Ottawa Xtra

Trudeau government under fire for ending LGBT Iranian refugee program

10 February 2017 - 10:21pm
The Trudeau government is under increasing pressure to explain why it started turning away LGBT Iranian refugees during the Syrian airlift, ending a program that resettled hundreds of persecuted Iranians through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “Why has the government ended the practice of prioritizing persecuted Iranian LGBT [people] as refugees to Canada?” asked Conservative MP Michelle Rempel during question period on Feb 10, 2017. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen touted his government’s intake of Syrian refugees and stressed its commitment to queer and trans refugees. “We take seriously our refugee commitment to make sure that it is compassionate and focused on the most vulnerable people,” Hussen said. “We work very closely with the UN’s refugee agency and private sponsors to continue to identify the most vulnerable; and that obviously includes members of the LGBTQ2 community.” Rempel, who is the Conservative Party’s immigration critic, pushed back, noting that queer Iranians are tortured and executed under the country’s laws. “The minister did not answer the question,” Rempel said. “The minister used the talking point of 25,000 Syrian refugees. I’m talking about the practice of allowing and prioritizing Iranian LGBT refugees coming to Canada. Why are the Liberals turning their back on the most vulnerable? No talking points, please.” Hussen shot back: “We will take no lessons from the previous government, when it comes to identifying and welcoming and being compassionate to those most vulnerable, as well as refugees in need of resettlement.” The exchange comes as MPs express confusion after an Xtra investigation revealed that the federal government had effectively ended a 2010 program in which Canada resettled hundreds of Iranians from Turkey fleeing persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Weekly arrivals gradually slowed in late 2015, and by 2016 the UNHCR started referring these Iranians to the United States, which has now barred Iranians from entry following President Donald Trump’s executive order on several predominantly Muslim countries. Though a US federal court has temporarily suspended the ban, it’s unclear whether the US government has resumed processing new or incomplete refugee claims. Meanwhile, Canadian officials said they had too many Syrian cases to process and suggested activists privately sponsor these refugees, a costly process that takes much longer. That’s led Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi to ask that longtime Toronto activists explain the problem to Parliament. “They can come here and shed light on this, and if need be make additions,” Ehsassi told Xtra on Feb 9. “For refugees in Turkey, it’s horrid; it’s terrible.”

Old politics in Vancouver’s new women’s library spark protest

10 February 2017 - 7:21pm
In a nostalgic callback to the glorious herstory of feminist bookstores, the Vancouver Women’s Library (VWL) opened last Friday to face another historical callback: a flash protest from younger radicals. Gays Against Gentrification (GAG, their choice of acronym) circulated the protesters’ statement on Feb 3, 2017. It claims that VWL’s all-cis and all-white board of directors has ties to using public goodwill and dollars to steer the feminist conversation bus right over sex workers, trans folk, femmes, and people of colour — including actively campaigning via Vancouver Rape Relief in favour of the former Harper government’s anti-sex-work bill. The protesters want transparency about VWL’s funding and organizational ties, plus more diversity on the board and in the books. And speaking of books, they want 20 of the new library’s titles removed — and that last demand has gone over about as well as you’d expect. VWL’s activist school has spent decades scrabbling for every square foot of women’s space. “Defending women’s space” is a noble ideal, so it’s a shame that it so often gets misused as an opener to vilify any trans person or sex worker who dares to raise concerns. Still, some VWL supporters think a direct protest is a heavy blow to land on a volunteer board and a feminist one at that. The counter viewpoint doesn’t give a damn that the board is volunteer-run. Queers, sex workers — heck, members of nearly every trodden-upon group — has boot prints on their back from unpaid panels of parents, churchgoers or homeowners. Not to mention that excusing an action just because it’s “feminist” is the lefty equivalent of wrapping yourself in the flag. Half the story here is in the protest. The other half is in in the public response. A social media search will reveal a chorus reminding both parties that “we are all on the same side” — I mean, none of us work for Trump, right? This sentiment of allyship may be well intentioned, but it’s actually part of the problem. Across demographics, activists have been told to suck up their internal objections, repeatedly, until it became clear that an alliance meant giving up on their equality. Such silence can’t endure. Amidst all this, it seems that neither the protestors nor VWL have a good handle on what a library actually does. Just as my Instagram feed does not constitute An Anthology of Great Canadian Photography, a library, let alone a “Vancouver Women’s Library” is not a stack of whatever media comes to hand, nor, per the demands via GAG, is it a tool to cull objectionable viewpoints. Libraries curate the pertinent from the irrelevant, then contextualize their contents to present a complex worldview. For example, the Vancouver Public Library shelves The Bible under Religion, rather than Evolutionary Biology, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, or Recycling. So like any other library, VWL has to consciously choose and present what exactly makes writing “Women’s” writing — or risk getting buried under used stacks of Twilight and “Clinton 2016” lawn signs. And the VWL volunteers are choosing. Sort of. Right now their selection is, unsurprisingly, what you’d expect to find on the recently-donated bookshelves of a half dozen middle-aged Women’s Studies buffs: classic social justice texts or reprints thereof, philosophical and human rights essays, and some contemporary highbrow lit, all of it in English. Hence the call for some conscious and directed expansion coordinated by a board that represents a range of views. Yet counter to the protesters’ demands, when a text, especially an ideologically foundational one, pushes some fucked-up messages, the last thing a good library should do is ditch it.  Modern women’s centres have been here and done better, searching out new titles from diverse perspectives, while also holding the kind of books that would land on GAG’s gag-list, but they do so along with contradictory voices, while making it clear that historical texts are just that. This fracas is a tragedy of unpreparedness. VWL opened a library representing the voice of “Women” without asking whose voice that is. Protesters gave cogent demands but capped them by forgetting that banning books is neither productive nor popular. Facebook followers decided they all just need to get along.  The lessons are clear: when activists fight, it’s probably over something important; when you open a non-profit, make sure it represents the community you claim it does; and when you don’t like a message, don’t try to silence it unless you want it to spread.  

Toronto police chief pulls out of Pride parade

10 February 2017 - 4:21pm
The Toronto police will not march in the 2016 Toronto Pride parade, says police chief Mark Saunders. “We understand the LGBTQ communities are divided. To enable those differences to be addressed, I have decided the Toronto Police Service will not participate, this year, in the Pride Parade,” Saunders said in a written statement. “I want to make it very clear that this will have no impact on our ongoing outreach to LGBTQ communities. We will continue to develop respectful relationships and build new ones, focusing on those who feel marginalized, with the trans and racialized communities. I will sit down with any group who feels marginalized, who comes to the table with ideas on how to make things better.” His statement comes after more than seven months of contentious debate over the police’s relationship with the LGBT community. Alexandria Williams, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto says that Saunders’ words don’t mean much, particularly his offer to sit down with marginalized groups. “Communities have been putting forward these conversations to have and, time and time again, Mark has not followed through on his commitment to sit down and talk,” Williams tells Xtra, noting that Saunders has refused to meet with BLMTO despite multiple attempts on their part. “It can’t be this back and forth of hollow statements and empty promises,” Williams says. “Not when our communities are still being brutalized and attacked by the police.” Williams says the police decision is also late, coming nearly a month after members of Pride Toronto already voted to kick police floats out of the parade. “The reality is that community spoke up,” she says, “and we need to start having further conversations on what is happening in our communities, and the distrust that we have toward the Toronto Police Service.” During last year’s Pride parade, BLMTO staged a 30-minute sit-in and asked Pride Toronto to sign a list of nine demands, one of which asked for the removal of police from the parade. Removal of police from floats and booths was heatedly discussed at Pride Toronto’s first town hall on Aug 30, 2016, when they announced that instead of removing police from Pride, they would leave the decision to a dispute resolution process. In September, Pride released a lengthy statement apologizing for wrongdoings, a history of anti-black racism and a lack of accessibility at the parade. At their January 2017 annual general meeting, Pride Toronto’s members voted overwhelmingly in favour of BLMTO’s requests.   [[asset:video_embed:309020 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_video_caption":["Pride Toronto had its first town hall on Aug 30, 2016 to discuss issues arising from last year\u2019s Pride."],"field_video_credit":["xtraonline\/YouTube"]}]] Saunders says the police will continue to hold its annual Pride reception. At last year’s reception at police headquarters, he officially apologized for the Toronto Police Service’s role in the infamous 1981 bathhouse raids, 35 years after the mass arrests that targeted the gay community. At the time some Toronto activists criticized the apology as too little, too late. Earlier this week, the Halifax Regional Police announced in a press release that it would not march in that city’s 2017 parade “after ongoing discussions with Halifax Pride about HRP’s involvement in the festival in consideration of a national debate about police participation in pride parades.” “We feel that stepping away temporarily from the parade will best support the LGBT2Q+ community by helping to allow for meaningful discussion of this divisive issue,” said Halifax Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais.

