Ottawa Xtra

Why queer people must stand against the death penalty

10 March 2017 - 8:12pm
Have you heard about Saudi Arabia? You know they execute gays there, right? And Iran? Just as bad.  You might have also heard about Sudan and Yemen, where the law calls for capital punishment of homosexuality. Not to mention Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Mauritania, Qatar, Brunei and Afghanistan, all countries whose laws call for homosexuals to be executed. The terrible fact that homosexuals live in fear of state-sanctioned death simply for existing in these countries is often cited as one of those awful truths of the oppression that queer people still face in parts of the world less fortunate than Canada. Or, it’s cynically cited by politicians like Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch to justify divisive and oppressive policies toward Muslim Canadians and Muslims who aspire to be Canadians. But as much as the legal execution of queer people is an obvious wrong, criticizing Saudi Arabia for its lack of gay rights is like a firefighter considering paint swatches while a house burns down. Let’s be clear. None of the 11 countries I listed above would be bastions of human rights if only they stopped killing homosexuals. With the exception of Nigeria, arguably none has a functioning democratic government. Women have limited rights compared to men. Basic freedoms of speech, conscience, religion and assembly are severely limited. Where rule of law is upheld at all, defendants typically do not have access to fair trials or humane treatment.  Take a look at some of the other crimes that carry the death penalty in Saudi Arabia: adultery, atheism, apostasy, blasphemy, carjacking, drug use or possession, fornication, idolatry, robbery, sedition and political opposition, sorcery and witchcraft.  The long list of “crimes” for which the death penalty is an available punishment is clearly tailored not to the preservation of justice, but to the preservation of an order that oppresses minorities — sexual and gender minorities, yes, but also religious, political and racial minorities, as well as the poor, and potential political opponents. Saudi Arabia isn’t alone on this count. The United States — the only western country to maintain capital punishment — has long been criticized for the disproportionate use of the death penalty against racial minorities and the poor, especially Black Americans and immigrants. According to the Village Voice, anti-LGBT bias is also exploited in US death penalty cases. (In colonial America, homosexuals were also executed.) Where the death penalty is not sought, it is often used to coerce confessions and plea bargains.  Queer people ought to recognize the injustice immediately: the key evil isn’t the death penalty for homosexuality — it’s the fact that the death penalty exists at all.  A growing global movement recognizes this injustice. The death penalty has been almost completely eradicated from Europe, Latin America, Oceania, and Southern and West Africa. There are 102 countries that have abolished the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, while 2016 saw a record surge in executions, 140 states across the globe (nearly two-thirds of countries) are considered “abolitionist in practice,” meaning that they haven’t executed anyone in 10 years and have a policy of not seeking the death penalty even though it remains on the books. Mauritania is actually one of the “abolitionist in practice” countries, though the potential to put homosexuals to death lingers.  Legislative abolition of the death penalty in many countries is sometimes tied with general updates to criminal codes — many of which were inherited from the colonial period. These updates can sometimes achieve wider justice goals, including eliminating gender biases and decriminalizing homosexuality. When Nauru updated its criminal code last year, it eliminated both the death penalty and the prohibition on sodomy. Continuing to build the global consensus against the death penalty is not only a good goal in itself, but could help to achieve wider justice goals for LGBT people, especially in some of the countries listed above.  But the United States remains one of the biggest obstacles to achieving this consensus. While the US justice system isn’t quite the charnel house of its counterparts in China, Iran, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, the US is the only Western country to retain the death penalty. Aside from those four countries, the US executes more people than any country. And capital punishment remains popular there — abolition referendums in three states last year failed to pass. In California, referendums have failed twice in the last five years, and by a wider margin the second time.  Still, abolishing the death penalty must remain a principal aim for anyone claiming to seek justice. For queer people, it is literally a matter of life and death.

Stop ignoring the brutal, racist history of the Vancouver Police Department

10 March 2017 - 8:12pm
When Myles Gray’s body was brought to the funeral home, the funeral director recommended the family have a closed casket ceremony. His mother, Margie Gray, believes that’s because his injuries were so horrific. Myles was 33 when he was killed by seven Vancouver police officers in 2015. He wasn’t armed. There’s nothing to indicate that he was having a mental health episode. Though all of the officers reported injuries, we don’t know the extent of those injuries or whether or not they were self-inflicted, say from the use of their own pepper spray. A toxicology test revealed he wasn’t drunk or high, but we’ll never know if any of the police officers were on any drugs, because they weren’t tested. In fact, 18 months after he was killed, we know next to nothing. Neither does his family, who have been publicly pushing for answers, while the seven officers that killed Myles are still on active duty. (Full disclosure: his cousin is a friend of mine.) [[asset:image:309197 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Myles Gray died Aug 13, 2015. He was only 33 years old."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Photo courtesy of the Gray family"]}]]  It’s very unlikely any of the officers will be charged. In fact, there hasn’t been a police officer in all of British Columbia that has been convicted for murder in an on-duty death in decades — the first time charges were even brought was in 2014, and they were eventually stayed. No one was charged when Tony Du, a 52-year-old man who was having a schizophrenic episode, was shot within 25 seconds of an officer arriving at the scene. When Yao Wei Wu was severely beaten by two plainclothes Vancouver Police Department officers who were responding to a domestic violence call at the wrong address, no one was charged. The Delta Police Department investigated the incident and concluded the officers acted appropriately. And then there’s Paul Boyd. A bipolar man who was off of his medication at the time, Boyd was 39 years old when a VPD officer killed him. He was shot after he attacked police with a chain and a lock. But a few years after his death, a video emerged showing Boyd in the moments after he was first shot. He can be seen crawling on the ground, the chain outside of his grasp. The officer then shoots him three more times, including in the head. Boyd wasn’t killed by an officer in fear for his life. He was executed. No charges. I’m recounting this grim history in response to statements made last month by some LGBT activists opposed to Black Lives Matter Vancouver’s petition to exclude the Vancouver police from the Pride parade. “I believe the concerns of Black Lives Matter are valid and of concern,” Velvet Steele told Daily Hive. “However, they are not all shared amongst many people.” Steele called the VPD one of the most “progressive police forces in the country.” I have no idea if that’s true. But if it is, it says more about the state of disrepair of Canada’s police forces than it does about the VPD. This is the same police department that allowed one of North America’s most prolific serial killers to prey on women in the Downtown Eastside, unchecked for two decades because of the systemic bias against indigenous sex workers that pervaded the department. Though the VPD, under the leadership of former Chief Jim Chu, has made positive changes over the years to address some of their past mistakes, the bodies of Vancouverites killed by their own police force keep piling up. Many of them are mentally ill. And yes, few, though some, of them are black. But that’s more a function of Vancouver’s demographics than proof of the VPD’s egalitarianism. Black Vancouverites are still subject to brutal treatment by the cops. Solomon Akintoye is right now suing the VPD for allegedly beating him after mistaking him for a crime suspect. Even outside of the systemic racism — especially against indigenous people that report after report has demonstrated is at the core of the VPD — it’s clear that there is little accountability within the force. BC’s recently created Independent Investigations Office, modelled after Ontario’s extremely flawed Special Investigations Unit, is understaffed and underfunded. And they’ve singled out the VPD, along with the RCMP, for being deliberately uncooperative during their investigations. The situation is getting worse across British Columbia, where the number of police killings rose sharply from 2009 to 2015. The activists in favour of polite engagement with the police argue that we shouldn’t impose an American narrative on a Canadian situation. And they’re right. The VPD’s problems are entirely homegrown and require a homegrown response. For years, indigenous people in Vancouver have done much of the work to push for police accountability in the city, while white, South Asian and East Asian communities have largely sat on their hands. And now a group of black Vancouverites is taking up the fight. The rest of us should commend their work, because though they’re doing it to assert their own humanity, we will all benefit from a more accountable police force. I don’t really care whether or not the VPD will march in the Pride parade. What I do care about is getting justice for Myles Gray, Tony Du, Paul Boyd and the many other people the VPD has killed without being held to account. Vancouver isn’t special. The sooner we realize it, the better.

ClexaCon is shedding light on the lack of LGBT women in film and TV

9 March 2017 - 11:11pm
Queer women, and the people who play them on TV and in the movies, gathered in Las Vegas on March 3–5, 2017 at the first-ever ClexaCon convention on LGBT women in entertainment.  The event, named after the fan favourite lesbian pairing —Clarke and Lexa — from the CW’s The 100 was originally organized to tackle the “Bury Your Gays” trope, made famous by several high profile LGBT TV character deaths in recent years.  Almost Adults actor Natasha Negovanlis takes her responsibility of being an LGBT voice in the media seriously and, like the fans, doesn’t want to see queer women used as a mechanism for baiting views.  “People need to realize that this community needs heroes and role models,” Negovanlis told Xtra. “And people need to know it’s important to stop killing them off or using them as side characters anymore.” What started as a simple meet-up to unite fans of LGBT pop culture, evolved into a full blown convention with over 2,200 attendees, including one half of former Grey’s Anatomy lesbian power couple, Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins. Sara Ramirez, known for her role as bisexual Dr Callie Torres on the popular television series, joined the conversation at the queer women of colour pop-up panel, speaking about her own bisexuality and struggles as a biracial woman. Ramirez wasn’t the only celeb to get personal. ClexaCon inspired Canadian actor Elise Bauman from the popular Carmilla web series to open up about her own sexual orientation.   “Actually, I identify as bisexual,” Bauman said in an interview with Xtra when asked if she identifies as an ally. “I’ve never actually said out loud that I’m a bisexual,” Bauman said. “My thing was, I didn’t want to have a big coming out — if someone asked me directly, I’d answer honestly. If someone asked me, I would say.” With more than 43 million views on YouTube, Carmilla had one of the most well attended panels at ClexaCon. Other actors in attendance included bigger names such as Person of Interest stars Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi; Lost Girl actors Zoie Palmer and Ali Liebert; daytime drama stars such as Elizabeth Hendrickson and Eden Riegel from All My Children; and indie film darlings Lynn Chen and Michelle Krusiec.  Following the Saving Face reunion panel, Chen shared her feelings regarding her role in the film, which featured a rare same-sex love story between two Chinese women. In the decade-plus since Saving Face was released, she has come to know how important the film is to many lesbians, Chen told Xtra. “But especially [for] women who are Asian American because it’s the first time they’re seeing themselves on screen — and there hasn’t been much representation afterwards so I know that us being here is important because we represent their voices.” Though it was the number of celeb panels featuring actors who have taken on queer character roles over the years at ClexaCon that attracted convention goers, it was the smaller panels discussing everything from transgender representation in the media to diversity in comics that left them wanting more. “Hands down, the diverse panel topics was the highlight of ClexaCon,” said attendee Angie Lau, who flew down for the event from Calgary. Attendees and stars alike used ClexaCon as an opportunity to discuss how to both increase and improve representation. “I hope people find solace in the fact that there is a community of people that they can turn to for support and also for celebration,” Bauman said. “I think it’s pretty easy to band together as [a] group when there’s something to fight for and I think it’s equally important to band together as a community when there’s something to celebrate and say look how far we have come — but look how much further we can go with each other.” The convention is donating a portion of its proceeds to The Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBT youth.

