Tuesday, April 24, 2018

An Open Letter to 4/20 organizers



April 24, 2018

An Open Letter to Dana Larsen, Jodie Emery, and the organizers of the 4/20 movement from the Chair of the Q Hall of Fame Canada.

First, please know that your actions to create a social movement are applauded. These social movements are often the foundation behind many of the advancements in society and are an important part of our Canadian heritage.

Today is April 24, 2018, exactly 4 days since the 4/20 events that occurred in cities across the country. Since that day there has been much debate about the importance of the 4/20 with the impending legalization of marijuana by the federal government. Some have argued that the 4/20 events will not longer be necessary, others have presented an opposing view. This is all very fair and our ability to debate is an integral part of the freedom we experience in this amazing country.

We have seen many arguments from the pro 4/20 side that has equated these events with the Pride events that occur in many cities across Canada and around the world.  We have seen this comparison from organizers and event attendees in defense of the plan to continue the 4/20 events after legalization. This includes comments made by Dana Larsen and Jodie Emery.

What we want to discuss today is centered around your clear misunderstanding of the Pride movement and the significance that it has for people around the world.

The Pride movement was born of the direct and state sanctioned discrimination of people because of their sexual orientation. This discrimination included imprisonment, sanctioned violence, loss of employment, loss of homes, forced hospitalization, and much worse. This all happened because people were born outside of what was deemed a societal norm, it was not a choice that was made.

The 4/20 movement was born of a desire to be able to partake in the ingestion of a substance. Yes, it is true that people are jailed, have lost their jobs, and in some cases their homes because of their use of Marijuana. You are not however born with an inherent, physical need to ingest marijuana.

The difference is stark, regardless of what some may claim. Marijuana and the ingestion of it is made by personal choice, people actively make the decision and are presumably aware of the consequences. Being L, G, B, T, T, Q, Q, 2, A, A, I, P – is not choice, we are born this way. People who identify as LGBTQ+ are discriminated against not because of a choice that they made, it is because they were born.

In the past six decades the once ‘Gay Rights’ movement has grown to become a rich and diverse community that includes many in the broad spectrum that is the LGBTQ+ community. It is about diversity, equality, and the fundamental human right to exist.

There have been statements made by some that because gay marriage has been legalized, or because of the other many advancements in the LGBTQ+ community Pride is no longer necessary. While it may be true that to be able to someday state that Pride is no longer necessary would be a beautiful thing, we are not there yet. We are far from that day, and until there is true equality for all – we will remain far from it.

Not only do members from the LGBTQ+ community in Canada still experience discrimination, but around the world there are places that exist where being “caught” as LGBTQ+ is punishable by imprisonment and even death. Yes, we have won significant rights in Canada, but we are still far from the dream of complete equality for all members of our community.

The continuation of the Pride events in Canada is not just about Canada. It is about demonstrating to those people who still suffer under the yoke of oppression that there is hope. It is about the continued galvanization of a community who, even with legal protections, is one that still experiences high levels of hate crimes.

When you attempt to hitch the 4/20 movement on the tails of a movement, like Pride, you do a great disservice to the pioneers of our community. The people who have spent decades fighting for basic recognition as human beings under the law. The people who were jailed, beaten, given shock therapy, lobotomy’s, and in too many cases murdered simply because they wanted to be treated like people and not animals, or deviants.

Your claims that the 4/20 movement is the same as, or is as important as, the Pride movement dishonours our pioneers, the activists, and the achievements they fought so hard for. You also diminish the very real struggle of people around the world who still live in daily fear, not for a choice that they made, but for being born. People like those in Chechnya that are rounded up and put into “concentration camps”, or the youth who are forced to go to conversion therapy camps by their families, or the Transgender members of our community that even in Canada experience abuses. The list, sadly, goes on and on.

As the Chair and Founder of the Q Hall of Fame Canada I have had the immense pleasure of better understanding the history of our diverse and vibrant LGBTQ+ community. I have met many of the pioneers who fought so hard for the basic freedoms we have today, and who continue to fight for others who do not.

