Ottawa Xtra

Tanzania, advertising activism and Roe v. Wade

20 February 2017 - 7:43pm
[[asset:image:309104 {"mode":"full","align":"","field_asset_image_caption":["Indian fashion brand Anouk produced an ad showing a lesbian couple preparing to meet their parents (YouTube\/Anouk). "]}]]   Tanzania threatens to publish list of gay people Tanzania’s health minister has suggested that gay people’s names be collected and posted online. The minister, who is a medical doctor, said that homosexuality does not biologically exist, and has recently moved to shut down HIV clinics out of fear of promoting homosexuality. Read more from the BBC.   Teen suicide falls when same sex marriage legalized A study in the United States has shown that in states that legalized same sex marriage, and in the nation as a whole when equal marriage was established, teen suicide rates fell. Doctors say the two are not necessarily causally linked, but that equal marriage makes kids more “hopeful for the future.” Read more at the New York Post.   Milo Yiannopoulos loses speaking gig over paedophilia comments Gay conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos has lost a speaking spot at next week’s Conservative Political Action Conference over remarks he made on a podcast defending sex between teenage boys and adults. Yiannopoulos has generally endeared himself to conservatives with his right-wing rhetoric and anti-feminist politics. Read more at the New York Daily News.   Advertising activism in India In India, write Suneera Tandon and Maria Thomas at Quartz, advertising is promoting feminism and breaking down taboos in a conservative society. Ads for tea and fashion design have portrayed same-sex couples positively, even while gay sex remains illegal.   Lesbian plaintiff of Roe. vs. Wade dies Norma McCorvey, the woman whose suit on abortion rights led to the legalization of abortion nationwide in the United States, has died at the age of 69. McCorvey was a lesbian, but saw her lawyers as bullies who only used her for political means, and later allied with anti-abortion activists. Read more at the Advocate.

Meeting between Vancouver police and LGBT community cancelled

17 February 2017 - 4:35pm
A public meeting with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to discuss safety concerns impacting the city’s LGBT community has been cancelled, with organizers blaming its cancellation on the debate over police participation in this year’s pride parade.  The two-hour event, originally scheduled for Feb 16, 2017, at Gordon Neighbourhood House, was organized by the VPD LGBTQ advisory committee and was going to address issues of community safety, specifically the suspicious death of Oliver Zamarripa last fall, assaults in Stanley Park, and the anti-trans posters that have appeared in the Davie Village. The meeting was also going to have a question period, during which community members could raise other safety issues important to them. However, the event was cancelled just two days prior.  Jamie Lee Hamilton, one of the organizers and a member of the LGBTQ advisory committee, says there was an outcry over a new petition supporting VPD participation in the 2017 Vancouver Pride parade which prompted the meeting’s cancellation.  “It’s now stirred everyone up, and people are angry,” she says. “There were a lot of people who thought the VPD were behind it, but they weren’t. But there was talk that [Black Lives Matter supporters] were going to come and shut down the meeting, which is really unfortunate.” This recent petition, which currently has more than 2,500 signatures, was created in response to Black Lives Matter Vancouver’s call for the Vancouver Pride Society to bar uniformed police officers from marching in future pride parades. Xtra reached out to Black Lives Matter Vancouver for comment but did not receive a response by publication time.  Hamilton says she called Dale Quiring, VPD’s LGBTQ2 liaison officer, “and we talked about it and then his recommendation was to not move ahead at this time,” she says. In an email to Xtra, VPD spokesperson Jason Doucette said he had “not yet been advised of the details of the meeting cancellation,” and that an interview with Quiring would not be possible. Hamilton says that part of the reason this latest petition had potential implications for the community safety meeting is because one of the meeting’s co-hosts, Velvet Steele, is a signatory to the pro-VPD petition. Steele acknowledges she signed the petition but says she is not one of its creators.  “I didn’t start it. The petition was already started when I was asked to come on board and talk about it, because I am in support of the VPD being in the parade,” Steele says. “I’m working with them and I’m trying to build bridges.” Steele says she and fellow organizers were unsure if the controversy surrounding the petition might create a heated environment and it was “safety concerns” that led them to cancel the event. She says she did not read any online comments explicitly stating plans to hijack the event, but rather the organizers were responding to rumours, discussions and “a general feeling” that the meeting could get out of hand. “We didn’t want people to have altercations or yelling matches. That wasn’t the intent of the whole thing,” Steele says. “It was just a precautionary measure.” Both Steele and Hamilton say the community safety meeting will be rescheduled; however the details have yet to be determined.

