Ottawa Xtra

A year in 2016: The rise of the racist, homophobic and misogynistic alt-right

30 December 2016 - 5:19pm
I don’t want to talk about the alt-right. I don’t really even want to acknowledge their existence or use that name. But the horrible mix of white supremacists, men’s rights activists, anti-Semites, homophobes, gamergaters and 4Chan trolls have gained a level of prominence that makes them hard to ignore. That was underlined by Roosh V, the legal-rape enthusiast and alleged sewer-person, attempted to host covert meetings in a number of Canadian cities. The response from politicians, the media and regular people was swift and severe.  But still they rise. There are a small, but growing, number of people within the LGBT community who are attracted by the noxious ideologies embodied by this movement. Best known is Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay man who came to prominence through Gamergate and commanded an army of Twitter trolls until he was banned from the platform. In Canada, Theryn Meyer, a trans woman who was the head of Simon Fraser University’s men’s rights group, continues to draw the interest of hate-mongers like Breitbart News and Rebel Media. Brooklyn Marie Fink, a transsexual woman, was charged with mischief for burning a rainbow flag at the University of British Columbia. For her, burning the flag was an act of civil disobedience against what she saw as overreaching political correctness of the LGBT-rights movement. With the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, it’s hard not to think that the alt-right will continue in their ascending public influence. And that’s sure to apply to the LGBT community as well. Either way, I expect that we’ll be talking about the alt-right, and all of the misogyny, racism and various phobias that come along with them, for a long time to come.

A year in review 2016: How the police divided Toronto’s LGBT community

30 December 2016 - 5:19pm
In June of this year, an extraordinary event took place. Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders appeared at the same podium as a man charged with a serious crime. Saunders was there to express his regret, though not to explicitly apologize for, the 1981 raids on four Toronto bathhouses that resulted in the arrests of over 300 men. It was one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history and was a profound demonstration of the contempt the Canadian state had for gay men at the time. In negotiating his meager, half-hearted expression of regret, Saunders and the Toronto Police Service worked with Brent Hawkes, the senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, one of the city’s most respected gay activists and a man who was at that very time facing criminal charges related to sexual assault. That Hawkes was facing these charges was not remarked on by the media outlets covering the event, and certainly not by the police. But what was remarkable was that this was occurring at a time when Saunders continually refused to meet with members of Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO), a group of students, activists and concerned Torontonians who have been demanding police accountability for the violence and unjustified scrutiny imposed on black people in Toronto. Throughout the year, BLMTO had been pushing back against police violence, and making real progress in a way that activists in Toronto rarely do. The partial-release of the findings of the investigation into Andrew Loku’s killing by Toronto police was an unprecedented move, and happened largely thanks to the public pressure brought by BLMTO. BLMTO continued to hold Toronto police accountable at the Pride parade when they conducted a half-hour protest that became one of the biggest news story in the country. That protest put the issue of exclusion for black, indigenous and disabled LGBT people in Pride at the forefront, and sparked serious debate about police involvement in the parade — a contentious issue that many marginalized LGBT people feel is an affront. Pride Toronto eventually acknowledged its history of anti-black racism and promised to do better, after a town hall in late August. Two months later, Toronto police proudly announced that they had conducted an undercover operation, Project Marie, aimed at curbing park sex in Etobicoke. They arrested over 70 men, most for either having consensual sex with other men in the park or for allegedly asking an undercover officer if he would like to have sex. The charges have caused concern and elicited protests in the LGBT community. There’s no doubt that the actions of 22 Division will add to the arguments of those who don’t want police to march in the parade. But the question still remains; will the concerns that the black queer and trans people have over policing be listened to by the rest of the community? This year, many white LGBT people were asked to rethink their relationship with the police by those who feel the cops aren’t their protectors. Will 2017 be the year that they actually listen?

How I became an unsuspecting Master (Part 1)

30 December 2016 - 5:19pm
I’m sitting in a bar with a friend. It’s a rainy Wednesday evening and we’ve met up without specific plans. We’re debating whether to make our way to a club, or if such a venture will just be a waste of a cover charge and an opportunity to get wetter in the downpour. It’s not the kind of place that has table service, so I’m surprised when the bartender walks up and places a pint of beer I haven’t even ordered next to my nearly-empty glass.  “It’s from that guy over there,” he says, pointing to a chubby 50-something man with a brush-cut and a trim beard standing next to the bar. I’ve seen this scenario in movies before. But I’ve never personally experienced someone sending me a drink as a way to spark a conversation. I catch the guy’s eye. He gives me a little nod and raises his glass slightly. I turn back to my friend.  “What do you think he wants?” “Clearly, he’s interested in you,” my friend says. “You should go over and say hi.” The friend in question has a bit of a daddy penchant so I suggest he should be the one to approach, but he just shrugs. “If he was interested in me, I’d be the one with the drink,” he says. “Just go and say hi. He seems sweet.” I down the last of my previous beer, pick up the new pint, and head to the bar. He smiles as I approach. “Thanks for the drink,” I say. “No one’s ever done that for me before.” “No?” he says. “That’s surprising. You’re very handsome.” “Thanks,” I say, looking down and feeling myself flush a little. I’m terrible at taking compliments, regardless of whether or not I think they’re accurate. “I’ve never seen you here before,” he says. “No, I don’t go out much,” I say. “It’s Devon, right?” he says. I freeze. Whoever this guy is, he clearly knows me as an escort. Have I met him before? He doesn’t look familiar, but maybe we had a date years ago and I just don’t remember? “Yeah,” I say cautiously. “It’s Devon.” I study his face.  “Sorry, have we met before? You look a little familiar but I don’t exactly remember you.” “No, we’ve never met,” he says, smiling. “But I’ve seen your profile before. I was curious about contacting you, but never got around to it.” So he knows I’m a working boy. Did he invite me over just to say hi? To call me out as a hooker? To book a date? To see if I might fuck him for free? I just smile. “That’s good that we’ve never met before — I mean not good that we’ve never met — but just good to know we didn’t meet and then I totally forgot who you were. That would make me seem pretty jaded.” “You’re too young to be jaded,” he says with a wink. I glance over my shoulder at my friend, who is now deep in conversation with a burly middle-aged bear. I’m still confused about to how to discern my new acquaintance’s intentions without making myself seem like an asshole, an opportunist, or both.  Do I ask if he wants to hire me? Should I just continue to bask in his attraction? I can see the rain intensifying through the window, so making the trek to a most-likely empty club is seeming less and less likely.  “So,” I say, cocking my head to the side and smiling. “Do you buy drinks for every guy you think is cute?” “Only if I want them to come talk to me.” “And what did you want to talk about, besides me being too young to be jaded?” “I was hoping you’d come back to my place.” Okay, so the activity is clear. Now I have to discern what he thinks the financial situation is going to be. “And is this a . . . professional invitation?” He smiles.  “Yeah,” he says. “If you’re not already busy.” We both glance back at my friend who’s now in a lip-lock with his new buddy. “I guess I’m free,” I say. “Are you far from here?” A few minutes later, we step out into the rain and hail a cab. We haven’t talked money or time or even what we’re going to do. But I’m curious about his forwardness.  I’m not really paying attention to where we are, but after about 20 minutes we arrive at a medium-rise brick building. The rain has faded to a slight mist and we walk up the wet steps to his door.  His apartment is small and open concept, and looks like it belongs to a couple of college guys. There’s a collection of baseball hats — most of which sport the names of hockey teams — hanging in a square on one of the walls.  The coffee table is decorated with a spread of Sports Illustrated magazines, two empty beer bottles and one white sock. There’s a huge TV across from a beat-up blue sofa, with a Molson Canadian poster taped to the wall above it.  I kick off my shoes at the door and take a seat on the couch. He excuses himself to the kitchen and returns a moment later with two beers and a stack of $20 bills. I don’t bother to count, but I can tell by glancing at them it’s at least $400.  I take a sip of my beer. “So,” I say. “We never talked about what you wanted to do.” “Well,” he says. “I’ve been reading your profile and I see you’re into S&M.” “Yeah.” “Well,” he says. “I’m looking for a Master.”  . . .