What just happened to kink social network FetLife is a bad sign for web freedom

9 February 2017 - 7:17pm
Who gets to decide what’s bought and sold on the internet? In the digital age, the answer to that question is critically important for sexual minorities. Without the freedom to exchange money, artists flounder, companies fail and communities grind to a halt. Just ask FetLife. Last month, the millions-strong kink social network announced it was tightening community guidelines to ban depictions or discussion of edgier kinks, including blood, non-consent, alcohol, cutting, and the vaguely defined “obscenity.” At the same time, the network deleted thousands of photographs, groups and fetish categories without warning. The reason? Credit card companies. In an apologetic post to the FetLife community, founder John Kopanas — better known on the site by his username JohnBaku — said the restrictions were the only way out of an existential threat. The company’s bank, he said, threatened to shut down FetLife’s merchant account at the request of credit card companies that objected to the site for “illegal or immoral” reasons. Since a functioning merchant account is the only way the site can accept membership payments from its users, Kopanas wrote, he had no choice but to submit. This is scary stuff, and not just for FetLife. Much of the material that Kopanas was forced to delete isn’t illegal, at least in Canada and the United States. It doesn’t even line up particularly well with the UK’s new and puritanical web censorship rules. Financial companies therefore very likely aren’t censoring FetLife because they have to; they’re doing it because they want to, or because they don’t want to be associated with its content. The upshot is that credit card companies may have unprecedented power to pick and choose what content can be paid for on the web. Kopanas has stayed conspicuously silent since his Jan 18, 2017 announcement. FetLife’s Vancouver-based parent company Bitlove Inc has no listed office address, and Kopanas has not responded to repeated requests for an interview. Despite the content crackdown, FetLife seems to have lost the ability to process credit cards, though the site is still accepting bank transfer payments. FetLife has had a rocky history since it launched in 2008. The site was inundated with new users during the Fifty Shades of Grey frenzy of the early 2010s causing an identity crisis and temporary restrictions on new signups, and was rocked last year by rape allegations against an Australian man who police say used FetLife to find victims. Some users have also been critical of Kopanas’ failure to kick abusers or pedophilia groups off the site fast enough. The FetLife community has reacted with a combination of rage and sympathy to Kopanas’ announcement. Some users say they support his attempt to save the community. Others, such as hypnotism fetishists who saw their groups and content wiped out because they fall on the hazy line of “non-consent,” posted angry comments demanding an explanation. “It is obvious to me that Fetlife is no longer the welcoming and accepting place it once was,” one longtime user wrote, bemoaning what he sees as an inevitable slide into the vanilla mainstream. “Do what you have do to keep FetLife running,” another user countered. “We are strong and resilient. And if at the end of the day, certain pictures, posts, writings, names, whatever have to be removed, sanitized, etc to keep FetLife on the map, we can do it.” Whatever users may think, if financial companies call the shots on what kind of content can be bought with their services, sites like FetLife may have little choice but to either comply or fold. No other way of moving money through the internet can yet compete with credit cards; bank transfers are complicated and expensive across national boundaries, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are yet unrealistic for large-scale commerce. But there are a lot of unanswered questions about the FetLife story. Why did FetLife lose its credit card services but keep its merchant accounts? What negotiations did Kopanas have with his bank, and what part did the bank play in crafting the new content rules? How easily did Kopanas give up the fight? Is there anything that could have been done? In his post, Kopanas says there was nothing he could do to fight back. Without further details of what exactly happened at FetLife, it’s hard to tell if he’s right. Most of the dozen or so lawyers, law professors, business professors and civil rights experts I contacted for this story felt there were just too many unknowns in Kopanas’ story to know if the company had any other choices. We would have to know more to really understand FetLife’s options, agrees Vancouver lawyer Garth Barriere. He suggests, however, the remedy is more likely to be social than legal. Unlike classic censorship battles such as Little Sister’s decades-long challenge to Canada Customs’ homophobic book seizures, FetLife is up against a private company and not a government agency. “The credit card company isn’t saying that the company can’t exchange money for its services,” Barriere notes. “It’s just saying the company can’t do it through its particular credit card platform. This is the catch-22 of technology: it allows us to do all of these amazing things, but then we also become very reliant on them.” If Kopanas’ story is true, financial companies hold a soft veto on much of what gets paid for on the web — and are willing to use that power to enforce mainstream morals. For sexual minorities, that’s bad news. 

Parliament may probe why Canada is turning away LGBT Iranians

9 February 2017 - 4:17pm
A parliamentary committee could soon probe why Canada suddenly started turning away LGBT Iranians seeking asylum, Xtra has learned. The move comes as members of Parliament express confusion over why a famed program that brought hundreds of refugees to safety has ground to a halt. According to a Feb 3, 2017, Xtra investigation, Canada started turning away LGBT Iranians in Turkey seeking third-country resettlement, shortly after the Liberal government’s airlift of Syrians got underway in November 2015. Since 2010, Canada has resettled hundreds of Iranians from Turkey fleeing persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Most were resettled through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), after the former Conservative government asked the agency to refer such cases to Canada, often with the help of Toronto-based activists. But almost weekly arrivals gradually slowed, and by 2016 the UNHCR started referring these Iranians to the United States, which has now barred Iranians from entry following Trump’s executive order on several predominantly Muslim countries. Meanwhile, Canadian officials said they had too many Syrian cases to process and suggested activists privately sponsor these refugees, a costly process that takes much longer. That’s left many LGBT Iranians stranded in Turkey amid an uptick in LGBT hate crimes and violence in the country. On Feb 8, UNHCR spokeswoman Selin Unal told Xtra that the agency  has registered “over 1,900 LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees” in Turkey, and the “majority of these people are from Iran.” Now, members of Parliament are starting to raise questions. Liberal MP Hedy Fry says she cherishes a plaque in her office that activists gave her for helping dozens of resettlement cases. But she noticed a drop in applications over the past year. “I used to get a lot of them,” she told Xtra, visibly alarmed. “I haven't heard from anybody at all, and yet I was in the loop with that group. I don't know what’s happening.” Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi says both Arsham Parsi, founder of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees and Saghi Ghahraman, co-founder of the Iranian Queer Organization, approached him in spring 2016 about a slowdown in applications. When Ehsassi told the immigration ministry, officials simply replied that they’d look into it. “I have never heard anything about the system collapsing, from a government official. I have heard expressions of concern, that it has slowed down. But I truly do not know whether that is the case or not.” In an interview with Xtra, Ehsassi notes his government has opened more spots for privately sponsoring refugees. “At no point as a government did we say, ‘we’re only taking in Syrian refugees,’” he says. “We’ve always been welcoming to refugees around the world; that is supposed to be ongoing. But as you know, last year we did set aside a certain number for refugees from Syria as well.” Ehsassi points out that the House immigration committee recently decided to examine a separate pilot project where the federal government covers costs for chapters of the Rainbow Refugee Committee to privately sponsor refugees. He’s asked the committee to welcome both Parsi and Ghahraman to speak about the UN resettlement issue. Ehsassi also notes that “any assertion that we are receiving any specific numbers can’t be accurate” because Canada doesn’t receive case information from the UNHCR identifying people as gender or sexual minorities. But that’s the problem, according to Conservative immigration critic MP Michelle Rempel. “This isn't about discrimination. This is about saying there are actually people who face more discrimination because of their religion or their sexual orientation, or their gender identity,” Rempel says.  “It’s not improper for us to ask questions about that, right? Or to demand that there’s a prioritization.” Rempel notes that while Canada listed “members of the LGBTI community” among four priority groups in its Syrian resettlement, it’s never said how many came, or how they’d be accommodated. She sees a parallel in the confusion of LGBT Iranians. “LGBT people in Iran are some of the most persecuted people in the world,” Rempel says. “But to just ignore this, and sort of give it lip service, it just does a disservice to our overall refugee policy.” In July 2016, the House immigration committee spent 14 hours looking at whether Canada adequately protects vulnerable immigrants and refugees. LGBT groups testified that refugees fleeing persecution often feel unsafe in cramped camps with people from their home country, and face inappropriate questioning from UN and Canadian officials. “Canada should be very seriously reconsidering its process for selecting and prioritizing LGBT people to come to Canada,” Rempel says. She also framed the US restrictions on refugees as an opportunity for Canada to take in the most vulnerable. “It’s something I think Canada could be a world leader on.” As for LGBT Iranians in Turkey, the UNHCR says “there is not a specific protocol” for keeping queer refugees safe, but that local LGBT groups are helping while the UN approaches other countries for resettlement. “We have submitted LGBT cases to various countries,” Unal writes. “UNHCR hopes that the US will continue its strong leadership role and long history of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution. Resettlement is one of the key tools to ensure the protection of vulnerable refugees, of whom LGBTI are prioritised.”

Out in Toronto: Feb 9–15, 2017

9 February 2017 - 1:17pm
Thursday, Feb 9 Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience  To mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, Cree visual artist Kent Monkman tells the story of Canada while in the guise of his drag alter-ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Monkman’s first major solo exhibition at this location includes paintings, drawings, sculptural works and historical artifacts. The story goes back well before confederation and includes a humorous and searing critique of Canada’s colonial past and present.  Runs until Saturday, March 4. Art Museum at the University of Toronto, 15 King’s College Cir. [[asset:image:309011 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["\u201cSeeing Red\u201d is one of Kent Monkman\u2019s works at his new exhibition, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, which runs until March 4, 2017 at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Kent Monkman"]}]] Friday, Feb 10 Toby’s Place Comedy Fundraiser Have a few laughs and raise money for a good cause. According to billing, Toby’s Place will be a sanctuary for LGBT youth in the south Scarborough area. The shows includes sketch comedy, improv and standup from such luminaries as Kathryn Greenwood, Teresa Pavlinek, Robin Duke, Jayne Eastwood and Katie Ford. The (arguably) immortal Maggie Cassella hosts. Direct your questions to  8–10pm. The 519, 519 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.   Rangeela Presents: Chandni It’s long. It’s arduous. It involves planes and trains. Possibly boats, though we don’t really live in an age anymore when people travel by boat that much. But anyway, the point is people can get really intense about coming back to Toronto every few months to attend this massive queer South Asian dance party. Features DJ Deep spinning the hottest Bollywood beats. Everyone welcome. 10pm–3am. Club 120, 120 Church St. For more info, visit Facebook.    Saturday, Feb 11 Beef Curtains: Afterbirth  Drag performer Dottie Dangerfield is back with another of her vividly vagina-themed and inspired drag/burlesque shows. From the billing: “Beef Curtains is inspired by Dottie’s own vagina and her lovely walls of meat that protect her most precious possessions and her gaping opening.” Features performances by Scarlett Bobo, Fiona Flauntit, Aura Nova, Helena Poison, Sassy Ray, Jacklynne Hyde and more.   10pm–2am. The Steady, 1051 Bloor St W. For more info, visit Facebook. [[asset:image:308779 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Dottie Dangerfield hosts her show, Beef Curtains: Afterbirth, on Feb 11, 2017, at The Steady. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Dottie Dangerfield"]}]] Erotic Arts and Crafts Fair You can forego the drugstore greeting card rack boringness this year with a gift purchased at this sexy fair. Knitters, zinesters, card makers, artists and craft-makers of all types display their one-of-a-kind works for this, as billing puts it, celebration of “DIY sex and romantic culture.” The organizer is the sex shop Come As You Are (which still exists — just online).  10am–4pm. The Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St W.   Wednesday, Feb 15 The 38th Rhubarb Festival The local queer theatre’s annual festival of new works returns once again for a week or so of creativity, poignancy and nonsense. Billing calls Rhubarb “the place to see the most adventurous ideas in performance to catch your favourite artists venturing into uncharted territory.” Funded in part by the Government of Canada, this event includes a youth night, movie night and the Rhubarb Haunted House. Runs until Sunday, Feb 26, various showtimes. Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St. [[asset:image:309014 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The Rhubarb Festival hosts a hotbed of talent, put on by Buddies and includes works by Anna Mayberry (left), Scotty Dont (centre), and Gitanjali Lena (right)."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Tanja-Tiziana"]}]]  