Experts scheduled to testify on trans-rights bill in April

9 March 2017 - 11:11pm
Experts will be called to testify in April 2017, on a bill aimed at encoding trans rights in Canadian law, after the Senate delayed the bill’s deliberation over the course of 13 weeks. Bill C-16 is likely to pass a committee study without major amendments that gutted similar legislation in 2013, according to senators, despite some of their colleagues opposing the bill’s potential costs and espousing theories that it will lead to a crackdown on free speech. On May 17, 2016, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled Bill C-16, which would enshrine protection from discrimination based on gender identity and expression into Canada’s human-rights and hate-crime laws.  The House of Commons passed Bill C-16 on Nov 18, 2016, after the government fast-tracked the bill’s committee phase in the House. The Senate then took up the bill, starting its second reading Nov 28, 2016. But the bill has languished through six weeks of Senate breaks and 23 sitting days in the chamber, 16 of which saw the bill postponed without debate. In the same time frame, two other bills started and completed their second-reading phase. A Senate committee has now invited the justice minister to testify on Bill C-16 in the first week of April. Her appearance should be followed by four two-hour sessions of testimony by experts, such as human-rights lawyers, activists that support and oppose the legislation, and psychologists. The committee will then study the bill clause by clause. Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell, the bill’s sponsor, notes that the House passed a similar bill back in 2009, only to see it die in the Senate. “It’s been eight years. It’s way past due; this is a human rights issue, and every day that it’s not passed is a day that injustice is perpetrated.”   The debate  Four Conservative senators have spoken against Bill C-16. Some cited the controversy surrounding University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. Others took aim at campaigns for and against the bill. Meanwhile, 13 senators spoke in support of the bill, including new senators like André Pratte. “Gays and lesbians have made great strides in their fight against prejudice. Transgender people are just beginning their journey. By passing Bill C-16, we can help them take a crucial step,” he said. But minutes later, Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak warned the bill would lead to higher taxes to fund lawsuits and public-awareness campaigns, and force businesses to buy new bathroom signs. “There is simply not enough taxpayers in our nation to pay for everyone’s preference or choice,” Beyak said. She praised John McKellar, a ’90s activist who founded Homosexuals Opposed to Pride Extremism “to prevent the radicals of the gay movement, who expected all of Canada to be their closet, from setting the agenda.”  “My other gay friends” agree, Beyak said, that “by living in quiet dignity, they have never had to face any kind of discrimination or uncomfortable feelings.” Beyak added that “sex education is better left to parents,” because the topic takes up scarce classroom time. She also said her northwest Ontario district would be best left to make its own choices on bathroom signs. “We do things differently in Rainy River than they do in Vancouver or Montreal, and we certainly know our needs much better than folks in Ottawa or Toronto,” Beyak said. Beyak’s comments prompted outcry and mockery from trans people and allies. Mitchell says the debate was “a juxtaposition of where the society had been and where it is going,” noting that many senators spoke about discrimination they had witnessed. “There wasn’t one that wasn’t moving.”   The delays Conservative and Liberal-leaning senators blamed each other for the bill’s delay, with Mitchell noting that Senator Don Plett — who opposed a similar previous bill on the grounds of perverts allegedly assaulting children in bathrooms — repeatedly left the chamber around his scheduled time to speak. In a response, Plett noted that the government had set six other bills as a priority.  Because Bill C-16 is a government bill, Liberal head Peter Harder could have invoked time allocation, ruling that enough debate had taken place. Harder’s office did not respond to Xtra’s interview request. But Mitchell says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to make senators independent means the Liberals can no longer force them to vote along government lines. He also says it’s a measure of last resort. “Time allocation is just the flipside of those who oppose delaying by adjourning.”   Committee likely favours bill Bill C-16 has now been assigned to the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee, where 15 senators will closely examine the legislation.  It was at this stage that the same committee gutted similar legislation in 2013. When a Senate committee studied Bill C-279, Plett amended it to exempt trans protection in jails, women’s shelters, bathrooms and change rooms, warning “it allows for pedophiles to take advantage of legislation.”  As a non-government bill, C-279 spent 20 months in the Senate, whose committee was preoccupied with tough-on-crime bills at the time, before Parliament ended with the summer 2015 election call. But on Dec 14, 2016, the Senate reshuffled its committee seats for the first time since the election.  Bill C-16 is facing a committee with six senators appointed by Trudeau, three members of the Liberal caucus and six Conservatives, just half of whom voted for the 2013 bathroom amendment: Denise Batters, Jean-Guy Dagenais and Paul McIntyre. In an Xtra survey in November 2016, Batters’ office said she’d have to study Bill C-16 before deciding whether to support it, while the other two did not reply. Mitchell says the committee’s new structure, along with evolving popular opinion, give Bill C-16 a much better chance than its predecessors. “The public society really has evolved, and is much more supportive of the plight of trans people,” he says. “We are fair and we are just. Sometimes it takes society a while to get there, but we get there.”

Out in Toronto: March 9–15, 2017

9 March 2017 - 2:10pm
Thursday, March 9 The Bodyguard  When bodyguard Frank Farmer starts protecting superstar Rachel Marron from a stalker, they both get more than they expected — in the love department. Based on the much-loved movie, this musical includes Whitney Houston power ballads and shirtless male backup dancers. The venue is mostly accessible (visit website for more information). Runs until Sunday, May 14, various showtimes. Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St.  [[asset:image:309185 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The Bodyguard runs until May 14, 2017, at Ed Mirvish Theatre."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Paul Coltas"]}]] 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 is a musical comedy written by the creators of the South Park."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Joan Marcus"]}]] Friday, March 10 The Man Who Married Himself A man who is unwilling to marry a woman creates a lover for himself out of the left side of his own body. Inspired by an Indian folk tale, this “masque” (a performance that combines dancing and acting) is billed as an allegory of “the female and male at war within.” It features dancers Jelani Ade-Lam and Sze-Yang Ade-Lam. The venue is accessible (visit website for more information).  Runs until Saturday, March 11, various showtimes. Crow’s Theatre, 345 Carlaw Ave.  [[asset:image:309191 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The Man Who Married Himself starring Jelani Ade-Lam (left) and Sze-Yang Lam (right) runs until March 11, 2017, at Crow\u2019s Theatre."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Kakuma Mori"]}]] Bent Beauty Supreme: A Busted Beauty Pageant Actor, performer and man-about-town Keith Cole hosts a queer beauty pageant when folks of every stamp compete to win $500 in cash. Burlesque performer Dolly Berlin, drag queen Allysin Chaynes and others compete in three categories: beach wear, talent and formal wear. All proceeds go to LGBT refugees. The venue is accessible for most people with disabilities.  9pm–2am. The Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St W. for more info, visit Facebook.    Saturday, March 11 Trade: Centaur Party  A recurring dance party for horny guys gets all mythological with a centaur theme. Why? Why not. So, oil up your torso and strap on your best horse half-body and gallop on over. DJs Joshua Reid and Scooter McCreight spin. Go-go boys dance. A clothing check is available for those who want to strip down because, as billing says, “all sluts welcome.” The venue is not accessible. 10pm–3am. The Black Eagle, 457 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Brown Rice Gets Glittered  Sequin tops, shiny tights, glitter and anything else that sparkles is encouraged at this edition of a dance party for queer and trans people of colour and their allies. DJs Ace Dillinger, Wei Back and others spin. The venue is mostly accessible (there are no buttons to open the front door or the accessible washroom door).  10pm–3am. Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Sunday, March 12 No More A#%&!: Operation Soap Revisited  A panel discusses how the relationship between the queer community and the Toronto police has (or hasn’t) evolved since the 1981 bathhouse raids. Panelists include The Rude Collective’s Mark-Che Devonish, playwright Alec Butler, Black Lives Matter’s Alexandria Williams, and others. To register, visit website. The venue is accessible for most people with disabilities.  2pm–5pm. The 519, 519 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.

