HOW CANADA CAN DEFEND AND PROMOTE FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS FOR LGBTI PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD

The-Dignity-Initiative-Wordmark1Graphic design for the Dignity Initiative: Raymond Helkio | Recent years have witnessed significant progress in many countries around the world in the realization of the fundamental human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, from securing decriminalization of our sexuality and protection against discrimination to achieving recognition for our relationships and families.

But even where important gains have been made on some fronts, the recognition and protection of rights remains uneven. Trans people remain particularly vulnerable, and often without adequate legal protection, while the rights of intersex people rarely receive much discussion at all. Meanwhile, gender-based violence remains a reality for many LBTI women, including violence motivated by real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Factors such as class, race, ethnicity, (dis)ability, HIV status, migrant status, drug use, incarceration and sex work often exacerbate the vulnerability of LGBTI people to discrimination and violence.

To build on these efforts, in 2015 a working group of committed organizations and individuals came together to launch the Dignity Initiative, with the twin objectives of strength- ening both international solidarity work by Canadian civil society groups and Canada’s foreign policy commitment to supporting the realization of human rights for LGBTI people internationally. The working group includes representatives of organizations from around Canada, and is committed, within the scope of its resources, to a country-wide, collaborative approach that involves and engages with groups in every province and territory in pursuit of these twin objectives.

THE WAY FORWARD | Violence, criminalization and discrimination against LGBTI people require a comprehensive and consistent response from the Government of Canada. Canada has a valuable role to play in advancing the rights of LGBTI people. The Dignity Initiative is inspired by Canada’s existing efforts to protect and promote these rights. It is time for Canada to step up its efforts and take bold, strategic actions, in collaboration with local community advocates, to champion LGBTI rights at home and globally.

Download a PDF copy of
Advancing Dignity: Policy Report


Download a PDF copy of
Solidarity for Dignity: Civil Society Report


Visit the Dignity Initiate website for more information on this exciting initiative and how you can get involved.

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#BlackLivesMatter Is The Best Thing To Happen to Pride Toronto Since The Orlando Shootings (An Open Letter To Mathieu Chantelois, Pride Toronto)

When I heard that 49 of my Orlando brothers and sisters died as a result of the one man’s hate fuelled rampage I felt sick because I know it’s caused by a culture that rewards homophobia, sexism and oppression. Sometimes I wonder if we are no longer in modern times but have gone back in a time machine to more barbaric period and we just can’t see our own barbarism.
The real crime was not that Omar pulled the trigger on those innocent people but that our entire city jumped up in unison exclaiming ‘How can something like this happen given all the progress we’ve made?!” Yes we have made progress but the crime of this statement is that anyone saying it gets to remove themselves from what is actually happening. Adding further fuel to the fire was the media and public who went scrambling to make sense of this situation but instead of looking inwards at the pressure cooker of a culture we have created, people tried to make the situation about some extraordinary circumstances like how he was a product of ISIS, his father brainwashed him, he was mentally ill, etc. This is a problematic way to view a mass murder because now there is nothing we can learn if we dismiss their actions as highly unusual. Take a look at Omar Mateen’s face, he is not crazy. In fact I was bullied, picked on, tormented and harassed all the way through grade school by guys just like Omar. He’s not ill, he’s a product of this culture and is just one of many that make up the majority. Look at him. I’m serious, take a hard look at his picture and let’s not pretend that we are seeing something other then what it is. An arrogant boy who is as homophobic as he is a misogynist just like all the other bad boys our culture is supporting. Sure he made himself a connection through ISIS but I’m pretty sure he was an asshole before he sought to align with them. This is not the face of a killer, he is in fact the boy next door and that we should be very afraid of.

When the news of those 49 victims hit Toronto weeks prior to our biggest LGBT celebration it was an opportunity for the city to take a hard look at itself. And we did. At The 519 candlelight vigil the next evening the speeches were filled with rage, sadness and talk of being political once again. Suddenly Toronto remembered that while we may have won the battle, the war is far from over and most importantly we all learned that the world only appears safe to those who live in relative privilege. It’s sad and deeply tragic that we had to wake-up as the result of these deaths but at least these people will not die in vain. Even Pride Toronto delivered speeches that resembled something a leader who cares for the future of our planet would say.