Five lessons from Cabaret about sex, politics and freedom

16 February 2017 - 7:34pm
“You’re too into politics,” shouts Sally Bowles. She is arguing with her American novelist boyfriend, Cliff Bradshaw, who she met while performing cabaret at the seedy Kit Kat Klub. “And if you read the newspaper, you’d know what’s going on!” he shouts back. Cliff has been renting a board room in Berlin to write his book, but is heading back to America as Berlin is on the verge of being taken over by Nazi Germany, a reality that few around him seem to be concerned about. A spat between lovers, but much more than that. It becomes a matter of life and death. Sally and her friends at the Kit Kat Klub — dancers, sex workers, drunkards — are swept up in debauchery and sexual excess; the freedom to fuck anyone from any sexual orientation or gender is a sign that life in Berlin is getting better. To acknowledge that these freedoms could be taken away is unthinkable. Cabaret is the Tony Award–winning play currently running at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre until Feb 19, 2017, and produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company. [[asset:video_embed:309080 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["mirvishproductions\/YouTube"]}]] Set in 1931 Berlin, as the Nazis are rising to power, it is based in the nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub. Subplots are Cliff and Sally’s relationship, and the doomed romance between Fräulein Schneider, a German boarding house owner, and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. What’s timeless about Cabaret is that many of its themes — the threat of politics and the loss of freedom — can be applied to many eras and events within our histories, from the bloody — the Holocaust, the Rwandan, Armenian and Bosnian genocides; the conflict in Syria — to less horrific events such as the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids and 2017 America, where the freedoms, protections and rights of LGBT people that were put in place by President Barack Obama are slated to be undone by current President Donald Trump.  One of the most fundamental themes of Cabaret is the lure of sexual freedom. Here are five takeaways about sex, freedom and politics that still apply today.   1) Sexual freedom can be taken away at any moment “The stag in the forest runs free/But gather together to greet the storm,” is from the song, “Tomorrow belongs to me,” foreshadowing an impending political darkness.  When Cliff Bradshaw gets to Berlin, he is taken by the raw sexuality inside the Kit Kat Klub. Approached by both men and women, he’s shocked and intrigued by the fluidity of gender and sexuality.  Throughout, we see how characters (especially the Emcee) perform different genders and engage in various sexualities, which flourish in the safe space of the Kit Kat Klub — until the final scene when the performers end up in a Nazi concentration camp, and the Emcee’s striped prison clothes sport a yellow badge (denoting Jews) and a pink triangle badge (denoting homosexuals). The contrast is jarring, and a lesson that sexual freedom is not absolute, and can change with every election, war or political leader.  [[asset:image:309089 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles and Lee Aaron Rosen as Clifford Bradshaw in the 2016 National Touring production of Roundabout Theatre Company\u2019s Cabaret."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Joan Marcus"]}]] 2) Politics can not only restrict sexual freedom; they can criminalize it At the Kit Kat Klub, sex and fluidity is a means of expression — until the Nazis come to power. While nowhere near this extreme, politics can change with every election, and so can the attitudes of a country. In the eight years of Obama’s presidency, many US states turned from Democratic blue to Republican red. Obama was the only president to establish so many codified protections for LGBT people, which in turn, gave many folks a sense that the US was moving towards adopting a more inclusive outlook on queer and trans people. However, within the first several days of the Trump administration (many of whom are anti-LGBT), Trump came close to reversing Obama’s executive order providing protections for LGBT people in the workplace, during a time that a record number of Americans identify as LGBT. While he decided not to repeal, there are reportedly more executive orders coming that will target queer people, and the bathroom bill continues to puts trans people at risk. Canada remains a world leader in criminalizing people living with HIV, an issue that the Trudeau government pledged to work on. Liberals are also working to scrap the anal sex law that places the age of consent at 18, two years higher than the age of consent for vaginal sex, and criminalizes anal sex in public with more than two people. Canada has yet to issue pardons for men convicted of old homophobic laws including buggery and gross indecency. 3) Being a citizen of a country doesn’t make you less susceptible to having your rights taken away “I know the Germans . . .  I am German,” says Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. He’s trying to assure Cliff that he’ll be safe in Germany, because, above all, he is German. Citizenship is not a guarantee that your rights won’t be taken away. Various other factors — ethnicity, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation — clash with citizenship.  After Trump’s executive order banned people from seven predominantly-Muslim countries, even initially to permanent residents and green card holders of the US were not allowed back in the country if they had left. Citizens of the US from these countries were also detained at airports. This left thousands of people barred from their homes, jobs, family and school. After the initial confusion, it was announced that Canadians would not be turned away from the US, though recently, several Canadians were turned away, including a woman because she had prayers on her phone in Arabic. [[asset:image:309095 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Sarah Bishop as Helga, Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles and Alison Ewing as Fritzie in the 2016 National Tour of Roundabout Theatre Company\u2019s Cabaret."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Joan Marcus"]}]] 4) Sexuality will always be a target for political, religious and heteronormative agendas In Cabaret, Berlin grew into the city of sex — but it hadn’t always been that way. Sexuality has, for centuries, been a heated debate among various social, political and religious groups and sexuality continues to be represented through a heterosexual lens. Attitudes, beliefs and practices can change at any minute; sexual fluidity can at once be promoted and then sanctioned. Sexuality can be viewed as a celebration of sex-positivity and then an issue of immorality. Some queer people can avoid the poor intentions of agendas while others are directly targeted.  [[asset:image:309098 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Randy Harrison as the Emcee and the 2016 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company\u2019s Cabaret."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Joan Marcus"]}]] 5) To maintain our freedom, we have to face reality Cliff grows increasingly frustrated with Sally and the performers at the Kit Kat Klub, who are seemingly in denial or minimizing the impact of the Nazi rise. “I’ll wait until the next election,” one character says.  The denial is also evident when one character wears a swastika armband, and nobody protests. Facing the reality of an impending loss of freedom is essential to maintaining it, as is staying informed. Change happens because people refuse to sit idly by, and by courageous folks who protest, organize and start movements and campaigns.  It’s also about knowing when the party is over, and when it’s time to face what’s actually happening, as Roth Cornet says in his Uproxx review of the film adaptation: “‘Does it really matter as long as you’re having fun?’ Sally asks. The answer: ‘Yes, it matters very much.’”

Out in Ottawa: Feb 16–28, 2017

16 February 2017 - 4:34pm
Thursday, Feb 16 Hard Cover Book Club Men gather to discuss Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, a novel about a romance set during the Second World War.  Published in 1953, this is a rare early novel with a gay theme. Some will be more familiar with Renault’s historical hits, which include The Nature of Alexander and The Persian Boy.  6:30–8pm. Centretown CHC, 420 Cooper St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Sexy Survivor  Ignacio Rivera facilitates a workshop on the subject of surviving sexual abuse. How do you go on to have safe, empowering, sexually-healthy lives? The goal of the session is to give partners and allies of survivors tools to help them provide support to their loved ones. Register in-store, online or by calling 613-789-4646.  7:30pm. Venus Envy, 226 Bank St.    Friday, Feb 17 Queers and Beers: Winter Chill Edition  Queers relax with some beers and dancing on the upper level of a local brewery. This monthly event is all about taking over a typically straight venue and being all queer and sparkly and mildly tipsy in it. It is hosted by Queering613, an organization aimed at promoting the queer community and hosting events.    6–10pm. Mill St Brew Pub, 555 Wellington  St. For more info, visit Facebook.  [[asset:image:309068 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["This edition of Queers and Beers takes place on Feb 17, 2017, at the Mill St Brew Pub."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Bailey Cook"]}]]   Saturday, Feb 18 Queerlude Cabatinée Dance Party  Brian Crum, featured on the recent season of America’s Got Talent, performs in Ottawa. This performance and dance party is part of Queerlude (like Winterlude, but queer), a three-day-long winter celebration that includes bowling and skating. Established in 2016 by Black Swan Events, this is the second annual Queerlude event.  6–10pm. The Lookout, 41 York St. For more info, visit Facebook.  [[asset:image:309074 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Brian Crum, featured on the recent season of America\u2019s Got Talent, performs at Queerlude on Feb 18, 2017, at The Lookout. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Andre Proulx"]}]] Oh My Jam: Unicorn Edition  Revellers dance and flirt at a huge hip hop, R&B, dancehall and reggae bash. Given the fictitious equine theme, unicorn-related costumes and gear is encouraged. DJs Seiiizmikk and D-Luxx Brown spin. Hosted by The Queer Mafia, partial proceeds from the event will go to the causes that the organization sponsors.  11pm–2am. Babylon Nightclub, 317 Bank St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Saturday, Feb 25 Throb  The monthly party for queer guys returns with a special guest performer, Tristan Ginger. According to billing, the Montreal burlesque performer has a “wicked reputation for bending steamy performance with artistic expression.” The dark, sexy party features the music of  DJs Ashley Gauthier and Dan Valin. 11pm–2:30am.  The Bourbon Room, 400A Dalhousie St. For more info, visit Facebook.  [[asset:image:309071 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Tristan Ginger is the special guest performing at Throb, taking place on Feb 25, 2017, at The Bourbon Room."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy David Hawe"]}]] Monday, Feb 27 Whip it Good! A 101 Guide to Power Play and Kink Some of us are born with the kink built in (we grew up tying up our action figures and dolls) and others come to it later. Wherever you fit, you should know a few basic things. This beginner-level workshop includes discussion of  sensation play, the available toys, spanky stuff, basic knot tying (and rope safety) and more.  6:30–10:30pm. Venus Envy, 226 Bank St.