Out in Vancouver: Feb 9-14, 2017

9 February 2017 - 1:16am
Thursday, Feb 9 Girl Positive It seems like a long weekend is a good time for new releases. Tonight Tatiana Fraser and Caia Hagel lead a panel discussion with Women in the Arts at the launch of their new book, Girl Positive, which uncovers the innovative ways in which women artists are disrupting and innovating culture and is sure to inspire you. Part of Femme February at the Cultch, a month-long series of events which highlight the strength and power of the female voice and experience. 7-9pm. Historic Theatre, 1895 Venables St. Free event but please RSVP at More info at   Matthew Presidente Probably not the best time to have “president” as your last name no matter where you live these days. Still, Vancouver-based Matthew Presidente is one of — if not ­— the best singer/songwriters our LGBT scene has. Tonight, check out the release show for his new album, Every Single Sin. Not only will he be there in person, but he is doing a full-band performance complete with a special appearance by Samantha Mack. 8pm. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Tickets are $10 advance at or $12 at door.   Friday, Feb 10 Roses Are Red: Boners Are Hard These words bring back memories of childhood chants in the school yard: “Roses are red, boners are hard, if you can’t find the lube, dip in some lard.” I always wondered if that’s where the term “lard-ass” came from. Vancouver artist Nikki Peck presents a cast of her characters and scenes that illustrate her interest in contemporary society. Themes include coming of age, teenage hood, the female body and the male gaze, feminism and sex-positive issues. Her approach is at once playful and meticulous and will make for an interesting exhibition. Books and prints of Nikki’s work will be available for purchase. 7-11pm. Sweet Pup Studios, 79 E Pender St. No admission fee.   Wet & Wild I always look forward to an extended weekend as the American boys always come up to play, but since we seem to be the only ones having a holiday weekend I may have to find other things to play with. The perfect place to get into trouble — the good kind — is a place where beefy, muscular, hung men always seem to be either dancing on a box or soaping up their exquisite genitals in the shower. If I get lucky with one of them, I’ll know everything is squeaky clean and ready for anything. DJ Del Stamp spins till the early hours. 9pm-3am. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. Cover $5 after 9 pm.   Function Friday Although the poster featured women only, I thought I’d stop by and see how the last event was going. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A bar full of sexy, hot men and they’re all dancing to DJ Drew’s music. Then I caught sight of the go-go boys and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. See you there. 9:30pm-3am. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $5.   Saturday, Feb 11 Pump Some words that seem to be normal to straights just conjure fantasies in the minds of gay men as soon as you hear them: hump, dump, cum, hard and — of course — pump. If you have a good event name, the guys just flock to it. This is one of those events. Muscle, bear, leather fetish or kink. All seem to make an appearance, making it a man-meat buffet. And daddy is hungry. DJ Del Stamp is your musical spinmeister once again, so you know there’s going to be action going on in the booth and out. 9pm-3am. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. $5 cover after 9pm.   Fraser Valley Heroes Gala Join the Fraser Valley Youth Society at their Valentine’s Hearts and Heroes Gala where they will honour the 2017 FVYS Hero with delicious food, great company and talented entertainment. All event proceeds will go to fund the organization’s programs and initiatives. The buffet dinner, door prizes, and dancing with Total Rewind are all included in the ticket price. 5:30pm-12am. The Stage in Mission, 32998 1st Ave, Mission, tickets $60 at   Duelling DJs Valentine’s Dance This sounds an evening where party people do battle with record player arms or flick 45s at each other. Now who’s old enough to remember that? Get your groove on with a mix of top 40 tunes plus some tracks that take you back to rock n’ roll, swing and disco times. Tonight’s a dinner and dance combo for that special Valentine in your life. 6pm doors, 7pm dinner followed by dancing until midnight. The Sands Hotel, 1755 Davie St. Tickets $55, which also covers dinner, are available on   The Tea With Tati Tour Tommy D is on the road with Drag Race alumna Tatianna for the Tea with Tati tour brought to you by TFD and OUTtvGO. As they make their way across Canada, I’ve noticed a few FB video posts in which I don’t think it was tea Tommy D was drinking — which means the show is a success. This weekend, you have two chances to join in. Tonight and Sunday, Feb 12, you can take in an unbelievable show and check out a meet-and-greet beforehand. Tonight DJ Nick Bertossi spins and Dom Top takes over Sunday. The question for me is, do we get to meet and greet Nick Bertossi as well? If so, get your tickets fast because I may buy the lot. 9pm-3am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Tickets $25-$35 at More info at   Lucky FuKR: Jock & Harness Party I’d go to this event based on the name and the poster alone. This is their first time here and it looks like they’re pulling out the big guns to break their Vancouver cherry. International DJ Bret Law spins as hot men — hopefully in just harnesses — grind away on stage, on the dance floor, and probably in the hidden dark “meat-and-greet” room. Throw on your sexiest jock and harness, toss yourself into the middle of it all and just enjoy yourself. What’re a few gropes among friends? 9pm-3am. The Hindenburg, 23 W Cordova St. Tickets $7 and info at   Sunday, Feb 12 VAL x VHS Valentine’s Market Valentine’s doesn’t have to be all love and roses; it can be all about shopping and getting lots of items just for you. It is the perfect day to use the “I had no date, no cards or gifts so I just got depressed and shopped my heart out” excuse. Vancouver Art and Leisure teams up with the Vintage Handmade Society to host a market for everyone.  A wide range of vendors will be on hand showing off skincare products, art, jewelry, pottery, candles, clothing, blankets, vinyl, tarot booth, chocolate, live painting and more for you to peruse. Look for me; I’ll be the one with the loaded, guilt-free shopping cart. 12-7pm. Gallery 1965, 1965 Main St. Admission $2.   Inner Beauty Pageant Now this is a competition I could be part of.  I’m just full of inner beauty and know there’s an inner diva waiting to burst out. What better person to host than the inner beauty queen herself, Conni Smudge? Just try to get the big-ass crown off her head — if you win. Open to all body types, genders, personalities (split or otherwise) for a chance to celebrate the inner diva in all of us. This is a fundraiser for the upcoming musical, Robin Hood, Prince of Tease from Too Fly Productions.  7-11pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Tickets are $8 plus donation if you wish. To enter the competition please contact More info at   Babes On Babes Three rooms, eight DJs and a stated mission to create a fun, inclusive, safer party vibe that showcases amazing local and international queer talent. Tonight, Baltimore’s TT the Artist spins in the main room. 9pm-2am. The Fortune Sound Club, 147 E Pender St. Cover $15 at door. More info at   Hershe Bar The local liquor store is out of tequila and vodka, so that can only mean one thing: Hershe Bar is on. Tonight is the lesbian party to end all lesbian parties, the Dinah Shore. Some of you may have to Google her as she wasn’t just a golfer. An appearance by gender bending supermodel Erika Linder and the official crew and cast of Below Her Mouth will make this one hell of a party. 10pm-2am. Bar None, 1222 Hamilton St. Tickets $15 online or at Little Sister’s, 1238 Davie St.   Monday, Feb 13 Valentine’s Condoms HIM has great condoms and lube for your enjoyment and need guys to come and pack all those useful resources we all know, love, and use nonstop. No, they don’t just come like that. A group of little gay fairies get together and pack them all up, laugh all night, then have a complimentary meal supplied by a village establishment. Come down and join in the fun. 6-9pm. HIM Office, 1033 Davie St.   Tuesday, Feb 14 DTES Women’s Memorial March There’re lots of events celebrating Valentine’s Day, but take some time to learn about a march that’s been happening for 27 years. The first was held in 1991 in response to the murder of a Coast Salish woman on Powell Street in Vancouver. This event is held to express compassion, community solidarity, and caring for all women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Support, attend and show that all of us care. 12-3pm. Carnegie Community Centre, 401 Main St.   Magic Mic Open Mic For those of us still waiting for that special someone to show up, a flower delivery or a candy gram, it is the 12th hour and Valentines is almost over. Get off your money maker and make your way to the village for a fun-filled, open-mic night when pros, amateurs, and first timers all get a crack at entertaining you. 7pm-11pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. No cover. Sign up for your five minutes of fame at 7pm, if you so desire.   Heritage Grill Valentine’s Date Not looking good for a Valentine’s date, or already called everyone in your little black book and still nothing. Make a trip out to the ’burbs where cowboys know how to ride. Everyone looks like fresh meat if you go a minimum of 25 miles from home. Diva Sarah Kennedy and her pianist perform just for you. Come early, grab a great seat, order dinner, and sit back and enjoy. 8pm-12am. Heritage Grill, 447 Columbia St, New Westminster. Reservations at 604-759-0819.

Why I went back in the closet while travelling to India (Part 2)

8 February 2017 - 7:15pm
I was in India for a few weeks and although I was visiting the country for its culture, I had still hoped to hook up since I’d had such a dry spell in Bangkok. The problem was, gay sex is a crime in India and while trying to look for guys on Scruff, I got the most disconcerting warning on the app. It became very real to me how careful I needed to be.   I slowed down on Scruff after that, but there wasn’t the same warning on Grindr. The absence of a disclaimer obviously doesn’t change the law, but I felt more relaxed nonetheless, and Grindr became my primary cruising tool in India.  Using Grindr in India is a different experience than in Toronto. There’s a serious lack of face pics in profiles, even more than usual. Some don’t use photos at all, while others just show different body parts. Then there the guys who opt for stock photos of things like CG flowers with inspirational words or salutations written across them.  I debated whether I should replace my face pic with a torso shot instead, still spooked by my earlier Scruff warning. In the end, I decided against it. I got some interesting messages on Grindr. People said things to me online that nobody has ever said. One guy wrote, “I love you friend,” as an introduction. Though kind of heartwarming, I found such messages off-putting.   Sure, even if I met someone, I could’ve invited them to my room, but there was a limit on the time visitors were allowed. Such a rule worries me since I read that hotel workers in India can call the police if suspicious of homosexual activity. During the trip, I’d been reading The Lost Language of Cranes by David Levitt, when in cafés or in transit. I became nervous though, since the synopsis on the back of the book references homosexual themes and uses the word “gay” twice. I found myself covering it up with my hands, or folding the book backwards just so that nobody could see the blurb, especially around conservative-looking people.  I did feel some sense of security, since I’m Canadian, and I figured as long as I didn’t actually get caught screwing in public, I wouldn’t be arrested just for reading Levitt’s novel.  There’s a privilege in being able to put my sexuality away for a few weeks, until I return home. I was horny as hell, but there was always masturbation.    Instead of trying to cruise, I threw myself into the local culture, going for long walks and sitting in cafés people-watching (as well as watching cows, goats, stray dogs and buffaloes) for hours at a time. I enjoyed the chaos and beauty of India’s city streets. The difficulty of being openly gay in India makes me appreciate Canada’s codified protections for queer people, though it hasn’t always been that way. In Canada, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 (which caused more restrictions on gay men), and same sex marriage was legalized in 2003 — but gay men are still banned from donating blood, and Canada is still a world leader in prosecuting people living with HIV/AIDS .   I can’t be open about my sexuality when I’m traveling through India, but those who really struggle are the queer folks who must hide who they are everyday. I can go back home to Canada and have all the sex I want; for them, it’s not an option.