And then Pride kicked in and the city partied, danced and completely forgot that we shouldn’t be having a party when we have so much work to do. Enter Black Lives Matter (BLM) who took Pride’s invitation to ‘Come Sit With Us’ quite literally and during the 30 minute sit-in protest gave this city a much needed gift: the gift of self-reflection but we still haven’t collectively proven that we are up to the challenge. Instead we are still arguing about whether the police should march in Pride or if #BLM tactics were fair or not. We’re all missing the opportunity for some self-refection because what we should be arguing about is how much we need to do with the police and the communities they are supposed to serve. What BLM did was morally courageous because they took an honoured position and used it to expose back the imbalance and injustices they experience including from organizations like Pride Toronto who instead of being inclusive has lost touch with it’s roots. BLM looked right into the whites of our eyes and demanded that we see and hear them. I see you, I hear you and I’m so sorry for the pain we keep causing. We are all a part of the problem and we need to join forces in pursuit of a solution. I know many people who have busy lives and it’s hard to talk about such difficult subjects for long stretches but please, please, please if you are tired of working this out remember the 49 dead people in Orlando.

So many people have to die in order for Canadians to wake up but this is the price of apathy. There’s also a secondary level of institutionalized discrimination on the part of Pride Toronto that needs to be addressed even before we tackle the issue with the cops. Dishearteningly many people in this city think it’s okay to discriminate one group over another as long as the group we’re repressing can be labeled a ‘terrorist’, ‘hate group’ or other such nonsense. We do need to safeguard again hate but that’s not what Pride Toronto has been tampering with. In 2010 Pride Toronto spent lots of money and resources trying to force the community to pre-approve all parade signs and banners before they set out to on a witch hunt to ban QuAIA. Last year they successfully banned the men’s group CAFE because they didn’t like their politics. Why is it that we allow Pride to decide what is okay and what is not? How about we get to make our own mistakes and if you don’t like a particular group shut up about it because you have not been appointed the morality squad. As long as you are taking cash from floats like Viagra and The Pickle Barrel you have no business telling others who they should be or what or how they can speak. Pride Toronto is publicly using words like ‘inclusiveness’ to defend the police being in the parade. It should never be up to Pride to decide who marches anyway and someone needs to call them out on this banning business because it’s only at the whim of the committee du jour.

Mathieu Chantelois, you have a wonderful opportunity to stand up and take our entire city into a whole new direction. One that is marked by leadership, innovative thinking and moral courage. Some of the major media outlets have already predicted or called for the resignation of the entire Pride staff but I would argue there’s a rainbow lining in this cloud, a catalyst to making serious change within our police system all while supporting those in our community who are the most vulnerable. Mathieu, some people may not like you if you listen to the needs of BLM but I and many others will back you up. Yes there are some good cops and some queer ones but can we stop focusing on the tiny bits of progress that we have made with them. Let’s stop pretending they lead us through a process of community reconciliation. Let’s remember that what little goodwill that exists is there becasue it came out of them harassing us on the streets, in our clubs, shops and even our homes. So we demanded action. We can congratulate the police for the progress, thank them for their dedication and then insist that we do some serious talking with our black and trans family. This is not a right/wrong paradigm, it’s shades of dirty grey that is getting more tainted the longer we turn our backs on taking action. If the Metropolitan Toronto Police were a business they would be sued into oblivion over just the last year’s worth of horrendous behaviour. Yes there are good cop stories but this is about the gestapo we have come to believe has been serving and protecting us. I was at the bathhouse raid ‘apology’ and anyone else who was there should be deeply offended by both the presentation of the circuit party style event to the delivery of the most insulting non-apology I have ever heard. Who are you people and why aren’t any LGBT cops standing up in disgust?

Mathieu please stand tall and support BLM, the police and the community in a long overdue dialogue. We need you to fight for us more than we need a parade that reinforces Pride Toronto’s irrelevance as a leadership organization.

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RAID: Operation Soap to premier at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre during Pride week!

RAID Poster

It’s been 35 year’s since the Metropolitan Toronto Police simultaneously raided 4 bathhouses, arresting over 300 men in grotesque display of power intended to humiliate the men they found. These raids were the catalyst for one of the most significant turning points in Canadian LGBT history.

Dubbed Operation Soap by police the raids sparked outrage among the LGBT community and the next day over 3,000 protesters took to the street in a protest/march that has grown into what we now know as Toronto Pride month.

Please join me for this epic performance part of Buddies In Bad Times Theatre Queer Pride programming, we’ll give you plenty of reasons to fall in love with theatre all over again, I hope to see you there! Ray xox

WEDNESDAY JUNE 29, 8PM
TICKETS 

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Closet Case: New Web Series Premiering on theBUZZ

From Toronto’s East End to New York’s East Village we take you on an uncensored journey into the closets and behind the alter egos of our communities most beloved queers. Welcome to Closet Case.