How I learned to bottom as an anonymous manhole

30 December 2016 - 5:19pm
I kneeled at the edge of my bed, on all fours, feeling totally exposed, completely naked in anticipation.  As I heard the door open, I slipped my phone under my pillow and pulled the blindfold down over my eyes.  I heard the door shut, then the sound of him taking off his shoes. My cock immediately stiffened.  I heard him walk down the hall towards my bedroom. “Mmmmm,” he said, walking in. I felt his hand start to caress my bare ass, which just made my cock throb and bounce. His belt clanged as he undid his pants. They fell to the floor.  I felt his shaft rub up against my hole as he spread my cheeks. I heard him grab the lube and squirt it. His slippery fingers rubbed my hole.  He pushed his cock head up against my hole and began fucking me. After no more than two minutes, his groaning turned into one loud grunt and I could feel him explode inside me. He held inside, slowly working his way in and out until he pulled all the way out.  I remained kneeling as he got dressed. I heard him walk back the way he came in and put on his shoes. I heard the door open and shut. I got off my bed and stood up, pulled the blindfold off and put it next to the bed. I put my robe on and went back to watching Downton Abbey.  I’ll never know who that was. Nor will I know who the other 14 guys were, who came to my apartment that weekend. I’m a cum dump. An anonymous cum dump. If you’ve read my column over the last little while, you probably figured out I was a top. Once I finally dispensed with condoms, topping came quite naturally. It certainly took some trial and error to figure out how to become a great top, but I learned pretty quickly. I have to admit, I was quite flattered when someone left the following comment on my Xtube page: “Attention: All tops, this is how you fuck. But I still felt like I was missing out on something. I was certainly missing out on having sex with all the guys who were tops — and I hate missing out on sex with a hot guy.  But bottoming didn’t come naturally. It usually felt uncomfortable, required so much preparation, and required giving up a certain amount of control. I would try it every few months — first with a friend, then with a crush, and a couple of times with fuck buds that I usually topped. But I was always so goddamn nervous about bottoming. It seemed like a lot of effort for little reward. Eventually, my bottoming became more frequent, usually in situations where I was supposed to be the top, but things just didn’t turn out that way. So I finally decided I needed to get over this.  I had topped several anonymous cum dumps — guys who sit on their bed on all fours and leave the door unlocked so you can let yourself in, drop your load and leave. These guys were usually, but not always, high on some sort of drug. Yet I envied them: the ability to get fucked and receive the seed of so many men in a short period of time.  I was also very curious about what they got out of it, especially since they never even looked at or talked to the guy fucking them.  I decided it was my turn. I wanted to be a cum dump and a full-on bottom. I put up two ads, one on Craigslist and another on BBRT: “Anon cum dump. I’ll be ass up in bed on all fours blindfolded. I’ll buzz you in, you let yourself in and come to the bedroom, lube next to the bed, drop your load in me and go.” The game was set. I prepared myself well. I didn’t have dinner the night before. I douched thoroughly — I mean, really thoroughly, past the water coming out clean. I drank Coca-Cola to make sure I was alert and awake, but no coffee that could act as a diuretic. I didn’t use any drugs, not even poppers.  I hid any valuables. I got out the blindfold that I usually use on guys in BDSM scenes. I prelubed my hole a bit with some boy butter. I stripped the duvet off my bed and put a towel down. I put some wet wipes next to the bed for guys to clean their cocks off with afterwards. I arranged a safety protocol with a friend: I was to contact him every two hours to say I was okay and, if I didn’t get in touch and I didn’t respond to his messages after 30 minutes, he was to come straight over.  I booked an appointment with the Health Initiative for Men for a week later so I could get tested for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.  The messages started to come in and I took notes as to who was coming over when to ensure I didn’t end up with two guys over at the same time. As I awaited my first load, I was both excited and nervous — could I pull this off? My phone rang and I buzzed the first guy up.  Most of the fucking was much like the first, though one guy couldn’t get hard enough, unfortunately. He tried for about 10 minutes before giving up.  Another guy who came over was superb. He’d obviously done this before and seemed to know what I’d enjoy more than I did.  He made me get all the way onto my bed instead of just kneeling at the edge. He pushed my head down and began fucking me. He began saying things like “you’re my little slut boy” and “I own your hole” which just made me harder. He fucked me for about five minutes before coming, and then he just lay there on top of me, still hard inside of me, holding me, cuddling me. But he didn’t go soft. He started fucking me again and after five minutes he came a second time.  The final guy of the weekend was an experience I’d never had. He began fucking me much like every other guy had. But then I started to panic. I suddenly felt very full in my intestines and had the urge to take a shit. Oh my god, I was about to experience every bottom’s nightmare.  Then he exclaimed, “this is so hot!” and I realized what was going on. I didn’t need to take a shit. I was so full of cum that it began pouring out. He said it was frothing up all over him and at that moment, he came.  After he left, I’d had enough. 15 guys had fucked me. I had not only bottomed, I had lived nearly every bottom’s dream. I felt immensely proud of myself and incredibly sexy. I finally understood what all those anon cum dumps got out of it.   I’d never felt like a particularly sexy guy. Sure, my face is decent and guys love the beard I’ve been growing for a while. But despite years of going to the gym off and on, my body never toned up. But here I was having my ass worshipped. I was just a sexual object to them. None of this relied on my personality or my intelligence; it was just my body they wanted. That made me feel sexy.  The quicker they came, the better. I wasn’t there for an amazing intimate connection. I just wanted them to use my body to get off. And knowing that their DNA — the seed of 15 guys — was in me just turned me on more. This was the first but not the last time I did this. I’ve tried it again from time to time, but the adrenaline rush I got that first time has never been as strong.  I got tested a week after my first time and tested positive for rectal gonorrhea — the first time I’d ever had it in my rectum. And frankly, it didn’t phase me in the slightest. I took the pills and felt nauseous for a few hours. A small price to pay.  I’ve returned to mostly topping. I feel more natural being dominant. But once in awhile, I still feel the urge to be used — to be that sex object whose ass gets worshipped.

A year in review 2016: The case of Brent Hawkes and how it may affect sexual assault survivors

29 December 2016 - 11:16pm
Anytime a community leader is accused of a crime, it’s going to be a big deal. But the circumstances surrounding the Brent Hawkes case made this even more so. First was the nature of the charges. Stemming from an alleged incident in the 1970s when Hawkes was a high school teacher in Nova Scotia, he was charged with gross indecency and indecent assault, two provisions of the Criminal Code that were removed long ago. The Crown argues that the two counts amount to the modern day crime of sexual assault. Hawkes’ defenders believe they’re homophobic. But the reaction was coloured even more by who Hawkes is. By his own account, he is one of the most well-known and well-respected religious leaders in the country. He’s a recipient of the Order of Canada. The mythology that’s developed around him — going on a hunger strike after the bathhouse raids, conducting the first recognized same-sex marriage in a bulletproof vest, eulogizing Jack Layton at his funeral — has cemented itself in Toronto’s imagination. So when the charges were brought against Hawkes, the reaction felt familiar to anyone who has followed the many beloved public figures who have been accused of sexual assault in the past few years. Several prominent community members and politicians rallied to his defence. Craig Scott said unequivocally that he believes Hawkes is innocent. Bob Rae and Olivia Chow expressed their support for their friend. Bill Blair, Paula Fletcher and Peter Tabuns all attended the first service after the charges became public. Doug Elliott, Kim Vance, Al McNutt and Rachel Lauren Clarke started the Brent Hawkes Support Fund to help fund legal costs. There was also institutional complacency. The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto said that it would be business as usual at the church and no additional measures would be put in place, going against common practices used by other public organizations when similar accusations have been brought forward. During Toronto’s Pride Month, Hawkes appeared at numerous events, speaking on a panel about the bathhouse raids, addressing the crowd during the Orlando memorial, holding a service attended by the prime minister and most notably, negotiating with the Toronto police about their acknowledgement of Operation Soap. Finally, there were the attacks on the accuser. During the trial, numerous LGBT community members took to social media to argue that the accuser was deeply disturbed and a pathological liar. Others said that he was certainly a closeted gay man who had consensually had sex with a teacher and was now lashing out in shame. It’s important to note here that the charges against Hawkes’ have not been proven and he is still an innocent man. Hawkes’ can and should defend himself to whatever extent he needs to. But the way community members were talking about this case made it clear that few people have learned the lessons of the last few years. It was a reminder of why so few victims of sexual assault are willing to come forward and why rape shield laws are necessary. Whether Hawkes is innocent or guilty, I can’t help but thinking that this case will make it harder for anyone who has been assaulted by a prominent member of the LGBT community to come forward in the future.