It is understood that the 4/20 movement is important to you, and countless others. It is not our intent to minimize the efforts you have made. It is however our intent to draw a clear distinction between the 4/20 and Pride movements.

One is about a plant and the ability to ingest it. The other is about the basic, fundamental, human right to exist.


Respectfully,


Paul Therien
Chair and Founder
Q Hall of Fame Canada

Sunday, March 18, 2018

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

When you see someone make a comment about there being great distance in the community you probably immediately thought of physical distance. Don't worry, you are not alone - but what I want to talk about is the distance that has been developing between ourselves as people.

This is not a problem that is exclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. It is something that affects the entire planet as more people turn to the personal safety of the online world, in particular social media. This movement of humanity to experience life through a screen has not been lost on a whole myriad of experts. There are countless examples of how corporations, political movements, and others have capitalized on the new "online" life of the average person. We have been 'datafied' - we are now truly the statistics that generations before feared we would be.

There was once a movement to change the way society seemed to be headed. We did not want to be just a number, or another cog in the big wheel. We wanted our individuality and the freedom to express ourselves with much greater meaning.

Social media, and the internet, delivered what seemed to be the ultimate answer. We could stay in touch more easily, and spend more time building on the relationships that mattered. It would no longer matter if you lived on the other side of the planet, friendship did not have to die because of distance. It allowed us to become social warriors, to find like minded people and take up the banner of injustice to create a Utopian world where all were equal. (Except that in our naive rush to bridge the worlds gaps we forgot that for everyone who thinks the way we do, there is always someone who doesn't). We started to share our dreams, our life became more open, more accessible - we had found the mountaintop from which to shout.

Then, slowly, it became less about the things that we envisioned and more about getting likes. It became a place where we could postulate about life through a filter carefully designed to only show that which we wanted people to see. It didn't always need to be good either. There are as many people seeking the sympathy of the masses for their suffering and crises. Two extremes of perfection and the downtrodden moments of our lives fed to the masses via an online channel where we can craft just the right message to elicit the response we want.

What it all really means is that life has quickly devolved from the us to the me. This is absolutely not true of everyone, but it has created a culture of self where we no longer have the same levels of accountability to each other. If I like your post... you better like mine has become a consistent theme so much that I have even received messages from people asking me "why didn't you like my post?"

The staggering reality of what this will mean for our society, our race, in years to come is not just something to be afraid of. It is something that should give everyone nightmares.

The deeper challenge is the way that this new lifestyle has impacted our ability to have strong interpersonal relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect.

Presenting our lives through the lens of choice relegates us to a superficial existence where human contact becomes secondary to the online interaction. Online I can dictate how you perceive me, but in person there are so many other factors. Body language, voice, eye contact, etc. Too many variables that cannot be controlled absolutely and so for many it is just better to keep it online.

That means that the usage of online dating apps have skyrocketed. People find it too difficult to approach someone in person, and so they prefer to stay behind the relative safety of the screen. Swipe left, swipe right. No more kissing frogs to find that perfect someone to fill the ever widening hole in our lives. A hole incidentally that is actually getting bigger because of our inability to effectively connect with others that has been created by the online world. Huh.

This lack of social connection has also started to creep into how we end a relationship. At the beginning we have the ability to sort through people, pick and choose who we connect with. What happens if you do connect? Well usually you go for a drink, a meal, or whatever. You chat and share a little bit about yourself.

It's a date! They are exciting, and nerve wracking, and can sometimes lead to great things, or most often nowhere. For most people we brace ourselves for the latter, the date that just doesn't work for any number of reasons. Person A is more attracted to person B than B is to A. Maybe there are ideological difference. No matter what, like anything in life nothing is guaranteed, but at least you are putting yourself out there... right?

Well absolutely right! If you want to succeed in life, you have to take a chance. I can remember telling one guy, some years ago, that I thought he was the most beautiful man I ever saw. He did not return the compliment, quite the opposite, told me that I was most definitely not his type. Well, like most that hurt, but at least I knew where I stood. I went back up to the bar for a drink. While there nursing my beer, I met my first love.

