Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why #BlackLivesMatter... Matters


Ever since the sit-in that disrupted the Toronto Pride Parade the debate... (it should be a discussion not a debate) regarding minority rights has heated up in Canada.  There has been a wide ranging spectrum of views expressed on the subject.  I've taken my time on this subject, not because it wasn't important to me, but I need to do some self exploration.

Before I get to it... a bit about me.

You see... I am not Black, nor am I Asian, First Nation, and I am not East Indian.  I am a tall, blond haired, blue eyed Caucasian gay male and I am frustrated by what has happened.  Although... not for the reason that some may think.

I was raised by a single mother. who like so many others struggled to make ends meet.  We were hardly impoverished like much of the world, but we were certainly not rich.  I can remember times when my mom went hungry to make sure that my brother and I ate. Life was not easy and being a single mother in the 70's and 80's was tough.  My mother was, and still is, a beautiful woman.  She dealt with being harassed, and misogamy at every turn.  I don't think that my mom had it easy, she worked hard - really hard.  In the end, she built a beautiful life for herself and her children.  Her story is not necessarily unique either, there are many who can say the same thing.

At this time, with all of the race discussions happening there is one thing my mother taught me (of that many things) that I never really realized I learned.  There is no such thing as race.  People are just people.  She never denied that there were people who were Black, Asian, Native, etc.  She simply didn't identify people that way. People had names, and my mother identified people by those names.

We never heard language in our home that distinguished people by the colour of their skin or their nationality. Racist language was simply not allowed.  I have memories of people being asked to stop that "kind of talk" immediately, or even being asked not-so-politely to leave the house.

I never grew up with it in my home, and we never really discussed racism in any concept other than it was wrong.  So I had this image of myself as being a "non-racist".  I was one of the good guys, and to a large extent I think that I am.  BUT I am also far from perfect.

Some of the food for thought that turned on the light bulb for me...

Think about TV, Magazine advertisements, etc.  How many non-white people do you see in a clothing magazine, on billboards, in online ads?  The list goes on.  Yet in Canada and the United States... whites are the minority.  There are far more non-white people than white... and guess what... that has almost always been the case.

The next time you are watching the news watch how they report a crime.  Much of the time you will hear this type of description:  John Doe a black man.. .John Doe of the XXX first Nation... John Doe an Asian... but you never hear John Doe the White Guy.  If a white man commits a crime... they are just John Doe.  If the individual is not white your race becomes as, or more, important than the crime. YET... when it comes to victims they DO use the terms 'White' or 'Caucasian' in almost every single broadcast.

There are always exceptions, and it often depends on the news channel; but the vast majority follow this pattern. I bet you will notice it more now than ever before when it happens. WOW right?

I, like many others, have fallen into the trap of defining people by their race.  Little comments to clarify an individual in discussion... Things like saying "You know... the Asian guy, or the native, etc." Do I define my 'white' friends by saying things like "That white guy"? Come to think of it... I never have and I can bet that none of them have ever done it either.

Ultimately this is the question I asked myself and honestly struggled with:

Does it make me a racist when I do this? I said No but then asked myself:

I may not be an overt racist, but have I subconsciously fallen into the societal norms that have been a part of our culture for years?  

I hate to admit this to myself, but the answer is probably... Yes.

Does it make me a bad person?  No, I don't believe that.

Has this thought process opened my eyes? More than I could have imagined.

So let's get back to the LGBTT2QQAIP community and the Black Lives Matter protest.

One of the things that struck me hardest when this all hit the news was not the protest in itself, or even the "demands" made by BLM.  Rather it was the vitriol being spewed by so many people... all of whom were white, and mostly male. There seemed to be an almost "circling of the wagons" by the gay white male in defense of their... whiteness.  Some people made comments about BLM wanting special treatment, or some kind of special recognition.  Others said that it was an imagined slight.

This is not about anyone wanting special treatment, or special recognition, and it most certainly is not an "imagined slight".  This is about people who want one very simple thing.  Equality.  They want to be treated with the same respect and dignity that all human beings deserve.  Why shouldn't they want it, and deserve it?  It's not asking for anything different that what LGBT people ask for... every single day.

Then there are those that even went so far as to question "what have they ever done for us?"  These people have missed the point all together - and they really pissed me off.