Out in Vancouver: Dec 29, 2016–Jan 4, 2017

29 December 2016 - 8:16pm
Thursday, Dec 29 Bratpack Presents In a weekend full of parties at which every guy you meet wants to shove his tongue down your throat at midnight, this is your last chance to sit back, have a drink — or 10 — and watch an amazing drag show. Jane Smoker, Valynne Vile, Lady Gem and Gia Metric take turns hosting each week, and you will not be disappointed. The one constant is the hunkiest DJ in town, DJ Nick Bertossi; he’s not only eye candy but plays awesome sets that beg you to get up and move. Hmm, now where will he be at midnight on New Year’s Eve? Lineup starts behind me, guys. Doors 10pm, show 11pm. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Cover $5. Info at junctionpub.com.   Friday, Dec 30 Backdoor & VAL NYE Festival Matt Troy proves again he isn’t just a pretty face and a smoking hot body; this time he outdoes himself. Where else can you buy a ticket, party your face off, dance in two rooms to ten DJs including the awesome DJ Mumbles, find a date, go home, sleep it off and then turn around the next day and do it all over again? Two incredible days of world-class sound and music by some of the Pacific Northwest’s finest DJs, queens, princesses, freaks and surprises. Wild intimate spaces, crazy art installations and two unforgettable nights as you say goodbye to 2016 and hello to a brand new 2017. 10pm. Dec 30, Backdoor. 12–9pm. Dec 31, Open Decks at VAL. 9pm. Dec 31, Vancouver Art & Leisure NYE. Vancouver Art and Leisure, 1965 Main St. Tickets at leisure.events/backdoor-val-nye-festival and at the door. $20 festival ticket includes all events both nights. Complete info at facebook.com/events/1637925173175905/   Wet & Wild It may be NYE tomorrow night, but this night has the biggest horns to blow, and you know they’re clean as a whistle fresh out of the shower. Once again I’ll volunteer to be towel boy or fluffer; I’m not picky. This night brings you the best in beef entertainment every week. Are you looking to show off what you’ve got? Do you like guys watching you shower? Do you want to make extra cash soaping up or dancing your ass off? It’s a new year, and they like to throw in some new meat, so if you’re interested, email del@steamworksonline.com and I’ll be holding a towel for you soon. 10pm. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. Cover $5 after 9pm. pumpjackpub.com   Saturday, Dec 31 Absolut NYE The ultimate party gurl is having an intimate get together for New Year’s Eve with only a couple (hundred) of her closest friends, and if you’re reading this then you’re included. Join the Absolut entertainer herself, Carlotta Gurl, and ring in the New Year with DJs Drew and Mike Bermudez. There will be a midnight balloon drop, champagne toast and, if the gown allows it, a cartwheel or two. Carlotta will supply the spotlight performances and the countdown to 2017, but if the gurl has been cocktailing the count better start at five or she’ll need a teleprompter. 9pm–4am. The Junction, 1138 Davie St. Tickets $20 at door. No advance tickets. facebook.com/junctionvan/?fref=ts   Women’s New Year’s Eve Dance Want to get out of town and find some fresh faces to kiss at midnight? Join the Duelling DJs for a celebratory New Year’s Eve Dance. It’s a short jaunt to the party but it is New Year’s Eve, so please make arrangement to stay overnight if you happen to imbibe. 8:30pm–1am. Shannon Hall, 6150 – 176th St, Cloverdale, on the Cloverdale Rodeo Grounds. For information call 604-575-2020. Tickets $25, info at whatsonqueerbc.com/event/new-years-eve-dance-for-women/   Back In Black Always one of the best New Year’s parties around, and this year is no different. The theme is Back In Black, whether it’s leather, harness, formal, jockstrap or even just a black cap and black cock-ring combo. Dress to impress the one you want. I love black; it is so slimming after all. Unless it’s a black cock ring, since that’s the one place you don’t want looking thin. DJ Mumbles rings in the New Year, and is always looking for that midnight kiss. 8pm–4am. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. Cover $15. pumpjackpub.com/   Vancouver Outdoor Women’s Club NYE Dance Ring in the new year and dance the night away at the best women’s party of the year. Not a member of the club? Not a worry. Non-members are welcome. Maybe you’ll enjoy the crowd so much you’ll join the group. Light snacks served and champagne at midnight. 8pm–1am. The Cultch, 1895 Venables St. Tickets $35 at tickets.thecultch.com/peo/show.asp or 604-251-1363. If available, tickets will be sold at the door. groupspaces.com/outdoorwomen/item/1016100   New Year’s Eve With Wilde Oscar’s This will take another short out of town trip, but The West Coast Mistresses of Illusion are having their first NYE party in Chilliwack. Be entertained and dance to Dirty White Collar, a mid-’80s rock band. Included with your tickets will be champagne at midnight, noisemakers, hats, finger foods and assorted desserts. If staying over, which is always a good idea on New Year’s, The Royal Hotel (604-792-1210) will have a special price on rooms. Call and say “WILD29” to get the special rate. 8pm–2am. Wilde Oscar’s Pub, 45886 Wellington Ave, Chilliwack. Tickets $25 advance at wildeoscarevents@gmail.com or $30 at door. facebook.com/events/161898357615457/   Ruff Black New Year’s Eve Finally after two years, Ruff NYE is back with a vengeance, and some very hot men. Two rooms, two dance floors, DJs Russ Rich (SFO), DRKN (Beirut), and our own Quest will keep the dance floor jumping and the clothes dropping. Performances by three years of Mr Ruff, Shane, Colin and Glenn, plus Boy Spence, Chris and the always hot Addison, who never seems to have any room left in his jock for tips. The men alone are worth the admission. Champagne at midnight as well as a kiss from any man you can catch. 9pm–3am. The Hindenburg, 23 W Cordova St. Tickets $40 advance at Top Drawers, 809 Davie St. and ruffparty.com or, if available, $50 at the door. facebook.com/events/216847842078867/        New Year’s Eve Glam Ball This is the party to be glitzy and glam as the House of Bitches (Alma, Ilona, Eva and Rich) host a night full of fun, drinks and performances, plus the O’s Go Go Team and the Snap Boys. DJs Mike Cross and Harris Alan keep things going till 4am. At midnight celebrate with your own 200ml bottle of bubbly. Who needs a glass anyway? 9pm–4am. The Odyssey, 686 W Hastings St. Tickets $25 at ticketzone.com/theoglamball2017 More info at theodyssey.ca/   F*ck 2016 Seems like we all have the same feeling about the past year and XY sums it up. Arguably one of the worst years in history is coming to a close. After countless celebrity deaths, robberies, tragedies, sorrow, ridiculous election results and overall bad decisions, it’s time to come together and give 2016 a big F*CK YOU. A special feature: the F*CK 2016 Wall of Shame. Come in and write the worst thing that’s happened to you or the planet this year, because at midnight they’re ripping it up over the dance floor instead of confetti. DJ Landon James, always looking James Bond-ish in a classy sexy way, spins and Kendall Gender performs. Drink! Dance! Make out! Get laid! End this crappy year and start the new one right. 9pm–4am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. Tickets $10–$15 at eventbrite.ca. Info at facebook.com/xyvancouver/?fref=ts   Up Yours 2016 At least this group is honest and feels the way most of us do about 2016. It could be worse; we could be south of the border. This is a one-time party experience brought to you by Open Relationship, a party collaboration by the organizers of Denim Vest, ManUp, and Queers & Beers. Ready to turn the page and close this godforsaken chapter in a glittery storm of furious cathartic exuberance? Wait no more. 9pm–3am. Red Gate Arts Society, 855 E Hastings St. Cover $15–20, but no one turned away for lack of funds. facebook.com/events/702224853276899/   NYE 2017 Finally, a full service party where I can get a room on location, dress formally (black tie with my cotton towel), and end it all off with sticky buns. Start off with Salacious Saturday’s DJ Gingerbear spinning so you can dance until your towel drops. Then, in the early morning hours, there will be a continental breakfast and fresh sticky buns (not mine but the ones you can eat) to keep you going until 8am. I’m sure there must be a prize or a trophy for MVB (most valuable bottom) presented at 8am. 11pm–8am. Steamworks Baths, 123 W Pender St. Weekend rates start at $17. steamworksbaths.com   Sunday, Jan 1 Polar Bear Swim Now this is the place to be an after-event fluffer. Take an invigorating dip in English Bay for our annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Swim! Join thousands of hardy polar (and other) bears in this free Vancouver tradition. Whether it's your 57th time participating or you’re getting this off your bucket list, join in and have some invigorating fun. Dress up or down as wildly as you like, do the Peter Pantages 100 yard swim race, or just come out to watch the spectacle. Please bring a can of non-perishable food for the Food Bank 2:30–3:30pm. English Bay, Foot of Denman and Davie Streets. More info and registration at vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/polar-bear-swim.aspx   Kegger Sunday Not hearing Del Stamp mentioned in any events over the weekend can be a good thing or a very bad thing. It’s a good thing if he’s been out of town, but he hasn’t. That can only mean one thing: he’s been super-host at Steamworks all New Year’s weekend and today’s recovery party is going to be a blast. He’ll be the DJ du jour and ready to party like the rest of us. The old year is gone, and what a way to start 2017 — with a PJ Kegger. Get the tequila shots ready, because papa is going to be thirsty. 5–9pm. Pumpjack Pub, 1167 Davie St. No cover. pumpjackpub.com/   Tuesday, Jan 3 XY Karaoke Well, the tree is gone, the lights are down, all your booze is drank, and you’ve put on 18 pounds. Sounds to me you need a good injection of fun. If the singing doesn’t do it, just watch the bar. Ryan Steele is bartending and he will take your mind off anything. 9pm–2am. XYYVR, 1216 Bute St. No cover, facebook.com/groups/1250584251625875/   Shame Spiral Double Birthday “Double header” and “Peach Cobblah” go hand in hand; the words roll off the tongue. But this double header is a dual birthday, shared with Mina Mercury. With the two of them, I would have a firehose at the ready, because that is a shitload of candles blazing away in one spot. Peach could lose her favorite polyester number; those things go up in a flash. Someone please count the candles, since the old gal says she’s 33, but that would make Mina 79, so I know one is fibbing a bit. Shots, shit and show. 10pm–3am. 1181, 1181 Davie St. No cover. facebook.com/events/1228003770609943/   Wednesday, Jan 4 Bear Hump Well, now that New Year’s is over we’re on our way to spring, and that can only mean one thing: the bears are starting to awaken. What better place to meet a hot, hung, horny bear than at Bear Hump. Best of all, it’s happening early so just say you have to work a bit late, head on over, get your fill of bear meat, and get home for dinner and the 6 o’clock news. Gives you time to re-energize and recover, and nobody is any the wiser. It’ll just be a secret between you and me, and as long as you put out, my lips are sealed. 3–9pm. Steamworks Baths, 123 W Pender St. Weekday rates start at $13. steamworksbaths.com/vancouver/events/  