Even though I was pissed off, hurt, and regardless of how the rest of the evening went, at least that most beautiful man had the decency to be honest. He had the courage to tell me that he was not interested. He wasn't mean, he was not crass and he did not make fun of me - but he did reject me. Rejection is not nice, but at least when we get rejected we can deal with the emotional fallout and move on. You see, connections - however brief -  are not just about me, or you, it is about us.

Remember how I made the comment that 'lack of social connection has also started to creep into how we end a relationship'? Well it has, and it has become so common place it has actually earned its own definition and place in the dictionary. It is called 'Ghosting', and it simply is the act of suddenly, without explanation, ending all contact and communication with someone. If you are like me and this is the first time you have heard the term you might react something like "People don't actually do that... do they?" Well yes in fact they do.

I found out about it some time ago when I myself was 'Ghosted' for the first time. I had "met" someone online and after a couple of weeks of chatting back and forth we decided to meet. We agreed on a time and place, and then... nothing. He was a no show, and never replied when I messaged him. Truth be told it was not a big deal for me, we had never actually met and I could easily dismiss him as a flake. Fast forward several months and I had a similar experience, again - not a big deal as we had not actually met before.

When it did burn was when I was out with friends and a guy came up to me, extolled my good looks and gave me his number. I texted him that evening and a back and forth chat session ended in a good night kiss. We then continued to chat, and went on a date, at the end of which he said that it was a great date and told me that he was looking forward to seeing me again. We texted back and forth for a bit... and then suddenly no response from him. Being an old fashioned kind of guy, and a bit confused, I did what you are apparently never supposed to do. I called him. Ended up leaving a voice message, which was returned by text. Texted back, a short text exchange... and then nothing.

That one did hurt. Not a lot, certainly not a gut wrenching, heart torn out kind of hurt, but it did smart a bit. In my mind I still cannot figure out why someone would tell you, verbally (in between kissing you) that they really like you and want to see you again, and then follow that sentiment up by text only to suddenly cease all communication. No reason, no explanation, just - poof - gone.

I'm a big boy and I do realize that things happen. Maybe something happened in life, or he got back together with an old flame, or maybe he just realized I wasn't the one. All perfectly legitimate things that can happen in life, and honestly have happened to me. What is not cool is to just dismiss another human being with less thought than chucking out a jar of expired jam. Unlike jam, people have emotions and I believe that we have an obligatory duty to consider other people's feelings when we act.

I may not be able to control or change how another person behaves, feels, or reacts to a situation. What I can do is control my own actions and take that persons own feelings into consideration when making a decision. The fact of that matter is, when someone 'Ghosts' another person, it says far more about the character of the person doing the 'Ghosting' than the person being subjected to it. The one doing the 'Ghosting' is actually so afraid of life that they do not have the emotional maturity to effectively participate in the world of people.

According to my own experiences, and from everything that I have read on the subject (I find it fascinating), people who 'Ghost' will most often have an online presence that is focused on themselves and only in their best light. They always want to show off their perfect body, face, or how amazing their life is compared to... well everyone.

What does it all mean?

We live in a world that has become superficial in how we present ourselves to it. With edited photos that contain strategically placed items, or posts about how amazingly... amazing our lives are. We live through the carefully structured images that we want other people to see, and that means that no one really has the opportunity to know us. We don't have the courage to be who we really are and so we build this great fantasy world of confidence and security when the truth is we are all just as vulnerable as the next person. None of us are immune to the emotional side of existence, and we should not be trying so hard to shield ourselves from it.

We are so afraid of experiencing, or expressing, emotion that we have created a world for ourselves to exist in that is blinding in its falseness, and have resorted to cruel, subhuman methods of 'ditching' someone we are not interested in. Yet somehow in the very same breath we have the expectation that we deserve better, we deserve more.

I have listened to people complain about how cold the world has become, or complain that they have been 'Ghosted' themselves. People who are active participants in the exact behaviours that they are lamenting. When you question people about it they will often come back with the same line: "If I don't look out for myself and my feelings who will?"

Human interaction, human emotional intelligence is not about the Me - it is about the you and the Us. If I, you, or anyone wants to experience what life truly has to offer, we must understand that our own emotional complexity is not unique to ourselves. It is experienced by all people, all over the world. We may have different cultural backgrounds, but our emotional fundamentals as human beings are the same.

