Sunday, June 14, 2015

The last time somebody called me a "fag"...

...was about an hour ago.

I wasn't doing anything particularly queer at the time -- unless you count deadheading marigolds while wearing a shirt with a rainbow coloured heart that reads Kill it with Kindness across the front.

Oh, and I had on that Egale Human Rights Trust rainbow wristband.

And the shirt.

And, of course, I was gardening.

I used to hear that word all the time -- daily in fact -- a little over forty years ago in an all-boys Catholic middle school. That word and "queer," "fairy," and "gay boy," pretty much everyday for two years. It was mostly because I stood out: soft spoken, polite to teachers, Protestant (in name only), good at drama and music, and bad at sports. 

The last one was a killer: Not only was I bad at hockey and football in a school that was as passionate about sports as it was about Catholicism; I had the temerity not to particularly care. 

That's right. A red-blooded Canadian boy who didn't care about hockey. That went over, as they say, like a fart in Church.

And it's a good reminder to me of what kids face everyday at school and in the community and, sadly, even in their homes. The difference between my days and their days is that the school I teach in has a GSA.

Which I co-founded.

To give kids a place to talk about stuff like this. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ontario Sex Ed Critics Co-opt Truth and Reconciliation Commission Findings

Twenty years ago, while attending a conference on equity for post-secondary educators, I happened to meet an Anishnaabe woman who had been a survivor of Canada's residential school system. Along with her siblings and friends, she had been taken from family and community and placed in a government funded school operated by the Catholic Church. (The United and Anglican Churches of Canada also operated such schools.) The purpose of the system was to Canadianize her -- to remove all vestiges of her aboriginal heritage. During our conversation, she described beatings, verbal abuse and sexual assault. 

What stands out vividly in my recollection of our conversation was a rule of the school's dining hall requiring students to retrieve and eat any scraps deemed edible by the staff from a slop bucket they scraped their plates into. 

We were eating dinner later when she teasingly admonished me to clean my plate. Then she had to push her own plate away. The memory of the slop bucket had contributed to an eating disorder that plagued her for many years. I recall that she had been clean and sober for some time when we met. Weeks later, as I was preparing to file an article about our meeting, she called to let me know her younger sister had committed suicide.

Those thoughts returned this week as  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its final report. It's filled with a lot of stories like the ones I heard two decades ago from that brave woman. 

And so, it is with revulsion that I discovered this weekend that opponents of the sexual health components of Ontario's Health and Physical Education are using The Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings as a prop for their arguments.

Yes, really.

Stephanie McEvoy, speaking at a sex ed protest staged -- curiously -- on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 5th:
Do you want residential schools for your children, your grandchildren. No! It is a slippery slope. It is a very slippery slope. Reclaim your parental rights now! 
And now, this. Speaking at Queen's Park today in Toronto, Catholic blogger and parents rights activist Lou Iacobelli
We just had a royal commission report on the abuses of children in residential schools. And a generation or two from now, we're going to have another royal commission on the harm done by the Kathleen Wynne's Liberal Government. 

Addendum: June 8th, 2015 -- Ottawa

It wouldn't be a proper culture war party without inviting TheRebel's Brian Lilley, who interviews Stephanie McEvoy following her address linked above. It went like this -- Ms McEvoy begins:
The state does not supersede parental rights. We're seeing this happen from coast to coast, so even though Ontario is getting the most traction right now, we really have to be on guard that this is happening right across Canada. 
There are cases happening all across the provinces and territories where in any other context these would be deemed illegal...
"Such as what?" asks Mr Lilley.
Special interest groups and individuals pushing an agenda under the guise of sex education. And do you really want your girl scout, your your brownie leader, your camp counsellor, your Sunday school teacher giving your child a pamphlet about bondage...
Even Brian Lilley looks perplexed at this point -- and he comes from the former Sun News Network, which started the Ben-Levin-curriculum-document-as-tool-for-grooming-minors conspiracy theory. Mr Lilley rescues Ms McEvoy by raising what he sees as the age inappropriateness of some curriculum components. Back to Ms McEvoy:
Ahh, that is true and they think that we just need to really think about this so carefully because when you're bringing things down to children, to minors, think of the content, think what would -- exactly what I said -- in any other situation, this would it be criminal, exposing children to ideas. And this opens the gate -- wide open -- for this when this curriculum comes through its opening up a door, and I don't... we're not thinking carefully about this.