A year in review 2016: Janine Fuller’s toughest fight

29 December 2016 - 5:16pm
The phone hasn’t been ringing at Janine Fuller’s house. The legendary anti-censorship activist, bookstore manager, playwright and community pillar has been battling the late stages of Huntington’s disease. Fuller has survived fire bombings at two of the bookstores that she’s worked for, but she won’t survive this. Huntington’s is a debilitating, terminal illness.  Fuller, who has known her status for 20 years, left her position at Little Sister’s in 2015 to take care of her health. Earlier this year, Xtra writer Layla Cameron spent time with Fuller, who opened up about how friends have distanced themselves, not knowing how to treat someone who was dying. Fuller saw the same phenomenon happen to her mother, and now it’s been happening to her. And despite the assisted suicide legislation introduced by the government, people with Huntington’s aren’t covered, and Fuller had to endure her twin brother’s suicide last year.  The honest way in which Fuller and her partner Julie Stines opened up about their struggles, resonated with Vancouverites, leading it be one of the most read pieces from Xtra this year. Fuller’s story inspired compassion and will hopefully lead to people reaching out to the ones they love before they’re gone.

Advocacy group wants coin, stamp, to celebrate 50 years of gay decriminalization

29 December 2016 - 5:16pm
An Ottawa advocacy group has filed proposals for a 2019 stamp and coin commemorating the 1969 repeal of laws that criminalized homosexuality in Canada. The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) made both recommendations in September 2016. “Seeing yourself reflected in a stamp, in a coin, in a symbol, is very important to queer and trans people who often don’t see themselves included,” executive director Jeremy Dias tells Xtra. “Now is a great time for queer and trans people to sort of take into account where our human-rights movement has been going for the past 50 years.” Dias says the idea came up in the summer, after the group heard from people who took part in the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. “We were discussing the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality, which is also the 50th year since Stonewall.” In 1969, Canada’s federal government curtailed the criminal charges of buggery and gross indecency, with then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau famously saying “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Since then, both charges were used less often to criminalize consensual gay sex, but arrests persisted. For example, police used bawdy-house laws in the 1981 bathhouse raids, while Criminal Code section 159 (which may soon be repealed) prohibits group sex. “We need to recognize 1969 as what it was. It was a step; it didn’t do everything,” Dias says. CCGSD proposed a theme for a coin and stamp, but did not include suggestions for specific images. Canada Post says it’s still discussing 2019 stamps. “It should be finalized in spring 2018 with letters going out to everyone who submitted a topic or idea. The 2019 lineup itself will be announced publicly by news release in late 2018,” said spokesperson Phil Legault in an email. The agency’s website says Canada Post commissions multiple designers for each stamp. The Royal Canadian Mint follows a similar process. “It can take from a year to 18 months for a new coin to move from concept to reality,” spokesperson Alex Reeve said in an email. “The Mint also regularly conducts market research to assess the popularity of proposed themes,” according to the agency’s website, including “emotional and commercial appeal with our coin buyers.” The finance minister then approves of all designs. Both agencies do not confirm what proposals they’ve received. CCGSD is also planning to ask the heritage department to deem the year an official milestone, which would prompt funding for education and commemorative events.

A year in review 2016: A tale of two Prides, but which one was worse?

29 December 2016 - 5:16pm
The year started off well for Pride Toronto. Unlike many pride societies, Pride Toronto appeared to be on strong financial footing. And with a whole month of festivities planned, it looked like the organization was set up for an even bigger year than World Pride. But that all came to an end when Mathieu Chantelois, executive director at the time, publicly repudiated the promises he had made to Black Lives Matter Toronto during their protest. The aftermath of that decision will have ramifications for many years to come. Not only did this lead indirectly to the publicizing of accusations of serious misconduct against Chantelois, but Pride eventually apologized for a long history of anti-blackness. There still hasn’t been a decision on what capacity law enforcement will be involved in Pride festivities in the future. Chantelois resigned and Pride still doesn’t have an executive director. Other staffers have since left the organization. Board elections are coming up next month and it’s unclear what direction Pride Toronto will take in the future. As Pride Toronto plunged into a tailspin, Vancouver’s Pride Society seemed to be pulling out of its own from 2015 — maybe. Following a tumultuous year of staff firing, resignations and a human rights complaint, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) settled the complaint and hired two new managers in March 2016 to replace its former executive director, Ray Lam, who resigned in fall 2015.  The new hires meant board members could finally step back from running events themselves on a daily basis, co-chair Alan Jernigan told a very small turnout at the VPS annual general meeting in November, signalling a possible return towards greater stability. But will it last?

Exploring Soi Twilight, Bangkok’s gay red-light district (Part 2)

28 December 2016 - 2:11pm
I could hear the outdated techno music from the street just outside of X-Size. It was go-go bar on Soi Twilight, Bangkok’s gay red-light district. The sound was reminiscent of a ’90s rave, so boisterous; I was expecting it to be packed inside but from the entrance it seemed like there was hardly anyone there. I guess in a place like this, the size of the audience really doesn’t matter.   Andrew, one of the guys I’d met earlier at a street bar on Soi Twilight, had recommended this place over the others on the strip. He claimed that it had the hottest guys to pick from for sex. Andrew and his boyfriend visited the city often from Australia, for the vibrancy of the city, the food and the Thai men; they were bona fide sex tourists from what I gathered, so I trusted them on this one.  As I entered X-Size, the host at the door kept saying, “Ladyboy, ladyboy,” which confused me. I assumed that all the bars along Soi Twilight featured cis men but at the same time, I wasn’t against the idea of going to a ladyboy bar.  At first I thought that “ladyboy” was a derogatory term, but it’s not. Ladyboys, or kathoey in Thai, are a category that includes transgender folks, though not specifically (not all ladyboys identify as trans, or even understand the meaning of it.) Ladyboys take on a female gender identity, expression or sexual characteristics, but were designated as male at birth. They are very visible in Thai culture.  There are an estimated 10,000 to 100,000 kathoey in the country, and although they’re widely accepted — more so than trans or non-binary folks are in North America — they’re also stigmatized and many Thai people ignorantly believe that this identity is bad karma from past life deeds.  [[asset:image:308734 {"mode":"full","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["X-Size go-go bar at night."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Mike Miksche\/Daily Xtra"]}]] “It’s a ladyboy bar?” I tried to confirm, but the host couldn’t speak English well. He just kept saying “ladyboy” over and over again.  I was led past the stage in the middle of the room, which had seats all way around it. There were only a couple of people seated, but the techno was still blasting. Despite the host’s repeated emphasis on ladyboys, there were only two ladyboys there who seemed to be employees. On stage, however, there were about 20 young men in red Calvin Klein or Addicted brand underwear with numbers pinned onto their underwear, like they were in a beauty pageant. None of them were dancing though — they were standing around, on display. Every few seconds they would side-step to their right, moving in a circular motion around the edge of the stage like they were on a conveyer belt. It reminded me of cattle being auctioned. I was led up to one of the seats, and ordered a beer. The host retrieved it and sat down next to me, trying to sell me on one of the young men on stage.   Andrew had mentioned that if I liked someone, I could rent them and bring them back to my place, although I’d also read online that you need to pay a bar fine, which was about 500 to 700 baht (around C$19 to $26). You also need to pay for the sex itself, which is generally 1,000 to 1,500 baht (approximately $37 to $56). I tried to ask the host about the specifics, but he simply said, “You pay money and go to hotel.” In Thailand, prostitution has been regulated by the state since 1908 and illegal since 1960. As a result, owners and workers of such venues must pay off corrupt police and local officials regularly to keep these places going.  I’d never paid for sex before but I didn’t necessarily have a problem with it. However, in a country like Thailand where there’s far more poverty than say Canada, it feels exploitative For these guys, this work is more of a necessity rather than a desire. Given the number of men onstage at once and considering all of the go-go bars on Soi Twilight, I was only just starting to understand the magnitude of this industry.   Whenever the guys side-stepping on stage would get my attention, they’d smile like they were glad to see me and wave. They were all pretty twinky, which was likely more of Andrew’s type and why he had suggested I come to this bar. I’ve always liked older, beefier guys, which I tried to explain to the host.  “I just want to drink this beer,” I finally said, but he kept asking me who I wanted, telling me how nice they all were.  Since the place was so quiet, it seemed like I was getting all the attention of the guys on stage. I waved back a couple of times but when I finished my drink I thanked the host and left alone.