Out in Vancouver: Feb 16–22, 2017

16 February 2017 - 1:34pm
Thursday, Feb 16 Drag Race Drag Race and Pumpjack are not two scenarios commonly put together, unless you’re talking about how I get my chosen ones out of PJs at the end of the night, kicking and screaming as I drag them into the night. Tonight is not Drag Race as you know it, but a night of fabulous athletic support. The city’s own funny man Steev Letts will perform, there will be raffles and door prizes and a winner of the coveted PJ Drag Race title, and there is more. Go-go dancers will perform in the shower, and yes, the one you have been waiting for, Addison Reed, will be there soaking wet and shaking his moneymaker right at face level. Somebody fan me, I’m getting hot. And does he need a fluffer?  7pm. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. $5 cover gets you in.    Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar Finale Well, tonight is the night. The grand finale is here, and not a moment too soon, since I don’t think Tommy D or James Steck’s nerves or liver can take another week of competition. This event aims to find the best of the best drag performers from across the city. Was your pick the one? Hosted by Jane Smokr with Thorgy Thor as guest judge and performer. The night is bound to be a hit.  8pm. Celebrities Nightclub, 1022 Davie St. Tickets $15 and info at    Friday, Feb 17 February Walkies: Science World After Dark Are you a Van-Pah puppy, handler or enthusiast? Join in the fun at Science World’s After Dark: Quantum exhibition. Join in and explore how researchers are merging quantum mechanics and information technology to revolutionize and redefine the 21st century — and how Canadian researchers are leading the way. Plus, the pups are a lot of fun romping around. But if one lifts a leg watch out, those pups can hit a bullseye at 15 feet. Fun and education all in one night and, yes, the bar is ready to serve.  7–10pm. Telus Science World, 1455 Quebec St. Tickets $24 at No tickets will be sold at the door.    Faux Girls: Entertainer Of The Year Of course it’s that time of year again. March 25 is Coronation 46, which means for the next month you’ll be seeing drag shows everywhere leading up to the big night. Get ready for in-town shows, out-of-town shows, back-from-the-grave shows . . . the list is endless. Tonight kicks the frenzy off with the crowning of Entertainer of the Year. Gia Metric, 2016’s big winner, will pass a new crown to the best of this year’s crop (not the old crown because you know a drag queen will never give up jewellery, alcohol or groupies.) Better get there early for a good seat; hold one for me. 9pm–3am, showtime 10:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. $5 cover.   Saturday, Feb 18 Loli*Pop: Lonely Hearts Club The perfect after-Valentine’s get together if you didn’t get chocolates, flowers or even an anonymous card. Valentine’s Day can suck, so come and let these girls show you how to suck the right way. Join Ilona and Eva Scarlett along with guests Mila Dramatic and the awesome Raye Sunshine in a night full of love songs, breakup songs and any other type of song you like to hear when you’re feeling crushed. The perfect DJ to lift your spirits, Mr “I never say no to KFC or a hand job” DJ Del Stamp, will be spinning.  9pm–3am. The Odyssey, 686 W Hastings St. Cover $5.    Bears Night Out It’s a rhetorical question. Do bears shit in the woods? Yes. Is every bears night a bears night out? Also, yes. But PJ likes to make a monthly night of it for fun. All the cubs, twinks and shy guys huddle in corners around the bar, waiting for a big manly bear to scoop them up and have their way with them. Whether you are there to scoop, huddle in the corner or watch the fun, this is a great night out. Can’t find what you’re looking for in the corners? Check out the DJ booth for the sexiest little cub around, DJ Mumbles, and see if he needs refreshment or help doing a pee break.  9pm. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. $5 cover.    Unicorn Ball Finally, I can ask if you’re horny for a party. Get it? Unicorn = horn? Probably over your head. Zing! Just when it’s been six months since hearing from the Pride Society, here’s their winter fundraiser, an epic dance party. Unicorns, sparkles and balls, oh my! Dress in your most colourful, sparkly unicorn outfits to dance the night away. Prance on stage for the unicorn costume contest to win amazing prizes. No costume? Don’t worry, they have you covered with unicorn stations complete with horns, ears, props, face painting and a photo booth. Personally, I would like a little elf impaled on my horn.  9pm–2am. The Imperial Lounge, 319 Main St. Tickets $25 at Little Sister’s, 1238 Davie St, or More info at   Sunday, Feb 19 Vancouver Men In Leather AGM Ok, now I know I must be missing something. In what universe does a rough, hairy, built, multiple-orgasm-producing, full leather man get up early Sunday morning after a hard Saturday night? Well, come along this morning and see as the Vancouver Men In Leather head back to the bar for their AGM at the ungodly hour or 10:30am. If you’re interested in joining VML, please contact for additional information. They are looking for people of all types and experience. Today they will review last year's activities and current status, as well as vote in the new Vancouver Men in Leather board for 2017. 10:30am–1pm. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St.    Caliente Nights If you are looking for a coronation-type show with a little more fire, passion and lively music, then tonight is for you. It’s the crowning of Miss Gay Latina; I can hear backstage as we speak, fiery Latinas blasting each other with words none of us understands. Kind of like when I walk through the kitchen at work and all the cooks are yelling at me in another language; I know they’re pissed but I smile and say good morning.  10pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $5.    Monday, Feb 20 Yoni Massage Even though I’m not allowed into this workshop, I always like to have something special for the women out there. This week is no exception, so grab your partner or come alone to learn how to give the best female massage ever. You will learn how to give healing and/or pleasure through the whole body, perform external and internal massage with specific focus on unveiling the mysteries of a woman's sensuous sweet spots, and how to create a safe space for the receiver, followed by how to touch and massage the velvety lips, clitoris, g-spot and vaginal walls to release pain or residual energy, increase orgasmic potential and create whole body well-being and bliss. All I can say is I hope they have good sound proofing, because the room is going to explode.  7:30pm. The Art of Loving, 369 W Broadway St. Cost $50, and please register in advance at    Del’s Extended Weekend It’s hard to believe with how much this man works in a week he even knows when the weekend is, let alone which way is up. Although, now that I think about it, up is easier; he just has to look at his feet flailing above his head. If the man is in his Hello Kitty kilt, you know two things for certain: it’s going to be a good night, and there are no underwear. One of the best DJs around, and he always has a surprise or two up his . . . well, let’s just say hidden on him. 11pm–3am. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. No Cover.    Tuesday, Feb 21 The Ryan and Amy Show Finally, they’re back for another show. It’s hard to say which I like better. I’ve always been a fan of feminine comedy, so I guess Ryan, although Amy has the smoking looks and banging body. Such a hard decision. I guess we all have our favourites. Both will make you laugh until you pee, and then will even mop it up. Nine years together and still going strong, like the energizer bunny and her battery duo. See you there.  8–11pm. XYYVR, 1316 Bute St. Tickets $8 at More info at    Wednesday, Feb 22 Pink Shirt Day Last year I got quite a bit of praise for wearing my pink shirt to protest bullying. I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was actually a yellow shirt that got washed with red socks by mistake. Plus, I didn’t even know it was Pink Shirt Day, so I nodded, said thanks, and went on my way. This year I’ve purchased a specific shirt for the occasion and will actually be informed enough to lecture people on bullying and where they can donate to help the cause. Please go to the website and do the same.    Whip Practice Whip it; whip it good, real good. Whether you’re into giving or receiving, it’s time to come out and make the air sound alive with the whoosh of the whip. New and never held a whip, experienced and well-seasoned in the way of whips, or anything in between is welcome. No live targets (it's a practice after all.) We use stuffies and pompoms as our targets of choice… for now. There are usually a couple of extra whips for new folks to try out, and occasionally others are willing to share their beloved whips as well. Hosted by Metro Vancouver Kink.  6:45–8:45pm. The Wise Hall & Lounge, 1882 Adanac St. 