If we want to be better human beings, if we want to be able to actually experience what life has to offer - we need to actually experience it. Living through a crafted image that we present to the world does nothing except give us those short term boosts of happiness when we get those likes. Those likes are not real. What is real is the hand that warmly pats you on the back, the friendly conversation over a tea, or the warm hug a friend gives you. What everyone is seeking is acceptance and ultimately love - but the sooner we realize that these are things we can only experience through human contact - the sooner we will find happiness.

Our community, the LGBTQ+ community, was built by pioneers who could not be social with each other because to do so would be to risk their lives. They congregated in people's homes and made lifelong bonds that would result in a movement that changed our world. Their inter-connectivity is what created the community we live in today.  A mere generation later - we are slowly separating ourselves from that world, and each other.

It could be argued that this is the natural progression of a society that has such expansive (but not yet complete) freedoms. It could be argued that this is what our founders fought so hard to achieve. Is it though? Sure, we can marry and walk down the street holding hands... but if everyone is so fixated on their phones creating that all important illusion - or worse yet treating each other with disregard... who is there going to be to hold hands with?

I spent yesterday out with some really amazing friends, two in particular that I count as among my best friends. While I was out I met several new people and had some brilliant conversations that may, or may not, result in a future friendship or two. I laughed, I got serious, and I laughed again. Throughout it all I never looked at my phone, and I didn't take a single picture with it. What I got yesterday was memories through experiencing life, and that can't be replaced.

I love our community, and I love my life. My biggest hope for our community, and for all people, is that we do not lose sight of what actually matters in life. Each other.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The folly of the flag

2017 Philadelphia Pride Flag
Recently Philadelphia made a controversial change to the Pride flag that they fly during their pride celebrations. They added a black and brown stripe, and the world came to a standstill. They did not say that everyone had to fly the flag with the new colours, no law was passed forbidding people from flying the original flag. They did it because in that city the racial tensions are high. The change may very well be an attempt to bridge a racial gap, but to many it was a misguided move to alienate others from the broad spectrum that the flag represents. Calls for a white stripe to be added rang across social media and even more claimed, correctly, that the rainbow flag does not represent one race or another, it is for all members of the community. To others they care little and feel that if this minor change to the flag in one city makes a group of marginalized people feel welcomed, then does it really matter? Not flying the flag with a Black and Brown stripe is still alright after all.

Original Pride Flag
The rainbow is meant to represent a broad community of people that are equally welcome. The original design consisting of eight colours represented diversity in the Gay Community. The original design conceived of in 1978 consisted of eight colours: Pink, Red, Orange, Yellow, Turquoise, Green, Blue, Purple. The colours Pink and Turquoise were dropped from the flag in 1979 because of the difficulty with mass production of these two colours. The new version of the flag (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple) since then has widely been recognized as the definitive representation of the gay community. As with most flags the symbolism of the flag gives a unifying banner under which we as a people can rally and for many in the LGBTQ+ community the pride flag is a hallmark of safety, community, and unity. I, personally, believe that the rainbow in any form represents all of mankind, but there is a part of me that also understands the intention behind the change.

In some of my own reviews of the volumes of commentary that has appeared over this topic, there are a few things that have stood out for me. The blatantly racist rhetoric thinly disguised as Pro-LGBT support is in of itself shocking and deserving of a much larger discussion in our community. The misguided belief that our community is wholly welcoming of all is simply not true. You have only to look at the way we ourselves place labels on the various segments and how internal conflict has given rise to much discord over the years. When it all started way back in the late 1950's and early 1960's (another misapprehension that the gay rights movement started with Stonewall, but yet again a topic for another time) we were simply known as the gay community. In the 1970's Gay Women did not feel that they were being adequately represented and became defined as the Lesbian community. Then we had the introduction of the Bisexual Community, the Trans Community, etc. Narrowed down even more and we have Bears, Otters, Lipstick, Biker, etc. We are a community of labels and division that is theoretically unified under the rainbow.