Out in Vancouver: March 9–16, 2017

8 March 2017 - 8:09pm
Thursday, March 9 Bratpack What better way to start the weekend than with a show full of trashy party girls and a beefy hunk DJ. Throw in liquor and it sounds like my prom after-party, except the hunky guy screwed all the trashy girls and I got to film it. That was the start and end of my porno film career. It was before shake proof cameras, and I hadn’t been taught the evils of lemon gin and tequila shots. Starring Gia Metric, Jane Smokr, Kendall Gender, Synthia Kiss, Valynne Vile and the always delectable DJ Nick Bertossi. Showtime 11:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $6.   Friday, March 10 Spring Forward To avoid confusion, yes, the clocks do go forward this weekend, but no, not tonight. I guess people are busy on Sunday, so Saturday is the Gordon Neighbourhood House 75th Anniversary: Spring Forward, featuring live performances, a local DJ, a silent auction, and delicious canapés by Chef Chris Whittaker of Forage Restaurant. 7—10pm. Gordon Neighbourhood House, 1019 Broughton St. Tickets online are in three tiers: $25, $50 (comes with one drink and one raffle ticket) and $75 (comes with two drinks and two raffle tickets).   Wet & Wild This is the way I like to start my partying these days: beefy shower strippers, hunky go-go men, a hot DJ and a room full of drooling, horny, shirtless men ready for anything or anyone who will say yes. Every week I go to see Addison Reed and his tightly packed jockstrap — that thing has to explode soon, it’s stretched out tighter than a snare drum. Join me in the front row in case I faint. Nick Bertossi spins and some of the sexiest staff in town is at your command. Always a fun night to entertain friends and tourists. 9pm–late. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. Cover $5.   Queen Please Believe it or not, the queen is back on Davie Street. No, not Bill Monroe, the younger one. Joan-E is back with a vengeance at her new monthly show, a night of decadent drag and salty stories that would curl your mother’s ears. Every second Friday of the month join Joan-E and her special guests as they transport you to a bawdy Las Vegas show lounge. The show starts a bit later because Joan-E volunteers as the shower fluffer across the street, so get the girl a drink, she deserves it. Doors 9:30pm, show 10:45pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $5.   Eye Roll: Another F%&+NG 90’s Party This should be called another F%$+NG Peach Cobblah party. Just when you thought the old gal had disappeared, turns out she was just sleeping it off. Peach has been working that gigantic booty off in Elbow Room: The Musical, which I know you all saw. Tonight she’s back for a bang up show with Carlotta Gurl. They were both born in the 90’s — right, the 1890’s. Crack out your best Hypercolor shirts, puffy vests and seashell necklaces. Like, oh my God. 10:30pm–3am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Cover $6.   Saturday, March 11 Draft Day Party Spring is in the air, and WESA softball is right around the corner. Can’t you just smell last year’s jockstraps? Come meet, be social and find out what team you’re on this year as the yearly Draft Day Party takes over Numbers. Whether you are a player, supporter or just have a fetish for balls, this party is always a huge success. Season opener is Sunday, April 30. 3pm. Numbers Nightclub, 1042 Davie St. No cover.   Sailor Moon Burlesque If you’ve ever watched Sailor Moon, you know it’s not Shakespeare. It’s girl power, fluff and skimpy little costumes — a cosplayer’s dream. You either like it or you don’t. Personally, I feel a bit like a dirty old man if I watch it. But now Moonage Kingdom Live brings us Sailor Moon-inspired theatre and burlesque, where queer feminists merge their magical girl power and love for geek culture into entertainment for you. Somehow I feel the audience will be a sea of men, all dressed as their favourite character. 7–10pm. The Rio Theatre, 1660 E Broadway St. Tickets $30–$50 available at   Leather Social & Gear Night Join the Vancouver Men In Leather at their monthly social, catch up with old brothers and meet new ones. Bring some experienced or curious fetish-friendly friends; fresh meat is always welcome. To help kick-off Rubbout at the end of March, you are encouraged to don rubber, leather, or anything that makes you feel sexy. Do you sigh when you look at your boots? Is your puppy hood looking worn? Sounds like you need to sit for a bootblack! Come out to the social and let Figaro love your leather while you wear it. Stick around after for PJ’s monthly pump night; after all, you’re already dressed for it. 8–11pm. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. $5 cover kicks in at 9pm.   Score 18 I look forward to this party as much as my friend Sydney, as a young boy, looked forward to the Sears catalogue. Growing up in the boonies, all the boys waited for the Sears catalogue to come, ran to the bathroom and flipped to the underwear pages. Those men in the ads had pieces of bread shoved in the crotch to stop VPL, but not the boys of Score. Those bartenders in jockstraps are a sight to behold. I think I drink more at this party in hopes of a ball or a tip falling out. This year featuring a best jockstrap photo contest with live voting. Some even dare to ice skate in them; now that is a winner. 8:45pm–1am. West End Community Centre, 870 Denman St. Tickets $25 at or   XY White Party Palm Springs Kickoff The part I hate — well one of many things — about the Palm Springs White Party is that I look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy all in white. Not the cute one on the side of the package, either, but the giant mother in Ghostbusters. And then flying home with the circuit party drug hangover is not fun at all. Some of us are getting a bit long in the tooth for that, not that we would admit it. Here is your answer: TFD brings you the Palm Springs White Party kick-off right here at home, steps away from your own bed or, even closer, the bath house. DJ Rafael Calvente on deck all night long and a two performance night from one of the most exciting performers in the scene, Coco Klein. There’s even White Party swag! 10pm–3am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Tickets $10 at or on Facebook at   Lucky FuKr It may be a week early, and the only leprechauns are the tiny folk who come out when you’ve had one too many, but Man Upp has crossed the border, hopefully, with their hot harness and jockstrap party for St Patrick’s Day. Those Americans always trying to get one up on us. The best DJ of all is Canadian Nick Bertossi, and that is one hot FuKr. 10pm–3am. The Hindenburg, 23 W Cordova St. Tickets $10 at or on Facebook at     Sunday, March 12 Youth Unleashing Power An amazing fundraiser to help with the costs of bringing HIV- and Hepatitis C-positive youth to connect with each other at Lake Cowichan for a symposium. Doors 6:45pm, show 7:30pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover suggested $5 with all proceeds going to Y.U.P.    Sanctuary: Romeo And Juliet Tonight, Alma B Itches and her daughter Rich Elle pay tribute to one of the best movie soundtracks ever: Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in the modern-day city of Verona Beach, the Montagues and Capulets are two feuding families whose children meet and fall in love. It’s still the same timeless story of “star-crossed lovers.” All I know is if Alma is Juliet, that balcony better be reinforced. 11pm–2am. 1181, 1181 Davie St. No cover.   Monday, March 13 Red One of, if not the, best shows of the year, supporting Positive Living BC. An event featuring an all-star cast of local Illusionists, dancers, models, designers, fashion retailers, hair stylists, makeup artists and many more who are uniting to support the 5,700 HIV-positive members across BC. Another fabulous Dean Thullner show produced by Volume Studio Productions. 6pm–12am. Harbour Event Centre, 750 Pacific Blvd. Tickets $60–$100 at or   Tuesday, March 14 Tax Workshop For Sex Workers An excellent workshop for a group I never really thought of filing tax returns. But they have the same questions as anyone: what can be claimed as a deduction, how can I claim taxes if what I do is illegal, and what are the pros and cons of filing? Join for a tax workshop and Q&A with a qualified tax specialist, and put your mind at ease. 5–7pm. Pace Society, 148 W Hastings St. Please RSVP with your tax questions at as space is limited.   Wednesday, March 15 Mail A Card To Trump Day I’m sure all the suggestive naked male postcards will be flying off the shelves at Little Sister’s for this. Gays everywhere are tired of being Trumped, and here’s a chance to show him the world of gays are watching and demanding change. Mail a postcard to Donald Trump, and overwhelm him with opposition from all corners of the world. Show the media and politicians what standing with him — and against us — means. Most importantly, bury the White House post office in pink slips, informing Donnie he’s fired. A must do. President (for now) Donald J. Trump The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500

Ruth Ellis created space for gay and lesbian African Americans in the 1940-1960s

7 March 2017 - 8:07pm
In 1899, African Americans had enjoyed 34 years since the final ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation. However, only three early,  the Plessy v Ferguson case had upheld racial segregation in railway cars, dictating that black passengers were required to use separate accommodations from white passengers, legitimizing state laws that required racial segregation. The US Congress had also amended a law to punish “all public prostitutes, and all such persons who lead a notoriously lewd or lascivious course of life,” deleting the word “notoriously” and making the law gender-neutral to widen its scope, punishing sexual wrongdoers as “vagrants.” On the cusp of a new century, on July 23, 1899, Ruth Charlotte Ellis was born. Ellis was born in Springfield, Illinois, to Charlie and Carrie Farro Ellis. Her father was a self-educated man who’d been born into slavery and ended up becoming the first African American mail carrier in Illinois, though her mother died when she was 12. At 16 years old, Ellis realized she was attracted to her school gym teacher. She later got her hands on Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness and researched the term “homosexual” in a psychology book, stating in lesbian magazine Curve that, "My mother died just about the time I started menstruating, so she showed me that, but from then on nobody told me anything.” She had no lesbian role models and little sex education — her father conveniently laid a book on sex education on his desk, assuming she’d “be meddlesome and look in to read it.” Ellis never had to come out of the closet, as she never felt the need to hide her sexual identity from her brothers and father, and she often had girlfriends over. “Nothing ever happened,”   Ellis reportedly told one interviewer, according to an obituary. “Except one night I had this girlfriend stay and we made a little too much noise. The only thing my father ever said to me was, ‘Next time you girls make that much noise, I will put you both out.’” One of these girlfriends was Ceciline “Babe” Franklin — some sources say they met in the early 1920s, one biographer says in 1936 — a woman 10 years her junior. “Because I was 10 years older than she, I almost shut the door in her face,” Ellis said. “She told me if I ever left Springfield she’d come to where I was. I don’t think it was real love. I just think it was time for me to get away.” They would remain together for over 30 years. Ellis’ brother encouraged her to make the move to Michigan, Detroit where she could earn more money, so in 1937, Ellis and Franklin moved, eventually buying a house together. Franklin worked as a cook, while Ellis started taking care of children, then got a job at a print shop. “I was working for a printer and I said to myself, if I can do this for him, how come I can’t do it for myself?” Ellis started a print shop in one of the front rooms of her house, producing stationery, fliers and posters, making her the first woman in Michigan to own a printing business. To the wider world she was a successful businesswoman but behind the scenes she was a community organizer. Throughout the 1940s to the 1960s, Ellis and Franklin’s home became a Detroit “gay spot” for gay and lesbian African Americans. She became a parental figure to young gay and lesbian adults that ended up at her home. The couple separated amicably in the 1960s when Franklin moved out to be closer to her work and Ellis moved into a senior citizen’s centre. "We were just two opposite people,” Ellis explained. “She liked to drink, go to bars, gamble. I never did all that. Mine was concerts and things like that, going to church and church things." Franklin passed away in 1973, and she was Ellis’ last relationship. Less than a week after her 70th birthday, riots at the Stonewall Inn shook New York City and launched the modern American LGBT movement. This sudden surge of larger community and visibility made Ellis something of a celebrity in the community. She was often invited as a speaker at events nationwide and became a fixture at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Journalist Kathleen Wilkinson describes in Curve how Ellis led San Francisco’s dyke march in 1999, on her hundredth birthday, “where thousands of Bay Area women sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her, the first of many birthday celebrations over the summer.” Ellis would also see her 101st birthday before quietly passing away in her sleep, but not before, less than a month before her death, she helped dedicate the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, a social services agency caring for homeless, runaway and at risk LGBT youth. Even in old age, Ellis remained socially and physically active. In a documentary on her life, Living with Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100, friends spoke about her love of dancing and described how people would line up to dance with her, and she would stay on the dance floor while younger people had to sit down to take a rest. After her appearance in San Francisco she decided to remain at home in Detroit, despite invitations from overseas, presumably to LGBT events, saying, “No, I’m not crossing no ocean, no way.” She requested a memorial service rather than a traditional funeral, and her remains were cremated, spread in special places at the Womyn’s Festival. Some of the ashes also crossed the ocean to be spread in the sea in Ghana. Ellis’ life spanned three centuries, 101 years of change for black, LGBT people and women, and she is considered the oldest known lesbian and LGBT activist. Despite this, she remained humble to the end. “Who would want to read a book on my life? I’m nobody! I’m just Ruth!” she said in the Living With Pride documentary. “Yeah . . . who would want to read it?”

Small town, big Pride

7 March 2017 - 5:07pm
Sara Hamil strolls through downtown Jasper with her partner, admiring the preparations underway for this year’s Pride Festival. “One thing we do every year for Pride is a window decorating contest,” says the festival’s co-chair. “[The] downtown core is very warm and welcoming. Most, if not all, businesses have rainbow stickers or flags all year round. We take that extra step to make sure the LGBTQ community knows they’re welcome.” Now in its eighth year, the festival was created to showcase Jasper as a safe, welcoming, and inclusive destination for LGBT people. The festival’s growth each year is due in part to Jasper’s tight-knit community members. Lynn Wannop loves seeing her community come together. As banners and rainbow stickers continue to pop up on the eve of the festival. Wannop says she’s honoured to be an integral part of it all. As a Pride board member and as the owner of Coco’s Café (which proudly shows off its rainbow sticker year round in its window), Wannop gets to both experience and help foster  the festival’s welcoming warmth. “Businesses are a big part of Pride here, and it’s so nice to see them put stickers up,” Hamil says. Despite Jasper’s small population of about 5,000 people, its Pride festival is widely embraced and any hurdles that creep up are addressed together. Hamil notes that big festival spaces are in short supply because development is limited in the national park surrounding the town. To remedy this, the Pride board has worked with businesses and sponsors to create spaces for some of the festival’s events like the Saturday party, for example, which was moved from a small bar to Jasper’s activity centre, which can accommodate up to 400 people. Festival manager Tucker says the celebration’s expansion would not have been possible without the generous support and sponsorship of Jasper’s local businesses. This year’s festival will also feature a new event specifically for youth, after students from Jasper’s gay-straight alliance asked to be included in the celebrations. Last year’s gala, hosted by the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, was for adults only, but this year the lodge, working with the Pride board, is hosting a second gala specially for teens. Hamil is excited  to see how far Jasper Pride has come in just a few short years. She recalls meeting a couple from the UK last year who were visiting as many Pride festivals as they could. “We’ve been to a lot of festivals around the world, but Jasper is the warmest we’ve been to because we feel like we are leaving with friends,” Hamil says they told her. Stroll around its main streets dotted with  rainbow stickers and banners nestled among the Rockies and you too could experience the hospitality of Jasper’s small-town Pride.  