As for the comments about "what have they ever done for us?" - those people need to get an education. The gay rights movement owes it roots to the civil rights movement (for those that do not know what that is... it was the equality for blacks movement in the USA, simple things like being able to ride a bus, vote, get an education, etc.).  Our forefathers took their lessons from the civil rights movement to foster our own rights movement.  Marches, letter writing campaigns, protests, etc. These all mimic a movement that started decades before our own. Don't believe me - start reading some history books on the Civil Rights Movement - the parallels are quite amazing.

As for why they were not active in our struggle. I don't believe that they were not, but let's face it they were (and still are) fighting for equality.  Maybe not in the eyes of the law, but certainly in the way that they are treated - in the eyes of the people.  Us white folk had the luxury of fighting a battle on one front.  Non whites... two or more fronts.  We fight for equality due to our orientation, gender identity, etc.  They fight for equality for those same reasons AS WELL AS equality for themselves as non-whites.

So now let's actually talk about race.  I will happily use myself as an example.  I am 43, White, 6'6" tall, blond hair, blue eyes, slim-ish (I need to lose a few pounds), and I am a gay man.

Now some gay men (white) say that they know what it is like to be discriminated against.  They are not wrong.  I myself have experienced what it is like to be treated like a second class person because of my sexual orientation.  The thing is... I can hide that part of myself if it suited me to do so.  I personally choose not too, I am proud to be a gay man, but I CAN do it.  It IS an option.

A black person... they CAN'T hide that they are black. This is NOT an option.  The same applies to First Nations, East Indians, Asians, etc. When I am walking down the street the vast majority of people will just see a guy walking down the street.  I am not an Asian guy, Black guy, etc.  I, unlike too many people, are not identified by my race.

I hear people (including non-whites) talk about whites all the time.  They use descriptors like Blond, Red Head, Tall, Short, Fat, Thin, etc.  They never say "That white guy".  Talk about people who are not white... and it always boils down to race being used as a descriptor.

Do you get what the issue is yet? If you don't all I can suggest is that you take some time to really think about it, and to look deep within yourself and be honest... have you ever used any form of racial language to describe someone?  It doesn't mean that you are a racist, or are part of the larger problem, but it does mean that, like me, you are not a part of the solution either.

Hashtags, hashtags and more hashtags.

I have to mention this... it is important.  In response to the #BlackLivesMatter hash-tag there has been a few "counter tags" crop up.  The most popular is #AllLivesMatter and I have even seen #GayLivesMatter.  You know what... they are right, all lives do matter as do Gay lives matter.  But to use these hash-tags is to miss the whole point. The Black Lives Matter movement is not about taking away from anyone else, it's about standing up for true societal equality for a heavily marginalized part of our society.

The LGBT community is supposed to be all about openness and inclusiveness.  We are supposed to look out for each other and frankly, I think we need to do a better job.  Blacks are not the only groups that feel marginalized in our community.  Asians, First Nations, East Indian, Muslims, Overweight people, Handicapped People, Trans-gendered... (the list goes on) feel in some way marginalized by our community.  Don't believe me?  Look at the pride boards across Canada, or even around the world, how many boards have non-whites on them?  Even women are under represented!

We need to shift they way we think and we need to stop feeling like this is an attack on our community.  It's not.  It is an opportunity to strengthen and create a community that is truly representative of all of humanity.  The rainbow flag means:
ColorMeaning
Hot pinkSexuality
RedLife
OrangeHealing
YellowSunlight
GreenNature
TurquoiseMagic/art
Indigo/blueSerenity/harmony
VioletSpirit

We have a duty to make sure that this symbol is a place of peace, love, and true welcoming.

I don't see words like barrier, obstacle, or race in the meanings of the colours anywhere, so I fail to understand why we would erect a wall.  We aren't Donald Trump - walls should not be a part of our vocabulary.

On a related note...

Last year I was honoured to be asked to sit on the board of the Millenia Scope Entertainment Foundation in Hollywood http://msefoundation.org/. They focus on creating opportunity for film makers, actors, directors and producers who are LGBT and Black. It's an amazing organization filled with dedicated people.  When they asked me to join I did my research, and I was truly amazed at the lack of representation in the arts for the black community, particularly in the LGBT community.

Just as they were open to having me serve them on their board, we need to be open to understanding the struggles and plight of our fellow man. We need to reach beyond our current understanding and push ourselves to become better informed.

In conclusion.

If we don't change our thinking, this community will become fractured and eventually it will break. That's not something any of us should want.