Mary Jones, patron saint of the scam

7 February 2017 - 7:13pm
“Scam today, before today scams you.”  Unless you’ve been living under a heterosexual rock over the past year, Joanne has probably scammed you. Joanne the Scammer is a lying, scamming, robbery-loving, frauding bitch who lives for drama. Joanne is a character, the social media creation of Daytona-based internet sensation Branden Miller, beginning her life in seconds-long videos where she describes her misadventures in crime. She also makes constant, tongue-in-cheek references to being caucasian, or her “caucasian lifestyle.” In an interview with The Fader, Miller, who is half-black and half-Puerto Rican and adopted by a white family as a child, explains how he spent his childhood thinking he was white. Joanne’s racial incongruity is part of the titillating comedic tension. To me, there’s something empowering, intoxicating even, about her many contradictions, especially since the majority of targets for Joanne’s scams seem to be men. [[asset:video_embed:308984 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_caption":["Joanne the Scammer."],"field_video_credit":["Super Deluxe\/YouTube"]}]] Then again, white people have always been perversely obsessed with the spectacle of black criminality, especially today with the rise of black deaths being caught on camera. But we can draw a line between Joanne the Scammer and the case of Mary Jones in New York, who both reclaim the spectacle to make satire out of upper white society. On June 11, 1836, a white mason worker named Robert Haslem visited the nexus of Lower Manhattan prostitution, Greene Street. Just off Broadway, later in the 19th century the tiny side-street from Canal to Bleecker would boast as many as 14 brothels. At the corner of Bleecker and Greene, Haslem approached a black woman dressed “elegantly and in perfect style” wearing white earrings and a gilt comb in her hair. “Where are you going my pretty maid?” Haslem asked Jones before volunteering to go with her. The New York Herald described that at some point before concluding their business, Jones “lovingly threw her arms around him and strained him to her heart,” and “these delicate preludes having ended, they proceeded onwards until they arrived at an alley in Greene Street, which having entered . . . ” Followed by a suggestive string of asterisks. As he walked away from the liaison, Haslem realized his wallet with $99 (more than $2,000 today) had been switched with a stranger’s wallet, empty save a bank receipt for $200. He found the owner of this wallet, who denied ownership at first before admitting that he’d also engaged Mary Jones the same night, but feared exposing his tryst by reporting the theft to the authorities. Together, they went to the police where a Constable Bowyer took up the case. That evening, nearing midnight, Bowyer passed a woman on the street who he believed was Jones. “Where are you going at this time of night?” he demanded to know. “I am going home, will you go too?” and she led him to her apartment on Greene Street. He declined to go in, but instead went with her to an alley where she set about her business. After she “proceeded to be very affectionate,” Bowyer arrested her. A tussle ensued where Jones attempted to throw away two wallets from her “bosom,” one of which was Haslem’s. On the way to jail, she attempted to toss away another — I love to imagine wallets falling out of her décolletage at every turn. Bowyer searched her apartment, found a number of other wallets, searched Jones and “for the first time discovered that he was a man.” [[asset:image:308987 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_credit":["@joanneprada\/Twitter"]}]] Mary Jones appeared in court on June 16, “neatly dressed in female attire,” according to the New York Sun. The New York World corroborated that Jones was dressed, “elegantly, and in perfect style. Her or his dingy ears were decked with a pair of snow-white earrings, his head was ornamented with a wig of beautiful curly locks, and on it was a gilt comb, which was half hid amid the luxuriant crop of wool,” her waist “squeezed into a size that would have put to blush the veriest dandy in the city, and his or her toute [sic] ensemble was engaging in the extreme.”  During the proceedings, the “grave Recorder laughed till he cried,” and a spectator, “seated behind the prisoner’s box, snatched the flowing wig from the head of the prisoner,” which “excited a tremendous roar of laughter throughout the room.” Polite society indeed. The little biographical information we have on Mary Jones comes from a court affidavit: “I will be thirty three Years of age on the 12th day of December next, was born in this City, and get a living by Cooking, Waiting [and] live No. 108 [Greene] St.” She offered the fact that she’d “been in the State service,” military duty, as grounds for leniency. Asked what her “right name” was, Jones replied, “Peter Sewally. I am a man,” though the illiterate prisoner used neither her birth name or chosen one on a statement, instead signing “X.” [[asset:image:309005 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_credit":["@Joanneprada\/Twitter"]}]] The New York Sun helpfully explains that Bowyer discovered how she had conducted her business with so many men. Jones had outfitted herself with a prosthetic — a piece of cow leather, or meat? — pierced to imitate female genitalia, held up by a girdle. This description was written in Latin, apparently so upper class (white) men could have their curiosities satiated, while women and uneducated people were left wondering. This revelation earned Jones the unpalatable sobriquet, “Beefsteak Pete.” The Sun described that, during the day, Sewally “generally promenades the street, dressed in a dashing suit of male apparel,” and how at night she “prowls” the disreputable parts of town, luring men into “dens of prostitution” to pickpocket them, protected by the humiliation they’d face if they reported the crime.  In other words, she scammed their hypocritical asses. Jones pleaded not guilty, explaining that she’d never seen Haslem or any of the wallets, but after consulting for a few minutes, the jury returned with a verdict of grand larceny. About a week later, a popular tabloid lithographer reported that “The Man-Monster, Peter Sewally, alias Mary Jones . . .  sentenced 18th June 1836 to 5 years imprisonment at hard labor at Sing Sing for Grand Larceny.”  Oddly, the “Man-Monster” was depicted as rather pretty,  in a voluminous white dress, snow-white earrings, gold-gilded comb and all. The spectacle complete, the prowling, “dingy” black “Man-Monster” defeated by the prim, proper, white justice system, Mary Jones disappeared, never to be heard of again. [[asset:image:308999 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["An image of Mary Jones, dubbed the \u201cMan-Monster,\u201d created by a popular tabloid lithographer after she was sentenced for grand larceny for her scams."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy:"]}]] Some scholars and historians suggest that Jones was made to appear in women’s clothing by the police and court, not at all surprising given her cruel treatment on the stand. Her guilt seemed predetermined, they were clearly there for the spectacle. However, when asked why she dressed in women’s clothing, Jones replied: “I have been in the practice of waiting upon Girls of ill fame and made up their Beds and received the Company at the door and received the money for Rooms [and] they induced me to dress in Women’s Clothes, saying I looked so much better in them and I have always attended parties among the people of my own Colour dressed in this way — and in New Orleans I always dressed in this way.” Among sex workers and black people, Jones had no immediate problems. She seemed to even get away with her “practical amalgamation” — a term used by the Herald, referring to sex between white and black people — via prosthetic. It wasn’t cross-dressing or sex work that led to her arrest, but pickpocketing white men. Keep in mind that New York had only completed the abolishment of slavery in 1827, less than a decade previous. Dehumanizing Mary Jones was easy because she was someone that white society feared: black, gender deviant, a sex worker, a criminal, and, probably worst of all, free. She served as a titillating, anti-abolitionist warning against the “social chaos” of free black people in white society, writes LGBT studies academic Tavia Amolo Ochieng’ Nyongó. I used feminine pronouns for Mary Jones because her story surrounds her feminine persona. She may have been what we consider trans-identified, or non-binary, since she lived comfortably as a man or woman. Now almost 200 years on we have another gender deviant, beautiful, spectacle of a criminal personality in Joanne the Scammer.  The justice in the end is that Mary Jones’ spectacle was created by and for white audiences at the expense of a poor, black person, while Joanne was created for a laugh by a black queer man for his communities, one could argue, at the expense of proper white society. Maybe the only difference between their popularity, aside from Mary Jones’ true crimes and ultimately tragic story, is a couple of centuries and the internet. Joanne’s statement, “So many male victims, so little time,” could just have easily have been Mary Jones’ MO. Iconic. [[asset:image:308996 {"mode":"440px_wide","align":"center","field_asset_image_credit":["@joanneprada\/Twitter"]}]]  

Canadian government spending $3 million to determine fate of gay blood ban

7 February 2017 - 7:13pm
Canadian scientists will soon start research aimed at assuring the federal government that it’s safe for sexually active gay and bisexual men to donate blood.  But the Liberals are facing increasing criticism after pledging to end these restrictions entirely. MP Randy Boissonnault, the Liberal’s special advisor on LGBTQ2 issues, appeared at the House of Commons health committee on Feb 2, 2017, for its ongoing investigation into the federal policy that bars men from donating blood if they’ve had sex with another man in the past 12 months. In June 2016, Canada dropped its deferral period for men who have sex with men from five years to one, making it among the last western countries to do so. Boissonnault told the committee that the deferral policy was “based on the best science that was available at the time” but nevertheless discriminates against gay and bisexual men, especially monogamous ones.   Canadian government pledges $3 million for research The government pledged $3 million in June 2016 to research whether Canada should reduce or entirely drop its restrictions on gay men donating blood.  Some of that funding (CBS said it couldn’t calculate an estimate) went to a two-day Toronto conference on Jan 24 called “Next steps for the MSM donor policy.” Roughly 50 researchers from Canada and abroad attended the conference, alongside patient advocates and LGBT representatives. Boissonnault said the conference “literally set the scientific agenda moving forward for the research that has yet to be conducted.” It focused on the lack of Canadian data for low-risk gay men, and the two-month period it takes for most pathogens to appear in blood samples. “We are moving as fast — and as well as we can as a government. We cannot tell [Canadian Blood Services] and Héma-Québec to reduce this to zero. That's not how this works,” Boissonnault told the committee. (Canadian Blood Services facilitates all blood donations outside Quebec, where Héma-Québec plays a similar role; both follow almost-matching protocols.) But NDP MP Don Davies challenged Boissonnault’s suggestion that the government can’t tell the blood service agencies what to do. “There is no doubt that this decision . . . can absolutely be overwritten by the minister,” he told the committee. According to Canada's blood regulations, the federal health minister may “remove a term or condition from an authorization if she or he determines that the term or condition is no longer necessary to prevent a compromise to human safety or the safety of blood.”  Boissonnault disagreed.  He also said the policy discriminates against monogamous gay men, when even a straight college student with multiple partners can donate. “Show me the science that shows that that makes sense.” Yet that was exactly Davies’ point. “You seem to be suggesting that data needs to be shown to prove that it’s okay to have this blood, when I would say the opposite. If we’re going to adopt a discriminatory practice . . . it’s incumbent upon those who assert that, to supply data to show why that's necessary.” At the committee, Davies read from the Liberal party’s platform pledge to “bring an end to the discriminatory ban” that “ignores scientific evidence.”  Conservative MP Len Webber asked if the government plans to break that promise. “When do you see this happening? This is a decision that you will have to make as a government. Is this something that you are now backing off on?” Boissonnault responded that the January conference was the first step. Webber, who had the health committee investigate the policy, added it was “insulting” the government didn’t invite Conservative MPs.    Conference researchers focused on science, evidence-based approach Though the conference was closed the public and media, Xtra obtained the agenda and spoke with two attendees. Michael Bach, founder of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, says the conference was extremely science-focused, with lots of research terminology. “We were all there under the understanding that we want to see the deferral changed,” Bach says. “Everyone was in the right frame of mind.” He says the Liberals had “exactly the right approach” because data to justify lowering the deferral would prevent future governments from increasing it. Dr Terry Trussler, a director at Vancouver’s Community-Based Research Centre, also says the researchers focused on what evidence would be needed to change the policy “without jeopardizing the system.” He says there were interesting exchanges with scientists from several countries including Italy and Portugal. Trussler says his group intends to submit research proposals under the fund. CBS estimates that 400 rejected MSM donors became eligible in June 2016 when the deferral period dropped from five years to one year. Trussler said they might evaluate whether those people attempted to donate blood, and what their experience was like. CBS is taking proposals for $2.75 million of the $3 million research fund until April, exploring questions like how to identify “a low-risk population of MSM eligible to donate,” the risks of bringing in more donors and “the feasibility of a gender-blind deferral policy.” It’s unclear how long these research projects will run, but the agency notes that research heads will have to submit progress reports every six months.    Trans people still face restrictions on blood donation At the committee, Boissonnault slammed CBS for “onerous” restrictions it put on trans people in an Aug 2016 policy to screen donors according to their genitalia when determining whether they count as MSM. Héma-Québec sorts trans people on a case-by-case basis. “We are actually forcing people to go back to their birth gender to be determined if they can give blood or not,” he said, noting he’d met a Vancouver trans activist who can now give blood 14 months after her surgery, despite not being able to prior.  “We've got ourselves in this kind of perverse way of defining populations and subpopulations,” Boissonnault said. “I want a safe blood supply, but I also want an inclusive blood supply.”