Ten things you might not know about the Vancouver Pride Society

7 March 2017 - 2:07pm
I started working as the co-executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society in March 2016 and it has been a whirlwind ever since. Diving into planning just four months before last year’s Pride celebrations was a hectic, mammoth challenge that felt overwhelming at times. But we made it through, and as soon as our 2016 season finished our staff sent surveys to our suppliers, volunteers, performers, community partners and the general public to collect feedback about our events. Overall, the feedback was extremely positive, not just about the organization of our events, but our follow-through on commitments, our integration and appreciation of volunteers, and the changes we implemented, like adding interactive art installations to our Davie Street Party or creating the Pride Patrol volunteers who roamed our events talking about consent and safety. So many people offered us respectful critiques and gave us many helpful suggestions to consider for our 2017 season, such as seeking  performers who better reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ2+ community, further supporting other events organized by community groups during Pride week, and how to make our events safer and more inclusive for everyone. We also embarked on a community consultation process to engage with groups who might face barriers to attending Pride events. Through all of our feedback gathering, I have learned that there are some myths or misunderstandings about the Vancouver Pride Society, or things that the general public just doesn’t know. To help break down some barriers of communication, I would like to share 10 things you might not know about the VPS:   10. Even though the VPS produces multiple large-scale events, we are a small operation with just 11 staff from May to August, and only four staff during our “off season.” We work in a small office space that definitely gets cozy during our busy season. (The space may be cozy but it’s  full of rainbows, unicorns and sparkles that you can’t miss if you come visit!) [[asset:image:309170 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["VPS staff share the rainbows in their cozy office."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Andrea Arnot\/Daily Xtra"]}]]   9. Speaking of staff, the VPS board of directors decided to appoint two executive directors in March 2016 to help lead the organization, each ED with a different function. Kieran Burgess brings years of working large events with the Ironman organization. He just finished his very last assignment for his MBA program on Feb 19, and definitely brings his knowledge of budgets and finance to his role in managing the organizational operations. As for me, throughout my entire career, I have worked to create positive social change in the areas of diversity and inclusion. I have been successful at creating safer spaces for community dialogue and opportunities for groups and individuals to work together, often using interactive arts-based methods. I think combining my leadership style with Kieran’s at the helm made for a Pride season last year that was efficient, fiscally viable, more organized and intentionally interactive. We hope to do it again this year!   8. Regarding the community consultation that I mentioned earlier, the results to date have indicated that a large percentage of people think our board of directors is not diverse. Let’s introduce you to our board: Co-chair: Charmaine de Silva Co-chair: Michelle Fortin Secretary: John Whistler Treasurer: Darius Maze Directors: Alan Jernigan, Nicola Spurling, Azza Rojbi, Catherine Jenkins Kieran and I also share a seat on the board. [[asset:image:309167 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Clockwise from top left: Kieran Burgess, Nicola Spurling, Alan Jernigan, Michelle Fortin, John Whistler, Andrea Arnot, Charmaine de Silva, Azza Rojbi, Darius Maze, Catherine Jenkins. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["Photos supplied\/Vancouver Pride Society"]}]] At our board meeting on Feb 26, 2017, we were delighted to appoint Catherine Jenkins to our board. Meanwhile, Alan Jernigan stepped down as co-chair because his business is taking off and he doesn’t have as much time to devote to the organization. We are all happy that he will remain a director at large. Michelle Fortin was appointed to replace Alan as co-chair.   7. Did you know that all Pride parade entries go through quite a vigorous process to be accepted into the parade? The VPS parade working group is made up of myself and community members. We meet monthly to adjudicate parade applications using a matrix to score each one. Each parade applicant is evaluated based on what initiatives they’ve taken to support the LGBTQ2+ community internally and externally throughout the year, as well as how their values align with those of the VPS, and if they have a policy around anti-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Before any parade application is accepted, our working group also does some research to see if the organization or business has any history of homophobia or transphobia, and if so, whether it’s recent and has been resolved. We feel that vetting all applicants helps us have parade entries that are either serving the LGBTQ2+ community or that are truly allies who walk the walk the other 364 days of the year.   6. In addition to the Pride parade through the West End, the VPS also produces East Side Pride on the weekend anniversary of the original Stonewall Riots in June. This small, fun, low-key festival is held in Grandview Park on Commercial Drive in East Van, and features local bands and performers, artisan vendors and community group booths. [[asset:image:309173 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["East Side Pride takes place on Commercial Drive in June."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Photo supplied\/Vancouver Pride Society"]}]]   5. The VPS also provides financial support to a number of community events, like the Dyke March, Aging With Pride, Queer Prom, Untoxicated Sober Dance and the Trans and Genderqueer March. We believe the folks organizing these events are the experts at creating spaces that specific communities want and need. We offer support with funds, marketing, volunteers and staff time.   4. This year, the VPS is offering small bursaries to small or vulnerable community groups to assist them with participating in Pride week, either to attend VPS events or to help them create or produce their own. Any group who is interested can email or call the VPS office at 604-687-0955 to discuss an informal proposal.   3. Last year, the VPS  worked with the Consent Crew to help us create safer spaces for people at our larger events. Creating a culture of consent at our events is extremely important, especially when there are vulnerable community members who might want to attend. The Consent Crew meanders in pairs through event spaces and engages in conversations with people about how consent is based in respecting each other’s wants and needs, and asking for permission to engage with someone (such as asking someone, “May I give you a hug?”). This year, the Consent Crew will be back and we are pleased to be working with Karmik. Karmik is a West Coast harm reduction initiative, focusing on harm reduction strategies while promoting health and safety in nightlife/festival communities. Karmik volunteers joined the Consent Crew at our Unicorn Ball on Feb 18, 2017, and will be at our larger events like the Davie Street Party and the Sunset Beach Festival this August. [[asset:image:309176 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Participants strike a pose at the 2016 Davie Street Party. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["C Bowman\/Vancouver Pride Society"]}]]   2. Through our community consultation process, we have also heard that people feel like there aren’t enough opportunities to learn about the history of the Pride movement in Vancouver. In response to this critique, we are curating a “Living Library.” The Living Library will consist of knowledge holders and storytellers who can share small slices of history in 10-15 minutes with individuals or groups. This initiative will be present at all of our 2017 events. Participants will be able to “check someone out” like a library book! If you enjoy engaging in conversation with others, have a slice of Pride history to share and would like to be part of this project, please contact us!   1. Our staff, board and volunteers are all wonderful humans who care deeply about the LGBTQ2+ community. We all work really hard to create celebratory, fun, interactive, meaningful, safe events for the LGBTQ2+ community and allies to enjoy. We are always open to critiques and suggestions. We aren’t always perfect, but we do our best to be responsive to feedback. Contact us at to share yours!

Fire Island, Northern Ireland and ageing while gay

6 March 2017 - 11:06pm
[[asset:image:309179 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] Political maneuvering in Northern Ireland A resounding political loss by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party could open the door to same-sex marriage, but DUP politicians are already rounding up small-party support to continue blocking equal marriage. Northern Ireland is the last party of the United Kingdom without equal marriage. Read more at the Belfast Telegraph.   What is gay loneliness really about? Michael Hobbes’ essay last week made waves, claiming that social problems inside the gay community were contributing to loneliness and depression. While some reactions were predictable anti-gay rhetoric from religious conservatives, others, such as Ben Miller at Slate, presented more nuanced arguments about the political realities behind gay loneliness.   Researchers study gay ageing At the University of Washington, researchers have released the results of research into what they say is the understudied topic of LGBT ageing. They found that LGBT seniors are at greater risk for diseases from cardiovascular problems to social isolation, but that good relationships and being out of the closet can diminuate risk.   Half of Japanese gay students bullied A Japanese professor of social epidemiology is calling for better supports for Japanese students, who his research shows are frequently bullied in school. More worryingly, students say very few teachers stepped in to help. Read more at The Mainichi.   Fire Island series announced The gay entertainment world is discussing Logo TV’s new docu-series Fire Island, in which a group of well-muscled New York gay men frolic for a summer at the legendary gay getaway spot.

Protesters challenge New West pastor on anti-trans campaign

6 March 2017 - 8:06pm
More than 50 protesters gathered silently in the snow outside New West Community Church on Sunday, March 5, 2017, to mark their opposition to Paul Dirks, the church’s lead pastor. Dirks spearheaded a campaign against Bill C-16, the federal bill that would protect trans people from discrimination across Canada. Dirks’ campaign gained attention in January when anti-trans posters appeared in the Davie Village, but Dirks insists that his campaign is misunderstood. “This is something that needs to be really clear about our campaign: we’re not saying that trans people are more of a risk; we’re saying that predators will take advantage,” Dirks tells Xtra. “My view is based on women’s rights campaigns and protections. There’s women both in my immediate family and my faith community who don’t feel that it’s safe to have no criteria around them when they are vulnerable or unclothed.” Protesters say that’s a red herring. “It’s something that people who object to extending trans rights trot out as a way of justifying their own bigotry,” Mary Ann Saunders says. “When he talks about the discomfort of women, he’s not talking about all women, he’s talking about a small number of women. And he’s not taking into account the needs and comfort and rights of trans women.” [[asset:image:309155 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Mary Anne Saunders attended the March 5 protest in New West. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["Hannah Ackeral\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Saunders transitioned while a member of a church community, and says her church has always been a safe and welcoming environment, both during and after her transition. She wants people to know that Dirks’ way of understanding faith and Christianity is not the only way. “It’s really important to counter misinformation and fear with factual information about the implications of Bill C-16 and about whose lives are actually in danger,” she says. “We know that it’s trans people that are more in danger than anyone Pastor Dirks is talking about.” Protester Hazel Plante is concerned about the apparent disconnect between Dirks’ words and his campaign. “He says things like, ‘I love trans people,’ and then I see the actions and it’s clearly designed to make trans women look like predators,” Plante says. “I think it's really important to protect trans rights, and to make attacking someone who is trans a hate crime. Seems pretty fundamental and obvious to me,” she says. “If you want us to be a part of society, then we need to be able to use the washroom,” she continues. “It’s really not about the washroom at all. It's about what spaces can we enter? Where can I be a fully functional human being?” [[asset:image:309158 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Pastor Paul Dirks says his church welcomes everyone, including trans people. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["Hannah Ackeral\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Dirks allotted an hour to meet with protesters and create a dialogue before his sermon. Though some protesters engaged, many turned their back on him and refused to interact, instead chanting, “Love thy neighbour.” “I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t feel like he’s created a safe space,” explained one of the protest organizers, Lorne Gille. “I don’t want to dialogue with Paul, I don’t feel like it’s helpful or productive. We’re just here to voice our dissent against him.” “We had some fears around not wanting to give him more air time,” adds Gille, who says he joined the protest as both a trans man and a Christian, after reading about Dirks. “I just think this gives a really negative connotation to Christianity and religion,” he says of Dirks’ campaign. “There’s just no place for this.” Dirks maintains that he loves everyone, including trans people, and that his church “welcomes anyone who wants to worship Jesus.” [[asset:image:309161 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["\u201cI\u2019m not hiding anymore, and I\u2019m not going to let anyone else push me back in,\u201d says Candace Boer, who attended with her husband."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Hannah Ackeral\/Daily Xtra"]}]] In a crowd made up predominantly of trans people and their families, many protesters expressed fear that Bill C-16 might not pass in Parliament. The bill is now headed to the legal affairs committee for review, having finally passed its second reading in the Senate on March 2. “As a transgender woman who came out later in life, I don’t want the younger generation to have to go through this hatred, this violence and dissociation from society,” says Candace Boer, who attended the protest with her husband. “I’m not hiding anymore, and I’m not going to let anyone else push me back in.” “That’s all I’m asking — just to live like any other normal person. I don’t want to be someone that’s considered less human.”