Out in Toronto: Feb 16–22, 2017

16 February 2017 - 1:34pm
Thursday, Feb 16 The 38th Rhubarb Festival The local queer theatre’s annual festival of new works returns once again for a week or so of creativity, poignancy and nonsense. Billing calls Rhubarb “the place to see the most adventurous ideas in performance to catch your favourite artists venturing into uncharted territory.” This event includes a youth night, movie night and the Rhubarb Haunted House. Runs until Sunday, Feb 26, various showtimes. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. [[asset:image:309065 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Rhubarb Artists Anna Mayberry, Scotty Dont, and Gitanjali Lena take part in this year\u2019s festival."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Tanja-Tiziana"]}]]   Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience  To mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, Cree visual artist Kent Monkman tells the story of Canada while in the guise of his drag alter-ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Monkman’s first major solo exhibition at this location includes paintings, drawings, sculptural works and historical artifacts. The story goes back well before confederation and includes a humorous and searing critique of Canada’s colonial past and present.  Runs until Saturday, March 4. Art Museum at the University of Toronto, 15 King’s College Cir. [[asset:image:309011 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["\u201cSeeing Red\u201d is one of Cree artist Kent Monkman\u2019s works at his new exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, which runs until March 4, 2017 at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Kent Monkman"]}]] Cabaret  The Tony Award-winning production of Cabaret is back in Toronto as part of its 50th anniversary season. Put on by the critically acclaimed and award-winning Roundabout Theatre Company, get ready to sing your heart out to favourites including “Cabaret,” “Willkommen” and “Maybe This Time.” Runs until Sunday, Feb 19, various showtimes. Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St W.   Friday, Feb 17 Arabian Knights: First Anniversary  The queer Middle Eastern dance party celebrates its first anniversary with — what else? — a big bash. DJ Louay spins a mix of house and pop for you to shake your butt to. The evening also includes a big surprise show that is very hush hush, and I have absolutely no specifics, but it’s probably really great. Because the last party was so packed, attendees are encouraged to arrive early. Everyone welcome. The venue is not accessible.  10pm–3am.  Club 120, 120 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.   My Night With Reg Kevin Elyot’s Olivier Award-winning comedy, My Night With Reg, is set against the backdrop of the ’80s AIDS crisis and follows Guy and his circle of friends over the course of several years. It’s the summer of 1985, and for Guy and his friends, the world is about to change forever.  Runs until Sunday, Feb 26, various showtimes. Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St.   Saturday, Feb 18 Meaty Tuck 3  Performers Fay Slift and Fluffy Souffle host a body-positive night of dancing and fun for “all meaty tuckers, big booty babes, chubsters, queers, misfits, kweens and friends.” DJ Zehra spins. According to billing, you should not attend this event if you are a “fatphobic douchebag.” The venue is mostly accessible to people with disabilities (there are no buttons to open the front door or the accessible washroom door). 10pm–2am. Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook. [[asset:image:309062 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Fay Slift and Fluffy Souffle host a body-positive night of fun at Glad Day Bookshop on Feb 18, 2017."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy David Hawe"]}]]   The CB Queer Winter Beach Party  Cherry Bomb, one of the city’s longest-running and most popular parties for queer women and allies, gets us wishing the snow away with a summery theme. According to billing, attendees are invited to “come get lei’d and soak up the tropical vibes.” Beachwear encouraged, but not required. As always, the lovely DJs Cozmic Cat and Denise Benson spin. 10pm–3am. Round Venue, 152 Augusta Ave. For more info, visit Facebook.   Wednesday, Feb 22 The Elephant Girls  History buff Margo MacDonald’s award-winning play The Elephant Girls is based on a real-life all-woman gang that worked in London, England from about 1870 to 1950. The one-woman show features MacDonald in the guise of Maggie, the gang’s tough-as-nails enforcer. This production is part of The Wilde Festival, a new theatre festival dedicated to showcasing anything by Oscar Wilde and anything Wilde would have approved of.  Runs until Saturday, Feb 25, various showtimes. Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St W. For more info, visit Facebook. 

A life-size pink phone, a sleepover and a script: my year at the Rhubarb Festival

15 February 2017 - 7:32pm
Our friend Anton was moving to China. A fan of whimsical camp and ’80s nostalgia, Anton rather notably had a collection of all the best “just for girls” board games — Girl Talk, Perfect Wedding, and, most importantly, Dream Phone, the game with a real, talking phone.  Before leaving, Anton bequeathed his collection to me and my friend Morgan Norwich, for safekeeping. We were thrilled. Morgan had fond memories of playing the games as a little girl, and I had frustrating memories of wanting to play them as a gay little boy, and so we had a series of parties where friends would come over and we’d pour some drinks, put on our Teen Witch DVD, and break out what we came to call “the heteronormative reification games.” We revelled in their depressing gender politics and their hot pink colour schemes and it wasn’t too long before we decided to make a play about them. We wrote an application to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s 2011 Rhubarb Festival because we knew our play was going to be weird. Our submission package was brief; we didn’t even have a script yet, just a Rhubarb-ish idea we were excited about. We called it Who Who Who’s Got a Crush on You? as an homage to the jingle from the Dream Phone commercial that had been such a persistent earworm when we were growing up.  The idea was that we would throw a retro “girly” sleepover — complete with pink popcorn, MASH notes, coordinated pajamas, and practise kissing — for the gays who missed out on those parties as children. Rhubarb seemed like such a perfect fit that I don’t think we even considered submitting the project anywhere else. When we we were programmed by then-festival director Laura Nanni, I remember being pleased, but not altogether surprised. Now it was time to find the collaborators we needed to create the show. Jordan Tannahill, Adam Bourret, Mike Lorsch, Mark Aikman and myself played the other boys at the sleepover. Mark Shyzer played a terrifying drag version of my mother, who kept telling us to “keep the noise down, boys!” And I eventually strong-armed Morgan into agreeing to play a giant, sentient, incredibly mean-spirited Dream Phone in a glorious full-body costume designed by Stephanie Avery. [[asset:image:309050 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The cast of Who Who Who\u2019s Got a Crush on You?: (Back row, left to right) Jordan Tannahill, Morgan Norwich and Adam Bourret; (front row) Mike Lorsch and Johnnie Walker."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Supplied by Johnnie Walker"]}]] Dream Phone and its fellow “heteronormative reification games” are designed for little girls to play at being teenagers and dream about their futures. Our play allowed us to basically do the opposite of that; we took a look back, indulging our most childish fantasies and making our weirdest dreams come true. The script was created collaboratively with the cast, and one of the rules was that everyone would get the opportunity to do something that they really wanted to do. And so, I did a karaoke rendition of “Hopelessly Devoted to You;” Adam performed a choreographed dance number to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” joined by surprise backup dancers who were actual 12-year-old girls; Mark Shyzer did an Exorcist-style, upside-down-and-backwards crab-walk down the stairs of the Buddies cabaret; Mike performed an ode to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels; Mark Aikman just read Goosebumps all night; Jordan got to kiss everyone; and Morgan explored the dark side of the Dream Phone, leaning into the toxic and oppressive worldview lurking in its hot pink plastic heart. Rhubarb has always been the place for controlled theatrical chaos. I’ll never forget seeing Ulysses Castellanos re-enact The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with teddy bears and real chainsaws, or Andrya Duff and Shane MacKinnon chanting “Juice Bubleę!” while fucking a giant pair of lips with an anaconda. I like to think Who Who Who contributed to that tradition in its own way. We got in trouble for making our audience get out of their seats and join us in a circle on the floor; we didn’t want them watching us from a distance, we wanted them right in the thick of things, reading our Tiger Beat magazines and sharing our stale popcorn. We broke the rules and ruffled some feathers, but I like to think that by the time we burst into a wistful, four-part a cappella rendition of the Dream Phone jingle, all was forgiven. [[asset:video_embed:309053 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_credit":["NBTheatre\/YouTube"]}]] I have a kind of mantra about the kind of theatre I want to make that’s stuck with me through the years: fun to create, fun to perform, fun to watch. Over time, my definition of “fun” has stretched and transformed, but the heart of that philosophy remains intact and it’s never steered me wrong. I can’t remember exactly when I hit on the mantra of fun, but Who Who Who is perhaps the Platonic ideal of the concept. If you’re having a good time, there’s a strong possibility that the audience is having a good time. And if the audience is having a good time, you can take them so many more places and tell them so many more things. Since that Rhubarb Festival back in 2011, I’ve built on my relationship with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, where I’m currently developing a new play as an artist-in-residence. And this month, I’m returning to Rhubarb as a producer for a show called He’s Built a Fucking Time Machine by AnimalParts, a company I’ve been working with since 2013. Producing shows for AnimalParts in the past has meant sourcing everything from a dead octopus to a live poodle, washing glitter off a performer’s ass, and letting the whole company sleepover at my apartment. I can’t think of a group of artists who better embody Rhubarb’s controlled chaos, or my own personal mantra of fun. [[asset:image:309056 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Photos from Who Who Who\u2019s Got a Crush on You?"],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Emily Gove"]}]] For years, people would stop Morgan and ask: “Weren’t you that phone?” Which drove her crazy, but delighted me. The cast and creative team of Who Who Who’s Got a Crush on You? represents a cross-section of friends, family and esteemed colleagues, many of whom I still see all the time.  In 2011, Adam and I had been dating for a couple of years — now it’s been eight and a half. Last November, I spent a week in Edmonton helping out with Morgan and her husband’s new baby, Ronan. And just last week, I was crashing with Jordan in Vancouver, where we were both working on shows at the PuSh Festival.  Anton eventually returned from China, but he’s never asked for his games back, so I’ve still got them. I’ve even added to the collection, which now includes The Sweet Valley High Game and Mall Madness (if anyone has a lead on a copy of Mystery Date, let me know). And every so often, they’ll come out at a party, and maybe we’ll get Teen Witch going on Netflix, and without fail someone will eventually say: “Hey, remember that crazy show?”

