Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why Mainstream Pride is Important - Commercialization and All...

I'm aware that many people in the LGBTQ communities have little use for the big Pride celebration and its evolution into a highly commercialized event, with its attempts to bury our political past.  But I think it is a mistake to claim we've moved past the need for such celebrations.

I have a different perspective than the majority of my queer friends:  I did not come out until I was 35 years old, and having spent all those years deep in the closet meant I had no connection whatsoever to the gay community.  The big Pride parade was my entry into my community;  it was a way to ease in and be with people like me, even though I might have been reluctant to get involved.  Pride weekend gave me an opportunity to stand on the sidelines and become acquainted with the groups, organizations, and subcultures - at my own speed.

I am now friends with a lot of wonderful, long-time queer activists who were at the forefront of the fight for our basic rights.  Although I have the utmost respect and admiration for these people, it frustrates me to hear them dismiss mainstream Pride as irrelevant.  The calls for a return to a smaller, more grassroots-style Pride is problematic if it means abandoning what we have now.  The intent is fine but ultimately the grassroots events end up being exclusive;  there would have been no access to them for the isolated gay man that I was.

The thing I love most about Pride is the wall-to-wall crowds on Church St.  It is the one time of the year when I get to be a member of the majority - and that feeling is one that everyone in the world should have a chance to experience.  I find it offensive when gay activists dismiss Pride as made up entirely of straight people gawking.  Yes, the gawkers are certainly there, but so am I.  I have a need to be there, and I am far from alone.

I'm now plugged into the queer communities, and I love that.  I get a lot of invitations to really great community events.  But I remain aware that not everyone does.

I'm well aware of the many problems that have come with the growth of our Pride into one of the largest in the world.  But however troublesome I find the banks, the police recruiters, the military, and so on, I am deeply attached to mainstream Pride.  It's certainly not a vital part of everyone's life, but it continues to serve a vital role for many.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Police forces, I'd like to introduce you to YouTube...

With the G20 debacle fresh in our minds, many Torontonians are shaking their heads at the efforts of American city authorities and police forces to break up Occupy protests. Police in some cities have been witnessed beating peaceful protesters, kettling groups, and using tear gas and rubber bullets. Police forces are now toning down the violence somewhat, after a public outcry and drop in their approval ratings. Sound familiar, Toronto?

On Friday, a police officer at UC Davis used pepper spray on a group of protesters who were sitting on the ground, showing no signs of movement or threatening actions. In justifying the officer's action, this statement was issued:

"The students had encircled the officers," [UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza] said. "[The police] needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out."

Oh, rilly? That's not what I'm seeing here:

Aside from the complete lack of violence or even threat, the officer (Police Lt. John Pike) sprays the group - with all the concern of a janitor spraying room deodorizer. Perhaps he's missing something that is clear at almost any point in the video: the number of students filming his action with smart phones (and even laptop web cams). The video proves the police chief wrong on a number of points:

• The students had not "encircled" the officers. The officers who are seen dragging away arrested protesters have a clear path away from the crowd. They were never "unable to get out".

• The police did not "need" to exit. They were unwelcome in the first place; it was the brutality exercised by one of their own members which (rightly) stirred the crowd, but even then there was no threat of violence.

• The pepper-spraying was in no way a defensive move. Lt. Pike clearly steps over the protesters who are sitting on the ground, turns back, advances on them, and turns the spray on them. It is clear in the video that at no time are the protesters following or advancing on him or any other officers.

• The police cannot have been unaware of the number of cameras trained on them. (Watch the video again, particularly toward the end.) Did they think their actions were not about to be posted to the net immediately, for all the world to witness?

And so, an open letter to UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza and - all other police chiefs.

Dear Police:

When one of your members commits an act of brutality against peaceful citizens, you need to admit to the error - immediately. You must punish the officer appropriately - and the only appropriate response for wanton disregard for the public's safety, well-being, and civil rights, is dismissal. And then you must promise the error will not be repeated, and you must ensure that the entire force is properly trained to keep that promise. Anything less than this will be met with the loss of your credibility, and the loss of any trust and faith the public might have in you.

Also - when you lie about what has transpired in a public crowd situation, there's not much chance you're going to get away with it. It's 2011 for crying out loud. Most of the population have video cameras in their pockets. Lying just makes you look incredibly stupid.

the 99%

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Toronto: Just Vote, and Everything will be OK.

Reading through Facebook posts and comments about Occupy Toronto, I came across this comment under a friend's post:

"I would like to know how many of the estimated 3000 protesters voted on May 2, 2011 and on October 6, 2011."

This is one of the right-wing's tactics: to portray the Occupy movement simply as a group of unemployed, disaffected youth who have no right to complain because they didn't vote. In fact, a friend of mine came across a SunTV "reporter" trying to push exactly this angle at Saturday's Occupy Toronto launch. My friend engaged the SunTV rep and challenged her on the smear attempt, and the resulting conversation almost came to blows; the story should be appearing on my friend's blog soon.

