An Open Letter To The Orlando Shooter

You’re a fucking asshole. With that out of the way I can tell you what’s really going on for me. I am raging mad at you and my heart is literally melting in my chest because of what you did. It’s not the shooting which is so horrible but it’s the intention from which you carried it out.

I want to reverse this situation, to go back in time and smack your stupid face until it bleeds but I cannot do that. What’s most disturbing is that we’re going to see much more of this so while I hate your guts I have to believe that you represent the beginning of the end of the war to the queer communities fight for acceptance. You are nothing more than a historical pawn and while your deeds are unforgivable you give me strength and serve as a reminder for why being queer matters.

As gays fight for the rights to be just like everyone else, people in other parts of the world are being murdered. I do not want to be like everyone else, that’s not a good or bad thing it’s just that being queer provides me with a perspective worth sharing. And then there’s you, a shallow representation of homophobia and I say ’shallow’ because you put your opinion out there by force. You literally took away my brothers and sisters as a way of changing what you didn’t like. It’s tragic how your life must have spilled into such a dark and narrow world or maybe you were always like that and this is just the fruit of your life’s work. In any event I hate your fucking guts.
Historically, as one group gains power and mainstream acceptance the remaining opposition is forced to react, much like a rat trapped in a corner. I am so lucky to live in Toronto because it gives a platform where I can live openly and free from consequence and therefore I see it as my duty to be as visible as possible. The war for acceptance is far from over and as a community our strength is in our numbers. I’m using this horrific tragedy to remind myself that while the battle for acceptance may feel like it’s already been won, it’s far from over.

This is Pride month in Toronto and the most honouring thing we can do for the people of Orlando is live loud, proud and be unapologetically queer.

Image: REUTERS

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Bawdy House Texts launches World AIDS Day, NYC

December 1st, 2015 | Bawdy House Texts launches across New York City. This unapologetic outdoor art installation is a potent reminder of the most significant historical turning points in queer history. Never forget, never again. Curated and designed by Raymond Helkio.

Bawdy House Texts

LAUNCH DETAILS
COMING SOON





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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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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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In Your Pocket: Come Together 25 Queer Artists Come Together Creating Short Videos On Smart Phones

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IN YOUR POCKET explores the immediacy and intimacy offered by smartphone technology. Curated by RT Collective in association with Inside Out film festival featuring work by: Drew Lint, Tera Mallette, Tawiah Ben-Eben M’Carthy, Drew Danielle Belsky, Vika Kirchenbauer, Brendan Healy, Alejandro Santiago, Drasko Bogdanovic, Mikiki Mikiki, Raymond Helkio, Amy Pearl, Apathy Club, Coral Short, Sam Godfrey, Andil Gosine, Manolo Lugo, Grey Muldoon, Claro Cosco, Philip Edward Villeneuve, Sofonda Cox, and others. Curated by Marcin Wisniewski and Chris Dupuis.

In Your Pocket Screenings
Monday May 26 + Tuesday May 27
7:00-8:30pm
Videofag (PWYC at the door)

Saturday May 31
3pm

Join Trinity Square Video for this special panel discussion (including Raymond Helkio and Amy Pearl from The Reading Salon) on the nature of collaboration.
Image below from Kijiji Connections, The Reading Salon.

 

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Saints, martyrs and human rights: a glitter of hope for Toronto’s legacy of dope

Guest authoring for PositiveLite.com, Raymond Helkio says that despite Toronto’s awful mayor Rob Ford, the city now has a chance to redeem itself in the global LGBT rights dialogue that is WorldPride 2014.

How many saints, martyrs and human rights activists do we have locked up in Canada right now? More importantly how many of them would we even recognize as a martyr or saint? Think of Nelson Mandela, the revered President of South Africa who spent 27 years in prison. Being considered a criminal appears to be the price one pays for the rest of us to benefit at a later date – or does it have to be this way? Can we as citizens separate the politicians that demonstrate moral courage from those that just speak political rhetoric? Cities, towns and communities owe it to themselves to put thier most morally courageous people into the positions of power or risk progress altogether. Just look at Toronto who has made international headlines for its bumbling mayor, Rob Ford. But even having foolish mayor is has proven to be a bit of a gift for Toronto because it’s the best wake-up call a city could ask for. Canadian politics in general just haven’t been that interesting to the rest of the world and why should it be when we Canadians haven’t been that interested either, until now. Read the full article.

Rolyn, Stephanie, Kristyn, Scott: What do global LGBT human rights mean to you? from Raymond Helkio on Vimeo.

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WorldPride Human Rights Conference Launches Indiegogo Presenter Fund Campaign

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This is a chance for the LGBT community to come together to discuss the issues that matter to us and to further our human rights around the globe. Your support will help provide opportunities for important dialogue between grassroots leaders and contribute to this growing international movement.

We need your help to cover the costs of transportation and accommodation for the 175+ presenters that will be participating in the conference. Your support will help leading LGBT activists from countries including Uganda, Russia, Nigeria, Indonesia, India, China and many others attend the conference.

International LGBTI leaders will gather in Toronto for WorldPride 2014 for a dialogue about LGBTI rights as human rights around the world, and the issues affecting our communities. Enthusiasm for the Conference has been so great that submissions greatly exceeded organizers’ expectations, with more than 400 received from activists, academics and LGBTI leaders.