No, outside of the above there were two specific things that really stood out to me because of the sheer lack of understanding by so many people. People who without careful research to make an informed opinion are spouting off and creating a dialogue centered around misinformation taken from social media feeds. Here are two major items that need some clarity in the greater discussion surrounding this topic: #1) That the gay community believes it is the very first group to ever use the Rainbow Flag and #2) That under no circumstances should the flag be altered.

The Gay Community was the first to use the Rainbow Flag.

False. Here are the most commonly known instances of it's use throughout history.

Thomas Muntzer
during the Reformation
The 1600's: The rainbow flag was first used during the reformation in Germany in the 1600's. The Rainbow flag was used in combination with a peasants boot as a sign of the new era, hope, and social change. In fact the use of the Rainbow as a flag originally meant "biblical promise". God created the rainbow to show Noah that there would never again be a worldwide flood. The flag consisted of near identical colours as the current rendition of the Pride Flag.

Designed by Thomas Muntzer it was widely used as a symbol throughout his life and he is regularly shown flying the rainbow flag in depictions.




The 1700's: It was suggested by Thomas Paine during the American Revolutionary war that the Rainbow Flag be flown from the masts of ships to denote that they were neutral in the war.

1885: The Rainbow Flag was created to represent the Bhuddist Faith. It contains six colours: Blue, Yellow, Red, White and Orange with the sixth colour a blend of the first five. 

Although not truly a rainbow in terms of the traditional colours we think of when looking at a rainbow, it is considered a rainbow by the Buddhist faith.



Rainbow flag proposed for Armenia
by artist Martiros Saryan.
1919: After Armenia gained independence after World War I it was proposed that the rainbow flag be used by artist Martiros Saryan. 

They chose to not use his design and instead used a flag that contained the colours used in a past Armenian kingdom.





International Cooperative flag
1921 - 2001
1921: The international cooperative movement adapted a seven colour rainbow flag to represent the growing values and ideals of the movement around the world. It was a famous French cooperator, Professor Charles Gide that first proposed using the seven colours of the rainbow. The flag became the official symbol of the international organization in 1924 and was adapted to represent the movement around the world in 1925. In 2001 the design was changed from a rainbow flag to a rainbow logo flag on a white field. 


1920's: There is some debate about this but the flag that is believed to have been in use to represent the people of the Inca's since the early 1500's consisted of a rainbow meant to represent each of the people that came together under the Inca Empire. The earliest recorded evidence dates back to 1534 by Francisco Lopez de Jerez.

Since the 1920's it has been widely recognized that the Inca Empire did not have an official flag and it is thought that this patchwork rainbow quilt was designed after colonization to represent the people and not the empire. 


1978: the city of Cusco adopted the rainbow flag as their official flag.






1924: Meher Baba (India) designed this flag to represent man's rise from the grossest of impressions of lust and anger - symbolized by Red - to the culmination of the highest state of spirituality and connection to God - sky blue.




1961: This flag first appeared in Germany in 1961 during the peace and anti nuclear / anti war movement. The rainbow later appeared throughout the 1960's peace movement incorporated in symbols with the peace sign, tye dye clothing and flags, and has been used by the peace movement ever since.




1978: This is the year that Gilbert Baker first showed us the original 8 colour pride flag.

Flag of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
1996: The Jewish Autonomous Oblast (located in the far eastern district of Russia, by the border of China). 

The flag consists of seven colours meant to represent the seven branched Jewish Menorah.

It should also be noted that in 2005 the Patriots of Russia Political Party adapted the rainbow flag as their emblem.



So... as you can see although many people in the community assume that we originated the use of the rainbow to identify our community, that assumption is not correct. If we look back throughout history these are only some of the most well known uses, and in fact the rainbow was first used in the Old Testament. 

OK. Now on to item number two. That the flag should never be altered to represent one group because the flag already represents all members of the LGBT community equally. Instead of saying that this is False, I am calling Hypocrisy on our community. Why? Well I could go on and on about the various renditions that the flag has seen in its 39 years, but I won't. I want to talk about our own community and the way that it has altered OTHER flags because of the argument that the existing flag does not adequately represent the LGBTQ+ community. Flags like the Canadian National Flag.