The truth of the matter is, democracy and voting are hardly relevant here, and to try to boil down the Occupy movement to voting both ignores the real problems and shows a clear lack of understanding of the movement. The reason for the lack of simple demands in these protests is that there is not a single protest, nor is there a single solution.

Here are some of the societal problems being protested:

• Lack of pay equity
• Growing disparity between employee and executive salaries
• Bonuses for executives in charge of failing companies
• Bonuses for executives at the same time workers' wages are cut
• Shrinking and stolen pensions
• Lack of health care
• Lack of senior care and housing
• Rising tuitions
• Student debt
• Existing jobs requiring graduate degrees
• Dearth of jobs for qualified graduates
• Lack of affordable housing
• Lack of education spending
• Classroom overcrowding and quality of education
• Cuts to social services
• Protection for the environment

This was what I came up with just off the top of my head. Some of these problems are interrelated; others require unique solutions. Some can be dealt with through government action and legislation; others require voluntary reform within businesses and industries. And implementing solutions to all of it would be nothing short of revolutionary.

Remember when the HST was proposed in Ontario? We were told that it would simplify things for businesses, which would save money and eventually pass on savings to the consumer. Are you enjoying all the lower prices now, and all the money you are saving?

The point is: government and businesses don't act on these things without a push - and anyone who thinks it's just a matter of voting in liberal/democratic governments to save us from conservative policies is naive. As quality of life worsens for people all over the world, these protests will build and continue.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What I Am Thinking About on 9/11.

Today I am thinking of Chile. I am thinking of 3,000 dead and tens of thousands tortured. I am thinking of a US-backed coup. I am thinking of the the psychological damage done to a people by a dictator they didn't elect.

Today I am thinking of 3,000 dead in NYC and hundreds of thousands dead in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am thinking of innocence, hatred, compassion, and retaliation. I am thinking of shock, awakening, pride, flags, and nationalism. I am thinking of terrorism by extremists who see their way of life threatened, and terrorism by governments which see their neoliberal agendas threatened.

Today I am thinking of how crisis brings out the best in us. And I am thinking of how crisis brings out the worst in us.

Today I am thinking of the love of people who opened their hearts and their arms to strangers who struggled with the anguish of losing loved ones. And I am thinking of the love of people who are fighting for an end to war against strangers under attack on the other side of the world.

Today I am thinking of our ability to look past differences and show empathy for strangers who are traumatized. And I am thinking of our ability to look past complexity and blame a situation on skin colour, religion, and clothing customs when we are traumatized.

Today I am thinking of lives under attack by guns and bombs, of the loss of life, and the need for understanding of the root causes of extremism to prevent futher attacks. And I am thinking of human rights under attack by governments and their laws, of the loss of freedoms, and the need for education, awareness, and action and protests to show our governments that we will not allow their attacks to go unchallenged.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Reminder for Rob Ford Supporters

"No service cuts, guaranteed!"
- Mayor Rob Ford

"No major service cuts."
- Mayor Rob Ford

"No service cuts in 2011."
- Mayor Rob Ford

"These are not service cuts but efficiencies."
- Mayor Rob Ford

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Letter to Toronto City Council, re: Giorgio Mammoliti

Dear Councillors:

In light of Councillor Mammoliti's renewed calls for city de-funding of Pride Toronto, I want to make sure you are aware of his behaviour on Saturday.

Of course, Pride is a diverse and inclusive event. But I am dismayed that an elected representative of the city attended apparently with the sole purose of looking for evidence he could use to call for the withdrawal of city support for a festival which attracts millions of dollars in business and tax money for our cash-strapped city. And unlike those of you who attended the Pride Parade on Sunday, Councillor Mammoliti did not have the courtesy to express well wishes to the city's LGBTQ communities, even though he spent considerable time at Pride, before and during the Saturday march.

I felt it important to draw your attention to some video clips I took of the events; links are provided below. You can see in these clips that the contingent Councillor Mammoliti was following was entirely peaceful. His focus on the phrase "Israeli apartheid" is disingenuous, as you are aware that the city manager's report has not found any evidence of hatred or discrimination through the use of that phrase.

Video links

Peaceful march

Mammoliti stalking the Dyke March

Mammoliti desperately searching for hatred, and finding none

From the beginning of this controvesy, Councillor Mammoliti has demonstrated intent on holding Pride Toronto and certain LGBTQ groups to a different standard than others. This is clearly discriminatory behaviour on his part, and he should be held accountable.

The above was emailed to all on city council except for Mammoliti himself and both Fords. I received personal responses (not auto-responses) - some polite, others supportive - from councillors:
Mihevc, Grimes, Kelly, Vaughan, McConnell, Layton, Matlow, and Bailao.

Councillor Vaughan added this comment:
"It was interesting to watch the Toronto Police riding alongside of the march. If a so called 'hate crime' was being committed you'd have to wonder why the police stood by and did nothing."

The only sour note was a response from Councillor Del Grande. Referring to Mammoliti in the videos, he writes:
"Thank you for your e-mail.

He is on the side not interfering with the parade. He has not violated any law."