Turing's victory, gay resistance and Lady Gaga

7 February 2017 - 1:12am
[[asset:image:308972 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] The United States of gay resistance Gay news this week continued to circle around the Trump administration, with the New Yorker reporting on the wave of LGBT resistance to the new president. Meanwhile, a predicted executive order rolling back gay employment rights failed to materialize, possibly due to the intercession of Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. In the media, Lady Gaga performed at the Super Bowl in a show that was criticized for being either too political or not political enough, and Kristen Stewart called herself “gay” for the first time in public on Saturday Night Live.   Turing’s victory The United Kingdom has finally passed a long-awaited law posthumously pardoning all men convicted under anti-homosexuality laws. Men who are still alive with a conviction can apply to be pardoned under the new law. The law is known as “Turing’s Law” after Second World War gay codebreaker Alan Turing. Read more from the Canadian Press.   Lebanese legal victory A Lebanese judge refused to convict two men of having gay sex, in an important legal victory for the country’s LGBT community. A Lebanese law criminalizes “sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature,” but the judge dismissed the charges and said homosexuality was a personal choice and not illegal. Read more at the Washington Blade.   Berlin fire kills three A fire in the Berlin gay sauna Steam Works has killed three men, reports Gay Star News. Another 25 men escaped from the 2,000 square metre sauna.   A very queer family What was it like to be gay before there were such thing as gay people? At The Atlantic, Deborah Cohen tells the story of a very queer family before the invention of modern sexuality. 

Democrats need to start planning to win everywhere

6 February 2017 - 10:12pm
Stick with me here because I’m going to propose something radical: The US Democrats — and progressives, generally — need to start planning to win elections.  This may sound odd in the era of social media and micro-campaigning; of “red states” and “blue states,” including a “blue wall” of states that were supposed to cushion Hillary Clinton and safely hand her the presidency.  Contesting elections was traditionally the path that parties took to gain power and implement the policies they stand for. It was a pretty good system. Parties would present their cases to the electorate, who would consider their options and select the one that seemed best. Content that they had been heard, those who voted for the losing side supported the victor until the next election rolled around.  America in 2017 does indeed suffer from deep divisions — racial, class-based, rural-urban — but both major parties are guilty of exploiting those divisions for electoral gain. The Democratic party has been unduly content to retreat into its urban, coastal and minority community strongholds, trusting in a supposed demographic time bomb — growing minority populations — to eventually deliver perpetual Democratic victories. I can’t help but compare the Democrats’ current situation to the Liberal Party over the last two decades. After its 1993 peak, the Liberal party progressively wrote off larger and larger parts of the country — the Maritimes, Francophone Quebec, rural Ontario, the Prairies, the BC interior — until eventually they’d run out of territory to fail in, and the Harper decade began.  But Trudeau’s 2015 victory also gives the Democrats an important lesson. Under Trudeau, the Liberal Party became a “win everywhere” party. They campaigned vigorously in parts of the country where the Liberal brand was previously toxic — rural Manitoba, the tar sands, Calgary. And they recruited credible candidates to run in difficult ridings.  Aided by a corrupt and tired Harper government and an inept NDP, Trudeau’s Liberals found themselves pulling improbable victories all over the country in 2015.  By contrast, Clinton spent most of the 2016 election campaigning in a handful of battleground states, ignoring states she thought were either safe or unwinnable. (Notably, the same cannot be said of Trump, who frequently held events in deep red states like Louisiana and deep blue states like Connecticut and New York.) This question shouldn’t be controversial, but it is: Why would anyone want a president who’s afraid to meet voters in half the country, and takes the other half for granted?  And the discussion goes well beyond Clinton. The Democratic Party has been virtually eliminated from the congressional electoral map across enormous parts of the country, and those results are mirrored across state and local elections.  In Indiana, the Democratic party couldn’t even be bothered to field a candidate in 22 of its state legislature and senate districts. In Kentucky, 31 Republican state reps and senators faced no Democratic challengers. In North Carolina, home of major Democratic opposition to the anti-trans bathroom bill passed by a Republican State House and governor, Democrats let 39 Republicans run unopposed in 2016. And so, although Democrats unseated the Republican governor, his successor is saddled with a veto-proof Republican majority in the legislature, which is still blocking pro-LGBT laws and policies. It’s true that because of gerrymandering, some of these districts would be difficult for a progressive Democratic Party to win. But without even trying, it’s impossible.  More important though, a party that campaigns everywhere is doing what a party is designed to do — convince people to support its policies. Even if a candidate doesn’t win, organized and demonstrably progressive voters can act as a bulwark against conservative politicians who consider themselves “safe.” Maintaining an engaged electorate is among the most important things that LGBT people, people of colour, immigrants, the poor and other vulnerable people need during times when those who work against us are in power.

The sublime sadness of Kinky Boots

6 February 2017 - 7:12pm
The first time I saw Kinky Boots, I left the cinema depressed. Not that it's a depressing story. No, it's the antithesis of a depressing story. It's all triumph and overcoming obstacles and saving the village employees of the Price shoe company from redundancy, unemployment and impoverishment, led by the tenacity and clever shoe-designing skills of the imperious drag queen Lola, and the perseverance of the hapless and woefully betrothed Charlie, the great-great-grandson of the original Mr Price. And while the Drag-Queen-as-Savior trope is a tired one, tired old tropes aren’t always a bad thing. I'm a bit of a tired old trope myself. Sometimes we want to know — even before the film begins — exactly how it's going to end. We don't always want surprises with our popcorn and soda. In that, the film was perfect. (On a side note, Chiwetel Ejiofor was stellar as Lola. This was no ham-fisted, To Wong Foo caricature à la Snipes and Swayze. Ejiofor found complexity even where the script failed to offer it. And he sang his own numbers in delicious baritone.) So how could such a rollicking good film, with its haute couture Milan runway climax, leave me feeling an ennui verging on melancholy? (If, as Atwood says, some Inuit people have 50 words for “snow,” I can have as many for “sad.”) You first need to understand that it's nearly impossible for actors to watch a film, play, Netflix series, or commercial without envisioning ourselves in its remount, adaptation, or sequel. It’s the unfounded hope deep at the core of our being that keeps us auditioning. That and mood-stabilizing drugs. In this case, however, that vision was cut short by what I immediately realized would be the inexorable trajectory of this film. Everything about the movie screamed, “For the love of Rogers & Hammerstein, turn me into a stage musical!” And while that should have been a great revelation for a musical theatre sissy-boy like me, it was actually the cause of heartache. Because I could also foresee exactly how this future musical would end. The finale would be a Ziegfeld Follies-inspired number that would bring the entire cast on stage to embrace their inner drag queen in a celebratory song and dance. And every man, woman and child would be wearing the titular kinky boots. (Spoiler alert: I was right.) I must here and now confess a shameful secret. I can’t walk — let alone dance — in kinky boots. High heels are my Achilles' heel. I have been unable to wear heels since an unfortunate evening in the late 1990s involving a pair of white vinyl go-go boots two sizes too big with Kleenex stuffed in the toes. After five hours of dancing, skipping from club to club with nary a taxi in sight, I was left hobbled. The now fused bones in my once pliant feet will no longer accommodate anything steeper than a one-inch heel. I am doomed to live my life in flats, disqualified from some of the juiciest roles a theatre fag could hope for. Or so I thought at the time. I’m happy to say that my assumptions were not entirely correct. Kinky Boots has followed exactly the trajectory I envisaged. And while I was right about never being cast in that musical, I was wrong about the calamitous effects my rigid feet might have on my career. There may have been some career-related calamities, but none can be blamed on my feet. Except when I put them in my mouth. I’ve had the good fortune to be cast in not one, but three remarkable drag roles. Granted, one of those was remarkable for all the wrong reasons and has been sponged from my resume if not memory. But of the other two, one was a deliciously villainous role, and the other was nothing short of drag Nirvana. And I got to do them all in flats. 

