The trans march kicked off Montreal’s Pride week yesterday in Place de La Paix. For its third edition, the event chose to focus on the rights of trans migrants. Organizers called attention to the additional obstacles faced by transgender migrants, especially when changing their gender and name on official documents.

“It’s completely sad that trans migrants have to wait up to seven years in order to be able to change their documents while trans Canadians can easily do that, thanks to Law 35 and the Law 103,” explained Dalia Briki, spokesperson for the event.

Law 35 was passed in 2013 to allow transgender people to change their legal gender without having to undergo surgery and removed the obligation to publish their transition in the newspaper (which was actually a thing). Law 103 recently extended that right to minors.

However, this much applauded update of Quebec’s Civil Code has little effect on trans migrants since immigration procedures do not allow them to change the gender they were assigned at birth.

“We feel trans migrants have been left aside. The government did not help them, the government only helped trans Canadians,” deplores Briki, who identifies as a trans immigrant and woman of colour.

Demands trans march1in the press release include:

  • Removal of Canadian citizenship from admissibility conditions for a change of name and sex in Quebec’s Civil Code
  • That documents of immigration authorities at the provincial and federal levels recognize the actual current gender of migrants
  • That deportation of trans people cease
  • More funding for organizations specifically aiding trans migrants

Around 150 people of all ages and genders gathered in Place de La Paix around 2 PM. A couple of transgender people of colour spoke to the crowd and a short march started, followed by a pick-nick.

A special effort was made to ensure that people of all origins, economic backgrounds and abilities were included. French and English translations, as well as a sign-language interpretation were available. Organizers provided snacks and bus fares.

Speeches particularly focused on the lack of accommodations in immigration services and procedures, the disproportionate rate of violence against trans women of colour and the deportation of trans immigrants despite obvious risks to their safety.

Studies conducted in Canada and the US found alarming rates of violence against trans people, and especially trans women of colour. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 55% of victims of hate homicide documented in the US in 2014 were transgender women. Almost all of those were women of colour.

“You don’t talk because you’re scared, you’re afraid to be in trouble. Migrants don’t say anything. Well, I’m talking now,” declared one speaker as the crowd cheered.

Pride and Representation: The Ongoing Saga

Euphorie dans le genre organized the event on the eve of the official start of Montreal’s Pride week.  Pride activities across the world have often been accused of failing to properly include both the transgender community and cultural minorities. The feud between Black Lives Matter and Toronto Pride last month brought a sudden spotlight on this issue.

Dalia Bikri is “quite worried” about the lack of representation of both communities in the Montreal chapter as well. The trans march, she says, wants to fill that void.

“I feel that trans people of colour are not involved in the organization of the big events of Pride as much as they should be. On the other side, at least in our trans march, trans people and migrants are on the front line.”

The distinctly militant aspect of the march also sets it apart from the usual Pride events, believes Bikri:

“Pride tends to be more celebratory. Our march is more militant. Our needs have not been fulfilled; our demands have not been fulfilled, that’s why we are marching.”

According to co-organizer of the march Gabrielle Leblanc, “there is not quite enough” representation of the trans community in the overall organization of Pride yet, but it’s “getting better every year.”

Montreal Pride runs from August 8th to 14th.

Closeted NHL players received a stern warning from New Jersey Devils winger Cam Janssen last week when he threatened them with violence if they made their sexuality known. And in doing so, Janssen perpetuated the harmful stereotype that the NHL—and the hockey world in general—is an unsafe place for queer athletes.

Janssen, a so-called “tough guy” whose sole job is to provoke opposing players, went into detail in an interview on how he tries to throw people off of their A-game.

Janssen: “There’s some shit-talking that goes down that pisses some people off. There’s a lot of personal shit, man, like, guys know personal shit. … You wanna get in people’s heads to get them off their fucking game, and, don’t get me wrong, you don’t wanna go too deep with shit because we all have our issues here. Let’s be honest.”

Interviewer: “But if the guy was sucking cock four weeks ago, you’re gonna let him know about it?”

Janssen: “Oh, if he’s sucking cock, he’s getting his ass kicked.”

The message is clear that gay athletes should watch out: if they want to play their best game, they’d be best not to give Janssen, or any other goons, extra homo-fodder with which to torment them.

But is the professional hockey world still as bigoted as Janssen makes it seem? Judging from the excellent work of the You Can Play project launched earlier this year, it actually seems that Janssen’s antics are falling out of fashion fast.

The You Can Play campaign aims to root out homophobia from the sports world—starting with hockey. The project was co-founded by Philadelphia Flyers’ scout Patrick Burke in memory of his brother Brendan, who passed away tragically in 2010.

Brian Burke. 

 

 

Brendan, who was a student manager at Miami University, shocked the hockey world when he came out publicly in 2009. As a son of the tough-as-nails Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke, he became the first person affiliated with the NHL to go public with his homosexuality.