From Toronto’s East End to New York’s East Village join us as we go behind the alter egos and into the closets of our communities most beloved queers. Thursdays on theBuzz.

Episode 1: Inside D’yan Forest, an 81 year old internationally recognized cabaret singer, actress and stand-up comedian. This ‘bisexual Betty White’ has been dazzling audiences for more then seven decades with her one-woman extravaganza and slight-of-mouth comedy.

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Proud To Vote: LGBTQ ISSUES IN THE ELECTION

Proud To Vote HELKIO

GRAPHIC DESIGN: Raymond Helkio

Join us for a discussion & debate with representatives of all four major parties on key issues for LGBTQ communities in Canada. The event features representatives from all four major Canadian political parties running candidates in Ontario with the discussion moderated by Brenda Cossman, from the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. Unlike riding-focused debates, this town hall will focus on a range of issues of interest to LGBTQ communities in Canada, including domestic and foreign policy issues.

THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 24, 2015
Buddies In Bad Times Theatre
Doors: 5:00pm
Debate begins: 6:00pm
Post-debate Social: 8:00pm

UPCOMING: LGBTQ Issues Debate in Ottawa on Friday, September 25th being held at the National Centre for the Arts. Follow both our events on Twitter at #LGBTQVotes or Facebook.


Event Partners include: the 519, the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Dignity Initiative, #EndHateLaws, Pride Toronto, Sherbourne Health Centre, Trans Lobby Group, and XTRA Pink Triangle Press.

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Toronto: Less Bullies, More Ambassadors

While waiting for a bus in downtown Toronto, Enza Anderson looked up because two City of Toronto workers in an orange and blue truck were snickering and taunting her. When she didn’t respond they drove their large city-issued truck up along side of her and called out ”Look at the batty bwoy!”.  This is pretty terrible behaviour from what once was “Toronto the Good”. What happened to Enza is not an anomaly and since the majority of LGBT-related hate crimes go unreported we know it’s happening with greater frequency than Metro Hall is claiming to be aware of.

City Of Toronto employees

Photo: Enza Anderson

Enza wanted to make a formal complaint in person so last Wednesday we met with the Director of Transportation Services at Metro Hall to formally complaint about the harassment. Metro Hall is a big building that feels a bit like stepping onto the Star Trek enterprise where everything is beeping, humming and churning along inside while out in space a shit-storm is brewing.

We are met in the lobby and escorted up in the elevator to the seventeenth floor. The ride up was filled with over-cordial, enthusiastic conversation which did serve to distract us from the giant elephant that was squished in with us. In this polite country we call Canada it would be unheard of to direct our anger and frustration at him so instead we all make small talk as if we’re all aligned on next steps, which is doubtful. We are at this meeting because city employees think that it’s okay to drive up along someone and call out degrading and threatening comments. If you worked at a bank and did the same thing to someone while wearing your bank name tag – you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re harshly and swiftly penalized. Toronto cannot afford to celebrate diversity while supporting a culture based on fear, hate and intolerance. It doesn’t matter if a woman wears a short skirt or if a person’s gender isn’t apparent, none of it is relevant to doing their job.

Toronto Metro Hall signThese men only see themselves as employees, accountable to their boss, as opposed to ambassadors of our city, which is why after-the-fact tactics like sensitivity training are like scratching at an open wound because it suggests that the problem is lack of knowledge or ’sensitivity’ to a particular culture or ideology. We don’t need written policies to tell us that driving up along side anyone so you can tease them is way, way, way out-of-line.  These men were fully aware that what they were doing was wrong and it’s only going to inflict more pain onto the situation by forcing them to apologize or show compassion. It’s like forcing a bully to make an apology to his victim, sure it might feel good to watch him squirm and spit out an apology but in the end he’s not really going to be sorry. In most jobs it’s just understood that you are a representative of the company, so why do so many guys think they can act like complete assholes while at work? Partly, because they’ve been getting away with it for years.

Raymond Helkio

We get off the elevator, walk through the glass doors and into the office area to be greeted by one of his colleagues. As we enter the corner office with its impressive view of downtown, we’re offered sincere apologies for the situation, an assurance that they are taking this seriously and suggests that these situations are pretty rare. If you are trans, it’s not rare. A cis gender woman, it’s not rare. A visible gay or lesbian, not rare. Having the same rights as everyone doesn’t mean we have to be like everyone so it’s imperative that city workers reflect and respect that diversity.