A year in review 2016: The countdown begins for the Canadian government to halt the HIV epidemic

28 December 2016 - 11:11am
2016 began well for people who wished the government would take the HIV epidemic more seriously. In November 2016, a month before World AIDS Day, Minister of Health Jane Philpott announced that the federal government would adopt the United Nations’ 90-90-90 targets. That meant ensuring that by 2020, 90 percent of HIV-positive Canadians would know their status, 90 percent of those would be on antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of that final group would have suppressed the virus. It’s an ambitious goal that requires serious efforts to be put in place. So a year later, how has the government fared? According to the latest available data, there is still much work to be done. At the end of 2014, around 80 percent of the estimated 65,000 Canadians living with HIV know their status. Only 76 percent of those people are being treated, but 89 percent of people who are have suppressed viral loads. In other words, a little over half of Canadians living with HIV are undetectable and can’t transmit the virus. But if the government is looking to make a dent in those numbers, the progress will almost certainly have to be made by HIV/AIDS service organizations, who have been at the forefront of fighting the epidemic from the beginning. And on that front, the news is less than rosy. After years of atrophying operational funding from the Harper government, the Public Health Agency of Canada followed through with a shift in funding that has thrown many HIV/AIDS service organizations into disarray. Though the government has promised to provide continuing funding to many of these organizations — some of which were at risk shutting down — it’s unclear what will happen in 2018 when the money dries up. Despite the struggles of HIV/AIDS service organizations, there have been a number of positive developments over the past year as well.  On Dec 1, 2016 — World AIDS Day — the federal government announced it will examine the laws around HIV criminalization, a major contributor to HIV stigma. The Canadian Positive People Network (CPPN), launched last year and is the first organization of its kind in Canada run by people living with HIV/AIDS. And Truvada has been approved for use as PrEP by Health Canada, providing people with a powerful new tool to prevent transmission, and giving more agency to HIV-negative people. PrEP still has not been added to the provincial formularies, however, meaning that it’s still unaffordable for many people who would be able to benefit from it. The question of PrEP is sure to gain greater salience in upcoming years. Getting it to be covered by private and provincial health insurance plans outside of Quebec is not going to be an easy process. And there’s a danger that PrEP could become politicized, as has happened in the United Kingdom. Philpott, who was known for her work on the HIV epidemic in an international context before politics, should be applauded for the increased emphasis HIV/AIDS is getting under the Liberals. But if she expects Canada to hit those 90-90-90 targets by 2020, the government must be willing to use its money and political capital to provide a broad-based, aggressive approach that puts science and HIV-positive people at the centre.

How one Toronto festival is bringing the spirit of Oscar Wilde back to the stage

28 December 2016 - 11:11am
Rosemary Doyle wants to work toward a better world by invoking the spirit of gay martyr and quintessential aesthete Oscar Wilde.  “We need a voice,” she says. “And Oscar Wilde, I think, epitomizes a very political and yet not stodgy voice for us.”  To Doyle, who’s been a fan of the famous playwright and author since she was a child, Wilde stands for doing what’s right in spite of the consequences, especially when it came to queer rights and the effects of the criminal justice system. She argues that’s why he famously defended his homosexuality in court in 1895 at the risk of going to prison on a charge of “gross indecency.”  But he’s not just a voice — he’s a voice that persuades with humour and wit.   “I think that people have kind of decided that you have to have no sense of humour in order to take on what’s wrong with the world,” she says. “But I say humour is the only thing that will save us.” Doyle wants to bring all of this to The Wilde Festival, a performing arts festival that she is developing with Jennifer Watson and Dorian Hart (all of whom identify as queer). The festival will put on its first ever production in January 2017, in Toronto.   It’s not just about performing Wilde’s works like the favourite The Importance of Being Earnest — though it’s part of it — but it’s mainly about performing works that capture the spirit of Wilde.  “The mandate of the festival is to do anything by Oscar Wilde, as well as anything he would have liked,” she says.  She hopes this will not only be an exciting theatrical experience but the starter of fruitful discussions on important but often taboo subjects.  The festival’s inaugural production is a play called, Introducing Mr Wilde, or Work is the Curse of the Drinking Class. The one-man show is written and performed by the UK-based Neil Titley. It’s 1898 and Wilde is in a self-imposed exile in Paris after being released from prison. He’s wittily reflecting on his life.  Titley has been performing a version of this piece for several decades now. According to a festival press release, he’s performed it in over 100 towns across the UK, and in cities all over the world — from Alabama to Hong Kong. “It’s a great introduction to all the facets of Wilde,” Doyle says. “He’s older and reflecting on everything . . . and I think if people are going to understand what we’re doing with this festival, they’re going to need to understand who this man was, and I think this play is a good foundation for that.”  The Wilde Festival is still in its infancy, with the first instalment consisting of only one play that takes place at the Red Sandcastle Theatre (which Doyle owns). Doyle hopes that within five years, the festival will grow in size and have a larger home than the 50-seat theatre on Queen Street East.  And it won’t just be plays — any type of live performance is fair game. “I think the world needs more Wilde,” she says. “I think we’ve forgotten the delicacy of wit and how being amazing, fabulous and wonderful can be a political statement.”

A year in review 2016: How queer-friendly spaces flourished outside of Vancouver and Victoria

27 December 2016 - 5:09pm
When Nathaniel Christopher wrote in 1999 about growing up gay in Nanaimo, he recalled being chased down the street by four men in a car. “Before I could evade them they preceded [sic] to call me derogatory names, and threaten to kill me because they thought that I was a ‘fag’,” he wrote. The next night, a carful of teenage girls tried to throw eggs at him. Almost two decades later, there’s a different vibe on Nanaimo’s streets. Christopher was able to attend the first-ever Pride parade in his hometown. Nanaimo Pride was just one of the examples of LGBT visibility creeping past the typical safe zones of Vancouver and Victoria.  Surrey, BC’s second-biggest city and one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, also hosted its first Pride parade this year. It wasn’t that long ago that the Surrey school board was notorious for banning gay books.  In Campbell River, queer people and allies are making northern Vancouver Island a more LGBT-positive place. A gay bar has even opened its doors in Chilliwack, the heart of BC’s Bible Belt. All of this marks an especially important development for British Columbia, where rising living costs are pricing out many young people from Vancouver and Victoria. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges. The proprietors of Wilde Oscar’s, the Chilliwack gay bar, still feel they can’t be as open as they want to. “We have to be careful,” said Gary Peddle, one of the owners. “We have to be sort of straight-acting.” Regardless, the fact that dozens of LGBT people can gather in a bar to socialize and be themselves without leaving the Fraser Valley is a welcome development indeed.