I think the LGBT community has an opportunity to become involved in the dialogue about safe spaces and equal treatment for all members of our community.  Yes it means that we will need to bring up the uncomfortable subject of race. BUT it wasn't so long ago that we were not afraid to bring up the uncomfortable subject of sexual orientation.  So it shouldn't be that hard.  The difference is that it makes US uncomfortable.  Well... we need to get over it.

It's the right thing to do and it will change lives for the better - and isn't that kinda the point?

To find out more about the movement please visit their website at:  http://blacklivesmatter.com/

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The lesson of Orlando

Last night the world was horrified by the tragic events at Pulse night club in Orlando Florida.  An unimaginable tragedy that has struck at the heart of the LGBT community, not just in the United States, but around the world.  Many of our community sat stunned in front of their computers and televisions as the incident played out before our very eyes.

50 beautiful souls were lost yesterday and more than 50 others injured.  People who were doing nothing more than enjoying an evening out with friends, and most likely loved ones.  They lost their lives because one man chose to reap violence against them simply because they were members of the LGBT community.  

This was an act done out of complete and total disregard for human life driven by a hatred born of ignorance and the indoctrination of some members of society to hate.  How do we know this? Because since the shooting and the worldwide outpouring of grief and support for the victims there has also been a social media blitz by those that have vocally supported this act of madness.  People applauding the actions of the shooter, and claiming that this is "God's" will.

This terrible incident illustrates that we still have far to go in our world.  That no matter where in the world we live, there are those that would rip our freedoms... and our lives... away from us.  That if we do not remain vigilant and stay true to our community, we expose ourselves to the worst that society has.

This deeply sad event will forever remain in the history of our community.  It will always be a reminder that even in our own "safe" spaces we are vulnerable.  It will be a stark reminder to us for years to come that people hate us, not because we have done them wrong, but because we do not fit into their small minded box of what society should be.

For the 50 who died, their families will never escape the loss of last night.  They will always have the question of "Why" and never truly understand how their child, partner, sibling, spouse, cousin, niece, nephew, or friend could be a victim of such a violent end.  

Of the survivors, injured or not... Some will become militant in their defiance of the people who would tear us down.  Others will duck their heads and move on with their lives trying to push their memories away.  Some will become re-closeted, or if they never were out... may never come out.

What will be true of them all is that their lives are forever changed.  They will never again feel sure of their safety.  They will always look over their shoulder and they will hesitate to trust in our spaces, or the safety of our community.  They are forever changed and their horror will haunt them until the day they die.

For the rest of us, the spectators, in the weeks and months to come last night will start to fade from our collective memories.  The shock, anger, and horror will wane.  We will move back into our regular routines, and even if we never forget, our outrage will diminish.  We will become once again complacent in our defense of our rights.

That complacency is the worst thing we can do.  Not only in memory of the victims from last night, but for all of the people in our community who have suffered at the hands of oppression.  We must, all of us, never forget or let our outrage fade. We must never forget, but more importantly, we must ensure that our spaces are safe and stay true to our community.  In the words of Jose Sarria... United we stand, divided they will pick us off one at a time.

Let Orlando unite our community, our minds and our hearts - let us never forget.

In sorrow and remembrance,

Paul Therien

Paul is the Founder and Chairman of the Q Hall of Fame Canada.  He is also an active member of the board of the Millenia Entertainment Foundation. In addition to his charitable work Paul is also the only openly gay National Brand Leader in the Canadian Mortgage Industry and is one of the most awarded executives in his industry.  He regularly consults with businesses and community groups on equality.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

NOT MY CIRCUS

I came out 20 years ago after spending the first half of my life firmly behind closet doors.  I was engaged to be married... twice.  I did all the things that I was supposed to do, all the things that made me appear to be straight.  I did it because I was scared.  Of losing family, friends - of spending my life being bullied and looked down upon as a lesser human being.

I mean, let's face it - why would anyone choose to live a life of being a second class citizen? To be bullied, threatened, and abused?

It was for me, in my world, the biggest lie I ever would or have told and it was the driving reason behinds the attempts that I made to take my life growing up.  When I did come out, finally, it was the greatest joy I have ever felt.  Finally I could be free to just... be who I was. No more hidden agenda, no more dark feelings of despair because my life was a dismal lie.  I was just me.

For the most part, it was good.  My mom, bless her soul, embraced me with open arms and it was then that we also welcome her life partner Teresa into our family.  My brother (who I had told first of all people) embraced my in a hug and told me that no matter what I did in my life he would love me and be my best friend.  These two people, three with T, are the rocks and absolute sources of unconditional love in my life.  I don't believe I would be here today if not for them.

