Monday, December 27, 2010


Next Friday you have been invited to attend Double Exposure: A Two-Spirit Experience and it dawned on me, maybe you think you have no reason to come, or for whatever reason are nervous or unsure if you are going to come. I want to take a few minutes to let you know that you are welcome and we all have reasons to attend.

My boyfriend Zach and I were on the escalator coming down and away from the theatre where we had just seen Where The Wild Things Are. A young mother was a few steps behind us, her 5year old (ish) son was a step above her. She turned her body a bit to face him. They were almost at eye level, “ I wanted us to see this movie so I could talk to you about what happens when you get so upset” she said to him. The little boy wiggled in his body in reaction, sweet sounds came from him as he and his Mom hummed and talked. The boy and I made eye contact for a second and then I looked away. I got to the bottom of the escalator and by the time Zach was beside me I was near sobbing. Something about the scene between the Mother and the Son touched me, stopped me from being able to ignore the emotional pull the movie had on me. This weekend I was talking to a friend about the movie and he thought that crux of the film was that line Max says to his island friends about how everyone needs a Mom. And although after witnessing the scene on the escalator I am apt to agree with him, I think it is more than that. I think the film is about loneliness and our need to have people to look after and look after us. We don’t seem to have the language or the history to really talk about loneliness or our need for physical touch, or a variety of forms of companionship in our culture. We are too busy buying into the myth of self-reliance. In a way it is for this reason that the sleeping in a ‘real pile’ scene from Where the Wild Things Are was all the more touching. The idea of a mass-of-life-loving and breathing on top and intertwined with each other is possible- warms the heart.

I have a friend who lives in Philadelphia and part of his self-care regiment is to attend a group doggy pile once a month. He gets there early so he can be the bottom and feel the weight of all the people he loves and doesn’t know weighing down on him, impacting him.
Later after he told me this I couldn’t help but think that for a man who lost so many of his friends to AIDS, the luxury of being crushed by live bodies must seem like riches. I think in a way my tears on the escalator were for my friend in Philly. And for me. And for people I know that died, and for friends who as they get older get less hugs, and for the people whose jokes I never get, and for the guy on the street who is asking for money and asking to be really truly seen and witnessed. It was a big cry because there are a lot of reasons to cry.

All of this was turning in my head today as I made my way to Richard’s house to meet up with him and the rest of the Double Exposure team to catch up and prepare the costumes for Friday. As we sat around the table talking I realized that so much of organizing is about creating small communities for a focused reason and how close during that organizing people can become. It is powerful to work on something together.
Sitting in Richard’s living room cutting strip for the costumes I noticed that as the strips piled up, the softness on the fabric weighing on itself looked so cozy. It was then it dawned on me that in many ways for me, Double Exposure is a lot like Where the Wild Things Are. Double Exposure is about many things but in a small way it is really about creating a reason, a way for people to gather. There will be food, music, learnings, costumes, culture, new friends and old strangers coming together. And while we may not be piling on top of each other- we will be coming together and letting our energies meet and our experiences overlap. I hope you come, I hope you brings so clean cloth to add to the costumes and I hope you eat, dance, play all that you need to.

Invoke the Halloween spirits, get what you kindly need from community and give what you can.
I look forward to seeing you. Bring friends, kids, parents, loved ones... Ted

Unpublished - High Level Michael Death

Michael Jackson (1989), Annie Leibovitz

At times the noise recedes. And it is beautiful. For the last 2 weeks I have taken up jogging. I like to say running but as my friend Marshall pointed out one has to be going a certain speed to be considered running, otherwise it is jogging.
On these jogs I plug in my ipod, cross the high level bridge, go down into the river valley then come back over on the LRT foot bridge, up the hill to Eziro Ferzone park and then make it home through back allies.

At first while jogging my mind was a wall of sound, all the voices of the day, emails not sent, gossip sites read and news of the world weighing on my head and so my shoulders, my body, my legs and seeping into the ground below. These early jogs were brutal.
Slowly, as I began to relax, the wall came down and my mind disappeared. I felt lighter. Sometimes it would be gone just for a moment, other times I would find myself on the final leg home and realize my mind had turned off, and I let my muscles do the work. Often times upon returning my mind would be singularly clear. One thought would be so sharp I would understand the totality of it.