Beauty and the Beast, incarceration and gay loneliness

4 March 2017 - 2:03am
[[asset:image:309149 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] Beauty and the Beast promises “gay moment” The director of Disney’s upcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast has promised a “gay moment” for one of the characters, prompting protest from conservative movie theatres and a discussion of whether or not this will be Disney’s first gay character.   Minority stress and gay loneliness At Highline, Michael Hobbs asks why, even after most gay men are out of the closet, so many feel desperately alone. From stress to masculinity, what’s getting gay men down?   US sexual minorities disproportionately incarcerated A new study from the American Journal of Public Health finds that sexual minorities are three times as likely to be incarcerated as straight people, and the situation is even worse for women. One researcher said that lesbian and bisexual women may be seen as dangerous because they defy gender stereotypes. Read more from NBC News.   Chinese LGBT groups protest video censorship Chinese LGBT groups are crying foul after a popular online streaming site banned videos involving gay people as a “wrong concept of love.” The site, LeTV, later removed any explicit mention of homosexuality, but the videos remained banned. Read more at the Global Times.   Saudi police attack trans meeting According to Pakistani news agency News 92, police in Saudi Arabia attacked a meeting of trans people in the capital city of Riyadh, killing two. The police attacked the meeting based on a law criminalizing cross-dressing.

Why do we stigmatize STIs like syphilis, but accept other illnesses as normal?

3 March 2017 - 5:03pm
I hadn’t been feeling well all morning. I sat at my desk at work, feeling nauseated. Every 30 minutes I needed to run to the bathroom. But I was sure it was only momentary, nothing serious. At lunch, I met up with some coworkers and we headed to the cafeteria. As I sat down with my tray, one of my coworkers said I didn’t look so great. I was pale, sweating, and my eyes were glossed over. Whatever it was, I needed to get out of there. I went back to my desk and told my boss I needed to go home. As I left the building, the vomiting began — all over the front lawn. For the next two days, this was my life. Even after the symptoms ended, the dehydration left me exhausted for several days more. It was norovirus. A highly contagious virus I could have caught anywhere — from dining out, from the bus, or just about anyplace else. And no, I didn’t catch it from sex. Norovirus is an illness I don’t want to get again, though it’s likely I will. We get all sorts of illnesses throughout our lives — many regularly. Norovirus left me unable to go to work or be meaningfully productive; so too does the common cold at times. Illness is a consequence of living. Yet we stigmatize some illnesses, and accept others as normal. One day, a couple of years ago, I lay on my sofa watching porn. I lay there naked, stroking my cock. As I worked my hand up and down my shaft, I noticed something strange. There was some sort of sore on it. At first I thought I might have been getting too much action. Had I fucked or jerked my dick to the point of abrasion? Then I remembered something. I paused the porn, opened Google, and did a search. As I scrolled through the pictures I realized this sore could be something else: a chancre — a symptom of primary stage syphilis. Aunt Phyllis had never paid me a visit before. However, I was aware of her. Considering how sexually active I am, I knew it was only a matter of time before I caught it. I’d already had gonorrhea and chlamydia several times, so it was time I pulled a hat trick. Fortunately, I had already booked a regular appointment at the HIM clinic for the following day — I go every two months to get tested for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. I got the ever-gorgeous Nurse Alex as usual. His milky smooth skin, dark hair, soothing and soft voice, and emotional detachment always made me enjoy my visits. I told him I’d spotted a sore on my dick and was concerned I could have syphilis. He told me to drop my trousers, which I dutifully did. He grabbed the head of my penis and stretched it out. Hmmmmm, yes, this could be syphilis. He grabbed a swab, wiped it around the sore, then broke it off into a plastic container. Next, he took my usual blood and urine samples. He told me he guessed there was a fifty-fifty chance it was syphilis. Otherwise, it was just a sore from too much friction. I cancelled all my dates for the upcoming week, just in case. This wasn’t something I wanted to spread. Not only is that unethical, but I know others aren’t so diligent with their testing. I’m lucky I’m mostly a top — a sore is easy to spot on your dick but not so easy in your ass (or mouth). Four days later, I got a call from Alex. The test had come back positive for syphilis. I was actually kind of relieved. I had known this moment would come someday, so I was glad I no longer had to wait in dread. Syphilis was the one I’d feared the most, for a number of reasons. I wasn’t too worried about HIV — I was on PrEP, and I knew lots of people living with HIV. Syphilis, however, has an almost mythical quality to it due to its history of driving people mad. He gave me some treatment options that would fit around my work. One was to go to the bathhouse Friday night to see a nurse there. The other was to go to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) clinic on Saturday morning. I liked the idea of getting treated at the bathhouse but, unfortunately, that nurse called in sick, so I was pushed back to the CDC clinic on Saturday. As I sat in the waiting area, I noticed a cute guy sitting across from me who I recognized from Scruff. Damn, I could’ve asked him out but, ya know, syphilis. Eventually, my name was called and I accompanied an older female nurse down the hall. She asked me a few standard questions and got a colleague to join her to help with the procedure — two long needles, one in each upper ass cheek. They would do it simultaneously to minimize the pain. I laid ass up on the bed as the thick fluid was injected into my ass. I got up, they reminded me not to have sex for two weeks, and I left. I headed down the hill to my favourite noodle house, since I was in the neighbourhood. I walked in and saw my friend Steve sitting there. He waved and asked me to join him. As I sat down, I muttered, “Ow.” “Syphilis shot?” he asked. “Yep, how did you know?” I replied. “Cuz we’re two blocks from the CDC and I always come here after I visit the clinic too,” he said. Steve has much the same attitude as I do about sex. Free-spirited, debaucherous, accepting of risk. I was glad I ran into him, since sometimes I think my views are too far outside the norm and need a little confirmation bias. I went without sex for the next two weeks. It was the longest I’d abstained in over a year. I lined up my dates for when my penile quarantine ended and I went back to living and having sex just as I had before. My strategy worked. Frequent testing and treatment when needed prevented any of these STIs from ever becoming a serious issue. Gonorrhea? Take a couple of pills and it goes in a week. Syphilis? Get a couple of shots in the ass and it goes in two weeks. Furthermore, they had no impact on my quality of life. Okay, the no sex does affect my quality of life, but I could still go to work, hang out with friends, go to the gym and eat normally. And yet, we freak out about STIs. Many guys feel dirty. We worry about notifying our partners and the reactions we might receive. And we do whatever we can to avoid getting one, to the point of obsessing over STI prevention. It comes down to the shame we feel around sex. But I’m not going to play that game. I’m not going to freak out about getting an STI — I’m going to just shrug my shoulders and get the treatment. I’m not going to do everything possible to avoid them; I’m going to accept them as natural, minor inconveniences associated with enjoying the sex for which our bodies are intended. As for norovirus, however, I’m going to avoid that like the plague.  

A client wanted me to hold a knife to his throat (Part 2)

3 March 2017 - 5:03pm
It seems like forever before he appears. The light has been steadily fading since we met at the restaurant and for a second I’m not totally sure it’s him.  But his head-to-toe denim uniform gives him away. There’s also his gait. He’s walking very slowly, like he’s worried that the ground is unstable and might break apart under his feet.  I wait until he’s a few paces past my hiding spot, then stand and walk silently towards him. From the location, to what I’m wearing, to the dialogue, we’ve gone over nearly every detail of the scene. But as I’m approaching, I realize that we haven’t discussed the most dangerous part, namely how to choreograph holding the knife to his throat. He’d been very clear in advance that if the knife was fake the scene wouldn’t work for him. He needs the feeling of it against his skin. I’d done a bit of research and, at least according to some paramilitary and end-of-the-world message boards, the amount of pressure it takes to sever the jugular is actually pretty minimal. Calling an ambulance while I wrap my T-shirt around his neck is not part of the fantasy, so caution is going to be key. When I’m about a metre behind him, I lurch forward and clap my gloved hand over his mouth, pulling him towards me. He inhales sharply as if he’s going to scream but doesn’t say anything. Gingerly, I apply the knife to his neck, just under his chin.  “Do exactly what I say, otherwise I’m going to cut your fucking throat,” I whisper in his ear, as I pull him backwards with me, behind the bushes. Satisfied that we’re sufficiently hidden, I begin running my hands over his body. There’s a wad of cash in his back pocket, exactly where we’d agreed it would be, and I pull it out. “This all you got?” I ask hoarsely. He stammers a yes, through my gloved hand, which is still clamped over his mouth.  “That’s not gonna be good enough,” I growl. “You’re gonna have to give me something . . . more.” “I don’t have any more,” he whispers. “I’ll do whatever you say though. Please just don’t kill me.” “What are you willing to do?” “Anything you want.” It’s not specifically called for here, but I decide to take a little pause in the script to let the tension build. I keep one palm clamped over his mouth and let the other hand holding the knife trail down his body. I pause over his groin, resting the knife directly over the spot where I can feel his cock hardening in his jeans. He inhales sharply through my gloved fingers. I briefly contemplate trying to take things in a new direction. But in the eight pages he sent me, he never once mentioned threats of genital mutilation as a turn on, so I decide to go back on course and return the knife to his throat. “Get on your knees,” I say. He moves as if he’s going to kneel, but struggles with his balance a bit. I quickly release my knife-wielding hand from his throat and extend it in front of him so he has something to hold onto as he lowers himself to the ground.  Once he’s there I realize we need to adjust our position. He’s currently facing out towards the field, which means if I walk around in front of him I’ll have my back in that direction. Part of my task in the situation is to be lookout, so I need to turn him around. There’s also the issue of my dick. I’ve never been one of those guys who can just whip it out and be hard right away. I need something to turn me on. I can always find a way with clients — a little kissing, a little cuddling. But it’s not going to get hard by itself without some kind of stimulation. The scene is written so that I’m already hard when he takes me in his mouth, so I need to sort that out.  Keeping one hand clamped over his mouth, I release the knife from his throat, tuck it in my back pocket, and slide my hand down my pants and start fumbling with my junk. I rotate through a few different fantasies, my eyes slightly closed, trying to get hard. But the adrenaline of the situation and the fear that we might get caught is drawing blood away to more important places, and I can only manage a semi.    “Turn around,” I say. He struggles on his hands and knees to reorient himself to face me. His eyes are closed, but I clamp my hand over them anyway as he instructed. I unzip my jeans, pull my dick out, take the knife from my back pocket and place it against his throat again. He opens his mouth without me saying anything.  Looking down at him, he seems so . . . small; this tiny little guy on his knees, with a knife to his throat, waiting to suck me off so I don’t kill him.  I don’t tend to think too much about where clients’ fantasies come from. Our sexual imaginations are always a complex combination of influences and experiences, gleaned from different phases in our lives. But I’m suddenly struck with a strange, sad affection for him. What exactly happened to you that brought you here to me like this? It’s not a question he’s going to answer in this moment,  and frankly, it’s not my place to ask. I just stick my mostly-limp dick in his mouth, and he starts sucking it hungrily. I glance back and forth across the field.  It’s getting dark, but I can still see clearly in both directions. I give a little start when a plastic bag suddenly blows across my field of vision. But other than that, the space is totally dead.  I don’t know anything about his previous sexual experiences, but it’s obviously not the first time he’s had a dick in his mouth and his technique is surprisingly good. I manage to get fully hard and then  slowly began fucking his face. “Suck that cock or I’ll cut your throat,” I murmur. The last part of the scene is for me to come in his mouth, which has me worried, since I often find it hard to climax just by getting sucked. The situation itself isn’t a turn on or a turn off. It’s oddly neutral, non-sexual almost. I glance down at him. He’s got his eyes closed as he mouths my dick. What’s going on in his mind? He hasn’t said the safe word, so I’m assuming things are going fine. But is he getting what he wants from the scene?  Getting as much detail in advance of a roleplay scenario is an asset. But at the same time, the more precisely laid out the scene, the harder it is to get it right. In this case, he’s already given me more details than any of my other clients, which gives me a lot to go on, but also a lot of ways in which it can go wrong.  I can’t tell whether I’m giving him what he needs and there’s not really a delicate way to pause the scene and ask. But the blowjob is unexpectedly good and after a few minutes, I shoot in his mouth and withdraw. I tuck the knife in my back pocket, shove my dick in my pants, and quickly walk away, exactly as I’d been instructed. I pull off the balaclava as I walk and clench it in my hand. I feel like Lot escaping Sodom and Gomorrah, straining not to look back over my shoulder.  I imagine him lying in a heap, sobbing on the ground, and it’s taking every ounce of self-control not turn around and go back to check on him. But I just keep walking, the power lines buzzing above me, until I emerge back onto the street and head towards my bike.