How to change the world through queer magic and applied love

27 December 2016 - 2:08pm
I started this year with a pledge to choose connection and hope over fear, but that was before the surprising season finale of America. I still stand by my hope, but I need to tweak it a bit now.  Hope and connection are acts of love, and while love is an extraordinarily powerful force, it’s not abstract love that changes the world; it’s applied love. Love expressed through action. In 2017,  I want us to choose hope and connection by tangibly expressing our love for each other through action. Given the state of the world, I admit it's a bit hard to know where to start acting. I tried asking Siri but she said I didn’t have an app called “Queer Resistance to Fascism” and suggested looking in the App Store. I tried meditating but all that illuminated was a dense tangle of world-anxiety in my gut. My hope, while well intentioned, was not doing so hot. But then I remembered two very important things: Queer people are magic and magic is a form of direct action. Now I don’t mean top-hatted magicians pulling rabbits out of hats. (Though people of literally every gender can look hot in a top hat, so there’s gotta be some queer magic happening there . . .) What I mean by magic is the art of changing consciousness at will, and queer people are amazing at this. We can create temples to love and connection in what outwardly looks like a park bathroom. We can transform our bodies and genders by shifting how we see ourselves and reflecting others back to them. We can find each other and share our stories with a glance, a wink, a haircut, a stray hanky. We can heal our scars through the alchemy of transmuting shame into pride. So I decided to do some queer magic of my own and ask my tarot cards to give me some direction on the kind of actions we can take. (If you’re curious, I drew the Six, Four, and Mentor of Bones from the deliciously queer Collective Tarot. Mentor is King and Bones is Pentacles in traditional decks.) Here's three tangible actions of love for 2017:   Celebrate the triumphs of all acts of resistance It's important to celebrate where you are at now. Do not wait until everything is better or finally complete to celebrate. That we are here and alive is worth celebrating. Drawing on the work of Alice Walker, Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous writes beautifully about how Resistance Is the Secret Of Queer Joy. She talks about how every small act of resistance is a triumph. Even just existing as queer people, loving ourselves and each other, is an act of resistance and thus a triumph to be celebrated. In particular, celebrate the triumphs of queer and trans people who are also indigenous and/or people of colour. Don't forget to celebrate your own triumphs too. Like the seasons, the moon, and the tides, everything in life moves through cycles. While the state of the world may seem new and particularly awful, the pattern isn't. We've seen this before. Weimar Germany from 1919 to 1933 was an amazing time for the exploration of gender, sexuality and art. And then Nazis happened. The 1970s were a golden era for the gay community. And then AIDS happened. Winter comes every year, but spring always follows. I'm not saying it will be easy or fun. Being weathered by a storm comes with the painful transformation of erosion, but as a community we have weathered every storm in the past.   Get in touch with your natural cycles as you weather the storm Maybe in the winter your body wants a more introverted focus. Maybe there's a couple days in your monthly cycle where your primary partner needs to be your hot water bottle. Your body knows. Listen to it. The card for the Mentor of Bones shows an image of a well-dressed, older cougar looking directly at you. “For a cougar such as the one you’ve just encountered to be alive in her old age, to be able to offer her wisdom and mercy at this stage in her life is a feat of survival.” Queer and trans elders have survived a world actively working against their existence. We have members in our communities that have lived through many winters and they have both the wisdom and the trauma to show for it. While these stories may not be easy to tell or to hear, our elders can help us learn how to keep living even when the storms of winter seem unbearable. My partner is 57. He lost more than 50 loved ones to AIDS, including three partners. By all logic he should have died with them, but somehow he survived. Whatever the cost for wisdom is, he’s paid it.   Connect with queer and trans elders Listen and learn from their stories of love, loss, resistance and triumph. Be patient if they don’t know all the current social justice jargon. Remember that they created the world where we could find those words. Connecting with our bodies, connecting with our elders, and celebrating the triumph of resistance. These three actions are all potent examples of queer consciousness-transforming magic.  While I continue to hold hope in my heart, I know that winter rarely passes without hardship. That's why I'm committing to living my love through action. Who's with me?

Was 2016 the end of progress for global LGBT rights?

27 December 2016 - 2:08pm
It’s hard to be optimistic about the state of LGBT rights around the globe at the end of 2016. Despite a few pockets of progress, we are witnessing a major turn against LGBT people in several corners of the world.  First, the good news. Three tiny countries decriminalized homosexuality in 2016: Nauru, Seychelles, and Belize. The latter’s Supreme Court decision also required the country to enforce discrimination protections for gay people, and it may form a precedent to sweep anti-gay laws from the 10 Caribbean states that still maintain them on the books.  Colombia’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage — although not without consequences. Marriage laws also passed in several minor territories like the Faroe Islands, Guernsey, Isle of Man, and Gibraltar, as well as in several Mexican states, and civil unions were approved in Italy and Aruba. Voters in The Gambia just threw out a dictator with one of the worst LGBT rights records in Africa, although at the moment it looks like he may not go quietly.  But despite these small victories, an unprecedented global backlash against LGBT people started to take shape in 2016 — particularly in democratic and otherwise progressive countries.  Shortly after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced plans for a constitutional amendment allowing same-sex marriage, voters dealt his party a crushing defeat in local elections, effectively halting the state-by-state legislative progress on same-sex marriage throughout the country. A hastily called referendum in Bermuda revealed two-to-one majorities opposed both equal marriage and civil unions. Gender equality referendums in The Bahamas and Grenada both failed, in part over fears that they would lead to same-sex marriage.  A peace deal to end Colombia’s 40-year civil war almost fell apart when voters rejected it in a referendum, in part over language recognizing the court’s marriage decision and affirming LGBT rights. The Brexit referendum took the UK out of the European Union, significantly hobbling one of the most vocal champions of LGBT rights in the world. This month’s failed constitutional referendum in Italy also led to the resignation of a resolutely pro-LGBT prime minister, and more uncertainty for the country and the EU. Voters in Australia and Northern Ireland returned governments opposed to LGBT rights, including marriage equality, to power (albeit narrowly).  Just this month, Chad criminalized homosexuality for the first time in its history. And next year, right-wing populists who oppose LGBT rights look set to make gains in elections in France, The Netherlands, Germany, and possibly Italy, while constitutional bans on same-sex marriage are set to be put to voters in Romania and Georgia and may be passed in Macedonia. And, of course, there was Donald Trump.  While any analysis of what happened in the US this year has to note that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a wide margin after releasing the most pro-LGBT platform of any serious presidential candidate in history, it will be the Republicans who control the White House, as well as Congress, starting Jan 20.  Trump can erase much of President Obama’s legacy on LGBT rights with the stroke of a pen. Congress will have incredible power to claw back LGBT rights over the next few years. And Trump is set to make at least one, and possibly more, Supreme Court appointment.  Globally, we can also expect a halt on American support for LGBT rights abroad. While some leaders bristled at Obama’s international activism, it can’t be denied that his and Clinton’s advocacy helped move the needle on LGBT issues profoundly. Will a lack of pressure from the US, and possibly also from a weakened EU, slow the drive for decriminalization? Looking forward to 2017, there are few bright spots left for progress. Taiwan may soon become the first Asian country to pass an equal marriage law. Chile, Jersey and the Falkland Islands are also set to pass equal marriage. Courts in Bermuda, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Romania and Northern Ireland are considering equal marriage cases, and voters in Switzerland will likely face a referendum to legalize same-sex marriage, after twice rejecting bans this year. A political settlement on same-sex marriage may also come in Australia. Civil union bills have been introduced and stand a good chance of passing in Peru, San Marino, and Monaco next year. And if upcoming reunification talks between Cyprus and the breakaway Turkish North Cyprus bear fruit, then Cyprus’ civil union law and EU human rights will apply to the whole island. And the UN has managed to appoint an expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, who will investigate abuses of LGBT peoples’ rights and advocate for change.  But the lesson of 2016 for LGBT activists has to be that our rights remain fragile and under threat, even in supposed liberal bastions. We cannot rest on our successes, especially when they don’t enjoy broad support from electorates. The imperative to win over hearts and minds has never been more urgent. Against this rather bleak backdrop, Canada emerges as a rare island of progress on LGBT rights. By mid-2017, Trudeau may be the only resolutely pro-LGBT world leader with the political capital and moral authority to advocate persuasively for LGBT rights abroad. Whether he can rise to the challenge, and how effective Canada can be at shaping global opinion remains to be seen.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve at White Party Bangkok