The most reoccurring of thoughts when my mind would return was of death. One time specifically, then subsequently many times after, I thought about how of the 6 funerals I have attended in my adult life 3 have been for grown queer men who have taken their own lives. How is this happening? Why are arguably the least oppressed and most supported group among the LGBT community the ones who are leaping to their death while others stay and solider on? What is missing in these men, in our communities and in our culture that these men, for whom life could be and should be easier than for most, cannot make it?

These thoughts and questions on death would follow me into my non-jogging day but not always cut through. Instead the memory of three men and the countless others like them, would simply become part of the noise-a frustrating fury echoing the state of things. In between cutting vegetables or while sitting on a bus, while reading a book or locking up my bike I would find myself getting upset at what I perceived to be the lack of coping skills of the 3 men and those like them born into relative privilege. I would think about how in the face of transphobia, racism and misogyny within the gay community, the growing number of queer homeless youth in Edmonton, and countless other issues, it was hard to focus on the needs or white middle class gay guys (my own needs included). Other times I would find myself getting mad at the world around that failed them and at my own assumptions that they should have been able to take care of themselves. I would wonder where my grace was.

And then from a pop symphony of discordant noises a clarifying beat took over, an aching yell called out, a chorus created a new unified wall of sound that cut through even the receding noise. Michael Jackson died and death was everywhere. His white, privileged, sexually ambiguous body was lifeless and I was beside myself. I was awash in possibly misplaced grief and the hypocrisy of my false hierarchy of needs.

Not a week earlier, I was trying to intellectualize the death of 3 men, while in the wake of Jackson’s death I was letting my emotions rule, mourning a man I never even knew. Again I had to ask- where was my grace?
As much as my simple mind would like to insert race, class and privilege in to the conversation around suicide and the needs of others, there is a time to look past these things. Living is a complex web of relations and reasons, desires and direction, hope and happenstance- all of which is often troubled by, among other factors, sexual orientation.

As queer people, regardless of what makes us different from each other, we have unique challenges we all share in staying alive, ones that are not as easy to articulate in an era of rights and freedoms on paper and often token tolerance. Regardless of the work we do, the communities we serve, the people we march for, the things we stand for, we need to look out for each other, put agendas aside and connect as people.

Maybe for people reading this column, this is stuff that they already knew, grace as something that comes second nature. For me as I continue my journey of letting the sun warm my face, my heart beat faster and my feet pound the pavement grace is something renewed inside of me, something I hope helps not only me but anyone else that needs it.
On both the north and south side of the High Level Bridge facing west someone has affixed a key lock. Sometimes when running my eye catches the gleam off the metal and I smile. I need to believe that the simple marker of a lock, something suppose to keep valuables safe, is a message to those who are feeling lost to hold on to not let go. Cue Michael Jackson: You Are Not Alone.

Edmonton Journal (Opinion) - AUGUST 28, 2010

Forty-six years ago today, more than 200,000 people participated in the March on Washington, where Rev. Martin Luther King deliver the iconic I Have a Dream speech. It was a watershed moment that marked a tipping point in the growing awareness and action needed in the civil rights movement.

Thirty-eight years ago, the We Demand demonstration was held on Parliament Hill--the first large-scale lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender (LGBT) demonstration in Canada. Activists gathered on the Hill to support a brief that had been submitted to the federal government by Toronto Gay Action, which called for equal and full rights for homosexuals in Canada.

As we can see today when we pull back the camera of history, these events built upon each other and events that came before. We can also see with an African-American president in the White House and sexual orientation protected in human-rights legislation across Canada, these events had a positive impact on the future, helping to shape leaders and the world we live in now. I suggest we build upon these milestones by rethinking how elections in our country happen and broaden our definition of voting.

With a civic election 13 months away and a federal election possible at any moment, now is the time that we need to start shaping the discourse that will make up the debates and dialogues in the next election cycle.