At Ottawa’s Capital Slam, more LGBT poets are taking the mic

3 March 2017 - 2:03pm
When I walked into the small intimate space at the Origin Studio in November 2016, I was immediately immersed by the soothing smell of tea and warm pastries.  I was attending an evening of slam poetry, hosted by the Capital Slam Poetry Collective. Amid friendly chatter, I instantly felt a sense of warmth and belonging within the small, but diverse, group of people. We were different, but all gathered for the same reason: spoken word. “Spoken word is such an accessible art form,” says Blue Hunter-Moffatt, current director of Capital Slam and captain of the 2016 Urban Legends team in Ottawa. “It’s all about everyone being able to engage in it.” “That’s what’s so great about spoken word — regardless of ability, experience, people can take that stage and have people listen.”  Spoken word is defined simply as poetry written with the intention of being performed, and slam is a poetry competition where the artist’s original work is performed and judged. Ottawa’s Capital Slam is the longest-running poetry slam series in the country and has won the championship title at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word twice; once in 2009, and again in 2010. Although the diverse group of attendees and performers was made up of people of various ages, genders and ethnicities, the slam welcomed only 30 people that night. However, according to Rusty Priske, the national slam master for Spoken Word Canada and the collective’s former slam master, Capital Slam was not always this small. “In the time I’ve been involved, we went through a huge boom period where we were selling out a 140-person room every show,” Priske says. However, the diversity seen amongst the crowd at the slams now, was not always visible in the Ottawa slam environment. There were many factors that contributed to Capital Slam making representation of diverse identities a priority. The poets who once dominated Capital Slam began to leave the scene about two years ago, some to further their careers as professional poets. Priske says this caused a sudden decline in audiences, going from consistently packed rooms down to around 30 people at each slam. Jenica Shivkumar, 23, a queer woman and the current slam master at Capital Slam, says that although there was a strong turnout in the past, the former Ottawa scene provided little diversity in the way of role models. “This is how Ottawa slam has looked like for a long time,” Shivkumar says.  Voices outside of the dominant cis male group were not given opportunities to become prominent, she adds, much less make it onto a team. The exit of many cisgender poets influenced the increase in representation of queer folks and women in the scene, she says. According to Shivkumar, it was less intimidating for newcomers, especially women, to get involved.  Priske stepped down from his role at Capital Slam for personal reasons and handed it over to Shivkumar in June, and Hunter-Moffatt took over as director alongside her. These two queer women now occupied leadership positions at the forefront of Ottawa’s slam scene, positions previously held by men. In addition to the migration of dominating poets, the emergence of queer folks in leadership roles gave leaders in the community the opportunity to rebuild Ottawa slam as a more inclusive environment for all. [[asset:image:309140 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Jenica Shivkumar (left), slam master at Capital Slam in Ottawa, and Blue Hunter-Moffatt (right), current director of Capital Slam and captain of the 2016 Urban Legends."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Gowlene Selvavijayan\/Daily Xtra"]}]]   One of the ways in which Hunter-Moffatt and Shivkumar aim to do this is through working to create a safer space for all artists at the slam. They say that Capital Slam is driven to promote policies and procedures that do not discriminate based on sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, class, age or ability. Poetry slams in the past have usually taken place in bigger cafés and bars, and as a result, Hunter-Moffatt said, were “big, impersonal, and intimidating.” Switching to a smaller, alcohol-free venue like Origin Studio, opened up the slam to all ages and people who do not feel comfortable around alcohol due to their experiences or beliefs, creating a safer, more inclusive space, they continued.  Another way they hoped to make Ottawa slam a safer space was through changing the ruling around time penalties to accommodate for content and trigger warnings. During competition, going over the three-minute time limit results in a few points being marked off of the poem’s score.  Hunter-Moffatt and Shivkumar believed that this discouraged many poets to give warnings before performing when they wanted to. The rule change ensures that Capital Slam can make audiences feel safe by encouraging poets to inform them of the material they may experience during a performance. Hunter-Moffatt said that with new leadership, they are also hoping to expand Capital Slam to become representative of all people.  “Featuring the voices of women, queer folks and people of colour on stage allows for more representation in the audience, and in turn, more representation develops in the community and its artists,” they said. The Ragdolls, a poetry collective made up of three young, queer women from Toronto, fit this description precisely. According to the Ragdolls, their group was the first all-femme collective to come out of Toronto Poetry Slam, and is also as an all-queer and all-youth. Twoey Gray, one of the poets in the collective, explains that as some of the few women in the slam community, the girls “were often pitted against each other.” The group was created to rebel against that.  “We joined forces in the spirit of femme non-competition,” she says.  Because of the rare make up of their group, some consider the Ragdolls to be queer femme leaders in the slam and queer communities across Toronto, and further, across Canada. As a group who have won titles in slam, they paved the way for other queer voices to be heard and encouraged.  “Having queer women in leadership positions is powerful because it invites queer kids into the oral history, and also gets them interacting with queer elders in a healthy space,” Gray says. She also hopes that queer leadership will bring gender diversity to the scene,“Not just women, but non-binary people, gender rebels — of which there are many.” Shivkumar adds that having people who are usually marginalized in charge — be it people of colour, queer or non-binary folks — makes entering the scene “become less of a barrier” for those with similar experience. [[asset:image:309143 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["2016 Urban Legends Team performs at Capital Slam in Ottawa."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Gowlene Selvavijayan\/Daily Xtra"]}]]   This year, Hunter-Moffatt led the Urban Legends slam team — a group usually made up of four men, featured three queer women this year. The team made it to the final stage at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, and Hunter-Moffatt won first place in the Underground Individual portion of the festival.  The three queer women and the man of colour took the stage in their city after a successful season. According to Hunter-Moffatt, their accomplishments speak to how much work has been done to make slam more empowering for everyone, and how it will continue to grow as a welcoming space for all artists. Moving forward, the director and the slam master say they both hope to foster a sense a community within Ottawa slam. Hunter-Moffatt says that they anticipate that better collaboration amongst poets of various identities will lead to fewer spaces that are dominated by any singular group and create more spaces for marginalized folks, who often go unheard, to share their poetry. “When marginalized groups come together instead of letting outsiders pit them against each other, the slam community will become more powerful,” Hunter-Moffatt says. 

Canada’s immigration department acknowledges drop in LGBT refugees from Iran

2 March 2017 - 8:00pm
Canada’s federal immigration department has acknowledged it resettled fewer LGBT Iranians from Turkey, in order to make space for the late-2015 Syrian airlift. The comments, made by a senior official at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, came on Feb 21, 2017, two weeks after an Xtra investigation found that Canada started referring LGBT Iranians to the United States for resettlement. Under the previous Harper government, Conservatives gained international praise for the program that brought hundreds of LGBT asylum seekers from Turkey. “We never stopped taking LGBTQ Iranians. We had a large flow of referrals that involved Iranians. As we increased the number of referrals for Syrians, we decreased the number of referrals from Iranians,” says David Manicom, the associate assistant deputy minister for strategic and program policy. “Referrals continue at lower volumes, and may start again in the future,” Manicom says.. While federal officials say they don’t receive data on how many refugees identify as gender and sexual minorities, the immigration department’s internal figures show an 85 percent drop in all Iranians resettled to Canada through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). LGBT Iranians in Turkey, and their advocacy groups, say referrals drastically slowed starting in November 2015, as the Syrian program got underway. Six-month delays grew into year-long holds, before the UNHCR started referring the refugees to the US by October 2016. The department’s data shows that Canada took in 1,022 Iranians through that process in 2014, 374 in 2015 and just 152 in 2016. (These numbers reflect government resettlement totals, and don’t include refugees who were privately sponsored by Canadian citizens and groups.)  Xtra has heard from seven Iranians in Turkey who provided documents showing that Canada initially accepted them from third-country resettlement before suspending their cases. All were referred to the United States, which has now halted refugee resettlement for 120 days (and Syrian refugees indefinitely). One of the seven asylum seekers provided a recording of a late-2016 conversation with a UNHCR official, which Xtra is not broadcasting for legal reasons. The six other refugees said they have all had similar phone calls with the UNHCR. In the Persian-language conversation, translated for Xtra by both activists and non-activists, the UN official recommends re-applying for resettlement through the US. “Canada is currently accepting only Syrian refugees [from Turkey],” the UN official says, explaining why one claimant’s file languished for almost a year. “Canada said it would resume accepting refugee files after five months. Then, the five months were prolonged into six months . . . then six months were again prolonged into one year,” the official says on the tape. “Afterwards, Canada suddenly declared it would not accept any refugee files.” “At the time we submitted your file . . . we referred all LGBT files to Canada for processing, until all of a sudden, Canada stopped accepting these files and left its accepting status as ‘undecided’ for us.” Xtra asked Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on Feb 21 how he justifies this policy, which may come under parliamentary scrutiny.  “We have a refugee policy that is first and foremost informed by vulnerability,” Hussen responded. “And we work very, very closely with the UN Refugee Agency as well as private sponsors to identify the most vulnerable, and that would include members of the LGBTQ2 community.” He also touted a private-sponsorship program, in which groups have helped LGBT Iranians resettle in Canada through a longer process. “That is work that we've engaged in, and we'll continue to — to do so, to help those ones.”