I can remember when this flag first started to appear in people's windows, at parades, and any number of other places. The argument by the people using it was that they wanted a flag that they could better identify with. One that represented our community in Canada better. Wait... what? Last time I checked the Canadian Flag represented all citizens of Canada regardless of cultural background, religion, orientation, etc. When we made this alteration to our national flag there was much uproar from many parts of Canada, both in and out of the LGBT community. People were offended that our community would take liberties with a symbol of our national pride. When our community was confronted with it, we charged those that opposed the flag as bigots, homophobic, etc. We cited the criticism as justification for the change claiming that it was proof that we still experienced challenges and needed this symbol of our Canadian LGBT Pride. The change was also justified because other groups had already made changes to the flag, such as the Cannabis culture, Biker groups, etc. If they can alter the Canadian flag, well, why can't we? It is a fair question to be sure, but if we are going to appropriate another flag do we really have the right to be upset if a group does the same with ours?

The arguments were not much different when the same alterations were made to the Stars and Stripes in the United States. 

So why do we think it is OK to alter another flag to suit our community and yet feel so slighted when someone does the same to ours? If our flag is sacred and should not be altered, then I believe we need to have that same respect for other flags and symbols. We as a community have set the precedent and now that Philadelphia has fed us a spoon of our own medicine we are going to complain about it. Pot meet Kettle? Maybe so.

I am not saying that I agree to the addition of the Black and Brown stripes to the rainbow flag because I believe that the rainbow does represent all people. The introduction of any colour that denotes race will create division much more than it will bring us together. That said I think that we as a community need to do better having the uncomfortable discussion about inclusion. 

We like to say that we are all inclusive regardless of cultural background, religion, etc. The facts clearly show differently, and the dialogue that we see surrounding this debate only reinforces that there is a huge divide in our community. Not just because of skin colour either. We see division due to religious backgrounds, body type, gender, gender identity, and so much more. 

If we want to really be what we claim we are; then we need to do a much better job demonstrating our commitment to diversity. That means doing a better job of standing up for those that feel like they are on the fringe of our community. We need to not be afraid to have the challenging discussions and remember that our community was founded on the principles of equality for all. 

Don't forget that It was only a mere 48 years ago that homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada, and less than that since we received the other recognition we have. 

Just because some of us have found safety, doesn't mean that everyone has. If in our ease we leave others behind, we are failing the founders of this community.

Distracted by colours... Isn't this really the folly of the flag?





Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 is behind us

Time for a new year post!

2016 was a tough year for a lot of people and I too am glad to see it gone.

I myself have had a terrible couple of years. I have lost 7 people that I loved and who mattered to my life in the last 32 months. That equals one death approximately every 4.5 months. If you include other people that I have known that have past away, the tally rises to 13 people, or one person every 2.5 months.

Death seems to be haunting me. I am saying goodbye far more than I want and too many of those are young people 30, 22, and 2.5 years old.

In addition I spent time sitting bedside while two of the most important people in my life recovered. One from a life threatening illness, the other from a life saving surgery (both are doing well thankfully).

This past year also saw a lot of celebrity deaths. Carrie Fisher, Prince, Debbie Reynolds, George Michael, etc. While I am sad at their passing, their loss has little to no direct impact on my life. I feel empathy for their families and loved ones, loss is a terrible burden that I know of first hand.

The thing is, all the stuff that has happened isn't 2016's fault. It's not like the year went around making our lives miserable. For me, I have had a string of unfortunate things happen, the worst is obviously the loss of loved ones. I've had other hardships too, and I would say that I am generally unhappy with my life right now. It's not a specific unhappiness that I can direct with laser precision at one thing, but I am not inspired by life anymore.

So what can I do? What can any of us do? Simple, change it. Last month I was sitting bedside at the hospital and I realized something, I have the ultimate power to change my life for good or bad. I can make different choices, I can focus on positive aspects, do more things that I enjoy, and spend time with people who make me feel better about myself. It's not always easy, but it is not realistic to expect other people to impact change in my life. I have to want it enough to get out there and do something about it. I need to find it in myself, and embrace it.