My Granddad, one of the most conservative people I ever met perhaps surprised me the most.  This mountain of a man who I loved and adored, a surrogate father in so many ways.  I never actually told him I was gay, but he knew.  He even met my partner at the time, Chris.  As we parted ways for what would be the last time he enfolded me in his arms and held me tightly and then whispered in my ear "I am so very proud of you Paul, live your life and be who you are.  I will always love you, no matter what you do in life.  And I like Chris, I hope he treats you well."  He passed away months later, but he gave me the greatest gift I could ever receive. Unconditional love.  My eyes well with tears even thinking about this moment and the great man who gave me this gift.  

(Chris and I never worked out, but that's life.)

Sure, there were some people who walked away from my life, all of them friends.  When they left, it was OK as long as I had my family...

I was terrified to come out to my dad.  We had never been really close. We saw him sporadically as children, and only slightly more when he was with his second wife.  No matter how little I saw him, or how not close we were, I always had this driving need to please my dad, to be accepted and loved by him.  I don't know why, maybe it is just what we as children do.

I never actually came out to my dad until much later, and in fact I was outed by my brother.  They were travelling up to see my dad's parents, and my dad was on his usual kick about me not having a girlfriend.  My brother, frustrated to no end blurted out that I was gay... and... so now my dad knew.

He called me, one of the very rarest of times, but I expected the call since my brother had told me what happened.  I was scared, but I went over to his house and my over aching need to to please him kicked into high gear.  I was so afraid of losing what little relationship I had with him, So when we talked, and he told me that he would never understand why I would choose this life... I accepted it.  

When he told me that he never wanted to meet any of my 'friends or whatever you call them'... I accepted it.  When he told me that he only ever wanted to talk about my job or the weather, I accepted it. When he blamed me being gay on my mothers family... I accepted it.  I accepted him telling me it was because I wore a satin christening gown as a baby.  I even accepted it when he told me that it was because my mother essentially failed as a mother.

For the next 20 years I talked about my job, the weather.  Every so often he would ask me a question about the Q Hall of Fame, or gay parades.  99% of the time though, it was my job or the weather.  He of course would let slip the odd comment about "fags" or such - and would then say "well not you but you know what I mean".  

I do? No... I actually don't but to keep the peace I kept my mouth shut.

I chose the path of least resistance and  I accepted it, and I took it because well... he's my dad.  I even took it when he bit  my shoulder for hugging him.  I just took it, over and over again.  If you were to ask me why... I would always say.. he's my dad.  I love him.  I can't change who he is so if I want a relationship with him, with my dad, I have to put up with it.

I am 41 years old now.  I have had more life experience and have come to realize something very powerful.  I don't have to hide who I am, or accept being passive aggressively told I am not good enough.  I don't have to hide who I am to make other people feel more comfortable, or because they have an issue with the fact that I am gay.  It is not my cross to bear, or as a dear friend Neale Von Furstenberg likes to say "Not my monkey, not my circus".

As twisted as this might sound, I love my dad, I always will.  I wish nothing more in the world to have a good relationship with him, but that includes actually sharing my life with him and not being someone I am not so that HE feels comfortable around me.  I want my father, and all of my family, to love me because of who I am, not in spite of who I am.  I want to be loved, because I am worth loving, not because I am family and they have too.

(Side Story)

My aunt recently said to me that she did not like it when gay people "flaunted" that they were gay.  She didn't need to know about it... that we should not tell people right off.  That people really didn't care. Well, there is some merit to that I suppose.  I don't introduce myself as Gay Paul.  

That being the case I said this to her: "So how is it anymore right to just assume I am not gay?  I get asked all the time if I have a girlfriend, or a wife.  Why do people just assume I am straight? Why do people care so much if I have a girlfriend or a wife?"   Why not just ask me if I am single?  Better yet - don't ask at all if you are afraid you won't like the answer.  

Straight people label us as much, or more, than we do ourselves. I can't even count how many times I have been introduced as "My Gay friend Paul", or "This is Paul... he's Gay".  It is like some straight people wear it as a badge of honour.  "Look at how good I am being friends with a gay person, or how accepting I am of my Gay son, etc.  I am just such a tolerant person".  

Give me a break. Being accepting of another human being who is different, regardless of the reason, doesn't make you special or worthy of more notice.  It just makes you more human.

(Back to it...)