27 December 2016 - 2:08pm
“Right off the bat, the first year, it was the largest gay New Year festival in Asia, ever,” says Blue Satittammanoon, the producer and organizer of White Party Bangkok. “And this year is already going to be bigger than last.”  Not bad for a debut circuit festival, which saw over 12,000 people in its first year in 2016. It joined the Asian party circuit, which includes events like Song Kran in Bangkok, Shangri-La in Tokyo, and I:M in Seoul. This year’s White Party is this New Year’s Eve weekend from Friday, Dec 30 through Sunday Jan 1, in Los Angeles.  The Bangkok party is an extension of Jeffrey Sanker’s famous White Party Palm Springs. The original party began back in 1989. The Bangkok extension is the first official White Party outside of North America. Sanker is a partner who brings his experience as the “Circuit Master” and helps select talent for the event.  [[asset:video_embed:308746 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_caption":["The official trailer for White Party Bangkok 2017."],"field_video_credit":["WHITE PARTY BANGKOK\/YouTube"]}]] Coincidentally, Satittammanoon’s got his nightlife education in Canada, where he was the marketing director of Celebrities Nightclub in Vancouver for five years. During his tenure, he worked with the likes of Boy George, Deborah Cox, David Guetta and Tiesto. He was also the marketing director for OUTtv, and worked on five seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. If anyone was going to make this festival a hit, it was Satittammanoon.  Through these experiences, he also got to know Sanker. The first White Party that he attended in Palm Springs was in 2011, where Robyn headlined. “It was my first major circuit party and it was everything,” he told me. “I have never seen so many gays in one place. It was an experience I would never forget.” [[asset:video_embed:308743 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_caption":["The official trailer for White Party Bangkok 2017."],"field_video_credit":["WHITE PARTY BANGKOK\/YouTube"]}]] “When I moved back to Thailand, I thought there’s an opportunity to do another big gay festival here,” Satittammanoon says. “I knew the [White Party] brand well. It’s one of the longest running circuit parties in the world. It’s been around for almost 30 years.” It’s also not hard to understand why a massive circuit festival introduced in 2016 would really take off in a city like Bangkok. As is, it has an exciting party scene  pretty much every night of the week. On Silom Soi 2, you’ll find the famous DJ Station, which has a packed dance floor even on a Monday night, and of course there’s the infamous GOD after hours on Silom Soi 2/1, where you can dance to circuit tunes all night and into the morning, seven days a week. “The party scene in Bangkok is amazing,” he says. “There’s nothing like Silom Soi 2.” “People are really accepting here. That’s, I think, one of the reasons why Thailand is such a destination for LGBT tourists in the region.” [[asset:video_embed:308740 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_video_caption":["YouTube celebrity JACK\u0027D\u0027s video, \u201cHow to Get a Guy at White Party Bangkok.\u201d"],"field_video_credit":["WHITE PARTY BANGKOK\/YouTube"]}]] Satittammanoon also attributes the success of White Party Bangkok to its line-up. This year, it features talent such as Tom Stephan, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Nacho Chapado, and Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race. They also have Andrew Christian models to make you wish you had hit the gym a little harder.  Since the theme of the party is simple — white — it makes it easy for everyone to participate, particularly those who don’t normally dress-up. Put on a white tank top, at the very least, and you’re done.  “Some people really make an effort,” he explains. “It makes the parties a lot more fun too.” The Military Ball on Friday, Dec 30 encourages people to dress in military-inspired outfits. Easy enough, given the number of street vendors in Bangkok that sell army fatigues. “It’s the darkest and sexiest night,” he adds. “The music is a little bit harder than other two nights.”  The New Year’s Eve party on Saturday, Dec 31, 2016 is all about the bright colors, and the daytime Jock Ball on Sunday, Jan 1 encourages sexy sportswear. The main event is on Sunday night: White Party Bangkok.  Despite Satittammanoon importing many elements of the North American circuit culture, he still keeps the vibe local, which is perhaps another key to its success. “Last year we had a drag queen from the US, Flava,” he says. “We had her arrive on the stage in a tuk-tuk. That kind of thing makes it unique so you have the Thai flavor that you don’t see anywhere else.”

Mouthwash, adoption and Wham!

26 December 2016 - 5:06pm
[[asset:image:308752 {"mode":"full","align":"center"}]] George Michael dies Pop superstar and gay icon George Michael, half of the group Wham!, has died at age 53. Owen Jones at the Guardian remembers Michael as a defiant face of gay sexual subculture, who refused to tame his sexuality to please the public.   Taiwan takes first step towards same-sex marriage Taiwanese lawmakers have approved a first draft of legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage, potentially making Taiwan the first equal marriage state in Asia. The bill must still go through committee and pass two more readings before becoming law. Read more at Taiwan News.   Study: Mouthwash could slow gonorrhea A preliminary study in Australia suggests that gargling with mouthwash could reduce the chances of spreading gonorrhea. It’s unclear how long the effect lasts, or whether mouthwash has any long term effect on gonorrhea infection. Read more at the Washington Blade.   Men who were adoptive father and son allowed to marry A gay couple in Pennsylvania who became adoptive father and son in order to ensure inheritance have been allowed to annul their adoption and get married. Many gay couples used adoption to secure family rights before marriage in the US was legal. Read more at the Independent.   UK man arrested for spreading HIV A man in Scotland has been arrested for allegedly intentionally spreading HIV. He was charged earlier this year, but skipped a bail hearing and spent five weeks on the run before being found by police. Read more at the Telegraph.

A year in review 2016: Queer spaces have been attacked for years, Orlando was one of the deadliest

23 December 2016 - 4:52pm
The murder of 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was horrific, but not unprecedented. But who bears responsibility for the attack differs depending on who you ask. For many conservatives, it was the latest in a string of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Islamic radicals, an affront to Western values which (suddenly) included LGBT rights. Liberals believed it was a symptom of America’s poisonous gun culture, a continuation of the string of mass shootings like Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook. But the LGBT community spoke of different precedents. Attacks on queer spaces have been happening for a long time, though they’ve never been as deadly. Thirty-two people died in the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans after an arson attack in 1973. A former New York City transit police officer shot eight people outside of two gay bars in 1980. The year after his attack at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Eric Rudolph bombed a lesbian bar. Ronald Gay, a Canadian-born man went on a shooting rampage inside of a Washington, DC gay bar in 2000, partially prompted by the hatred he had for what his name had come to mean.  And there were other attacks: a man with a hatchet and a gun in Massachusetts, a nail bomb in London, a man who stabbed ten people at a Pride parade in Jerusalem and then when he was released from prison 10 years later, stabbed another seven people, and killing one. Even in the month preceding the Pulse massacre, five people were killed and 14 wounded after an attack on a gay bar in Xalapa, Mexico. That’s not even to mention the more commonplace violence faced by many LGBT people, especially trans women of colour, who are being murdered at unprecedented rates. It’s hard to gauge what kind of impact and resonance Orlando will continue to have in the years and decades to come. In the aftermath, homophobes of all stripes attempted to appropriate the murders for their own causes. But it’s certain that the public mourning that took place after Orlando will join the Compton Cafeteria Riots, Stonewall, the 1981 Bathhouse uprising, the murder of Matthew Shepard and other acts of tragedy and resistance in the collective memory of many LGBT communities the world over.