So I ended 2016 spending time with people I love, doing what I wanted and creating a plan for my future. I am making the choice to refocus on the things that do inspire me and am finding a new path through life.

I don't have a new years resolution because I made this choice in 2016, and I acted on it in 2016. The changing of a year is a number on a calendar, nothing more. I realized that I can't think 2017, I need to think tomorrow. I need to think now. The saying that every day is a fresh start is true and I finally get it.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Make America Great Again



“Make America Great… Again?”

It is the rally call of one of the most radically polarizing individuals in modern political history – certainly the most radical in the history of the United States of America.  Donald J. Trump has ridden a wave of social conservatism to nearly unprecedented levels through strongly anti immigration, pro isolationist dialogue.  He has convinced millions of people that walls need to be built, immigration, and trade curbed to protect the great “American” identity. (As of today, October 31, 2016 – only 8 days until the election, he has a real shot at becoming the next President of the United States.) His rhetoric of extremist right wing conservatism isn’t unique, and it certainly is not new.  Over the past decades we have seen a surge in countries taking steps to curb immigration and create policy that is designed to “protect” their national identity.

What most people know and understand is limited to their own personal experience, we look around our world and see the angst of our neighbours.  The unemployment, the embattled inner cities, the crime, and then they are shocked by world events that are splayed across their screens by news and social media that shows what a dismal and horrible world exists just beyond their borders. People around the world are looking to the future and instead of seeing an optimistic image filled with global prosperity, they are transfixed by the picture painted for them of a rotting carcass covered with a frenzied mass of writhing Muslims, Chinese, Mexican, or frankly anyone that isn’t “us” intent on devouring what little of our identity remains.  We need someone to blame for all the things in our lives that are not going well, and these politicos are serving up the perfect dish.

We hear from political leaders, candidates, media, and everyone else that the great globalisation of the world is a sin of such extreme levels that we need to look inward and shore up what little remains of our distinctive culture before it vanishes.

Never have so many millions, no billions, of people around the world fallen so heavily on a sword forged of mistrust and falsehoods.  Not since perhaps the horrific days of Adolf Hitler has this sort of blame “them” attitude flourished to such an extreme level.
And yet… isn’t economic globalisation, conquest, immigration and empire, exactly what “Made America Great” in the first place? 

Any Globally dominant nation has a dramatic impact on the cultural evolution of people.  The great empires of our distant past, like the Ottoman or Roman Empires, created drastic change for much of the worlds population. In later years, the great European expansion through the colonization of most of the planet virtually wiped out whole cultures and civilizations in the unmitigated search for wealth and power.

The United States may not have colonized the planet through direct military conquest, but make no mistake, the influence of the United States on the world has been no less than those empires that have come before them, in fact they have changed our planet more dramatically than any before them.

Hollywood dominates the entertainment world and regularly reinforces the dominance, power, and superiority of the United States over all things, including the Galaxy and the Universe (Series like Star Trek give us the world united and headquartered in the United States). When our planet is invaded by aliens, threatened by meteors it is the United States that comes to the rescue and for the most part all other nations are crippled by either ineptitude or simply lack of resources.  The cultural norms that are part and parcel of being American are distributed to millions of people daily through a consistent barrage of film, TV and online media.

The United States gave us the Internet, which is now arguably the harbinger of almost all change on the planet. People are flooded 24 hours a day with information designed to change and influence their lives.  One of the fastest growing movements in the developing world is to ensure stable access to the Internet and social media.  In impoverished nations, you see people with smart phones who live in shanty towns and can barely survive on the income they earn, but they have the Internet.  If only Facebook could nourish our bodies as well as we have been convinced it can nourish our souls.

The global economic power and the unfettered search for wealth has driven the “American Dream" for well over a century.  Brands like Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Walmart, Starbucks, Nike, and many others continue to rapidly expand into new markets spreading the word of commercialism like wildfire. Walk down almost any street in the world and signs of rampant American commercialism can be found. Small local business has suffered under the yoke of the unending tidal wave of pop cans, coffee cups, and cheap goods that are essential to the strength and pervasive influence of American culture on the rest of the world.  Yet it is this very search for extreme wealth that has created what people who fall at Trumps (who has also benefited from massively) feet and hang on his every word are fighting against.  Cheaper labour, lower cost of raw materials, and the ability to exercise greater influence and control have long been the harbingers of globalization. Modern trade agreements are all designed to foster greater access to inexpensive human and natural resources, this is not a new phenomenon born of the modern economy – it all started centuries before the Walmart’s of the world even existed.