We need to actively be voting with our lives. This means gathering for community discussions, keeping up to date on current events, researching and teaching others about what has happened in the past, organizing and holding rallies to build momentum, running for elections, working with politicians to help shape platforms, and working with political parties to help mobilize communities to get involved.

From immigration to human rights to the environment, there are so many issues facing Canadians that we can ensure the coming elections are about more than just the economy. Gone can be the days when spin-doctors tell politicians what voters care about.

Starting on this anniversary of two historic moments--of movements calling governments to task for their failings--we need to ensure that our concerns are part of local and national conversations on election day.

Locus Suspectus. Follow that Phallus: Is Dimitre Andonov’s The Erection Series a Call for a Revolution?

“I am a grown man,” starts the letter to the sex advice columnist in the December 06 issue of GQ Magazine, “I shouldn’t be getting erections in public anymore”. The grown man in question writes hoping for possible reasons as to why he experiences erections on airplanes. While reading the question, I assumed the response would include something about the effects of air pressure or maybe something about sitting for a long time; instead, the columnist takes the opportunity to make fun of him. She accuses him of bragging about his “brawn”. The closest she comes to providing an answer is offering: “You are hot for planes.” She consults Professor Eli Coleman who states that it is “normal for adult men to get random daytime erections” but goes on to discredit the professor and the grown man, “this I believe is a lie.” She jokingly suggests that he send her more information so that she may compile it “and have a really good laugh.”

I agree erections are funny but c’mon! -When did men lose the right to have erections for reasons other than sexual? Erections are nothing more than a swelled appendage caused by the pressure of blood flow. Erections are not solely an act of desire. They are not always attemptive insurgents hoping to overthrow the governing body to partake in acts of sexual terrorism. An erection is just (on average) 7inches of response to stimuli. Nothing in the penis handbook stipulates that stimuli must be sexual. Wind, pant material, tiredness, a good feeling are all plausible possibilities for getting a hard-on.

As children, guys have erections all the time for no reason and with arguably little attention. It is only as they get older through direct and indirect methods that they begin to understand that erections are something private and should be kept to themselves.

Getting caught in public with a stiff bulge in your pants is a rite of passage for most young men. Almost every Jr. High has their own legend about a guy having to walk up to the front of class with a book in front of their tented pants. One Edmonton-based teacher, (who wishes to remain anonymous as not to become the go-to teacher source for all erection questions) notices that as boys get older, and become more conscious of their bodies they switch from comfortable and roomy sweatpants to more constrictive pants like jeans. “We know why they switch” she says, “they become aware of the possible public embarrassment that would be caused from others seeing their erections.”

In his ongoing photographic work called The Erection Series (January 06-ongoing), Toronto based photographer Dimitre Andonov “addresses the awkwardness and shame felt by men in the instance of a public erection.” In the photos he poses as various teenage boys sportin woods in the most banal, common and therefore inappropriate of situations. Birthday is of a young man and his grandmother. His hopefully inconspicuous erection and her noisemaker are the only thing between them.

Taken with a typical, easy to use, point and shoot camera from the perspective predominantly of a family member, Andonov achieves the effect he was after: the photos come across as snapshots. Moments of mortification caught on film forever.

The most compelling portrait from The Erection Series is also the most close up. Congratulations is of a young man cut off, his face stiff in a perceived attempt to mask his vulnerability, his erection pointing in the opposite direction of a “congratulations” sign that is in partial view, his body slacks in resignation. Does he even realize he has an erection?

In Andonov’s work there is a possibility for erections to transcend the common view as metaphors for dominance. His work, unlike American photographer Anthony Goicolea, who uses himself as a subject to explore the adolescent male experience. is void of sexuality. Although influenced by Goicolea, Andonov takes a different more honest route, after all he says, “What is more honest than an erection?”

Goicolea produces slick almost commercial photographs that are thick with sexual suspense. The photos are often of young men in vulnerable situations in near nakedness with evolving musculature who’s future is unknown and compelling. In comparison, the young men in Andonov’s work are forgettable. They are not even gawky or kitsch enough to be objectified by the fringe. They are plain. Because there is no obvious sexual stimuli to cause the erection and the boys themselves are too boring to be sexualized the erections are rendered harmless. He has eliminated sexuality from the erection.