My response:

Councillor Del Grande:

You're right, Councillor Mammoliti has not violated any law. If you want to talk about the legal aspects of this controversy, the recent city manager's report stated that the use of the phrase "Israeli Apartheid" is not hate speech and is not discriminatory. The group that Councillor Mammoliti was targeting on Saturday is a group supporting LGBTQ Palestinians; they had every right to be in the march and did nothing wrong. They also had every right to free speech - which includes the right to utter the words "Israeli Apartheid". Councillor Mammoliti's support for pro-Israel groups and victimization of pro-Palestinian groups is discriminatory - as is Toronto City Council's decision to withhold funding from Pride Toronto until after the festivities were over (no other group which receives city funding is subject to this kind of treatment).

In your decisions regarding Pride Toronto, it is my hope that you will abide by the law and the city's own anti-discrimination policy when you represent all the residents of your ward - including those who identify as LGBTQ.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why I'm Not Wearing a Poppy This Year

I used to be a schoolteacher, and every Remembrance Day, I would teach that we remember the brave people who fought for us, but also to remember the tragedies of history so as not to repeat them. This was particularly important, to ease children's fears of death brought on by discussion of war. I taught the children how to make their own poppies out of construction paper.

Remembrance Day has always been important to me. Being of Japanese descent, my Father and uncles - all born in Canada - were imprisoned during WWII by their own government, along with the entire Japanese Canadian community, and when they were released, they pressed for the right to take part in Canada's war efforts to prove their loyalty to Canada, and when granted that right, they did just that. I've always felt obliged to wear a poppy in respect to those who fought to protect our country and our freedoms - especially because a number of those people are my own relatives.

But in recent years I've become aware of the controversies over modern wars, and Canada's involvement of them - not really wars at all, but unprovoked invasions. Canada did not send troops to Iraq, although Chretien wanted to; he was stopped by public outcry. Canada did, however, send troops to Afghanistan to free up American troops to fight in Iraq. The atrocities committed against Iraqis and Afghanis continue to be revealed by a reluctant mainstream media. Nevertheless, the majority of Canadians believe that the Iraq invasion was wrong, that American war resisters are right to refuse to take part, and that Canadian troops must be brought home from Afghanistan. These "wars" are not about conquest or defending our rights and freedoms; they are about stealing resources and keeping the war economy healthy.

On the other side of these facts is a Canadian government which is waging a propaganda campaign with attempts to conceal and minimize stories of our soldiers who have died senselessly. It seems we are reminded to honour the brave men and women who fight for us at every turn, with "wear red" campaigns, "support our troops" ribbons on our cars, highways renamed as memorials, memorial coins in our pocket change (special designs on circulation coins: a loonie, a nickel, and at least three different quarters), and even in the cancellation stamp on my mail this morning. Of course, these campaigns - all showing government involvement - are simply well-intentioned attempts to honour our soldiers. Aren't they?

With so many of these questionable actions - while the government tries to bolster flagging support to keep troops in Afghanistan, it is no wonder the poppy is called into question. So I was delighted, a couple of years ago, to learn about the "peace poppy": a white poppy which specifically emphasizes the message of peace - which I'd felt was an integral part of our familiar red poppy all along. But was I wrong? I'd gotten the impression that the white poppy didn't go over well with veterans' groups; this year, the Royal Canadian Legion, which owns the trademark to the poppy, is threatening to sue distributors of the white poppy. A Legion spokesperson says, "The use of the poppy for anything other than remembrance is not acceptable." Come again? Since when is promoting peace in opposition to remembering our war dead?

The really fucked up thing here is that, growing up in a capitalist society, I'd accept the economic greed argument - that the Legion owns the trademark and wants to protects its poppy sales - before I'd want to accept that veterans are arguing against peace. But that appears to be what is happening. In another of many articles on this issue published over the last week, one veteran criticized those wearing white poppies, saying that they had probably never fought in a war.

Why is it that so many people today think that it is acceptable to try to shut down debate by painting those they disagree with as unpatriotic, or uncaring? Trying to take someone else's voice away - by implying that they haven't the right to engage in debate - is a form of censorship. Correct me if I'm wrong, but freedom of speech is one of the rights that was fought for and protected; we are not going to violate that right for the sake of this little argument.

The whole issue has left a bad taste in my mouth. I no longer feel any sense of obligation to put on a red poppy, and if people can't understand the very elementary message of the white one, well, I won't wear that one either. No one can take my feelings or beliefs away from me, and I won't have them misconstrued by people standing on street corners selling plastic flowers.

And so, on November 11, 2010, instead of a poppy, I am wearing this blog post.

To those who would judge me for having bare coat lapels: judge not, or be prepared for an earful.

To my Dad, who fought to protect Canada, and our freedoms: all my love, respect, and appreciation. I'm so proud of you. I always have been.

To the American war resisters - who are putting a human face on an illegal and immoral US invasion: all my love and support. You are the kind of people this world needs, and to those of you I've met: we're lucky to have you in Canada. On Remembrance Day, we should be remembering the horrors of war, present as much as past - and that means talking about your part in history. You give me hope for our future.