Will my Latin American mother cry tears of joy at my queer wedding?

2 March 2017 - 5:00pm
Last month, the afternoon sun flooded into the hall at Keating Farm. My cousin, the bride, stood before the justice of the peace, facing her husband-to-be. She looked exquisite and — judging by his cheshire grin — her fiancé felt the same way. Surrounded by audible sniffles, I looked over at my mother. Watching as tears slid down her cheeks I could only wonder: will she ever cry tears of joy for me? I never had any desire to get married. Even as a teenager, I busied myself with dreams of illustrious careers and international explorations, not of wedding dresses and floral arrangements.  My parents were one of the few couples in our community who hadn’t separated or divorced. Their relationship always inspired me; they were truly best friends as well as partners. Still, for some reason marriage never got anywhere near the top of my bucket list. My mother and I always were always close. Growing up, we were able to talk candidly about most things. But somehow, when it came to sexuality, we would fall silent. I routinely received books instead of discussion, and the lessons I did receive were often tainted with conservative assumptions stemming from my mother’s own coming of age in Guatemala. Both of my parents were Catholic, and I spent much of my youth at a small private Catholic school. Marriage was glorified in our community. Sex, it seemed, was better not talked about.  My mother never tried to change my lukewarm feelings about marriage. But, as I watched her celebrate friends and relatives’ engagements and wedding ceremonies, I could see that she hoped, one day, she would celebrate mine. I became increasingly jaded as I started dating. Despite having several boyfriends throughout high school and college, the idea of spending the rest of my life with any of them made me anxious, not excited. In all likelihood, these thoughts made it difficult for me to invest in my relationships, and I ended just about every one I was ever in.    [[asset:image:309134 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["\u201cI thought back on my past encounters with men \u2014 my first kiss, my first time, and all the times that followed \u2014 realizing I had never felt a fraction of the things I was currently experiencing.\u201d"],"field_asset_image_credit":["Ludmila Leiva\/Daily Xtra"]}]] My worldview changed when I was 19 years old. I was living in Barcelona when I met a woman at a friend’s party. Though it was a few weeks before Christmas in 2010, the Mediterranean climate meant it was still balmy enough to wander through the cobblestone streets without a jacket. We took the Metro to a nearby club. All night, my eyes lingered in her direction. When we finally began talking, I felt as though I’d entered a parallel dimension. We spent the winter together exploring gothic alleys of the city and each other's bedrooms. All the while, her French-accented Spanish never stopped giving me heart arrhythmia. When I was with her, everything felt easy. But when I was alone, my mind filled with menacing questions.  One night, I collapsed into my bed, consumed by my looping thoughts: what was I doing? I thought back on my past encounters with men — my first kiss, my first time, and all the times that followed — realizing I had never felt a fraction of the things I was currently experiencing.  I lay in bed that night staring at the ceiling and listening to the sound of traffic outside my window. If I am queer, I thought, then I guess that’s that. I wiped the tears that had pooled in the corners of my eyes, a peaceful feeling washing over me. In the spring, she took a job in Berlin. I visited once, but in August it was time for me to return to Canada. We exchanged emails for months, sending hesitant paragraphs laced with longing. But, the messages gradually dwindled, and soon I learned she had a new boyfriend.  We had never put a label on our relationship, and after I left Europe, I reconciled with the fact that such a distance would never offer much promise. But I was devastated. I constantly wondered how she was doing, and seeing her name in my inbox still made my heart jump. But, determined to ground myself in my physical reality rather than  a relationship of text and pixels, I stopped reaching out and we lost touch. Though it would be inaccurate to suggest that this relationship made me completely reconsider my positions on marriage, it did stretch the boundaries of my imagined future. Perhaps, I thought to myself, I wasn’t interested in marriage because I had previously doubted the existence of someone with the power to captivate me. She may not have been the elusive “one” we are all conditioned to search for, but she did help me grasp what I had so much trouble understanding before: that finding someone I could love was, indeed, possible.  In January, a few months after my return to Vancouver, I found a message from a girl in my Tumblr inbox. After bonding over a shared love of politics, social justice, and the Lord of the Rings, we decided to meet. Though I had been with other women since coming back to Canada, I was nervous.  We met for dinner at a popular vegetarian café on Vancouver’s west side. Much of our night was filled with drawn out silences in between bites of veggie pad Thai and apple pie, but at that dark, candlelit table, my world was slowly turned upside down once again.  For the second time in my life, I was confronted by a glimmer of romantic possibility that had eluded me for so long. We went on to date for four years, and I spent my time with her learning how to love — not only her, but myself.  In the end, the latter proved to be my greatest challenge.    [[asset:image:309137 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["\u201cWe said goodbye, and I watched her get into her car. After she drove away, I let myself back into my empty studio apartment where I cried myself to sleep on the floor.\u201d"],"field_asset_image_credit":["Ludmila Leiva\/Daily Xtra"]}]] I told my mother about my relationship after four months. At first, I put off telling her because I was having trouble admitting to myself that this was who I was. But one day in late June, I felt a rush of confidence. After a long walk, my mother and I sat down on a wooden park bench overlooking English Bay. The air smelled of freshly cut grass and sea foam. I listened as birds sang in the trees above us. But as I silently sifted through words, my mind became a perfect reflection of the choppy, white-capped waves in the distance. Finally, I managed to say the words my mouth still had trouble forming: “I am dating a woman.” My mother had never once shown hostility or intolerance towards queer people. In fact, a close family friend in Guatemala had recently come out as gay, and my mother had assumed the role of his unofficial mentor, counselling him through the brutal homophobia rampant in his community. I was encouraged by this knowledge. But I quickly learned that, while my mother had no problem with other people’s fluid sexualities, she had absolutely no desire for her daughter to be anything but straight.  “There is no such thing as good or bad anymore,” she said, pulling her bloodshot eyes from mine. “It’s whatever feels good in the moment.”  My mother continued to discuss, what she called, moral relativism. I sat, looking at the mountains in the distance and digging my fingernails into the damp, mossy wood. We said goodbye, and I watched her get into her car. After she drove away, I let myself back into my empty studio apartment where I cried myself to sleep on the floor. I understood, of course, that my mother’s earliest definitions of love and partnership were formed in a late 20th-century Latin American context. In the wake of Spanish colonization, my mother’s native Guatemala — like many other regions that fell victim to Spanish conquest — had embraced a primarily Catholic culture as well as a strict gender binary built upon hyper-femininity and machismo. And though my mother had left Guatemala decades before I was born, her early socialization left lasting stains on her. Nearly five years have passed since that afternoon in the park. My mother and I have since tried to fill the holes our conversation left behind, but have succeeded only in compartmentalizing our relationship. Today, we abide by an unspoken contract that assumes my romantic life does not exist. While, in some ways, this arrangement protects us both, it also means that there are many things about me that my mother does not know. I still struggle to cleave apart my mother’s happiness from my own. I do not know if I will ever get married, or whether my mother will cry tears of joy if I do. But each day, I strive to remind myself that my life is sacredly and intrinsically mine. Somehow, in spite of everything, I find solace in this fact.

Canadian passports could set new global standard on gender markers

2 March 2017 - 2:00pm
Following a human-rights investigation, the federal government might be compelled to offer a third-gender option on passports, Xtra has learned. Rory Vandrish filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in April 2015, arguing that non-binary people, like themself, should have a third-gender option on passports, following seven other countries that offer “X” as a gender marker including Germany, Nepal and Pakistan. Vandrish has since changed their request, asking the federal government to become the first country without gender markers on its passports at all. “If it’s an ‘X’. . . it's going to out you and you’re going to experience discrimination,” Vandrish told Xtra. Almost two years after Vandrish filed their case, they says the commission’s confidential mediation has failed to find a solution. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal confirms in an email to Xtra that it will now be taking up the case, with a 10-day hearing currently scheduled for July in Vancouver. Similar to a court, the tribunal has powers to fine federal departments and compel them to change their processes.  Cases that head to the tribunal can sometimes result in changes to government policy. The vast majority are instead resolved at the commission, like a January 2017 mediation that saw the agency overseeing social identity numbers commit to including a third-gender option. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is now undertaking a review of how it can restrict collecting gender data to only necessary policy-planning work, and how it can keep that data confidential. The prime minister’s special advisor on LGBTQ2 issues, Randy Boissonnault, told Xtra on Feb 2 that the Liberals are waiting on that review to shape how other departments collect data. “It’s part of our commitment to upholding the rights of the LGBTQ community,” he said. “Pending the review, we’ll review procedures for other elements as well.” Boissonnault said the desire for gender-neutral passports came up repeatedly in January, as he visited Toronto and the four western provinces. He said that once the ESDC completes its review, his staff — who have yet to be hired — will examine all federal government services, including passports.  That’s despite Passport Canada studying a third-gender option since 2012, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying in July 2016 that gender-optional IDs are “part of the great arc of history sweeping towards justice.” “[There’s] no news on passports,” Boissonnault said. “We need to work with our international partners and the treaties that we’re a part of, so that does require us to have gender identification.” Vandrish says the government has long argued it must to comply with the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules, which state that all passports must include a gender marker that is either M, F or X “where a person does not wish his/her gender to be identified or where an issuing state or organization does not want to show this data.”  Boissonnault’s office didn’t respond to an Xtra request to confirm that this is the government’s reasoning, but officials have previously cited these rules. While the CHRC couldn’t confirm any details about Vandrish’s complaint, spokeswoman Natalie Babin-Dufresne says the ESDC settlement, and moves by provinces to create third-gender categories, could sway the case. “There is a certain amount of domino effect,” she says.  The commission has previously hinted that the government could easily drop any gender markers on passports and identity documents. Canada already issues electronic visas for people with third-gender designations. Meanwhile, Vandrish says they still want Canada to scrap passport gender markings entirely, regardless of the ICAO’s rules. “The Liberal government is looking to legalize recreational marijuana, and that is against some international treaties. So if they say it can be done for them, then it can certainly be done for passports,” they say. In 2012, New Zealand’s government completed a study for the ICAO, looking at the feasibility of removing gender markers from passports. It concluded that while it would be possible and would crack down on some incorrect passports, that benefit wouldn’t be outweighed by the cost of updating outdated technology, and could thus delay travel times. “So put an ‘X’ for everybody,” Vandrish argues.  “It’s uncomfortable if I’m trying to purchase alcohol and they ask me for an ID. But from a passport perspective, the scrutiny is so much higher that it’s actually terrifying,” they say.  “It’s totally strange and anachronistic that they’re still requiring this. I look what I look like in my photo. Isn’t that enough to determine who I am?”