Now because they are neither threatening nor intimidating, the erections serve as a starting point in a possible paradigm shift regarding erections.

Over the past few decades everything from cranes, office towers and peppermills have become phallic symbols that point to the patriarchal leadership of the western world. It can be argued that many of the social ills we currently suffer through, namely war, are products of a man-centric world. To create a more balanced world order we could start by re-imagining the erection.

For Andonov “pants are symbols for culture and society, the penis is a symbol for nature” so erections in pants are symbolic for “ nature peeking through.” By having to control and suppress their nature men are in effect, asked to become insensitive to their own bodies and so to the outside world. As Andonov puts it, “men are taught to hide their true lives.”

Instead of maintaining the view that erections are meat thermometers letting men know when they are hot enough for a sexual encounter, erections should be seen as swords of sensitivity informing men when life in general is arousing them.

To me The Erection Series is a call for revolution- at least a suggestion for one. Andonov’s work blows the lid off the ridiculous practice of men suppressing their “nature” behind the confines, distractions and adornments of “society”. By exploring men’s shame and attempt to conceal their nature, Andonov is exploring the role of the masculine psyche in today’s society.

Skyscrapers, war, peppermills, are all attempts for men to express their nature that they are suppressing on a regular basis. Maybe if, as a society, we are able to reduce the stigma attached to erections, and become more comfortable with random public erections, we could reduce the desire in men to express/expend their nature on a grand scale.

Flex your dink not your might!
Pitch a tent, not another skyscraper!

Taking the photos, says Andonov, has allowed him to become more sympathetic towards men, made it easier to befriend men and forgive them for their “supposed cold ways.” He hopes for the same response from others.

Right now the world’s tallest building is being erected, continued penetration of the earth for non-renewable resources continues and wars are rage in almost every corner of the planet. An erection revolution is worth a try.

Viva la erection!
Long Live the Sword of Sensitivity! - I Hear What You Are Saying Reflecting on how we as gay men converse together...August 31, 2009

Who gets to disagree with perceived progress within gay communities?

Sitting in a workshop entitled Bringing Sexy Back at the recent National LGBTI Health Summit in the US, the room was engaged largely in a sexy conversation on the semantics on how much they agreed that polyamory should be re-welcomed back into queer culture until one young man swam against the verbal current of the room and stood up for monogamy. The 30 or so people gathered at the session were respectful of him but you could feel even the air in the room seemed to pity him after he spoke.

We live in an age still influenced by homophobia, AIDS phobia and intolerance of difference that leaves gay men to explain to society including the medical profession, the government and the media what they do with their bodies. This tension to report adds stress to conversations within gay communities regarding topics such as barebacking, and polyamory relations. These internal conversations are further troubled by what a friend pointed out to me during the summit, there has been the intellectualization of queer (ness) and AIDS that has emerged in the last 20 years. In light of this I think there is a sense of surveillance within these conversations people are careful to be credible, wanting to be able to justify and validate what they are saying.

In a way, gone is discussion steeped in first person experiences and feelings, in place are theories, and stats. In a way this move towards intellectualizing queer (ness) has benefited progressive thinkers who can reach for academia and queer theory to help back up what they are saying. What I am noticing during many discussion is that largely it is conservative voices that are at a disadvantage since many of them are basing their positions in the personal- their values, their experiences, and their fears. In the face of cool, calm, backed-up, liberal voices, conservative voices often come across as misguided and/or ineffectual. This has got me thinking about the question; who gets to disagree with perceived progress within gay communities?

In theory the answer is everyone is able to disagree. But I think that this is not entirely true. I think that it takes a large amount of social and supportive capital to disagree or share conservative values within the gay/queer context. This capital I mention is what provides someone with the confidence to stand up for what they believe in and know they will be supported if they are ostracized within the discussion. Capital is also the confidence of knowing that you could be right.