Canadian federal investigation reveals unsafe conditions for female trans inmates

6 February 2017 - 7:12pm
Trans women incarcerated in Canada’s federal prisons have been housed with some of the most violent criminals, raped in male prison wards and called “it” by officials, according to an official human-rights investigation. In January 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered jails to end a decades-long policy of sorting trans people based on their genitalia, days after the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) decided to start counting time in prison towards the “12 continuous months in an identity-congruent gender role” required for gender-confirmation surgery. The move came amid an investigation by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, after the West Coast Prison Justice Society launched a December 2015 complaint. Xtra has obtained the commission’s investigation documents, which details three female trans inmates’ struggles in the system, alongside responses from CSC. Xtra unsuccessfully tried reaching the inmates, and is not using two of their names. In previous reporting, Nastasia Laura Bilyk claimed she was raped twice by male prisoners in 2009 in a minimum-security prison in British Columbia. At times, Bilyk has opted for segregation for her safety. But during a three-week stretch in isolation, Bilyk only showered twice, because she felt unsafe being naked and surrounded by men. At times, she was double-bunked with male offenders. According to investigators, prison officials often rank trans women higher on the institutional adjustment scale, alongside violent offenders and people with debilitating mental-health issues, “resulting in a higher level of security classification, which translates into a greater deprivation of liberty.” Trans women also face peculiar techniques in the routine pat-downs and strip-searches for concealed objects. One complainant reports that “a female officer searches her top half and a male office searches her bottom half. This is not what she would prefer. She would rather have a female officer conduct the entire search.” Another female trans inmate reported an identical complaint. One of the three inmates “reports that she is called ‘it’ regularly by both respondent staff and prisoners.” One medical document uses her deadname (her male name used prior to her transition) and includes this line: “The patient preferred us to call him as a female, but anatomically and legally this patient is declared as a male, so I will use the patient as a male in this report.” Responding to the commission, CSC “acknowledges that there currently is no requirement that transgender inmates be referred by their preferred names and gender pronouns.” But the agency said staff have accommodated other trans prisoners’ requests, on their own accord. Similarly, trans women are at the mercy of their case workers for help in performing their gender role in male prisons. In the document, CSC “acknowledges that feminine hygiene items and makeup are not generally available through the canteen of federal male institutions.” The commission has found grounds for an inquiry by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, similar to a court proceeding that can order fines and compel federal institutions to change their practices. The commission notes a 2016 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that found, “failure to address the human rights situation and needs of a transgender prisoner may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international law.” It also takes note of Bill C-16, which will encode gender identity and expression into Canada’s human-rights law if passed by the Senate. But the case will first head to mediation, and with CSC’s January 2017 policy changes, the case will likely reach a settlement. Now that CSC is sorting inmates “on a case-by-case basis” instead of by genitalia, it seems current inmates might be able to apply for a transfer into prisons for their self-identified gender.  “CSC continues to assess — on a case-by-case basis — individual inmate’s placement and accommodation requests as they arise to ensure the most appropriate measures are taken to respect the dignity, rights and security of all inmates under our custody,” CSC spokeswoman Véronique Rioux told Xtra in a Feb 2 email. “We are undertaking stakeholder consultation, including with inmates and with the LGBTQ2 advocates, to identify possible changes to the policy.” CSC houses all adult Canadians serving sentences of two years or more, representing about 40 percent of the almost 40,000 adult prisoners in Canada. The rest are in provincial and territorial jails, including people awaiting a trial or serving community sentences. Ontario and British Columbia jails have sorted inmates based on their self-identified gender since 2015.

Canada told LGBT Iranian refugees to apply to the US. Then Trump happened

3 February 2017 - 10:06pm
Mitra’s sanctuary is a mouldy basement in Turkey’s conservative heartland. The microbiology student’s life in northern Iran came crashing down in the summer of 2014, when she was outed as a lesbian. A neighbour beat Mitra, and her parents disowned her. Like thousands of LGBT Iranians, she fled to Turkey. The 27-year-old now works 14-hour shifts standing upright at a textile factory, before coming home to her transgender partner. The two women sleep on a folding sofa; they have just one plastic chair. Canada invited both to start a new life 14 months ago, when embassy staff in Turkey started a third-country resettlement application. But our country has now closed its doors, effectively suspending an informal program known worldwide for bringing scores of queer Iranians to safety. Over the past decade, hundreds of LGBT Iranians have come to Canada, mostly through UN resettlement. But this humanitarian pipeline has dried up as Canadian officials in Turkey focus their resources on bringing Syrians to Canada. Instead of welcoming them here, Canada has told LGBT Iranians like Mitra to try moving to the US, which President Donald Trump recently closed to all refugees, as well as to  Iranians already holding visas. Many refugees took the advice, and are now languishing in Turkey, unsure whether to try and wait out the US administration or apply to Canada, knowing that they will be sent to the back of line. “My life is in danger; I can’t go back. If I could, I would. But I can’t,” says Mitra, who agreed to speak with Xtra under a pseudonym. “I’m not Turkish, because I can’t work and study here. I’m nobody.”   A famed program In late 2010, the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper made LGBT Iranians a priority for resettlement, asking the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) to refer to Canada any Iranians in Turkey fleeing persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Howard Anglin recalls the program starting just before becoming chief of staff to former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in January 2011. “It’s obvious that their lives are in imminent peril in Iran,” Anglin tells Xtra. Canada allowed in roughly a hundred LGBT Iranians between 2009 and 2012, and doubled that rate by mid-2014. They were welcomed by volunteer groups in Toronto, which is home to one of the world’s largest Iranian diasporas. Using their contacts abroad, the groups could refer embassy staff in Turkey to some of the most vulnerable LGBT Iranians. Arsham Parsi, founder of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, says his group has resettled approximately 1,000 refugees between 2005 and 2015. But the rate of successful applications has slowed to a trickle. “I was under the impression that by having the Liberal government, they would expand it more and more. But they shrank it,” he says. In recent years, Parsi says, three or four LGBT Iranians arrived in Toronto monthly. “But it’s been more than 18 months when no one came to Canada,” he says, except for three privately sponsored refugees. [[asset:image:308960 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Arsham Parsi, founder and executive director of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Arshy Mann\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Saghi Ghahraman, co-founder of the Iranian Queer Organization, recalls regular contact with the former immigration minister’s office. Since 2007, the group has helped roughly 100 LGBT Iranians make it to Canada and the US, all through UNHCR resettlement. Getting them to Canada took roughly 12 to 18 months in total, sometimes with her helping Iranians to file affidavits about their situation. But within weeks of the Liberals taking office in November 2015, Ghahraman says wait times ballooned. By February, when the Syrian resettlement was in its heyday, applications hit a total standstill. “Now, we don’t have any contact, and nobody answers us,” Ghahraman says. A spokesperson for Canada’s immigration ministry told Xtra it doesn’t categorize refugees as LGBT, and can only provide a processing timeframe that “is an average based on the last 12 months” which “may not reflect the correct processing time for new applications.” Ghahraman says she made multiple calls to the immigration ministry, the UNHCR and consular officials. In an April 6, 2016, email she provided to Xtra, Canada’s embassy in Ankara confirmed to Ghahraman they weren’t taking any more LGBT refugees. [[asset:image:308963 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The email from Canada\u2019s embassy in Ankara, Turkey."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Provided by Saghi Ghahraman"]}]] “Unfortunately at this time we are not accepting new referrals from UNHCR as we work through our current inventory,” the email says. “That said, the private sponsorship program is another option available for refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey.  You may wish to explore this as an option.” Ghahraman says she’s scrambled to find churches and community groups in Toronto that would offer to help. “I looked everywhere I could; called the churches, everywhere that I thought maybe are able to take LGBT refugees. But they are all exhausted by Syrian refugees.” She’s also appealed to Ali Ehsassi, the Liberal MP for Willowdale, who asked the immigration department to intervene. “Nobody is telling us what’s happening now,” she said. “It’s like a game.” In a Feb 3, 2017, email to Xtra, immigration ministry spokesperson Jennifer Bourque says bureaucrats follow targets outlined for the calendar year. “Canada has never stopped processing resettlement applications for other refugee populations,” she says. “If Canada had received sufficient cases to meet its targets, then the UNHCR would have offered the refugees resettlement to another country.”   Referred to the US Canadian embassy staff abruptly ended Mitra’s resettlement application in September 2016. After 14 months of forms and scheduling health checks, they called Mitra to say they were cancelling the claims made by her and her partner. “They rejected us. They told us they don’t take any Iranians; they only take Syrians,” Mitra recalls. “They told us that ‘if you want to come to Canada, you need to wait until 2018, and at that time it’s not for sure that you will come.’” On their advice, Mitra switched her UNHCR application to the US. After four months of a new process with American officials, they scheduled her final interview for February. But Trump signed an executive order on Jan 27, barring citizens of Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, including those already granted visas. The so-called ‘Muslim ban’ also includes restrictions on refugees, with exemptions for religious minorities. “What kind of justice is this? We ran away from a Muslim country,” Mitra says. “Our families are ashamed of us.” The federal government has refused to change its intake of refugees in light of the new restrictions. “We are doing our part as a country to meet our global obligations to refugees,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told reporters Jan 29. “We will continue that tradition and we will continue to make sure that we’re open to those who are seeking sanctuary.” These comments ring hollow to Mitra, who still dreams of a new life in Africa, Asia or North America — in any country where she and her partner can feel safe, regardless of the country’s living standard. “Just somewhere we can study and live as a human.” “If any country accepts us, it would be showing mercy on us,” she says. “I don’t think Canadian or the US government will do this right now.”   Safety concerns Hundreds, likely thousands, of LGBT Iranians have claimed refugee status in Turkey, where they can travel without a visa. But the country itself puts LGBT people at risk. At a clothing factory in the southwest city of Denizli, Mitra works alongside other Iranians. Some have noticed gay or trans colleagues and had them fired. “Turkish people believe that if an LGBT person works for them, their work will not be halal,” she says, using the Muslim term for permissible. Mitra’s partner only leaves the house to accompany her to their weekly registration check at the local police office. That leaves Mitra working to pay for the electricity, food and rent it takes to live in squalor. Neither have health insurance. “I want Canadians to know that we are not useless people. We went to university in our home country. It’s not like that will we go to a third country and not work and be a burden to them. We are hard-working people — if we weren’t we couldn’t stay here.” [[asset:image:308966 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Mitra, an Iranian lesbian living in Denizli, Turkey, provided photos of the squalid basement she shares with her partner. "],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy of Mitra"]}]] But Mitra worries about her partner falling into depression from the isolation. Since arriving, three of Mitra’s friends have killed themselves. Others have been raped. Those with enough money have paid smugglers to reach Europe. Ghahraman claims that ever since a faction of the Turkish army attempted a coup d'état in July 2016, one gay man was knifed to death and two lesbians were gang-raped. “They’re ill; they’re living in the streets,” Ghahraman says. “We have people there that really can't get out of their house, for fear that their neighbours might attack hem. And the attacks have been much worse ever since the coup.” Xtra cannot verify these claims, though they have been echoed by other groups. A Jan 25 report by the Asylum Research Consultancy notes that “following the coup attempt, room for dissent is further under threat, including for LGBT persons.” The report cites the August 2016 discovery of a trans woman’s burned body, a gay Syrian’s decapitation in Istanbul that same month and restrictions on civil society. Ghahraman says she’s in touch with 300 Iranians in Turkey, some of whom have AIDS or cancer. One sold his kidney to afford to live in Turkey, and his health is declining. She knows of 30 people who have been turned away by the Canadian embassy. To her, it’s a sharp contrast to the image Canada cultivated through the program, gaining international praise as “a maple syrup Mecca for Iran’s gays.” "It's tragedy. It's not what you see in the papers; it's not those very well-dressed and very good-looking men who are happy and laughing and now getting off at the airport. It's terrible.”   A trade-off Though he worked under the Conservative government, Anglin is quick to praise the Liberals’ Syrian airlift. “This was a very good and very well-functioning, and much needed, refugee-resettlement program.” Anglin says any focus on specific refugees will cause trade-offs, even when digitized records allow other embassies to process paperwork. “When you prioritize one type of anything in immigration, whether it’s certain type of refugees, refugees overall . . . it has a crowing out effect,” he says. “It will almost certainly have a knock-on effect of — if not excluding at least delaying — other types of refugees.” Still, Parsi says the government should have put more resources in place. “It’s unfair that in order to help a group of people to put another group of people’s life on hold,” he says. Parsi claims he’s heard the the Canadian embassy in Ankara had just two staff processing 1,100 resettlement cases a year, a number that has gone up six-fold. He claims that at a meeting with UNHCR officials last November, they asked him to tell LGBT Iranians to apply to the US. “They said Canada is full; they cannot submit new cases,” Parsi says. The UNHCR “asked us to talk to them and convince them that the United States is a good option and a faster option.” Now, Parsi says the refugees like Mitra face confusion at the US embassy, rushed demands for exit permits for Turkey and cancelled flights. “Everything is kind of in chaos.”