When does preference become prejudice?

15 February 2017 - 4:32pm
It was nighttime in Tokyo. I walking towards Shinjuku Ni-chōme, the gay district of the city. It was away from the bustle of Shinjuku, dispersed amongst several city blocks. When I got there, I turned onto a quiet side street and kept an eye out for the Eagle Tokyo, which had opened only a few months ago. At a glance online, I found that there were countless gay bars in Ni-chōme, and a lot of them catered to bears. The bear scene seemed huge in the city, possibly even bigger than San Francisco’s  The Eagle wasn’t as inconspicuous as some of the other bars in the area. It stood out right from the street, and was a lot more upscale than most other Eagle’s that I’ve been to.  I went straight for the bar where a cute cub greeted me and laid a drinks menu out. I ordered a beer and we chatted a bit as he asked where I was from and what I was doing in the city. I realized what a cliché it was to crush on a bartender, but I’d been so deprived during my travels that I was quite shameless.  While flirting with him, I noticed another guy standing at the back. He was more of a daddy bear, beefy, and around six-foot-three. I flirted with him too. But then I noticed another guy. And another guy. The place was a gold mine, packed with the motherlode of bears.  Before even going to Shinjuku Ni-chōme, when I first realized how bear-ish the city was through my research online, I expressed my excitement to my friend, Jeremy, back home over text. To that, he said, “I could never sleep with an Asian guy.” We’ve all seen people claim such things on hook-up apps, saying that they’re not into ‘Asians’, ‘femmes,’ etc. It’s become a modern debate at dinner parties too: Are such sentiments a crude way of expressing preference or just straight-up prejudice?  “Why don’t you like Asian guys?” I’d asked. “I’m just not attracted to them.” “Yeah, but to say ‘never’?” “I would never,” he repeated adamantly, somewhat disgusted. “I just know myself.”  I’m a defender of political correctness and believe that it’s a form of decency and respect. At the same time, I understand that there’s nothing politically correct about sexual attraction. People simply like who they like. Sometimes they understand the root of this attraction and sometimes it’s a complete mystery. However, to say “never” is very different from saying, “I prefer white guys”, or “I prefer blondes.” So is that what differentiates a preference from prejudice?  I definitely have a preference in men. I love guys in their late 40s to early 50s, who are beefy, hairy and are okay with being called “daddy.” I have no racial preferences so long as they fit within that daddy/beefy bear criteria. That said, my lover Ernan isn’t any of those things and I still find him extremely attractive. For me, nothing is set in stone, and chemistry trumps preference. I think it’s immature and even ignorant to say that you’d “never” do this or that because who knows? And when applied to race, dating and sex, what I think it really means is that someone is saying that they find a whole race of people so unattractive that there isn’t even the slightest possibility, not even in the future, that you’d find anything sexual about any of them based on their looks alone, regardless of who they are as a person. Not only is that highly insulting but it is a prejudice. It’s not a preference, no matter how you slice it. As the night went on, the Eagle became even more packed with beefy Japanese dudes, and I felt grateful to enjoy them all, unrestricted by absolute preferences. When you outright refuse to date or sleep with someone because of their ethnicity, like Jeremy, you risk missing opportunities to meet some wonderful people.