Out in Toronto: March 2–8, 2017

2 March 2017 - 2:00pm
Thursday, March 2 Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience  To mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, Cree visual artist Kent Monkman’s exhibit of paintings, drawings and sculptures gives his take on the story of Canada. The story goes back well before confederation and includes a humorous and searing critique of Canada’s colonial past.  Runs until Saturday, March 4. Art Museum at the University of Toronto, 15 King’s College Cir.    The Bodyguard  When bodyguard Frank Farmer starts protecting superstar Rachel Marron from a stalker, they both get more than they expected — in the love department. Based on the well-loved movie, this musical includes Whitney Houston power ballads and shirtless male backup dancers. The venue is mostly accessible (visit website for more information). Runs until Sunday, May 14, various showtimes. Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St.    Friday, March 3 Toronto Queer Slowdance: FEMMEnomenon Edition  Attendees are invited to “femme it up” (whatever that means to you) for this edition of Queer Slowdance. The event typically draws a diverse and open-minded crowd of people who want to spend their Friday swaying gently with strangers. The venue is accessible for most people with disabilities.  10pm–3am. Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St W. For more info, visit Facebook.    Big Primpin: Link Up  Party people come together and hook up at this recurring hip hop dance party. DJs Sikh Knowledge and Nino Brown spin for LGBT people and their guests. Takes place the first Friday of each month at the venue formerly known as Wrongbar. For line bypass, email  10:30pm–1:30am. Miss Thing’s, 1279 Queen St W. For more info, visit Facebook.    Saturday, March 4 Hot Damn It’s a Queer Slam  Folks express themselves loudly and earnestly (I know you all love to do that) at this queer poetry slam. Includes an open mic portion for attendees who want to give it a shot. The venue is mostly accessible (there are no buttons to open the front door or the accessible washroom door).  7:30–11pm. Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.    The Book of Mormon AIDS, religion; no topic is too sensitive or off-limits for this smash musical returning to Toronto. From the creators of South Park, The Book of Mormon follows a pair of missionaries sent to Uganda to spread their faith.  Runs until Sunday, April 16, various showtimes. Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St W.    Monday, March 6 Mindful Crochet  Trump. Mumps. Rent. We have a lot of reasons to feel stressed. At this event, folks take refuge from the rigors of daily life in the repetitive and soothing activity of crochet. No experience or materials required. Everyone in the LGBT community is welcome. The venue is accessible for more people with disabilities. 5–7pm. The 519, 519 Church St.

Out in Vancouver: March 2–8, 2017

1 March 2017 - 10:59pm
Thursday, March 2 Belfast Girls In this stage production leading up to International Women’s Day, five Irish women make a desperate crossing to Australia to escape famine. In the midst of the difficult passage, a tender love affair blossoms between two of the women. See playwright Jaki McCarrick’s new play in White Rock or Vancouver, and for an interesting peek into the historical background, check out 8pm. March 1–11, Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Road, White Rock. Tickets $15–27 online. 8pm. March 15–18. The Cultch, 1895 Venables St, Vancouver.  Tickets $25–30 online.   Vancouver International Dance Festival I must admit it took a while to do this listing; I spent most of the time watching the video of the hot male shirtless dancers in satin pants on repeat. Have you ever noticed how satin clings to things? This year the VIDF presents a broad spectrum of dance from the slow introspection of Butoh, a Japanese dance form, to the dynamic precision of ballet. Street dance b-boys mix with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in works that will surprise and delight. The full performance listings, times, ticket prices and venues around town are online, but check out Matthew Romantini, a Toronto Dance artist, who will be performing in Crumbling at the Woodward’s Production Studio, 111 W Hastings St, March 9-11 at 5pm. Festival runs until Saturday, March 25.   Super Gay Celebrities No, it’s not a full night of Conni Smudge, although that would be fun. She’s like a cross between Lucille Ball and Ethel Merman. For those born this century, Google them. A new monthly night brings the gay back to Davie Street like the old days. Who better to open than some of the gayest talent we have, including Alma B Itches, Ilona Verley, Femenade, Jack Slayer, Del Stamp, Skylar Love and more. 10pm–3am. Celebrities, 1022 Davie St. Free entrance with RSVP online.   Elbow Room Café: The Musical If you didn’t want a bitchy server, you should have stayed home. Watch our video on this big gay musical ode to Vancouver's iconic “abuse” café. Written by Peach Cobblah’s alter ego, Dave Deveau, and directed by Isolde N Barron’s alter ego, Cameron Mackenzie, this show is sure to be a hit. Thursday, March 2, 8pm;  March 3–4 and 7–11 at 8pm; March 4, 5, 11 and 12, 2pm. York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr. Tickets $10–44 at More info at   Friday, March 3 Get Your Art On There’s a local drag legend living in the village who will probably think this is some kind of party for him, but keep your pants on, Art, there are no go-go boys here. Tonight is the ninth annual Get Your Art On with Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, and will feature burlesque, live music, art, food and drink. Plus, you can purchase a canvas and paint your own piece of art. This is a chance to support and celebrate all the work our West End MLA does. Door 6:30pm, entertainment 7:15pm. PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero St. Tickets $125 online at   Puppy-Tails Social For those of you who just can’t get away for the regular Saturday afternoon puppy party, here’s a night-time version. Yes, you will still get to see the pups play, romp, sniff a few butts and lick a few crotches. But be ready with the tummy rubs, because at night these pups will flip on their back at any hint of a free rub. Wear your leather, rubber, fuzzy, or whatever other gear you want. Gear is admired but never required. Having fun is the only requirement. 8–11pm. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. No cover before 9pm, $5 after.     Saturday, March 4 Spring Up Spring will soon be in the air, and nobody gets the spring hornies like a rubber man. I guess they’re so horny because it takes so long to get out of the rubber. This is the Rubbout 26 kick-off, so get together, suck some rubber on each other, dress up some unsuspecting cotton guys gear, and plan some hijinks for the weekend. Count me in; rubber is the perfect second skin. 2—5pm. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. No cover.   The Drag Show FUNdraiser You may think the suburbs are dull and boring compared to our little corner of the gay world — all three blocks of it. But there are actually drag queens living off the grid who put on great shows. Mz Adrien, who has been around since the days of the Dufferin Hotel — yes that long ago — is taking her show even beyond New Westminster. Join the Mz and her friends as they put on a FUNdraiser for the Alouette Addictions Services for youth. 7pm. Pitt Meadows Heritage Hall, 12460 Harris Road, Pitt Meadows. Tickets $60 at More info at   A Variety Of Queers Benefit Concert I, for one, am interested in just how many varieties of queers there are, and which variety I am. Not that I like to be pegged into one category, but I’d like to see the options first. This night showcases a wealth of diverse talent in Vancouver’s queer community, with a dance party to follow. Everyone is welcome for singing, dancing, burlesque, drag, comedy and more to support Rainbow Refugee, which helps people fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender or HIV status. 7pm–1am. The Wise Hall, 1882 Adanac St. Tickets $25 at with all profits going to Rainbow Refugee.   Backdoor Horse Meat Disco Now we are getting to the meat of the men’s party scene: Horse Meat Disco. When my partner Paul, my “best man” Megan and I were in London for our wedding, we grabbed my future sister-in-law and headed to the only night women can get into the London Eagle. Of course with a name like Horse Meat, our two straight females were expecting to see just that. But the London gay boys thought they were the cutest couple, and bought them drinks while Paul and I didn’t get any. Now VAL is having a Horse Meat Disco of their own, and from the looks of the go-go line-up, horse meat is what there will be. Hard Addison, QT Drake and Kyle from Berlin Go Go Gentleman are just a taste of what is to come. With two rooms, four DJs and the slogan “queer disco is for everyone” how could it not be a great night? 9pm–3am. Vancouver Art & Leisure, 1965 Main St. Tickets $25–30 at and     Testostérone GEAR Seems like more and more out of town parties are making their way to Vancouver. Maybe we should take a couple of our events on tour. If you need a bodyguard, promoter or fluffer, just let me know where to send my resume. Testostérone GEAR from Montréal returns for another sizzling hot night of fetish and fun with DJs Ron Hamelin and Gingerbear Todd. They’ll warm you up like never before to get you ready for action, both on and off the dance floor. Strict dress code of leather, rubber, jockstrap, sport gear, military, uniform, singlet or underwear. 9pm–3am. The Odyssey, 686 W Hastings St. Tickets $10–20.   Sunday, March 5 A Day In Church: Support Bill C-16 Paul Dirks, a New Westminster pastor, started a campaign against the federal bill seeking to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Most Canadians, however, believe protecting trans rights is a good thing, and some of them have organized a protest outside Dirks’ church this Sunday to send the message that being trans and being Christian are not incompatible. 11:30am. Outside the New Westminster Community Baptist Church, 322 Hospital St, New Westminster.   Monday, March 6 QueerProv: International Women’s Day My dad used to say, “every day is women’s day.” That was because once during a fight my mom threw a pot of mashed potatoes at him, and I had to clean it up. It worked, though, and after that I never saw them have an argument that mom didn’t win. Tonight, QueerProv celebrates the day by bringing you the funniest queer ladies in town. Hosted by Sarah Dawn Pledge, with performances by Jamie Crest, Julia Stretch, Michele Tolosa, Alex Rowan and LeeAnn Keple. 8–9:30pm. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. No cover.   Tuesday, March 7 Dirty Little Secrets One of the funniest nights I’ve seen is back in town. You write your secret and place it in the jar; then the cast pulls out a secret and the improv is off and running. It’s hard to say which is funnier, the cast acting out the secret or the audience looking around to see who has the reddest face. The best part is you can stick around and join the weekly Karaoke party after, and then maybe you’ll have a new secret for next time. 7pm. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. No cover, but $5 per secret.   Wednesday, March 8 Red Ribbon Breakfast The Red Ribbon Breakfast is an annual fundraiser that takes place over breakfast. This free networking event provides information about Positive Living BC, and a special video presentation on the membership will inspire people to give. By attending the Red Ribbon Breakfast and donating to Positive Living BC, you can become part of the Red Ribbon Circle of Supporters. 7:30–8:30am. Hyatt Regency Hotel, 655 Burrard St. RSVP at or 604-893-2282.   International Women’s Day Whether you’re a straight, gay, bisexual or trans woman, this is your day around the world. Thousands of events — global gatherings, conferences, awards, exhibitions, festivals, fun runs, corporate events, concert performances, speaking events, online digital gatherings and more. Events are held by women's networks, corporations, charities, educational institutions, government bodies, political parties, the media and communities. To see what events are happening in Vancouver or any other city go to