Anti-trans posters pop up in Vancouver’s gay village

3 February 2017 - 7:06pm
Posters recently taped to poles in the Davie Village have raised concern for some observers who say they’re advertising a campaign that’s anti-trans. The posters, which appeared on Davie Street in January 2017, state: [[asset:image:308957 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Here\u2019s a vertical shot of the anti-trans flyers that appeared in the village."],"field_asset_image_credit":["via Kevin Moroso\/Facebook"]}]] The posters direct readers to visit the group’s online campaign opposing Bill C-16, which seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. “It’s very alarming. But also it’s expected,” says Morgane Oger, chair of the Trans Alliance Society and the BC NDP candidate for Vancouver-False Creek, who first encountered the posters while she was canvassing in nearby Yaletown. “Even though the posters are not inherently hateful they do raise concerns,” she says. “Basically what they show is an insensitivity and a bigotry, right? Because the bigotry that they show is [trans people] don’t exist and we’re not telling the truth.” The “Woman Means Something” campaign was founded by Paul Dirks, lead pastor at the New West Community Church in New Westminster. Dirks declined Daily Xtra’s request for a phone interview but confirmed his campaign paid for a city-wide poster distribution. He says no specific neighbourhood or community was targeted. The campaign’s website describes Bill C-16 as “a Bill that completely undermines and destroys women’s rights, freedoms, protections, and identity under the law” and says “any legislation that pits gender vs sex, or defines ‘woman’ such that it is meaningless, will result in tremendous harm to women, girls, and their rights.” The campaign purports to have a range of supporters including radical feminists, gays and lesbians, though its membership size is unclear. On his Twitter account, Dirks describes himself as a social conservative who is “fighting the mainstream media trans-narrative for the sake of women who will bear the terrible consequences.” Oger says the campaign’s central argument — that the definition of woman needs to be protected — is a “laughable fallacy.” “These people don’t even understand what the law is, and they don’t understand this has nothing to do with protecting or not protecting what a woman is or what a woman isn’t,” she says. Bill C-16 simply aims to provide trans people with the same protections afforded to others on the basis of race or religion, she explains. Oger says Dirks’ campaign is out of step with the majority of Canadians. Last September, a survey from the Angus Reid Institute found that 84 percent of Canadians support expanding non-discrimination laws to include gender identity and 58 percent say transgender people should use the washrooms they feel most comfortable using, rather than having that choice determined by laws or policies. While popular opinion and, increasingly, provincial legislation in Canada may be shifting to support trans people, Oger says campaigns like “Woman Means Something” can still cause concern. “Ultimately, populist xenophobic zeal can be drummed up and fired up just like what’s been done in the US in the Trump election, and therefore it’s always a risk that extremist social conservative outliers get a voice,” she says. Sometimes “terrible messages get traction,” she warns, adding that she hopes this campaign does not gain any traction by misleading Canadians. Bill C-16 is currently in its second reading in the Senate.  

How I became an unsuspecting Master (Part 4)

3 February 2017 - 1:04pm
He lets out a grunt and his body stiffens pulling at the restraints. “Do you like that boy?” “Yes, Master,” he gasps.  I grab his balls and begin to squeeze, waiting for a reaction, but that doesn’t seem to faze him.  Having someone tied up presents an odd challenge as a Dom. You can do anything you want to them provided it’s within their established limits. But at the same time, the range of possibilities is limited by the fact they’re tied up. I continue squeezing his balls, thinking about what else to do. I glance over at the array on the dresser and wonder about using the dildos. That’s possible, but I’d need to release him and flip him over. There are the sounds of course, lying there, the shiny stainless steel reflecting the bedside lamp, but I’d like to hold off as long as possible before I shove something into his dick. I spot a pair of hockey skates inside the open closet door and go over to inspect them. Without thinking much, I slowly pull the laces out of one. Back at the bed, I begin wrapping them around his balls, forcing them apart, tight in the sack. When his balls are fully tied up, I begin slapping them, alternately hard and soft, sometimes hitting both, other times alternating sides.  The rhythm gradually picks up and he’s starting to squirm. I ease off a bit because I want to let him go as long as possible. But I also want that feeling of him calling ‘red.’  I continue to deliver hard slaps with more time in between but at irregular intervals so he doesn’t know when they’re coming. Finally, after one particularly hard slap, his whole body stiffens and he blurts out, “RED, SIR!” I gently stroke his balls for a moment before I begin to untie them. His cock is totally soft at this point. I gently run my fingers over him, letting him relax and allowing him to experience a different kind of touch. Once his breathing has returned to normal, I begin to stroke his dick again, feeling it get hard. “Do you need a little break, boy?” “Yes, Sir. I’d like to go to the kitchen, Sir.” I release the restraints, allowing a pause between each so he can feel the freedom of his limbs one at a time. Once untied, he stays lying on the bed, not moving.  “Sit up boy.” He sits on the edge of the bed, the pillowcase still over his head. I run my fingers over his body, for a few moments before taking it off. For the first time since we started the session, he makes eye contact. “That was intense, Sir,” he says. “Do you want to continue boy?” “Yes, Sir. But I want to go to the kitchen first.” When he returns a few minutes later, there’s something different about his demeanour. He’s still slightly hunched over with his eyes on the floor, but his energy has shifted. Maybe he’s just nervous about what’s to come. Maybe he took more coke than last time. Until now, he’s been resolutely calm. But for the first moment since we met in the bar, he seems tense. “Master would like to use the sounds on you.” “Yes, Master.” “Would you like to lie on the bed for this?” “Yes, Master.” He returns to the bed. I ponder for a moment restraining him again but then realize I want his hands free. Sounding is a totally new thing for me and despite the fact that it will mess with our Dom/sub dynamic, I may need his help to put them in.  I take one of the sounds off the dresser and hold it out to him. “Put this in your cock for Master.” I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it just slides in. I take it in my fingers and feel it’s hit a natural point of resistance. Am I supposed to push it further? Probably not. The situation feels sort of medical, as if I’m going to swab his urethra for sexually transmitted infections or something.  I was expecting it to be an unbearably intense sensation for him, but he doesn’t seem to be feeling anything at all. I instruct him to lie back on the bed and continue to pinch his nipples and deliver tiny slaps to his balls while he holds the sound. The whole thing seems a bit anti-climactic. “Is there anything else you want to do with Master?” I ask tentatively. “May I go to the kitchen again, Master?” “Yes, boy.” He retracts the sound, tosses it on the bed, and departs again for the kitchen. I stare around the room, feeling like a bit of a failure. I’m sure he enjoyed parts of the experience, not the least of which being that he was able to cruise me in a bar and get me to come back to his place.  But the goal of any session is always to build to a climax that’s going to make the person want me to come back again, and right now that doesn't feel like it’s going to happen. I’ve already got my money so I guess the best bet is just to get him off and get out. After what seems like an inordinately long time, he returns to the bedroom. His demeanour is definitely different and he seems kind of unbalanced as if he can’t stand up. He must have done a lot of blow this last round. Suddenly, I notice a small serrated kitchen knife in his left hand.  I take a step back. Is he going to stab me? I make a quick scan of the tiny room thinking about how I might get away from him, but there’s barely any space beyond the bed and the dresser, and he’s blocking the door.  I take a deep breath. Maybe this isn’t what I think. “What’s the knife for, boy?” “Master,” he sputters, his words slurring. “I want you . . . to be my . . . Master.” “And what is the knife for, boy?” I say again, more forcefully.  He crawls onto the bed, still holding the knife, lying face down. “Master,” he murmurs. “I want you to be my . . . my Master.” I move closer to the bedroom door, still not sure how the situation might erupt. At least for the moment, he seems too inebriated to take an effective swipe at me but that could change.  I debate just making a run for it, but that provides a different set of complications because I have no way of knowing what might happen to him. If he has a heart attack and is found dead, that’s not going to bode well either. “Can you sit up, boy?” He doesn’t move. “Sit up boy. NOW!” He manages to get himself into an upright position, perched on the edge of the bed, facing away from me. He still has the knife in his hand. “Put the knife down, boy.” He obediently drops the knife onto the bed. I lean in and grab it. I walk around the bed so that I’m in front of him. He’s still looking down, visibly shaking.  “What do you want from Master?” “Whatever Master wants.” “You brought this knife,” I say, holding it up. “Did you want to do something with it?” “Yes . . . Master . . . ” he says, slurring his words again. “I want . . . Master . . . want you to . . . ” “What boy?” “I want you to . . . to . . . put it . . . in my cock, Sir.” A certain kind of calm comes over me, now that I’m clear on what’s happening, even though I have no intention of giving him what he wants. The prospect of sounding was nerve-wracking, but I did it knowing he has experience and that it’s also safe when done properly.  But there’s no way you could possibly stick a serrated knife into someone’s urethra without serious damage. It’s clear that no matter what he’s paid me, it’s time for me to make my exit.  “Lie down boy,” I say, and he obliges. I grab the discarded pillowcase and put it over his head again. I begin stroking his dick once more, but he seems to have passed the point where he can get hard. I watch his chest rise and fall with his breathing, the occasional shudder going through his body.  I take one final look at him on the bed, before I walk softly out into the living room. I grab the stack of bills off the coffee table where he’d left them and step into the hallway of his building, closing the door silently behind me.  I walk briskly to the stairwell and take the steps down two at a time. I know he’s not going to follow me, but I still want to get out of there as quickly as possible.  Walking out into the night, the rain has stopped and the streetlights are reflecting off the wet pavement. I don’t even know where I am, but I can hear the sound of traffic in the distance so I begin walking towards it.