‘There is no door open, no hope.’ The gay Iranian refugee that Canada abandoned

15 February 2017 - 1:32pm
Amirhossein Zolghadri regrets not trusting his smuggler.  The gay Iranian man, who also identifies as queer, was supposed to be trafficked out of Turkey to Britain or Norway. But the shifty, burly man left Zolghadri with a bad feeling. He instead filed a refugee claim with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Canada selected him for resettlement. “I got very scared of that smuggler. But now when I look back, I feel I made the most terrible mistake of my life,” Zolghadri says. “Now I feel this smuggler was much more trustworthy than the UNHCR and Canada, because they both have let me down.” Zolghadri is among a handful of LGBT Iranians who have told Xtra that Canada had selected them for resettlement, before abandoning them to make space for Syrians. The two main Toronto advocacy groups for LGBT Iranians — the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees and the Iranian Queer Organization — say they’re in touch with dozens in the same situation, and that most had been referred to the United States before President Donald Trump suspended refugee resettlement from seven predominantly-Muslim countries. It’s the latest blow to Zolghadri, whose most terrifying hours were spent on Nov 18, 2014, inside Tehran’s international airport.  After causing a scandal by sleeping with a preacher in his hometown of Karaj, 17-year-old Zolghadri was trying to flee to Turkey, leaving behind a broken life and a prestigious family that wanted to save face. [[asset:image:309044 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["\u201cAs a gay person in Iran, whether you remain silent or decide to scream in protest, every day you are condemned to death,\u201d Amirhossein Zolghadri says."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Amirhossein Zolghadri"]}]] Passing through security checks manned by Iran’s revolutionary guards, Zolghadri worried they’d look through documentary tapes he’d filmed about gay Muslims. They’d see the clerics in the religious city of Qom, who had beat Zolghadri for asking about homosexuality. They’d hear about the time the preacher’s father almost sideswiped Zolghadri with his car. “As a gay person in Iran, whether you remain silent or decide to scream in protest, every day you are condemned to death,” Zolghadri says in one of the tapes, now posted online. “I preferred to scream, than to die everyday in my community, at school and at home.” If the guards searched Zolghadri’s name online, they’d see him recounting childhood bullying, which escalated into him running away from home, narrowly avoiding shock therapy and dropping from academic studies to shop classes. “I think that was a miracle, that I somehow made it out of Iran,” Zolghadri, now 20, told Xtra in a video chat, his dark eyes peering through long, black locks of hair. After breaking off contact with the smuggler, he slept in dodgy hostels. He’s struggled to find under-the-table work, and scrapes by on cash transfers from friends and activists. According Zolghadri’s UNHCR documents, which he provided to Xtra, he registered as a refugee on July 30, 2015. Canada started a third-country resettlement application on Nov 20, 2015.  But almost a year later, in mid-November 2016, the UNHCR told Zolghadri that Canada had suspended his application, because it is only resettling Syrian refugees through the UN system. [[asset:image:309047 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Zolghadri provided Xtra with his UNHCR documents which show his case was moving forward in Canada and the US before being suspended in both countries."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Amirhossein Zolghadri"]}]] The UN put his case back into its system, before the US started its own resettlement application on Dec 2, 2016. US officials interviewed Zolghadri on Dec 26, and planned a final interview before suspending his application after Trump’s executive order.  Zolghadri believes he’d be in the US already if his Canadian application hadn’t languished for 11 months. “Why did Canada give me this false hope?” he says. He passes the time painting, seldom leaving the vacation flat in Eskişehir, Turkey, that was offered to him by a stranger he met online, an Iranian living in the US who fled persecution because of his Baha’i faith. While living in Turkey, both Zolghadri’s grandmother and estranged father have died. Zolghadri dreams of coming to Canada and taking legal studies because almost everyone in his family is a lawyer.  But for now, death is close to mind. He follows closely as Canadian parliamentarians raise the issue, but he’s worried about Turkey’s uptick of anti-LGBT violence. “The options to me right now are either suicide or a hunger strike. Because they’re ignoring Iranian LGBT people in this situation,” he says. “There is no door open, no hope.”

Five Rhubarb Festival 2017 performances you can’t miss

14 February 2017 - 4:30pm
Since its inception, The Rhubarb Festival has been a space for experimentation. Buddies’ long-running new works festival, now in its 38th year, eschews polished products in lieu of rough, raw creations.  Conceived as a platform where risk is the goal and failure is always an option, the 10-day event is jam-packed with queer artists, and a handful of heteros for good measure.  Many performances run simultaneously in different spaces, so it’s impossible to catch everything in one night. But fear not! Among the plethora of works on offer, Xtra has selected a few performances you just can’t miss.   He’s Built a Fucking Time Machine Created and performed by Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz Have you been longing for a show that mixes bondage gear with aerobic exercise? If so, AnimalParts’ Rhubarb debut will fill that void. Last seen in Toronto with their hit takedown of gay conversion therapy A Quiet Sip of Coffee, the New York-based theatrical duo’s latest is the final instalment of the Tenderpits trilogy, which was sparked by the death of Johnston’s sister in 2010. Clad in a leather bondage mask, a man runs on a treadmill, his thoughts and feelings communicated through audio and video projections. Through this unlikely combination of elements, a nuanced meditation on family, regret and the afterlife emerges. At the same time, the show also proposes a highly relevant, if unexpected question: whose lives do we truly value and why?   M/F Choose One By Sonny Mills Sonny Mills exploded in the mid-1990s with the hilarious Dyke City series; an irreverent send-up of lesbian culture, followed up by side-splitters Exactly The Same and the variety show Tits Up. The year 2002 marked a theatrical about-face with the trenchant, multi-Dora award–nominated epic, The Danish Play, which looked at the life of queer resistance fighter Agnete Ottosen during the Second World War. His latest work marks a return to comedic territory with a look at the conundrums gender-variant folks face every day, from filling in forms to deciding where to pee. Since leaving Toronto in 2007, first for Owen Sound and later for Hamilton, we haven’t heard much from Mills, other than 2010’s booze-addled capitalist critique The Bird. But perhaps M/F Chose One will mean we start to hear more again from one of Canada’s queer theatrical greats?    Monomyths Stage 13: Freedom to Live By Staceyann Chin If you’ve ever seen Staceyann Chin perform, you’ll know it’s tough to put the New York artist’s presence into words. Dynamic, ecstatic and never afraid to push buttons, Chin offers up performative poetic meditations on everything from her experiences as a queer biracial Jamaican immigrant to contemporary political issues. Working with a combination of devised material and improvisation, she’s famous for just getting on stage and letting it rip. Rhubarb’s only rule is that there are no rules, which makes it a perfect place for Chin. Her unpredictable nature means no one is totally sure what she’s going to spew forth when she hits Buddies’ stage. But at this critical juncture in history, as the forces of the political right appear poised to take over the world, what we need more than anything are people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds and spaces where that can happen. [[asset:image:309035 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Monomyths Stage 13: Freedom to Live, is performed by Staceyann Chin."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Buddies in Bad Times"]}]] Nasty Kwe Created by Manifest Destiny’s Child Not to be confused with the highly obscure comedic rap crew, Toronto’s own Manifest Destiny’s Child is all about bringing indigenous humour to the stage. After meeting in Dawn Whitwell’s Comedy Girl class, the seven members formed a collective set to stake their territorial claim over Canada’s funny bone. Set in a post-apocalyptic 2018, their Rhubarb debut, Nasty Kwe, follows three indigenous comics from different nations, in a gloves-off battle to be supreme leader of the world. Blending sketch and standup, the show offers a humorous look at inter-tribal conflicts often invisible in the homogenized Canadian view of indigenous people. With deft timing and a decidedly political sensibility, Manifest Destiny’s Child are out to prove that 523 years of oppression can give some serious comedy chops.   The People v The Cock of Basel Created by Bambitchell In 1474, in the city of Basel, an errant rooster was hauled before a court of law charged with the crime of laying an egg. Part of an ongoing series of works looking at the peculiar phenomenon of animals being put trial in Medieval Europe, Toronto duo Sharlene Bamboat and Alexis Mitchell’s latest takes the fate of this gender-bending cock as its subject.  Working with multiple screens flashing images ranging from RuPaul’s Drag Race to the Salem witch trials, the show examines the persecution of bodies which to fail to meet mainstream standards. Marked with their trademark humour, the show will resonate with any queer who’s ever felt like they don’t fit in, while at the same time makes you laugh. [[asset:image:309038 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The People v The Cock of Basel is the latest work by Sharlene Bamboat and Alexis Mitchell."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Bambitchell"]}]]  