Sitting around the table, it’s explained to us that the there are strict policies in place and employees are bound by. It’s all well and good to have a policy, but if your employees don’t see themselves as ambassadors for the city then it’s just another piece of paper. After Enza explained the tormenting and belittling behaviour from people who are getting paid to do a job. Right off the top our expectations were capped when they told us that the two men in question have already been pulled aside and spoken to and since the city is unionized the outcome of any disciplinary action will be kept confidential but could be a letter on file or up to ten days suspension. Or nothing at all.

This sounds like a slap on the wrist compared to the City of Toronto’s Human Rights and Anti-Harassment Policy which underscores the seriousness of their offence “All employees are responsible for respecting the dignity and rights of their co-workers and the public they serve. Discrimination and harassment are serious forms of employee misconduct which may result in disciplinary action up to and including discharge.”

In other jobs I don’t have to be told that it’s not okay to harass others so when it happens with regular occurrence perhaps the problem might be happening the moment the person is hired. The construction workers and city employees I personally know are highly functioning and intelligent people so this is not a capacity issue. Working in a public capacity carries the same, if not greater, responsibility for respecting the basic human rights of the people who also live in this city.


THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 10TH: We haven’t heard anything further from Metro Hall. Earlier today Enza placed a formal complain with the city’s Human Rights office.

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Well Hung: The Party

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We’ve taken over the third floor space at Glad Day Bookshop, the world’s oldest queer bookstore, to bring you an epic collaboration of artist work including Brad Fraser‘s triptych Cock Therapy, Blue Nude by David Bateman plus legendary photos by Raymond Helkio. Even if you don’t want to buy any art you should come out to our party this Saturday because you’ll get to submerge yourself in free performance and video art all night long starting with the world premiere of Paul Bellini‘s new short film Prison Tattoo, What’s It Like? by David Bateman + a midnight performance of Hamlet In A Hot Tub’s End of The World Tour. Featured artists include Brock Hessel (Hamlet) and Amy J. Lester (Ophelia) with additional spoken words by S. MacDonald, proceeds from this event to benefit the Hamlet In A Hot Tub Production Fund (so we can put on more free shows) and Glad Day Bookshop.

Saturday July 25, 10PM
Glad Day Bookshop
598a Yonge Street, Toronto

ray Photo of David Bateman in front of Brad Fraser’s triptych Cock Therapy at Glad Day Bookshop by Raymond Helkio, 2015 (Toronto)

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The Year That Pride Died

Pride 2015 Poster

My heart’s broken. I am a card-carrying homosexual who wears his politics on his sleeve. I do this out of respect to the queers before me who stood up to injustice, fought back and won. These are the people of moral courage and they are responsible for much of the freedoms we enjoy today.

How dare you use oppressive tactics against your own community. Pride Toronto’s dispute resolution process (DRP) has created a high state of anxiety and fear for me. As an active member and advocate with Toronto’s queer community I am concerned about who is going to be banned next.

The thing about free speech and human rights is that you can’t pick and choose who gets it. Pride Toronto is now in the practice of exclusion which is contrary to your stated values and endangering the lives of the community in which you are to serve.

Pride Toronto is not welcome at my march on Sunday June 28, 2015 as your organization fosters a culture of fear by promoting exclusion. Toronto deserves bold and boundary-pushing leadership, I’m confident you can do better.

“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities” –Ayn Rand

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” –Oscar Wilde

Now Magazine Pink balaclava: Raymond Helkio

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Dignity Initiative: A Legacy of Love

The Dignity Initiative Wordmark

In June 2014, over 500 activists, academics, lawyers and policymakers from across Canada and around the world came together in Toronto, Ontario for the WorldPride Human Rights Conference which raised the level of awareness of global LGBTI issues in Toronto and Canada and provided a launch pad for the Dignity Initiative.

There is currently no framework or best practice guidelines for LGBTI and allied groups across Canada for working on global LGBTI issues. Our goal is to convene around the development of a set of policy pieces that would be practical tools for the Canadian government and Canadian civil society organizations. This project builds upon the 10-point plan of action on human rights for LGBTI people presented to the federal government in May 2014 by over 80 civil society organizations. Join us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with all the developments. Logo, graphic design and website: Raymond Helkio.


THURSDAY MAY 14, 2015
Reception & Discussion 
for International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia
The Dignity Initiative hosts a reception and interactive discussion on how Canadians are becoming more involved in supporting human rights for LGBTI people around the world. This reception is co-hosted by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and The Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto.