What it means to be queer at Kitsilano Secondary School today

23 December 2016 - 1:52pm
Grade 11 student AJ Wasserman says Kitsilano Secondary School is a lot more gay than it used to be.  I agree. When I went to Kits High, I didn’t identify as queer and I didn’t dare question my (presumed) heterosexuality. I was there from 2001–2006, at a time where if you were to come out as gay, you’d be the talk of the town — and not in a good way.  There was no visible LGBT community to support you. You’d be mocked endlessly, through whispers and off-hand comments. Maybe you’d find homophobic graffiti on your locker.  There were no lesbians or queer women who were out during my time at Kits. (Of our graduating class of 350, I know of five women who have since come out as lesbian or queer.) Things have changed, Wasserman tells me now.  The school boasts a loud and visible queer community. And in the three and a half years that Wasserman’s been there, things have continued to change for the better. “I feel like it’s gotten a lot gayer . . . there’s a lot more students out as queer,” Wasserman says, adding that Kits’ Gay-Straight Alliance club (GSA) has expanded even more since they first became a student. “And I’d say — not always, but much more than it used to be — that allies and other people in the community will stand up against the homophobia they see.”  Only three years ago, when Wasserman was in Grade 8, they couldn’t walk down the hallway where Grade 12 students had their lockers [[asset:image:308731 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Grade 11 student AJ Wasserman stands in the same hallway where they received death threats as a Grade 8 student."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tessa Vikander\/Daily Xtra"]}]] “I couldn’t enter because I would get death threats all the way down it,” they say. One of their classes was off that hallway, and a friend would have to to accompany them to class.  Wasserman says things improved after that senior class graduated. “It’s gotten much better. [Homophobia,] it’s not so outward but there’s still some one-on-one microaggressions,” they say, citing instances of people mocking chosen names or not acknowledging their pronouns.  Getting teachers to use gender-neutral pronouns has also been a battle, Wasserman says. Two years ago, they had a teacher who refused to respect their pronouns. Even after their parents and school counsellor got involved, Wasserman says the teacher resisted.  Wasserman stopped attending that teacher’s class and did the school work from home. [[asset:image:308728 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Brandon Yan, program coordinator of Out in Schools."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tessa Vikander\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Brandon Yan, program coordinator of Out in Schools, says he’s heard similar stories from across BC schools. Calling it “inter-generational friction,” Yan says that many older people have trouble understanding how younger folks view gender. It’s a gap in understanding that will have to close soon. “There isn’t much accountability when it comes to educators and administrators [respecting pronouns] . . . but it is going to change fairly quickly with the BC Human Rights Code where it is literally written in law that you must respect somebody’s gender identity and expression,” he says.   Kitsilano’s Pride Team (formerly the Gay-Straight Alliance) meets every Wednesday at lunch. In late November, the students invited me to join them.  Over the years, membership has fluctuated between about five and 15 students, Sharon Fritz, an art teacher at Kits says. It also changed its name from the Gay-Straight Alliance to the Queer-Straight Alliance, but as more students came out as trans, the group eventually settled on the name Pride Team. I ask the students about their lives at Kits High, and how safe it is to be out. They tell me there’s a lot of support from teachers and other students. It’s fairly safe to be gay, but they still hear people using the “F-word” (as an insult) in the hallways. Grade 11 student Tom Catyr Todd explains that a group of Grade 8 students, who used to eat lunch near their locker, would spew homophobic insults. “Part of their casual conversation would be saying horrible slurs, not just about queer people, but disabled people . . . it was horrible to hear, it was just constant,” Todd says. In Grade 11 alone, Wasserman estimates that there are 15 students who are out, and Todd counts 10 trans students at large. When I was in high school, I had never heard the term “transgender,” and there certainly weren’t any openly trans students.  Perhaps what’s most surprising to me is that this group of teens doesn’t hide. They held a bake sale during the school’s pride week, and only one student, known for harassing others, stopped to spew homophobic slurs. Meanwhile one teacher was eager to show his support so he bought one of everything. The Pride Team is somewhat well-received when tabling on clubs day. However, there’s an assumption by other students that if you’re in the club, you’re definitely gay. As a result, some of the younger members, still questioning their sexuality, chose not be in the club’s yearbook photo. Back in the early 2000s, the Gay-Straight Alliance was usually absent from the clubs section of the yearbook, I tell the students. Over my five-year stint at Kits High, the GSA appeared only once in the yearbook, but the students were greyed out, in an effort to protect themselves from harassment. [[asset:image:308725 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["The GSA at Kitsilano Secondary School was shrouded in secrecy in the early 2000s."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tessa Vikander\/Daily Xtra"]}]] I explain how there was an unspoken agreement between students: don’t ask, don’t tell — but feel free to chastise someone behind their back. By Grade 12, only one person in my grade, Kaan Yalkin, was out as gay.  Earlier that week, I had caught up with Yalkin by phone. “For the most part it was a tolerant environment,” he says, adding that it “doesn’t mean it was perfect.” I’ve known Yalkin since elementary school. He was outspoken and made people laugh. For example, in Grade 8 we successfully distracted a substitute teacher while he escaped through the window of our ground-floor classroom. He did it with a straight face and it still makes me laugh.  Midway through high school, I remember a friend quietly telling me that Yalkin told her he was gay. It made her sad that he seemed ashamed and wanted her to keep it a secret. [[asset:image:308722 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Kaan Yalkin"],"field_asset_image_credit":["Courtesy Kaan Yalkin"]}]] Yalkin says he always knew he was different and by Grade 9 he knew he was gay. Yalkin is now married, lives in Seattle and works in a corporate communications job. During our senior years of high school, he was heavily involved with the cheerleading team. “[Being] gay didn’t define me,” he says, adding that he didn’t feel comfortable joining the GSA. But, because of his sexual orientation, he carried an “overwhelming sense of vulnerability . . . to judgment, or embarrassment or inferiority.” By Grade 12, Yalkin says he was fully out, but not in a loud way. “It was the highest point in terms of feeling accepted,” he says. However, he remained uneasy about sharing his sexual identity with male classmates. Sometimes he was called derogatory terms, but he says it was very rare. The staff were “overwhelmingly supportive,” but he wishes LGBT staff had been more open about their own experiences. “We may have had openly gay staff members, but it wasn’t on the table for discussion,” he says. “To have had out role models would have made it easier for the LGBT kids to be out.”   [[asset:image:308719 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":["Tom Cayr Todd poses beside a sign they wrote on the bathroom door."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tessa Vikander\/Daily Xtra"]}]] The next week, I sit down for an interview with Todd. Todd says their pronouns “always change,” and on the day of our interview prefers they/them pronouns.  Being queer at Kits is challenging, says Todd. “It’s not impossible but it’s work . . . always like pushing and pushing and trying to get people to pay attention and respect you. And it happens if you keep working,” they say. “People will come around and pay attention to you but it’s not like people are educated or understand what you’re talking about,” they say, adding that the pushing “is tiring, it sort of wears you down” Todd says they are frequently misgendered. At the beginning of the school year, they went to their teachers, introduced themselves and explained what pronouns they use. While most were receptive, Todd remembers one who wasn’t. Their voice wavers with emotion as they explain how that teacher barked, “What? Why would I ever use pronouns for you? Why would that ever be a problem?” When Todd later confronted that teacher about misgendering them, they say the teacher denied the misgendering. Recalling the situation now, Todd speaks with compassion. “In general, they seemed they were wanting to support me but they just weren’t able to do that. Maybe education reasons — I don’t know.” Resistance to change isn’t everywhere. Todd recalls that when their English teacher has misgendered them, she’s been receptive to their corrections. Once, after she had addressed the class as “boys and girls,” Todd went up and spoke to her after class. Todd says she apologized and told them it was language she was “trying to move away from.” I ask Todd if they know of any queer couples at the school. They say they know of one, but the pair aren’t “loud” about it, and Todd has never seen them kiss in the hallway. Earlier, I had seen two members of the Pride Team walking down the hallway holding hands, and I wonder if they’re the couple Todd is talking about. Listening to Todd and Wasserman’s experiences, it’s easy to forget that they’re both still in high school. While I imagine they are role models for younger queer students, they both need more support from their teachers. Our conversations consistently come back to the fact that they want their teachers to better educated on LGBT topics. [[asset:image:308716 {"mode":"media_image_style_width_728px_","align":"center","field_asset_image_caption":[" Sharon Fritz, an art teacher at Kitsilano Secondary School and Pride Team sponsor."],"field_asset_image_credit":["Tessa Vikander\/Daily Xtra"]}]] Fritz has been sponsoring the Pride Team for almost 10 years, about as long as she’s been teaching at the school. She’s warm and unassuming, and students like her. She’s not queer herself, but her father came out as gay late in life. Feeling remorse that her dad had been closeted for so long, she says, “I thought as a teacher maybe I could make a difference for students feeling safe.” Fritz recalls that the club has seen significant shifts over the years. “The major change is who is interested in coming and who the group is serving,” says Fritz, noting that for the most part, gay cis male students have stopped coming. She’s co-sponsored the team with other teachers, but currently she’s doing it alone. “Maybe the cis gay guys have felt that they haven’t needed the support . . . that they feel kind of safer being out in the school.” Fritz also emphasizes the need for more LGBT-education for teachers. And while she knows it’s a sensitive and personal decision for staff to be out around the students, she would love to see it happen. “I wish the students could see out role models in the school,” she says.

A year in review 2016: LGBT students save their mentor at Vancouver school board

22 December 2016 - 7:49pm
A group of high school students and recent grads successfully stood up for their mentor at the Vancouver School Board (VSB) in April 2016, as trustees contemplated which programs to cut in order to slice $24 million out of their district’s budget.  The budget cuts are part of an ongoing battle between the school board and the provincial government, which fired all nine elected trustees in October, ostensibly for failing to pass a balanced budget (though the board said it planned to pass one that night). Prior to the firing sweep, all nine trustees had unanimously agreed, across party lines, to protect funding for the anti-homophobia mentor position, regardless of what other budget cuts might be needed. The part-time mentor position, whose hours were already cut in 2010, is there to keep implementing the VSB’s pioneering anti-homophobia policy. Students say the mentor has changed their lives. “I ask the board to consider that by removing the anti-homophobia mentor, they are removing for some of us one of the few — possibly the only adult — available to them as a support and advocate,” Kate Fry, a Grade 12 student at Lord Byng Secondary, told a packed public consultation at the school board on April 14, 2016. One recent graduate said the current anti-homophobia mentor, Stephanie Lofquist, gave them the courage to come out toward the end of Grade 12. “I felt safe to be 100 percent myself because I knew that Stephanie was going to be there to protect me and to make sure everything was going to be okay,” Dylan Read told Xtra. Former school trustee Jane Bouey, who served two terms ending in 2011, says the board’s unanimous support for the position is a testament to the students and other community members who had the courage to speak out. “It shows the extraordinary power of the community that came out and voiced the importance of that position,” she told Xtra in April. It remains to be seen whether the new appointed trustee will respect the elected trustees’ decision to protect the position. She says she will. At least for now. 

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