Vancouver police will march in 2017 Pride parade

14 February 2017 - 1:30pm
Halifax and Toronto police may have stepped out of their cities’ Pride parades, but the Vancouver police will still march this year, albeit with a diminished presence.  The Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) community consultations conducted online and in-person revealed, among other things, sentiments that police presence in the Pride parade is threatening to the most marginalized members of the LGBT community, Xtra has previously reported. VPS has met with police to work with them on reducing police presence at Pride, which could include reducing the number of uniformed officers carrying weapons.  Staff Sergeant Randy Fincham, media spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) replied to Xtra’s request for an interview following the Halifax and Toronto police announcements with this email message: “The VPD is looking forward to working with our community partners with Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver Pride Society, and have our volunteers and civilian and sworn staff walk with pride for our 21st year in the 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade.” Black Lives Matter Vancouver co-founder Daniella Barreto says the tendency to dismiss issues of racism and marginalization in favour of marching in the Pride parade shows the VPD lacks commitment to the LGBT community’s safety. “I think that we have explained this issue over and over again and for the VPD not to change anything given how other police departments have chosen to react, I think that BLM would have even more of a reason to keep talking about this and keep bringing these issues of racism up in Vancouver,” Barretto says.  “It seems so often that people don’t like to acknowledge it and pretend it doesn’t exist. I think the VPD could really show a commitment by changing their approach.” Barretto says the VPD and RCMP should issue a statement outlining their support for the queer community, acknowledging that systemic racism does exist in Canada and start a conversation about what inclusion and oppression mean for different groups. BLM Vancouver has also launched a petition to ask the VPD to stay out of the parade. Fostering conversation is what motivated the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) to step away from the local parade on Feb 6, says diversity equity officer Amit Parasram. “I think it was a respectful response to a larger conversation we were having with members of the LGBT community around what are the concerns regarding the police and why it’s become an issue with some of the communities and why might we not want police to be involved in the parade,” Parasram says. “Given the fact there were concerns in the community about issues that happened elsewhere, when you look at the Stonewall riots, the [1981] baths raids in Toronto and other places, those are internalized as a police issue, so regardless of what uniform you wear, police are police everywhere,” he adds.  Parasram says his department wants to engage with the community without the pressure of being viewed as “pinkwashing,” or exploiting the parade to benefit from good optics. The HRP wants instead to host a community barbecue this year, where officers and the public can more freely interact as much or as little as they wish. “It’s not the police’s festival or parade, we have a role to play in it and our job is to be as respectful as we can and not overstep our role, where our needs are superseding the community needs,” he says. “We hope to act as allies in the community so they don’t have to have the police force being a factor that contributes to divisiveness and so we can deliver better community relations as a result.” Co-chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project Áine Morse says the HRP are moving in the right direction. “I think it’s a really important starting point in beginning to think about what really goes into police having successful and welcoming relationships with different communities,” Morse says. However, Morse emphasized the need for consistency in this approach with regard to racism and the treatment of marginalized individuals. “I think it’s important to identify that these other problems still exist, not much has been done about them and that’s an issue for trans and people of colour and two-spirited people locally.” Four days after the HRP announced their withdrawal, the Toronto police followed suit. “We understand the LGBTQ communities are divided. To enable those differences to be addressed, I have decided the Toronto Police Service will not participate, this year, in the Pride Parade,” said police chief Mark Saunders in a written statement. Black Lives Matter Toronto was skeptical. “Communities have been putting forward these conversations to have and, time and time again, Mark has not followed through on his commitment to sit down and talk,” BLMTO co-founder Alexandria Williams told Xtra on Feb 10, noting multiple attempts to meet with Saunders have been refused.  Williams called the decision more “hollow statements and empty promises.”

After 38 years, the Rhubarb Festival is still pushing artists to their creative limits

14 February 2017 - 1:30pm
Now in its 38th year, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Rhubarb Festival returns with an impressive roster of emerging and seasoned artists. Canada’s longest-running festival of new works is an opportunity to witness a diverse set of artists performing in a variety of different disciplines, including dance, theatre and performance art. For decades, the experimental theatre festival has nurtured the visions of emerging artists by facilitating a space for their work and allowing their art to come to life. Scores of queer artists who have performed at the festival have gone on to have fruitful careers. A staggering 25 percent of all Governor General’s Award–winners for theatre recipients are alumni of Rhubarb. Nicolas Billon is one such artist whose work was performed at Rhubarb in 2011 and 2013 for Godwin’s Law and Faroe Islands respectively. Fault Lines, his trilogy of plays, consists of Greenland, Iceland and Faroe Islands and won Billon the 2013 Governor General’s Award for drama. The playwright, whose work has been produced in Toronto, Stratford, New York and Paris, says Rhubarb’s experimental atmosphere has challenged him as an artist. Performing the pieces at Rhubarb gave the playwright the opportunity to experiment with each project and ultimately made Iceland a stronger piece. Billon credits the supportive and creatively unorthodox environment at Rhubarb for allowing his work to grow. “Rhubarb was a proof-of-concept for Iceland. The feedback we got from Godwin’s Law changed how we approached the longer piece, and ultimately made Iceland a better play.” “This is why I love Rhubarb, and why it’s an invaluable home for artists. It encourages unorthodox and experimental work, provides support for it, and brings in an audience that is active and engaged,” Billon says. Leah Fay Goldstein is a Toronto-based artist and musician who co-founded the live art collective WIVES. The collective originally staged its piece, Sea Foam Blue, at Rhubarb in 2012. Since then, the work has been remounted at Sala Rosa in Montreal and at SummerWorks in Toronto. [[asset:image:309032 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["WIVES collective performed Sea Foam Blue at the 2012 Rhubarb Festival."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Buddies in Bad Times Theatre"]}]] The Juno Award–winning artist says a power outage on opening night nearly ruined the performance, but that the participation of the audience saved the show from certain death. “On opening night we had blown all the power we needed to start the show and were left in pitch black as a multi-coloured under the sea landscape was supposed to be forming around us to set the tone of the piece. We filled our mouths with water and began gargling the melody of “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen along to my autoharp in an act of desperation,” Goldstein says.   “Justin Vivian Bond was one of the first people in the audience to break the tension by singing along, clapping and yelling in encouragement. Within minutes the whole crowd was on our side,” Goldstein says. “It was likely their positivity that got the power working again.” “That's kind of what the whole festival felt like, one giant warm blankety love fest where experimental and queer art could thrive.” This year’s Rhubarb includes promising new works from emerging artists. Gitanjali Lena’s Mesh explores the theme of intimacy among queer and trans people of colour while Izad Etemadi’s Kooni examines what the artist’s life might resemble had his parents not emigrated from Iran in the mid-’90s. Mel Hague is the festival director and says that while Rhubarb has been a launching pad for emerging artist’s careers, it’s also fertile ground for established artists whose work is still evolving. “I think Rhubarb can act as a launching pad and it can act as a return place for artists who’ve already gone out in the world and made themselves and want to find a space to do what is not expected of them, to experiment,” Hague says. “I think that that’s the key. I think it’s very important for emerging artists to work out what their voice is, what they want to focus on as part of their art and that is what Rhubarb is.” “Rhubarb is also a space for trying something new in the simplest way, so we try to encourage as much returning as we do for new artists just coming out.”  