I also think that for the most part conservative voices within the gay/queer context come from marginalized communities from within and so are further disadvantaged. The politics of oppression come into play and conservative voices are labeled, judged as being reactionary or to a degree homophobic. Because gay men are being attacked en mass for issues concerning what they do with their body if voices within the gay community then also question what other gay men do with their bodies they are seen as being a voice of the oppressed and are seen to be homophobic and oppressive themselves.

If we step back we can see that there is a thin line between what the majority may be judging gay men for and what gay men may be questioning themselves. But there is a line and as gay men we have the opportunity to question and converse among ourselves about what we do.

I think again about the young man in the Sexy Back session. Sitting there it was obvious that he was overwhelmed by what he was hearing. You could see that notions of sexual liberation 2.0 were bruising the very foundations he had built his gay identity on. In a way coming up and out as gay is for some a series of negotiations of self-acceptance as well as hand picking which lies, myths and truths about the gay experience you are willing to deal with.

For the most part these lies, myths and truths center on promiscuity. In the shadow of AIDS-as-a-crisis there is a mainstream judgment of gay men who have many sexual partners as irresponsible and at the same time there is a fetishization of perceived slutdom both within the gay community and from the straight community. There is a sense for some gay men that having many sexual partners is expected. The young man in the Sexy Back session mentioned this pressure and alluded to the internal work he has had to do to find the truth of the matter for himself along with finding his own personal comfort around articulating that monogamy is important to him. He did not have intellectually rigorous arguments to back himself up. He had his morals and his upbringing to guide him.

I return to the thin line and suggest that for the young man sitting in the Sexy Back room the act of a gay man sleeping around because he feels that society expects it of him and a gay man sleeping around because he wants to looks the same- and maybe it is. The room although respectful of difference was also obviously frustrated with him and his point of view.

I couldn’t help but think that we often confuse localized, internal, focused, conversations about ourselves with larger issues around defying or craving legitimacy from society at large. So engrained in some queer men’s minds are their desires to either oppose or accept mainstream legitimacy that all issues funnel into their relationship with society. Sometimes when we are talking about monogamy or barebacking that is all we are taking about. Maybe we do a disservice by always bringing in a holistic worldview. Sometimes smaller is better.

In the end, in an era where many men bemoan the lack of ‘community’ it is incumbent on us to hear out diverse and opposing voices. While community is built on people coming together it is congealed by diversity and opposing dynamics. Tension creates bonds if respected. As gay men we do not need to justify our actions. We do have an opportunity to silence the surveillance and have conversations among ourselves and be there for each other to see other points of view. Hundreds rally against censorship Smithsonian pulls work in face of funding threat December 20, 2010

About 500 people took to the streets of New York City on Dec 19 as part of an intensifying global response to the decision by administrators of the Smithsonian Institute to censor a video installation by queer icon David Wojnarowicz.

The work, Fire in My Belly, was part of an exhibition called Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery (NGP) in Washington, DC.

Smithsonian secretary G Wayne Clough ordered Fire in My Belly pulled on Dec 1. Neither the curators of the show nor the director of the NPG – a division of the Smithsonian, consented to the removal. The decision came after a group calling itself the Catholic League referred to Fire in My Belly as anti-Christian because of an 11-second clip in which ants crawl over a depiction of Jesus on the cross. In response, US congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor threatened to call for hearings on the NPG's future funding.

Outcry over the Smithsonian's decision to censor was swift and far-reaching. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of Art Museum Directors and media such as The New York Times and Art Info spoke out against the move. Galleries and museums around the world are showing Fire in My Belly free for the general public. Representatives from the Warhol Foundation and the Mapplethorpe foundation have said that they will make no future donations to the Smithsonian until the video is reinstated.

Canadian-born artist AA Bronson requested in protest that his work, Felix, June 5, 1994, be removed from Hide/Seek. Bronson's work is on loan to the Smithsonian from the National Gallery of Canada. As reported in The Globe and Mail, the National Gallery of Canada CEO Marc Mayer has asked NPG director Martin Sullivan to “please consider [Bronson’s] request to withdraw” because “AA Bronson perceives the continued presence of his work in the exhibition makes him an accessory to censorship.”

Wojnarowicz died from AIDS in 1997. A prolific artist and writer, his work explores issues of queerness, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, power and the erotic. In 1989 Donald Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, used Wojnarowicz's work to question the funding of the US National Endowment of the Arts.