Hundreds of LGBTI rights leaders from around the world will speak, including: Russian activist and journalist Masha Gessen;Ugandan LBGTI activist Frank Mugisha; Kenyan human rights lawyer Justice Monica Mbaru; Venezuelan trans activist Tamara Adrián; and Canadian global HIV/AIDS leader Stephen Lewis. Panelists will address issues ranging from education and youth,HIV/AIDS, sex work, trans rights, employment, aging and other human rights issues. A full schedule for the conference will beannounced early in 2014 at WPHRC14.com

 

 

 

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I AM MORAL COURAGE: The YouTube Channel


Moral courage is the willingness to stand up when others want you to sit down. It is living with integrity. Through this new channel, the Moral Courage Project will inspire people worldwide to question dogmas, speak taboo truths and create honest conversations. Behind these videos is multimedia producer Adam Grannick and if you haven’t heard of Adam yet, you are about to because he’s behind the cool graphics and video work. It’s going to be one hell of a season starting April 2013! Check out Moral Courage TV channel and don’t forget to subscribe.

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Peace by Public Criticism: Peace in Gaza, Good Relations between Palestine and Israel

To criticize Israel, Gaza or Palestinian is not the same as criticizing it’s people. A political system, or lack there of, is worthy of criticism if no other reason than it’s position of power. You see, the person in the position of power is the only one who can truly make peace last. It’s like an adult with a unruly child, the parent must set the example. Parents aren’t necessarily smarter either, they’re just in a position of power which is why they are parents.

Look, it’s shitty businesses that rockets have been flying out of Gaza and I feel for the terror that it is causing ordinary people. You gotta fight back and protect your peeps, isn’t that what Dali Lama would do? Well maybe not quite, he’d likely retaliate with some form of peaceful non-retaliation which would a beautiful thing to witness but I’m afraid a lot of people would end up dying. Could criticism, dialogue and debate achieve peace? It can when the political entities that control the war feel the public awareness and hear the demands for answers. Public interest, public pressure, debate and the free exchange of ideas are vital to keeping our politicians on their toes, otherwise who is keeping score? How do we know what’s the truth? The CBC and CNN combined couldn’t do a decent profile on the the Israel/Palestine conflict if they tried. Where are the discussions, the debate, the interest for our fellow humans? The curiosity about what is truth and what are we being told?

It’s a political game that has profound cultural ramifications for its citizens but I’m afraid it’s not the people in the places, it’s the people running the places. Leaders must take greater responsibility and the people must hold them to account. Over and over. And over. After all, the political leaders are the only ones that can really stop a war, start a war or put it on hold. Even if it’s just a 24 hour cease fire, if they can stop it for a little while they can stop it for a long while. It’s a choice and anyone who tells you that the situation with Israel and Palestine is complicated is referring to only to their understanding the situation. Peace is not complicated, history can be.

Israel has been saying that they want the bombs to stop. The leaders and public figures chat this mantra over and over on the news because it’s truth for all of us: we all want the bombs to stop. But what about the big pink elephant in the room? Hello Military Occupation Elephant we’ve all been wondering about you.

The right to self-determination is the right to govern one selves as they see fit but Israel has made it very hard, if not impossible, to do that.The wall Israel built and is still building acts as a deterrent to terrorists – especially the kind that blow up busses with women and children on board. The facts speak for themselves because once Israel started putting the wall up, the incidence of terror almost vanished. There is all kinds of crazy shit that the people of Israel need to be protected from ranging from the rational to the truly insane but protecting yourself should not infringe on the fundamental human rights of a fellow human being.

Who’s making more peace-centric requests? When Benjamin Netanyahu is asked direct questions about matters pertaining to peace he is rarely forthcoming with ideas outside of they have to stop throwing bombs. This seriously stunning PR line suddenly positions the entire battle as if it’s being waged over Hamas tossing bombs at them for some unknown reason. There’s no good reason the throw a bomb but the reasons are pretty integral to the storyline.

We know both sides are capable of peace because they can agree to some peace even if it’s in the middle of battle. This is not an issue of capacity, this an issue of willingness and intention. But it’s not enough to just stop throwing bombs.

Just like you can’t grow a garden on a sidewalk because you need rich fertile soil. No different than peace because if you want peace, you’ll need a rich playing field where no fighting exists in order for anything to grow. even if you set up a two state garden, we’ll need to tend to the soil first.

Public criticism and discourse can get us though this but we have to be willing to talk about it. There is no power in ignorance, so pick a side and know that you might be wrong. But please pick a side becasue people are dying.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmond TuTu

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Henry Comes Knocking Gets Thumbs Up From AAN!


In an article titled Henry Comes Knocking: Video discloses absurdity of Court’s HIV non-disclosure rulings AIDS ACTION NOW gives a big thumbs up to The Reading Salon‘s efforts with this work. The criminalization of people living with HIV (or any illness) is an epically wrong way to manage a public health concern and is a slippery slope into the archaic world of disease management by law enforcement. Thanks AAN for adding your voices into the mix! Watch the video below.

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Moral Courage: There’s An App For That!

What’s Moral Courage? Do I have it? Do you? Moral Courage is the willingness to speak truth to power and risk backlash for a greater good. And now there’s an App we’ve designed that guide you through your moral courage journey. Currently the App can support 17 languages and counting.

As Robert F. Kennedy told students at the University of Cape Town “Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet is it the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”

The Moral Courage Project (MCP) is lead by Professor Irshad Manji out of New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and through the MCP website which serves as a hub for students around the world.

If you have questions about MCP you can always send me an email and as one of the Canadian ambassadors for the project I can help you get involved or answer questions. Don’t forget to download the App (it’s free!) and look for my video question in the Ask Irshad section.

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