Tweet clues, gay conservatives and HIV positivity

13 February 2017 - 7:28pm
[[asset:image:309026 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] HIV-positive man wins Mr Gay New Zealand Charlie Tredway, a New Zealand gay man living with HIV and New Zealand Aids Foundation worker has been named Mr Gay New Zealand. Tredway has spent years fighting against HIV stigma.  Read more at at the New Zealand Herald.   Can gay folk be conservative? In the New York Post last week, Out Magazine journalist Chadwick Moore wrote that after he wrote a positive profile of a conservative, the intensity of liberal backlash forced him to “come out” as a conservative himself. Skylar Baker Jordan in the Independant replies that being a conservative in America is a betrayal of LGBT rights, and that gay people have every reason to reject a gay conservative.   Trans activist missing in Eastern Ukraine A trans activist and a friend have disappeared in Eastern Ukraine, and international rights groups are concerned the two have been captured by rebels, Radio Free Europe reports. Friends of the two became even more concerned when a message appeared on the activist’s Twitter February 9, but using the wrong pronoun.   UK man jailed for attack on lesbians A man in Manchester has been sentenced to 28 months in prison for attacking a lesbian couple in a train last year. The couple, in their 40s, were sitting quietly on the train when the man insulted them, urinated on them, and then punched one in the face. Read more at the Mirror.   The future of “the future is female” At BuzzFeed, Shannon Keating wonders about the future of lesbian identity in the face of a gender revolution. Will the slogan “the future is female” still have meaning in a post-gender movement?

What feedback did the Vancouver Pride Society get from the LGBT community?

13 February 2017 - 7:28pm
The Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) has completed its latest round of online and group community consultations and is looking to address key areas.  VPS events director Andrea Arnot says around 200 people participated online and in-person following the 2016 festival season. Recurring themes were community representation, education, police presence and how the VPS communicates about its activities.  “One thing we saw was people felt like they didn’t want to attend Pride anymore because they felt it was just one giant party and there weren’t opportunities for bringing their friends and allies to learn about the local history, about struggles in years past in Vancouver,” Arnot says.  In response, the 2017 festival will feature a “living library,” allowing members of the public to check out a local knowledge-holder at Pride events to hear and discuss queer history. VPS also wants parade floats to improve representation of groups other than gay white males, Arnot says. As previously reported by Xtra, VPS is also planning to provide resources and sponsorship to events for specific marginalized groups holding alternative Pride season events. Police participation received significant feedback, Arnot says. “That ranges from ‘I will never come to Pride again if you ban the police’ to ‘if you don’t ban the police I will never come to Pride again,’ and everything in between,” she says. “So with those pieces we’ve reached out specifically to potentially marginalized groups and individuals, like the people of colour, indigenous, trans and dyke communities, to check in and get some feedback around that and it is an issue for people. We are working with [the Vancouver Police Department] and RCMP to dialogue and collaborate about how we can alter things to make thing work for people.” Arnot says this dialogue includes, over the next month, asking the VPD to consider reducing the number of vehicles and marchers in the 2017 parade; reducing the number of officers wearing uniforms and carrying weapons; and asking the VPD to improve outreach in the community and participate in dialogue, with listening circles for example. A meeting is tentatively planned for some time in March to hear the VPD’s reply.  “Our board and myself and Kieran [Burgess] the executive director feel really strongly that the way to create positive social change is dialogue and collaboration, so that’s what we’re doing,” Arnot says.

Are public health recommendations sex-negative? (Part 1)

13 February 2017 - 7:28pm
According to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), the only way to reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including gonorrhea is to avoid vaginal, anal or oral sex altogether. That’s not an option for most of us, particularly those on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) who want to enjoy their sex, carefree.  So then what? If one must have sex, the CDC suggests that you can lower your chances of getting gonorrhea by being in a mutually exclusive, long-term relationship with a partner who’s been tested for STIs too, and of course, use a condom every time (which we know does not and will not happen). To me, these suggestions are not always realistic or helpful for some queer people.  While these recommendations are effective for preventing STIs, these guidelines sound an awful lot like all that heteronormative bull that’s been shoved down my throat my whole life. It also sounds sex-negative, and sterile. We are currently facing an STI epidemic. The combined cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia hit record highs in 2015 in the United States, so it’s not entirely fair to say that the CDC is sex-negative. But is there a way for public health get the message about safer sex out there holistically and in a sex-positive way that’s also inclusive of PrEP and treatment as prevention (TasP), while being realistic and effective too?  It’s worth looking back to the early ’80s to see how our elders dealt with the AIDS epidemic, and sex-negative information from public health. During the first couple of years after the “gay cancer,” now known as HIV, emerged, the cause of it was still unknown. Nor did they know what was being transmitted. What they did know was that it was transmitted sexually and although there was no concrete proof, it seemed like it was done so via semen. “AIDS hit my little group very early on, and no one knew what it was,” said writer and activist, Larry Kramer, in an interview with New York magazine. “But it was very obvious what was causing it, and I said that if you had a brain, you should start cooling it. And that made a lot of enemies. You couldn’t say those things, then or now.” And by, “cooling it” he meant that people needed to stop having — in his words — “careless sex.”  The San Francisco Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an organization of queer nuns focusing on community service and outreach, took a very different approach. They created pamphlets during the crisis called, Fair Play, which, in part, was the invention of safe sex for gay men. What made this effective was their use of humour, compassion and relatability to explain how to prevent STIs and basic hygiene, especially during a time of fear and uncertainty.  They were the first to suggest condom use at the time, which was less than popular (gonorrhea and syphilis were curable with the advent of antibiotics, and other STIs were manageable). They also highlighted  the importance of knowing your partner (or at least their name), safe rimming and using sex toys, in non-judgmental and sex-positive ways. “I think the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence did this really well,” says Damon Jacobs, a renowned PrEP educator and marriage and family therapist living in New York. “At least from the documents that I could see, which is to start from: Sex is good, sex is healthy, sex is great. We’re not telling you not to have sex. We love you. We respect your choices and we’re really worried that based on what we understand with our very limited knowledge that right now semen or blood exchanges could be deadly.”  In the ’80s and early ’90s, the government began decimating the gay sex scene in places like New York City in what seemed, to me, to be a blatant attempt to control gay sexuality — in the name of public health. In 1985, local health officials in New York were permitted by the state to close gay bathhouses and other venues where “high-risk sexual activities” took place. Dr David Axelrod, the state health commissioner at the time, told the Public Health Council that “AIDS” was spread by anal and oral sex (although we know now that the risk of contracting the virus through oral sex is extremely low), and if they delayed in shutting these places down,  more illness and death would ensue. The message was aggressive and callous. New York City’s health commissioner Dr David J Sencer criticized this approach, calling it “coercion” and claiming that it would do very little to control the virus. “The issue is human behavior, not where the behavior takes place,” he said.  The infamous New York sex club, Mine Shaft was the first venue to go. New York City’s then-mayor Ed Koch had said that shutting down the Mine Shaft was not an attempt to impose restrictions on sexuality, but rather to save lives. However, many opposed to the shutdown said it would not only do little to curb such sexual activity, but that this was one step towards government regulation of private behaviour.  Jacobs thinks back to similar events in San Francisco during this period: “It was coming from that paternalistic ‘cover-your-ass’ thing from health departments because they were definitely not interested in working in a harm-reduction framework,” he says. “A harm-reduction framework would’ve been: These bathhouses are here, we know people are going to fuck, so let’s give them a safe place — not only physically and legally safe — but let’s see what we can do to help them make healthier choices that won’t result in death. That would’ve been harm reduction.”  “Instead, they went for the all or nothing thing as if they can control people’s sexual behavior by closing down bathhouses.” So what can we learn from all this in order to help create messages around STI prevention to combat the rising rates that might actually work? . . .