Four reasons why queer spaces don’t feel welcoming to many black queer people

2 February 2017 - 10:02pm
I spent much of 2016 focusing my energy and labour into creating safe and inclusive spaces for black, and particularly blaq (black and queer / trans / gender variant) folks. It was a busy and exhausting year but it was rewarding in so many ways. I founded Black Lives Matter Vancouver along with a group of badass black women and femmes, I spent the summer lobbying for the removal of the police from the Pride parade (due to their racist, homophobic and transphobic historical and ongoing violence) and used my remaining energy to create healing spaces for queer and trans people of colour after events like the Pulse Nightclub shooting and the murders of Philando Castille, Alton Sterling and many more black people. This work made it so apparent to me how few spaces are inclusive of queer people of colour. In its overwhelming whiteness, the well-intentioned vigil that was held here in June for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando erased the voices and experiences of queer people of colour and the reality that the shooting particularly targeted us and triggered racialized pain. As I wrote in a blog post last year: “[I] was overwhelmed by [the victims’] brownness. All shades of melanin except the lightest. Why were white people not at the club that night?  This is not to say they should have been; this fate could not be wished upon anyone. This is to say fervently: if white queers are not there for us in life, they mustn’t pretend to be there for us in death.” I keep forgetting, but am always painfully reminded, queerness doesn’t negate racism or anti-blackness. There is as much racism within the LGBT community as there is out of it. I’m a partygoer and I’m from London — so already the nightlife in Vancouver is sub par to me —  but since Orlando and its aftermath, I have felt a heightened sense of frustration, disappointment . . .  and fear in queer parties. We need more from white people to make us feel safe. The words I wrote in that blog post still resonate with me, time and time again. Here’s why queer party spaces in Vancouver are largely problematic, racist and unsafe:   Queer parties in Vancouver appropriate black culture to sell tickets Black culture is cool and everyone wants a piece of it. Particularly in Vancouver, a city with a very small black population and where any remnants of black history have been erased, Blackness seems particularly exotic and exciting. Vancouver parties like Lick, Hershe, Man Up and Babes on Babes will use hip hop and black artists (none of them local) to entice guests. Based on the ways in which my black friends and I are touched, exotified and stared at, I have little doubt that the partygoers (and even some of the organizers) do nothing outside of this time to engage meaningfully with black people, history and culture. They don’t care about black people, black death, black unemployment, black mental health, black criminalization. They care (momentarily) about consuming black culture without any of the hard work that comes with real allyship. On one occasion, a white Babes on Babes MC wore a gold tooth grill and box braids and stood in front of the crowd of mostly white folks using AAVE. At a Man Up ’90s night and later at a Rent Cheque event, a partygoer came in full blackface, gold chains and an afro wig. On a Hershe dancefloor, a white partier asked me if I was here to clean the washroom. Some Vancouver events/people even name themselves after iconic pieces of black culture like “Bye Felicia” or “DJ Bey.” Drag shows in Vancouver and beyond continually fail to acknowledge the roots of drag culture that lie within black and Latinx communities. On top of this, Man Up (which also continues to use “trans*” as opposed to “trans” in their descriptions) have allowed non-black performers to act “thuggish” or “gangsta” in their portrayals of black artists, which perpetuates harmful stereotypes and trivializes the black struggle. These instances scream more “fucked-up-culturally-appropriative-problematic-bullshit” than “fun-night-out.” For white people, these parties are not only fun, but also a chance to momentarily experience the coolness of being black without any of the systemic oppression that we face every other day of the year. For people of colour and especially black queer folks, these experiences are violent, harmful and erasing.   Queer parties practise faux solidarity to gain social capital Bars, nightclubs and party spaces have always been pivotal sites of revolution for the LGBT community. They have acted as safe havens when regular nightclubs were (and still can be) homophobic and transphobic. Therefore, it is not just to dance that queer folks party, it is also to share space with our community, make connections, build friendships, find allies and feel affirmed. I have come to expect queer parties to provide a safer space. Parties for oppressed folks act as a form of resistance. Therefore, doing good community work and aligning with anti-oppressive values are quite crucial to the success of these parties. However, whether or not the organizers actually follow through with this work is debatable. Last year, an initiative called the “Black Solidarity Fund” was developed by queer party organizers in Vancouver. Some groups such as Denim Vest, Man Up, Open Relationship and Babes on Babes committed to donate money to Black Lives Matter or other black activist groups as an acknowledgment of the disproportionate consumption of black music that often goes unrecognized. While this gesture is important, it is tokenistic if it is not the foundation for any further acts of solidarity or activism. Having donated money to Black Lives Matter, the organizers now seem to feel like they have purchased their way into black culture. When I have questioned or confronted them about their blatant cultural appropriation and theft, they cite the Black Solidarity Fund as license. I also feel discomfort accessing these spaces as a non-binary person, and my friends have voiced similar sentiments. While these events posit themselves as being for the “queer” community (implying an inclusion of folks beyond the LGB community), they still involve a lot of misgendering, referring to the crowd as “ladies,” and other transphobic language.   Some organizers give special treatment to some black people (Read: light-skinned) Being treated like a celebrity is probably something most people would envy and as an egotistical Sagittarius, parts of me want to like it. However, when I receive special treatment from party organizers as some kind of ploy to be “in” with black people, it’s really harmful and problematic. One night, at Denim Vest, I was cornered by a Babes on Babes organizer. They told me they had a black rapper coming up from the US to perform and assumed that I would either know who they were or be especially interested (if only they knew I only listen to Nickelback). Their childish smile implied they were looking for brownie points from the token black queer, but I had none to give them. I watched them later shove their phone into the face of several other bewildered black folks that night. I realized then that they think black solidarity means a spot on the guest list to their next party and a high-five, rather than the literally hundreds of other (but much harder) forms of allyship. I decided to test my theory and went to another Babes on Babes event. Organizers had previously given Black Lives Matter members a spot on the guest list but after we cut ties with them concerning their use of gentrified spaces (see below), this no longer applied. Nonetheless, I told the person at the door that “the organizers usually let black people in for free” — and without batting an eyelid I was ushered in like Marilyn Monroe at the Oscars. Within minutes, another organizer was taking my coat and saying, “I don’t want you to wait in line with everyone else” while barging past my surrounding QTIBIPoC friends. I imagine they expect me to be grateful for this treatment but I can only see it as a hollow attempt at keeping me content so that I don’t write articles like this. Furthermore, when reporting back to my friends, I realized this special treatment only seemed to apply to me and not to other black folks. Black queer and trans friends had been pushed, shoved, jumped on, harrassed and misgendered continually by both partygoers and organizers at all of the aforementioned events. This could be for several reasons but most notably because I experience privilege as a light-skinned black person. The racism at play here is so entrenched that it continues to oppress folks with darker skin, and privileges me as the most palatable form of black.   They organize in gentrified spaces Organizers are choosing to work as colonial settlers on unceded land with (to my knowledge) very little engagement with Indigenous communities beyond a token land acknowledgement on Facebook. In addition, organizers also continue to choose venues that are gentrified. Many clubs were formally sites of cultural importance to lower income and/or racialized communities. As my friend Yulanda Lui eloquently wrote in a (now open) letter to the organizers of Babes on Babes after their event was held at Fortune Sound Club: “Vancouver’s Chinatown has been and continues to be facing a terrible and very real threat of fast-moving gentrification, displacing generational family businesses and low income Chinese residents, many of whom are our non-English speaking elders.” Yulanda engaged with the organizers over a period of almost five months and supported them in considering other venues. But without any further  communication with Yulanda, the organizers again held their party in Fortune Sound Club in Chinatown. Rightfully outraged, Yulanda said online, “I AM ASKING FOR MY QUEER FRIENDS TO NOT ATTEND THIS PARTY and to not actively contribute to the gentrification of Chinatown.” This time, Babes on Babes organizers made a note on their event page acknowledging the call-out, but ultimately ignored Yulanda’s hard advocacy work. Instead of stepping out of their comfort zone and engaging in real and difficult allyship, the organizers opted to donate to “a group working on cultural preservation and affordable housing advocacy in Chinatown.” To me, it seems pretty counterproductive to “support” a housing advocacy organization while simultaneously participating in the very system that makes housing unaffordable. I’m sensing a pattern.

Vancouver police say no sign of gaybashing in Stanley Park attacks

2 February 2017 - 10:02pm
Vancouver’s second murder of 2017 is raising alarm bells for some in the city’s LGBT community, given the attack’s location near the trails in Stanley Park, a long-time cruising area for gay men. On Feb 1, police were called to the Stanley Park seawall between Second and Third Beach where a member of the public found a man suffering from apparent stab wounds. Paramedics arrived and pronounced the 61-year-old man dead on the scene. A person-of-interest was located nearby and taken into custody for questioning, but police have not yet released any additional information about that individual or a possible motive for the stabbing. Jamie Lee Hamilton, a member of the Vancouver Police Department’s LGBT liaison committee, says a killing so close to a popular gay cruising area understandably causes concern in the community. “People are very worried,” she says. But police say the gay community is not in any specific danger in light of last night’s murder. “We don’t have any information that would support that,” says VPD media relations officer Jason Doucette. “If we come across any information that would lead us to believe that any community is at risk, we would certainly reach out and we would make a warning.” Members of the gay community may already be on edge after another violent incident in the park nearly three months ago that left an 82-year-old man severely injured in a parking lot near the Brockton Oval. The man was found in his car, badly beaten, around 2am on Nov 16, 2016. Police appealed to the public for assistance in that case just a day before the latest incident, asking for help identifying a man who was in the area at the time of the November attack. Police released video of a man wearing a light-coloured sports coat, dark pants and white shoes, walking with a limp from the totem poles to the seawall. Doucette says there’s no evidence in the November assault case indicating it was a gaybashing. “As it stands right now these are two separate incidents and we have no reason to link them,” he says. According to the VPD’s neighbourhood crime statistics for 2016, there were 13 assaults in Stanley Park last year. “Violent attacks can occur anywhere,” Doucette says. “I don’t think they’re on the rise.” Doucette says Stanley Park is safe, and he’s reticent to give out safety tips because that might characterize it as a dangerous place. He says the VPD is not telling people they should avoid going to the park. “If that information changes, we will address [it] when it comes up. And if there’s a reason to put out a safety warning, we will, but at this point we don’t want to create fear in anybody,” he says. Hamilton says traditional cruising places like Stanley Park remain important, even in an age of online dating sites and hookup apps. “A lot of people, older people too, still feel shame around their orientation or their gender expression,” she notes. “Often they seek out places where they can socialize, I guess, anonymously.” She too encourages people not to panic, and not to stop going to the trails. “If Stanley Park is your favourite spot, don’t be fearful of going because the police have to provide for everyone’s protection,” she says. “But just be aware of people around you.” Doucette encourages anyone with information about the two incidents to call the police. “We ask that that [members of the public] come forward with any small piece of information. Because that could be the game-changer for us.