The United States, like many of the countries in the America’s were founded through colonization and immigration.  People seeking new opportunities and to escape the imperialistic societies that dominated the European landscape.  The “New World” offered hope, freedom, and opportunity to better one’s position in life without the staunch class system that loomed ever presently over most people. The millions of people who uprooted themselves to embark on this journey not only populated the continents of North and South America, they decimated indigenous culture and language.

Military dominance has kept much of the world in check against any insurgence that threatens the continued expansion and influence of the United States on the global landscape.  Wars fought over access to natural resources that feed the unending appetite of industry, and in defense of “American” ideals and values have been commonplace since the last world war.  Rather than being the world’s peacekeeper, they are the self labelled “police force” who asserts their dominion through armed conflict and wide sweeping economic sanctions to weaken and eventually destroy any who oppose the continued growth, expansion, and protection of American interests.

American Interests… is an interesting term when you consider the total ramifications of those two words.  If you look beyond the political and military landscape, the interests of the United states reach every corner of the globe, under every rock and in every molecule of every person alive now and well into the future.

It is not all bad though.  Cultural reform around the world that has been driven through this domination has freed many from oppression. Personal freedom and the opportunity that education, improved living conditions, and access to health care have largely been pursued out of the desire to experience the American way of life.  We live in a world where people communicate across continents in seconds, and where victims of persecution have found allies and refuge.  The advent of the Internet and social media have provided a voice to millions of people to stand up against inequality.  The LGBT community is one of many that have utilized traditional forms of protest combined with mass media and new technology to attain freedom not just in the Americas but to further these same rights for others around the world.

The industrialization of some third world countries has created greater access to education, food, and a higher standard of living. There continue to be challenges with environmental impact, and maintaining cultural heritage, but as the world moves forward there are also solutions to many of the problems that seem to plague countries who are struggling with modernization.  Much of the innovation that is feeding the solutions are coming from the very country that for many people are to blame for the trouble.

There are many who are fighting to preserve their way of life and their cultural beliefs.  For many of them they see American dominance as a threat and they are taking strong measures to fight it. It certainly does not justify the acts of terror that have occurred, nor do I hope to elicit any sort of sympathy for persons who engage in an act of terror.  I do not, under any circumstances, condone the violence and brutality of these people. I believe that all human beings are equal and that we each deserve the opportunity to live life to its fullest without fear.

My point is this.  Donald J. Trump and many others are claiming that the United States has lost its way, that it is no longer “great”.  That immigration, trade and economic globalisation have been chipping away at the cores of their society.  What most of them, including Trump, don’t seem to understand is that the very things that he is claiming have destroyed America… are the very things that built the country in the first place. That the global economy was born in the United States, that immigration filled their cities and defined their culture, and that trade with other countries has been the backbone of their economic dominance since the first pilgrim landed on their shores.

I do not always agree with everything the United States does, and I do not always support the position that they take on the world stage.  I do however think that what they have done is lay the foundation f a path to something that most people only read about in science fiction… the eventual creation of a world that is one.  The introduction of new technology, the Internet, social media, and the globalisation of economies and even to a small extent of government through the creation of the United Nations have changed our world for the better.  Most of this innovation has occurred in the minds of Americans who have sought to make our planet a better place, and yes, to make a lot of money doing it.  Today however they are a country where too many believe that the words of a megalomaniac who tell them that they are no longer “great” are true. That they need to close their doors to the world lest they crumble into an abyss of nothingness.

I am not a religious man, but God help us if he does succeed in taking the White House on November 08, 2016. Our world will be changed in ways unimaginable and in that change thrust into a new, scarier, and more unknown future.

If people truly want to Make America Great Again, they will remember what made it great in the first place.


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.