It's funny, I don't blame my dad or anyone else who treats me this way.  Yes, what they are doing is not nice, and in my opinion just plain old wrong.  The thing is that I have chosen to allow this in my life.  It doesn't matter why I made that choice, but I did.  It's taken me 20 years, but I realized something this week... it's my life and I get to choose who I surround myself with.  

I choose to surround myself with some of the most amazing people I know.  My Mom, Teresa, My brother, Samantha, my uncles Rod, Bill, and yes even John.  My cousins Leah, Danielle, Jen, Ronke, and Jacqueline. Roxanne, and Shelley- we are not close, but you've always supported and loved me no matter what.  My countless friends, but especially my longest time friend Clare and her two fab kids Nick and Dylan.  Orlando, Chris, Neale, Rich, Barb, Kristi, Ken, Shane, Scott, Patrick, and so so many other people.  You are my family and my chosen family and you all make my life better.

I'll always be here when, and if, people choose to accept me for who I am, without conditions. Because at the end of the day I am a pretty fantastic person just the way I am. 

If they make the choice not to just love me for being me... well... It's not my circus.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

WHO AM I?

I recently participated in a town hall meeting in Vancouver that was hosted by XTRA, Canada's national LGBT News Paper.  The purpose of this town hall meeting was to answer a simple question... how do, or should, we as a community identify ourselves?
 
Perhaps it would make sense if I went back to the start and explained the why behind this meeting...
 
Many months ago, perhaps even a year ago, a group of friends got together to talk about the word Queer, and it's more prominent use in the LGBTT2QQIAAP community.  (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transsexual, Two {2} Spirited, Queer, Questioning, Inter-sexed, Allies, A-Sexual, and Pansexual.)  In these group discussions there was concern over the use of the word Queer because of past negative connotations associated.  It was essentially a word used to belittle members of our community, much as most minority groups have had words used against them.  There are of course many other words used... and not every word has the same meaning around the world.  For example, the word fag is derogatory in many places, in the UK it means a cigarette. A faggot - well it means a bundle of wood, but to us, derogatory.
 
Back to the point of the meetings.  These friends, all amazing people, were struggling to come to terms with how we as a community identify.  So the meetings took on a broader life, and in the end the "Whose Queer Now?" forum was born.
 
So on June 18th XTRA held a town meeting to bring this sensitive topic out in the open.  The participation was great, the feedback valuable, and at the end of the day... we decided nothing.  Which really was not a surprise... it's a big question and there is no right answer.  What was wonderful was the open discussion, the freedom to express without fear of anger or aggressive retorts to commentary.  If you want to see the video of the discussion, you can find it HERE.
 
So what does the word Queer mean?  The word queer, by definition means Unusual, Weird, Unique, Unothordox, etc (the list goes on)  Essentially it means out of the norm.  Something different, or unusual.
 
According to my own research the word was first documented in 1894 to describe homosexual or effeminate men.  Yes it was used as a derogatory word.  Later in the 20th century it became more prominent.  Media, and the public, used the term to describe the greater Gay community to illustrate that they were not "normal".  Frankly, by the definition of normal back then... well they were not far off.
 
Understandably there was different opinions. Many people rightfully still viewed the word as derogatory, it was not how they wanted to be identified.  Some people felt that it was not the worst word to use, not the best, but not the worst.  Of course there was also those people who felt that the word was well suited to describe our colourful and vibrant community. 
 
For the most part the older crowd, those that had been at the abusive end of the word, were opposed to it.  I get that, no one wants or likes to be treated with disrespect, and for many that was the word most associated with abuse.  In that context it truly is a horrible word.  That context was not exclusive to the older members of the community, it was one that many associated with.
 
For many other people however they felt that the word fit for them, it was one that they could identify with because they did not feel that they fit the acceptable labels of our community.  Queer, was something that they felt encompassed all of who they are as a person, and they felt comfortable in that skin.
 
I think that perhaps through all of this one thing was really at the front of my mind.  I tried to identify with what many people were saying, but for me... I am challenged to fit into the boxes we have created for ourselves as a community, or as a species.  I do understand that for political reasons it is important that we identify ourselves, we must have a banner under which we can all stand proudly to declare, and fight for, our fundamental human rights.  I wonder if however, we are so focused on labeling ourselves, if we have lost perhaps the sense of unity in our own community.
 
At the end of the day, what we all are... is human.  Lesbian, Gay, Straight, Queer, Asian, Caucasian, African American... we are all human beings.  We have been blessed with immense capacity for thought, more than any other species on the planet.  We have also the capacity for great love, and great hatred.
 