The implicit message of this courageous act is immortalized in the simple, yet effective, slogan that defines Patrick’s campaign against homophobia in sports: “If you can play, you can play.”

With an outpouring of support from star athletes, the campaign is demonstrating that a future of sports without homophobia is a lot closer than we might think. In fact, that several on-the-ice goons have appeared in You Can Play ads only highlights how rare off-the-ice goons—like Mr. Janssen—are.

And interest in the project is growing. In a recent interview with on TVO, Brian Burke said that he receives phone calls from some players bemoaning the fact that they weren’t asked to participate, while others ask eagerly when their turn will come to be in front of the You Can Play camera. It seems that hockey players may just have needed the proper outlet to let the world know that they’re not a bunch of neanderthals.

The campaign’s success can be measured, in part, by how quickly Janssen both apologized for his comment and rained praise on the work of You Can Play. In an apology released through his agency, the Devil said:

“I would like to apologize for my poor choice of language. The tone of the interview was very casual and off-color, and I lost focus on what is and is not acceptable and professional. I am deeply sorry to anyone who was offended by my language. Moving forward, I hope to eliminate that type of language from my vocabulary. I would also like to take this chance to express my support for the work the You Can Play project is doing, and for the gay community in general.”

Of course, there is still a strong culture of homophobia/femmephobia in sports to be tackled. But athletes aren’t the only problem. Everyone involved in sports—from players to coaches to the fans and the media—needs to be held to higher standards than they currently are.

In this vein, the next target of any campaign to rid sports of homophobia should be aimed at sports commentators, who are arguably louder and more influential than the athletes they cover. Read the transcript above from the Janssen interview and you’ll see that the homophobic comment was instigated by the host. Such intolerance might not usually be so overt, but it’s definitely present in mainstream sports commentary.

This homophobia is detailed in a recent article for “Left Hook: A critical review of sports and society” by Tyler Shipley. The article documents how the likes of Don Cherry—the reigning king of homophobia in sports— and other commentators like him, engage in an old-school machismo that worships violence and denounces players who aren’t violent as “sweethearts”.

Pressure needs to be put on public figures who perpetuate these intolerant attitudes that make sports an unsafe place for so many people. The response to Janssen’s comments was just one example of how powerful a public shaming can be.

Photos courtesy of Doug Kerr and Angela MacIsaac via Flickr

The season of rainbows is here again. A time when everyone’s happy and everyone’s gay. Everyone, that is, save one group whose presence few seem to understand. I’m talking, of course, about Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).

QuAIA is mostly silent during the year, keeping to themselves and their circle of radical activists. But, once a summer, due to their presence in Toronto’s Pride Parade, they attract a lot of attention with their message of…well…umm…what exactly is their message, and what do queers really have to do with apartheid anyway?

The message of QuAIA, though difficult to discern from its unclear name and heavy use of radical-activist-speak, is, when boiled down, actually quite simple. So simple, in fact, that I’m surprised by their inability to explain it to the public.

For those who don’t know, QuAIA takes issue with the Israeli government’s use of ‘pinkwashing’ to brand their nation as a gay-friendly destination for queer travelers. (Pinkwashing is essentially the act of exploiting one’s tolerance of queers to sell a product—in this case, Israeli tourism.)

In 2005, Israel embarked on a rebranding campaign meant to market the country as a hip place to spend one’s money and, ideally, draw attention away from the oh-so-inconvenient problem of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

One aspect of the campaign was to tell the world how accepting Israelis are of LGBT people. And it’s true. Even though there remains a strong conservative and religious opposition in the country, the policies of the government are quite queer-friendly. Same-sex marriages are recognized (but not performed), Pride festivals fill the streets, gays are allowed in the military and are able to adopt children, and anti-discrimination laws are even on the books. Compared to the vast majority of countries on this earth, Israel is far ahead in the LGBT rights race.

So what’s the problem then? Simply put, QuAIA takes issue with hard-fought human rights victories of one group being used to hide, and, in effect, legitimize, human rights violations against another.

Advocates of such gay-branding say that advertising a country’s “friendliness” towards a group of people is perfectly legitimate—and they’re right. But they’re also missing the point.

When Israel shows off how gay-friendly it is, and pundits inevitably highlight how gay-unfriendly the rest of the Middle East is, it’s easy to view Israel as a beacon of freedom in a sea of despair. And this is where QuAIA comes in. To them, Israel is no such beacon and should not be seen as one, given their treatment of the people whose land they occupy and blockade.

Before I receive the obligatory hate-mail that comes with writing *anything* on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I should say that I’m not writing this to provide commentary on what’s actually happening there. I’m writing because QuAIA is failing to bring their message to anyone but the converted.