Agenda:
5:00pm-6:00pm Reception (light refreshments and cash bar)
6:00pm-7:30pm Panel Discussion and Conversation

Panelists:
Adedapo Fabunmi, APAA (Africans in Partnership Against AIDS), Initiative for Equal Rights, Nigeria
Maurice Tomlinson, LGBTI Aware Caribbean & Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Vijaya Chikermane, Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention
Michelle Emson, KyivPride Canada

Moderator: Doug Kerr, Dignity Initiative

The panel will discuss ways that Canadians are working on human rights for LGBTI people in several regions and countries of the world, including the Caribbean, India, Nigeria, and Ukraine.

Join this Facebook event page for more information.

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Is PrEP Making Us Sick?

 

PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is the use of anti-HIV medication (a blue pill by Gilead Sciences called Truvada) which keeps HIV negative people from becoming infected.

This is not a smart strategy for STD prevention because it’s is only effective against HIV and so while our community watches HIV rates decline, we are now facing soaring rates of Syphilis and other STDs. Is this trade-off really worth it? Taking PrEP to avoid HIV is like holding up an umbrella to the rain while facing oncoming traffic. Yes, you’ll stay dry.

If you use PrEP instead of a condom you risk other, potentially more serious diseases like Syphilis, Hepatitis A, B and C, HPV, Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea. This partial list should scare you because many of these diseases still hold the potential to shorten or your life. Is taking PrEP the responsible choice or is it just a game of “see no evil, hear no evil” for the lazy gay man. Consider that getting an STD is not about you, but about the other people YOU might infect. If you are not going to use a condom, get your ass to the doctor after unprotected sex. It’s not about what you have, it’s about what you aren’t going to pass on.

Today, the vast majority of people living with HIV respond well to treatment, most living a relatively normal life. Many will even live longer then our HIV-negative counterparts because HIV requires blood-work every six months and so the constant doctors visits means problems are uncovered before they become a problem. Perhaps it’s time to rethink our fear of HIV.

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WorldPride Human Rights Post Conference Report

I started volunteering with the WorldPride Human Rights Conference in 2012 when all we knew was we wanted to put on a human rights conference in conjunction with Pride Toronto and the UofT’s Mark S. Bonham Centre For Sexual Diversity Studies. Over the next few years I got to work with an international queer community of activists and I learnt so much about galvanizing our community but the real lessons came when I started listening to the stories and following some of the activists. I got to friend and meet people like Frank Mugisha who started the first Pride parade in Uganda just a few years ago. People like Frank inspire me to continue my work in Canada and are a stark reminder that we have a long way to go – but together.

There is nothing like solidarity to propel a movement forward, thank you Doug Kerr, Brenda Cossman and Kyle Kirkup for an awesome experience. Download the PDF with media links and video, graphic design, website and video Raymond Helkio.

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The Silencing of Dissent: Harper’s Clampdown on Free Speech

Untitled-1There continues to be a nationwide crackdown on charities who participate in political activism yet there has been virtually no public outcry. It’s not for lack of interest as much as there a lot fewer organizations that are able say something about it.

Charitable organizations have been restricted from spending more than ten percent of their resources on political activities and while this prohibition on charities has been on the books since 1985, it’s only been in recent years that we’ve seen the Harper government use it as a weapon (think: gag order) against charities. It’s not just random charities either, our government takes particular offence to environmental agencies (read: oil), development groups (read: poverty), human rights organizations and charities who receive donations from labour unions. Seem suspicious at all?

With the charities who are closest to the issues now ball-gagged, the government is free to do what it wants without the dissent. Just this month The Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists (TKWFN) – who publicly defend the Endangered Species Act – were flagged by tax auditors about their political activity and warned that they could be in for a tax audit which for a charitable organization is devastating at best. It’s worth noting that TKWFN has an operating budget of about $16K which hardly seems worth all the feathers they are ruffling. It’s no coincidence that this news was delivered to TKWFN days after the environment minister responded to their complaint over government approved chemicals destroying bee colonies.

Other charities who are currently under scrutiny include Pen Canada, Tides Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Canada Without Poverty, United Church of Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives. And this list will continue to grow. Even more horrifying is that many of these audits resulted from complaints lodged by oil company lobbyists about the charities’ political activity (read: corporations having bareback sex with our government).

Not unlike the gag order placed over Canadian scientists, the Harper government is keeping the public in the dark by keeping charities silent on issues that conflict with their interests. It’s important that our charitable organizations are allowed to manage themselves, as they see fit, not how an oil company, pharmaceutical giant or government thinks it should be done. A government should govern the nation and not get involved in the day-to-day operations of how our organizations spend their resources.

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