When someone asked me how I identify, I did not hesitate... I am Paul.  First and foremost, beyond anything else - that is who I am.  I am a gay man yes, but I don't walk up to people and introduce myself as "Gay Paul"... I am simply Paul.  I am not ashamed of being gay, but that is not wholly who I am as a human being.
 
The average human being will spend approximately 3% of their lives in the act of sexual intercourse.  That is a very small percentage of our total lives on this earth.  I identify with that part of my life, because it defines other aspects as well.  Things like who I love, my social circles, and much more.  But I am also more than that... I am an executive, I have a loving family, friends.  I like to read, etc etc.
 
Is it important to identify ourselves?  YES - Because at the end of the day if we don't we lose what should never have been taken away in the first place.  Our human rights.
 
The question of how we identify is an intensely personal one.  I can't expect any other person to fully understand my self identity, and it is not really necessary that I intrinsically understand theirs.  What I do try to do, and expect from others, is to have that freedom to choose.  To have the freedom to express and live life in a way that is self satisfying, and enriching.  We all have that right.  What we do not have the right to tell another person that they cannot do the same, nor to take away another person's rights to choose how they may or may not identify.
 
So... am I comfortable with identifying as Queer?  Not necessarily, I personally better identify as a gay man.  BUT I am OK with being a part of a larger Queer Community.  I don't mind that the broader LGBTT2QQAAIP community is being identified more and more as simply the "Queer" community - in many ways it is fitting.  At least to me and the way I perceive things... and perception is our reality.
 
For our youth, people who more and more do identify as Queer, I say to you... own it.  Don't let anyone tell you that you can't use that word, or any other to describe how you identify as an individual.  Own your self identity and be true to who you are.  Your identity, much like my own, will change over time as you grow and have more life experiences.  Embrace life, cherish the moments - they are each of them unique and singular.  Do not let someone else take from you the opportunity to do so.

Our community, all of us, have spent the last 60+ years fighting for the right to have freedom of expression.  To tell someone that they are not to use the word Queer, or to even force the word down someone's throat... it goes against all we have fought for.

The future appears to be that the word Queer will become that all encompassing word, just as the word Gay once was.  If that is the future, and our youth embrace it... well... we can fight against the tides of change and risk creating a rift in our community OR the other option is to embrace that change as best as possible.  Sometimes we have to swallow foul tasting pills because it is better for us in the end.  This might be one of those pills.

Who knows?  In ten years there might be a new word, or better yet... labels will have gone all together and we will all just be what we truly are... human.
 
So who's Queer now?  I don't know, maybe I am - maybe I am not.  That is what I get to decide for myself, on my own time.

What I can tell you is that I will defend anyone's right to identify that way if it is how they choose.  I will also defend anyone's right not to identify with the word.  The greatest beauty of our ever diverse community - is that we are diverse. 

DIVERSITY - Love it, live it, embrace it - our lives will be richer for it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Just tell them you are straight..."

I had the pleasure of dining out with a few friends the other night and we were joined by a nice young man who was at most maybe 24 years old.  He, for the most part, was well engaged in our conversation - which to be honest was a tad surprising considering that he was a good 10 years younger than the youngest of us (no not me sadly).

For most people we think that age doesn't matter, and in many - most - situations it really doesn't but every so often age plays a pretty major role in people's ability to understand as given situation.

On this particular evening the conversation came around to the acronym LGBTT2QQA (Which stands for... Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transsexual, Two Spirited, Queer, Questioning, and Allies) or as I have been known to say... the alphabetized community.  What we were discussing was the beauty of the all inclusiveness of the community, but also  that sometimes there is some stresses and confusion in the community about what all of this means.

The Gay and Lesbian parts are fairly easy to understand, after all the movement did start as a movement to foster equal rights for those of us that are attracted to people of the same sex.  It originally started out with gay men who fought for equality in the 50's and 60's and soon gay women (who in the 80's became better known as the lesbian community) joined in the fight for equality.  Truthfully gay women had it much tougher back then (and today) because they faced double discrimination - not only did they not conform to convention regarding sexual attraction - but they were (and by many still are) considered to be the weaker sex.  (I was raised by a strong woman and have had strong women around me my entire life... anyone who thinks that they are the weaker sex needs to have their head examined - if anything they are tougher!).