A queer group that labels itself with a contentious term—apartheid—that then can’t explain to the general public why queer people have anything to do with it, is destined to fail. And this is unfortunate, because they do have important ideas—criticizing ‘pinkwashing’ being the most important.

For anyone who thinks that QuAIA is doing a fine job, just look at practically every editorial on them in mainstream media organizations across Canada. Few, if any, engage with QuAIA’s actual issues, instead focusing on how awful the rest of the Middle East is toward gays, making queers against Israel seem silly and out of touch. I’m not saying it’s right, but what else can we expect from lazy commentators who aren’t forced to engage with specifics.

Sure, QuAIA might explain themselves perfectly fine on their website, but when the vast majority of uninformed people don’t read their website, it doesn’t mean much. QuAIA need to realize that if they *actually* want to effect change, they need to have the public on their side. And that’s not going to happen when the mainstream media is given free reign to shape the debate in favour of Israel. The purpose of QuAIA, as I see it, is to force the public to engage with this issue—something they’ve failed to do thus far. And how should they go about this? By dropping the radical-activist-speak and by making an actual effort to explain themselves. If you have a message, it’s your job to get it across, not to sit there and bemoan the obstacles in your way—in this case, the “zionist media”.

As legal rights and support for queers enters the mainstream at a faster and faster pace, pinkwashing is only going to spread. We need to call it out when it happens and tell the businesses and governments engaged in it that we don’t accept their exploitation of our only-recent acceptance in society. And that we especially won’t accept it when used to cleanse the image of controversial products.

We must remember that gay rights haven’t always existed, and that we don’t have them now because they were simply bestowed to us in an act of kindness. No, our brethren fought tooth and nail to wrestle those rights and privileges from the hands of those now trying to profit off of them.

And this, in an awfully roundabout way, is what QuAIA is failing to get across to thousands of queers each summer. Just so you know. Because, it’s not like they were going to tell you.

Photos courtesy of Paul Lowry and Loozrboy via Flickr

Of all the feelings I thought I’d have at a memorial to gay Holocaust victims, shame was the furthest from my mind. Yet it’s exactly what I felt.

While on a walking tour in Berlin recently, my boyfriend and I stopped at the breathtaking Holocaust memorial by the Brandenburg Gate.

A graveyard of towering grey pillars overwhelms its guests as they work their way into the grid. And as city sounds give way to silence, the sheer madness of the Holocaust, the demented logic of fascism, and the utter bleakness of World War II are brought to bear on those who enter.

The absence of identifiable symbols or colours—religious or otherwise—strengthens the inclusive nature of the monument. So when I found out the memorial was not actually for all victims of the Holocaust, but only for the Jews, I felt shameful.

I felt shame that my own community’s suffering was deemed unworthy of inclusion in a most important Holocaust memorial. Was the pain felt by a gay man somehow lesser than that felt by a Jew?

Enough people felt the suffering of homosexuals was worthy of commemoration, though, that a monument was eventually built for them. But after seeing it, I’m not quite sure what to think.

Coming from the immense Jewish monument, the ‘Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism’ is underwhelming, to say the least. It stands as but a single, towering, unmarked block of concrete, nestled away in a nondescript enclave of the famous Tiergarten.

The juxtaposition of the two sites—one impossible to miss, the other hard to notice—only added to my initial shame of exclusion. Why is the monument for gay victims hidden in the bushes?

Maybe it’s a fitting place, I thought to myself. Maybe a memorial planted in the forest, where those it commemorates were once shamed into seeking discreet sex, is appropriate. Or maybe not. In any case, the jury is out on that decision, so I’ll continue with the tour.

The shame of homosexuality is further explored in a video, seen through a window in the giant block, that features short clips of same-sex couples caught kissing in public. Despite hesitancy from the couples, all continue embracing their partner. The act, though hardly remarkable today, was once enough to end the lives of those caught under Germany’s anti-homosexual law.

Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, initially passed in 1871, criminalized sexual behaviour between men. Upon taking power, the Nazis intensified the law, allowing for the detention of homosexuals in concentration camps without any legal trial. Of the 5,000–15,000 gay men placed in concentration camps, up to 60 per cent perished.

Those that survived the camps were faced with further injustice after the war. Many of those “saved” were placed back in prison to finish the remainder of their sentence, since paragraph 175 was technically not a Nazi law. And even though the law was modified after WWII, it was not fully repealed until 1994.

Walking out of the woods and back on the main drag, I tried to make sense of the memorial. I realized I hadn’t even kissed my boyfriend in that most perfect of places. Caught up in the politics of the memorial, I’d lost sight of what it was all about: the ability to celebrate one’s love.

So I leaned in and, after a moment’s hesitation, we embraced—shame no longer on my mind.

The memorial may not be perfect. It may not be in the best spot and it may lack the power to inspire awe. But where it succeeds is in its simplicity with the message that love prevails.

Photo courtesy of Julian Ward