984 Orwellian-esque.”  “Typically, if a student at a secular university has complaints with ethical issues at a university, there are departments you can go to. There’s a sense that there’s a human resources department or a designated person in student life you can talk to,” Noble notes. “But at TWU, when you have an ethical concern about how the university is being run, you are directed directly to the president.”  Noble alleges that Kuhn sends Facebook friend requests to most TWU students.   Noble ultimately accepted Kuhn’s invitation to have a meeting because, then on the cusp of graduating from TWU and flying to Toronto to start a new chapter, he seized the opportunity to finally voice his complaints. Noble says the main focus of the meeting was how queer students are being treated on campus. According to Noble, at the meeting Kuhn asked him to prove that TWU is a hostile environment to queer students.  When Noble said that some TWU professors sympathized with queer students, and that some were looking for jobs elsewhere, Noble alleges that Kuhn asked him to name dissenting faculty members. Noble says he refused, and left the meeting feeling “confused and dumbfounded.”  [[asset:image:309461 {"mode":"440px_wide","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Graduate Nicholas Noble says he left his meeting with TWU\u2019s president feeling \u201cconfused and dumbfounded.\u201d"],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Nicholas Noble"]}]]   I contacted TWU spokespeople Amy Robertson and Ann Coats again on Feb 8, 2017, to schedule a follow-up interview with Kuhn to ask him about Noble’s allegations. But after an initial reply from Coats asking what the allegation was about, and my reply that I would rather speak to Kuhn directly to give him a chance to respond, I didn’t hear back. I followed up again a week later to no response. During our initial interview, Kuhn told me, “I don’t know any other university that has the president of the university meet with students every day, multiple times a day.” “It’s a unique place.” It’s certainly rare to see a university president engage so directly with his students on Facebook.   Even as TWU administrators try to control the narrative and keep conflict out of the public eye, some students and grads are taking it upon themselves to create space for their queer peers to speak.   Alumnus Matthew Wigmore helped run the Facebook group One TWU, to support LGBT students safely exploring their sexuality and faith on campus, and to encourage the university to amend its covenant to “reflect the diversity of opinion regarding same-sex marriage within the Christian Faith.” He’s quick to distance the online group from the administration. “The goal of One TWU is completely independent of any conflicts the TWU administration finds themselves in,” he writes in an email to Xtra. “We seek to create an emotionally and physically safe space on campus for students to journey openly with questions of sexuality, which are otherwise ignored or pathologized.”  TWU can’t control conversations that happen online, Lunicke says, so “this is where the admin as an old regime is losing the battle, and maybe this war.” [[asset:image:309464 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Banners hung around TWU\u2019s Langley campus proudly lay claim to \u201cinspiring hearts and minds.\u201d"],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tyler Dorchester\/Daily Xtra illustration; Ross Johnson\/Daily Xtra photo"]}]] Some students are taking tangible steps on campus, too. The student government organized an event on Nov 23, 2016, where students read aloud stories from queer TWU students. “It was amazing,” says Jacob, who estimates that more than 300 people attended. He says the stories told revealed a mix of positive and negative experiences on campus. But of the approximately 15 stories shared, only one person was willing to read their own. All other testimonies remained anonymous. “It speaks to the culture at Trinity that there really is this fear underlying,” Jacob says. “It’s kind of like a last stance on a culture war,” he suggests. If Trinity Western relents on its covenant and its opposition to same-sex relationships, he says, “a lot of people will feel like the evangelical Christian world has lost.”  Corben says Christianity itself may be shifting. When it comes to the covenant, TWU is “fighting so hard for this thing,” he says, but “generations are changing in their ideologies and their views and in their Christianity as well.”   I am sitting in a classroom at my own university when, two months after our first interview, Jacob calls to tell me about the latest “Facebook explosion.” He says an unofficial Facebook account called Trinity Matchmayker (now deleted), whose apparent aim is to pair students together, has released its latest list of student couples.    “One of my friends, bless his soul, commented: ‘Sounds heteronormative, but okay!’”  Jacob says the Matchmayker account responded to the comment by posting an excerpt from the Bible. “I’m going to paraphrase, it was something like: ‘if a man should lay with another man like he does a woman, it’s an abomination and he should be put to death and his blood should be on his own hands,’” Jacob says. “Even from a conservative Christian perspective, that’s a weird verse to choose,” he says. “Why not choose a verse that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Why do you have to choose one about execution?” I ask Jacob if he thinks it’s okay to be gay at Trinity Western now. ”I don’t know,” he says. “I wish I could give a straightforward answer. I want to say that I know some queer students who have had an amazing experience — and just last night, I saw somebody crying and talking about how it was anything but a safe space.”    Several weeks pass before I check in with Jacob one last time. To my surprise, he tells me that he has come out publicly and has a boyfriend now, whom he met online in a Facebook group for gay Christians. He is no longer a student at Trinity Western. Had he stayed on campus, he would have had to become a vocal advocate for LGBT students, he says, and he doesn’t have the energy for that. “I’m good with having my calm season of life to figure things out,” he tells me by phone. He says he’s cultivating more safe spaces in his life. “Trinity couldn’t be that for me.”

Go-go dancing do-gooders battle it out on stage

12 April 2017 - 2:37pm
Each year a handful of Vancouver’s hottest male strippers and dancers are pitted against each other in one of the region’s sweatiest and hottest competitions, all for a good cause. Since its inception in 2012, Ruff parties and the Mr Ruff competition have brought in over $10,000 for the Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe — the registered charity for the Vancouver chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an organization that focuses its work in the LGBT community. The Sisters’ mandate is to support youth homelessness and people living with HIV. They also get involved with educational and health programs. All the money raised during Mr Ruff is donated to local organizations that support the Vancouver LGBT community. “The Mr Ruff competition is a great opportunity for us to do some fundraising," Paladin Pebbles tells Xtra by email. Pebbles is the mistress of alms and charity (AKA treasurer) for the Sisters. “HIV rates, as well as other sexually transmitted disease rates are still on the rise in Vancouver, so our visibility helps create awareness,” Pebbles says. “And, of course, we always try to spread joy!” The 2016 Mr Ruff contest was a record-breaking year, with the four candidates raising more than $3,000. The eventual victor and reigning Mr Ruff 2016, Shane Rooks, played his part in smashing the record by amassing more than $1,200 in donations. Rooks supported his best friend, Colin, in his successful run for the Mr Ruff crown in 2015, and launched his own bid for the title in 2016. “I did it on a whim and really appreciated the camaraderie among the contestants,” he says. “It felt great to have a record-setting fundraising run,” he adds, “My goal, when I began, had been to simply beat Colin’s numbers by a couple hundred dollars . . . but I ended up almost doubling his numbers.” Although Rooks’ reign is coming to an end, he has high hopes for 2017. “It looks like we will be setting new Mr Ruff fundraising records this year. I think our local Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe Society, will be very, very pleased.” The competition will be followed by RUFF’s six-year anniversary party with DJ Nathan Mots and Seattle’s Matt Stands, from 10pm to 3am As they have been since the first event in 2012, the Sisters will be out in force at all Ruff Vancouver events this year, and Pebbles is brimming with enthusiasm over the latest round of Mr Ruff candidates. “All of the contenders this year are amazing people who have been involved with Ruff and the community and they all deserve to be crowned Mr Ruff 2017,” Pebbles says. “It’s going to be a very difficult decision, but whoever gets the title will do an awesome job.”