Transgendered, Transsexual (from here on out I am going to use the acronym Trans - I understand that it is not the politically correct term to us, but for the sake of this blog I ask for forgiveness.) people have it rough... they are bullied not only by the 'straight' community, but also by the gay.  Truthfully - it makes me sad to my very core to think that we are so capable of being so cruel to other human beings.  I may not understand what they are going through - but I don't need to understand to have compassion and to know that this is about being a human being - plain and simple.

Anyway, the conversation continued and when it hit upon the subject of Bi-Sexual people I will admit that I expressed a certain... disbelief... in the need for bi sexual people to have their own defined community.  Let me explain... according to numerous research studies conducted since the 1960's only about 10% of the population is purely straight, while only 10% is purely gay.  That means that roughly 80% is (to varying degrees) bi-sexual - that would be 80% of ALL people on the planet.  In fact, being bisexual is almost... normal.  The other thing was that a person who identified as bi-sexual had... choice about with whom they had a relationship. - - At least according to my own perspective, which I admit is not necessarily correct, but it is my perspective.- - 

At some point in the conversation this young man who was with us said something to me that rocked me back on my heels, and the ensuing conversation not only shocked me, it made me feel... despondent.

He said "If you were ever in a sticky situation, just tell them that you are straight to get out of it.".... WHAT!?!?! ... He went on to say that most of his friends that are Bi do it, they tell some people that they are gay, some that they are straight, and others that they are Bi.  He then went on to tell me that he himself has told people he was straight... and that he did not see anything wrong with it.

Now, it could be because we recently lost one of the great pioneers of the rights movement (ted northe), but I can tell you that this statement angered me.  It was, in my mind, a comment that destroys over 60 years of struggle to gain equality, one that actually makes those that suppress us... RIGHT.

I tried to explain to him that when I first came out - over 20 years ago (remember - he is at most 24 years old) - I risked getting the living hell beaten out of me, my family abandoning me, losing my job, and so many other horrid things.  I told him about the struggles we have had as a community and talked to him about ted northe - and he said... "but it is not like that anymore".

And so I said to him... "So what you are saying is that I should hide who I am and that it is OK to do that to 'get out of a sticky situation'.  Essentially that I should deny a part of me that is fundamental to my identity as a human being, my true self, to appease another person and that I should be willing, or prepared to do that, as is necessary."

What he said next was rather astounding to my ears... "I don't see what is wrong with that."

I, quite honestly, was so surprised by the statement that I could not respond.  To hear a young gay man state something such as that... it was what our community has been fighting against for decades.  To now have it viewed as being acceptable...

Then it hit me... this young man has grown up in a society that has largely come to accept our community.  One where, although there is still great risk, for the most part it is still light years better than it was even a decade ago.  

He doesn't understand, because he has never experienced it, and as a community... as a nation... it seems to me that we have done a very poor job of making sure that our history - our struggle - is taught to the younger generation.  They could not possibly hope to have the same understanding, because too much of our history is being forgotten and lost.

What this conversation did for me more than anything was re-affirm the importance of organizations like the Q Hall of Fame Canada, and all that they stand for.  The preservation of our history.

Lest we forget.

Monday, March 31, 2014

GAY RIGHTS PIONEER TED NORTHE DIES AT 76

CO-FOUNDER OF THE WORLD’S OLDEST CONTINUOUSLY RUNNING AND ONE OF THE LARGEST GAY COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS

MARCH 30, 2014 / VANCOUVER, BC Canadian gay rights pioneer and co-founder of the world’s second largest gay community organization ted northe died early the morning of Sunday, March 30, 2014 at St. Paul’s Hospital. He was 76.

Best known in recent years as the founder of the Canadian gay “court system”, which for over 40 years has seen local gay communities elect an annual Emperor and Empress to preside over local celebratory and charity fundraising activities, northe was first styled “Empress of Canada”, inspired by the Queen of Hearts then reigning over a similar organization in Portland Oregon. The election of the first Empress of Vancouver in 1972 saw the beginning of an community institution that would soon spread to more than a dozen Canadian cities, while northe, then a co-owner of the popular drag venue The August Club, retained his title as Empress of Canada until his stepping down from the role earlier this year.

Credited by his American counterparts as a co-founder of the world-wide court system, northe was frequently honoured for his role in the creation of what became one of the largest gay community organizations in the world, second only to Metropolitan Community Church.

Born in Cooking Lake Alberta and raised in the Fraser Valley, northe began his human rights activism in 1958 when he and a handful of friends took to the steps of the then Vancouver Courthouse to demand full rights for homosexuals, who at the time were legally defined as “deviants”. His public debut in full drag was recorded for posterity in a snide note by Vancouver Sun columnist Jack Wasserman, who refered to northe and his friends as “the lavender hill mob”. 
 
