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:
Hot pinkSexuality

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


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


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.