Mr Lilley to the rescue again:
We've just had the residential schools apology this week in Ottawa. Back in the day, all the expert said that was the right thing to do, and we now know what was wrong. This is one of my concerns is that we're told -- concerned parents like you, like me -- we're told the experts say this is the right thing. I've got kids that are in the age group that will be learning some of this material I don't think that a it's appropriate... 

Some members of faith groups, or those who identify as traditionally minded, have been casting themselves as the victims of the Ontario Liberal Government's education policies -- from the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, to The Accepting Schools Act, to the sex ed curriculum. Their traditional values and strongly held beliefs are being usurped, they say. Their role as "first educators" is being superseded, they say.

A serious discussion of the role of parents vs the government is worth having. 

Hijacking what is probably Canada's worst human rights failure is beneath contempt.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Facebook, #BringBackEiynah Nicemangos

Let's Bring Back Eiynah to Facebook.

I've written before about Eiynah -- feminist, illustrator, LGBTQ ally, and author of the blog Nice Mangos, which discusses sexuality in a Pakistani context. I first discovered Eiynah -- by way of her now-celebrated children's book My Chacha is Gay -- a little over a year ago. My Chacha is Gay has been published in many languages, and is read by children, parents, teachers and chachas (Urdu for paternal uncle) the world over. Eiynah also penned An Open Letter To Ben Affleck, which drew worldwide attention. She maintains an active presence on Twitter as @nicemangos and, until recently, Facebook.

The name Eiynah is a pseudonym the artist and writer uses to protect herself and her family in case anyone should attempt to make good on the many threats she has received advocating for LGBTQ equality, sex-positivity, women's rights, as well as proclaiming herself an ex-Muslim. From her May 29th, 2015 entry, Facebook Wants Ex-Muslims To Put Themselves At Risk:
Facebook has now decided that I am not a *real* individual person.
Personal profiles are for individual people only and should include a real first and last name.
My account was disabled with no warning, or even an option presented to change my account name had I wanted to.
No Facebook, I don't think I'm an organization, business or brand. Though those terms are vague enough to be argued. Is my blog a brand? Is my small patreon account considered a business? My meagre 700 or so fb friends hardly make me a 'public figure', but again vague enough to be argued.
I can assure you that I am *one* individual person. One who's work is blocked/banned in much of the Muslim world too, so thanks for adding to that! :)
And for her views as an ex-Muslim woman addressing religious intolerance generally and Islamic fundamentalism in particular:
If you are familiar with my work, you will know that I am a critic of religion in general. I believe in equality, sex-positivity, compassion for all humankind. These are the values I live by and these are the values that prevent me from having much respect for religion (the idea). I engage in a variety of discussions, with both theists and non-theists alike. I try to keep my critique limited to the ideas contained within the obsolete doctrines I oppose. And I argue passionately for others to do the same, to not generalize entire groups of people as savages, etc.
I am against bigotry from the religious and also towards the religious. I am intolerant of intolerance, I speak out on issues that put my life at risk almost on a daily basis. I cannot count for you the amount of death threats, rape threats, other threats I have received, through facebook alone.
As an ex-muslim with extensive lived experience in an Islamic theocracy, I consider it my right and duty to speak about the injustices I have seen, excused away by religion. When I see such beliefs being shielded by the politically correct liberal west, I feel I must speak out and share my perspective too, as a liberal who doesn't agree with protecting people from rightful criticism only because they are minorities in west.
I'm encouraging Eiynah's fans and followers to visit and "like" this Facebook page I've created for her, Bring Back Eiynah.