A decade later found northe was in the forefront of a national campaign in support of the first attempt at a bill legalizing homosexuality in Canada. This brought north to the attention of soon-to-be prime minister Pierre Trudeau, with whom he worked closely on pushing to get the final version of celebrated “omnibus” Bill C-150 passed on May 14, 1969.

Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s the Dogwood Monarchist Society, as Vancouver’s Empress court is known, was a vital hub of gay community activity. The society and its Empresses, under the guidance and mentorship of northe, played an important role in community solidarity during the AIDS crisis. The work begun by northe and his early “courtiers” continues today, with the coronation earlier this month of Empress XLIII Kiki Lawhore and Emperor JJ Nation.

 The Empress Ball, conceived as a tribute to mark the 50th anniversary of ted's launching the court system in Canada and crown his successor as Empress of Canada, will take place as planned on June 14 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. 
 
Don't miss this opportunity to celebrate a half-century of gay rights struggles in Canada and honour one of our founding fathers.

For information and tickets visit http://www.empressball.org/

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why gay rights are about more than gay rights...

Labels.  It's what we do so that we have the ability to identify different objects, where they came from, who made them, and it helps us to differentiate similar items from each other.  They play an important role in our every day lives... I mean... no-one wants to put a teaspoon of salt in their cup of tea. 

What about the labels we give other members of the human race?  Black, white, yellow, brown, red... gay, straight.  I'll never understand why we feel the need to label each other... or ourselves for that matter.  I consider myself... I am a White, Anglo-Saxon, Gay.... a WASG... but I don't think of myself that way.  I am just me... a man who wakes every morning, has breakfast, goes to work, has lunch... etc.

I don't have a White morning, or eat Anglo-Saxon breakfast, I don't go to my Gay work, and I don't eat my Gay lunch.  Perhaps some people might think that way.  I really can't imagine that anyone would truly look at their lives and say... Look at me!  I am having my Black breakfast and them am going to drive my Straight car... it's simply ridiculous... isn't it?  So then why is it we spend so much time doing just that to other people?

This is the greatest folly of our species I think... we spend far too much time putting each other into categories and then making assumptions about what those categories are.  "You there!  Get back into the box of preconceived notions that I have about you and stay put!"

This mentality of ours has been the root cause of almost every single conflict around the world.  Be it religion, race, or any other multitude of reasons - our propensity for labeling others is perhaps one of the greatest things about our society that needs to change before we can truly have a world at peace.

Being gay doesn't affect another persons life, just as having a different colour skin, or a different faith system doesn't.  That is unless we force others to adhere to our own standards or prevent them from living their own lives with freedom.

LGBT people are not asking others to change their lifestyles, we are not asking that they no longer be Christian, or Muslim.  We are not asking them to change the dedication that they have for their families, friends, jobs, or community.  We are simply asking that those same freedoms to live life be ours as well.  Who I love and share my life with has absolutely no impact what-so-ever on the life of a person that lives on the other side of the world, city, neighbourhood, or across the street.  To them however they need to have something, someone, to blame for all of the faults in society... it is after all much easier to point the finger away from ourselves then it is to look in the mirror.

Gay Rights, LGBT Rights, are about far far more than winning rights for members of our community.  This is about the oppression of anther human being for something that in truth is intangible.  The active suppression of another person's rights such as we are seeing in the world today in many countries is opening a doorway to a world that, frankly, scares me.

Where does it stop?  First it becomes OK to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity - so we get all those gays... those 'freaks' penned up nicely... but then what?  Who then can we turn our gaze too... who's next?  

There are any multitude of labels to pick from and don't be fooled, there would be a "next" in line.  Those that suppress another won't be satisfied until they have the entire world under heel and we all know the results of that type of thinking.  The Nazi party first targeted the Jewish people, then the Gays.  First it was about economics, then it became about race... Blue Eyes, Blond Hair... the "super race".  Imagine our world if Hitler had won the war.  There are far more people who did not fit his 'ideal' than did.

The truth today is that those that seek to suppress the fundamental human rights of an LGBT person won't stop there.  They are on a slippery slope and if we, as a species, do not do everything in our power to stand tall and fight for our fellow human - we may just find ourselves in a situation more horrific than any could imagine.

The Gay rights movement is not just about gay rights.  This is about HUMAN RIGHTS - because first and foremost, that is exactly what we are - human.