At the New York protest, people chanted, “Ho, ho! Censorship has got to go!” and “Ants in our pants! Fire in our bellies,” as they marched down Fifth Avenue from the Metropolitan Museum to the Cooper – Hewitt Museum, a New York division of the Smithsonian.

The direct action in New York City was organized by ART + (art positive), a new activist group that includes many members of New York’s large art community. At the rally, organizers asked that people go to, sign up and be part of the ongoing protest to reinstate the video and stop the censorship.

THE NEW GAY : Revisiting the Foul! Visual AIDS broadside-13 SEPTEMBER 2010

A few months ago I wrote a lengthy piece about Visual AIDS’s latest broadside PLAY SMART. After some feedback  from a friend  I edited it down to be a more suitable, shorter, blog length. What was published was a focused critique regarding issues of representation within PLAY SMART. What I edited out was nuances, and questions about context, the complexity of creating a campaign for unknown audiences and praise for  past Visual AIDS broadsides which I compared to PLAY SMART.

I made a mistake in editing the piece. Too much was lost, the piece came across as confrontational rather than promoting conversation, gone was the opportunity to discuss the difficulty in making and disseminating  gay men’s health promotion to an interested and under-served global audience and missing was a chance to consider the need for context when judging a campaign.

Upon reading the first draft I realize I edited out an important section where Amy Sadao, Executive Director of Visual AIDS speaks at greater length about the impetus of the PLAY SAFE campaign beyond what I included in the shorter piece. She mentions the impact of eight years of Bush and states that PLAY SAFE was one of Visual AIDS’ first explicitly sexy campaigns – a point I failed to fully grasp. What does it mean to be able to do a sexy campaign after years of feeling  oppressed?

Related, Nelson Santos in a conversation I had with him regarding PLAY SAFE, felt as though it was also the first campaign in a long time to target gay men that may have been left out in the past decade due to the need to focus on specific under-served communities. For me I take this now to mean – what about the Chelsea boys? The gym bunnies and middle class gay men well served by the market place and culture in general but perhaps because of their privilege are forgotten by health and real wellness providers.  What about the gay men who are now entering a new stage of life and maybe need to be reminded of safer sex messages and learn about new developments? What about the gay men who have left the AIDS community because a place they once felt so at home at – now seems to have no room for them? PLAY SMART falls in the tradition of Visual AIDS reaching out, commissioning and creating work to speak to a specific community. It just so happens that the community is one that is very dominate, often at the cost of other communities. One of the obstacles in all community work is to remember the diversity within diversity.

By not fully including Sadao and Santos’ points I replicated the problem of the Internet – removing context. It is impossible to think that Visual AIDS should be able to create a broadside that responds to all the diverse and possibly conflicting needs of gay men everywhere. Nor were they trying to.  The Internet , and maybe even Visual AIDS’s warranted excitement, made what I can now see as a community specific broadside into a campaign with international reach, stretched beyond the broadside’s capabilities. I did the campaign no favours by failing to see the scope while focusing on only one important- yet ultimately singular-  aspect of the campaign.

Issues of representation are important. The tyranny of the white fit body in gay male culture is a real factor in gay men’s health and undermines a lot of the good we may be trying to do. It is something that should be discussed and considered in our work. I did not fail by bringing up the subject. I failed when I did not include as much context to the PLAY SMART broadside as I could have. Visual AIDS is a small, hard working arts organization that is committed to using art to create awareness and opportunities around HIV and AIDS. While we should hold people and organizations within our communities responsible for their actions – and I say this to myself – it is also wise to view their choices within larger contexts and provide those bigger pictures to each other so that we can grow and evaluate and grow some more together.

What do you think of the PLAY SMART campaign?

Does it work for you?

Where do you think I missed the point? Or have I still?

To read the original unedited draft of the piece, please click here.

QUEERMONTON Opening religion- Nov 17. 2010

Lampman Chapel is narrow space within the hallowed halls of Union Theological Seminary School—part of Columbia University on Manhattan's Upper West Side. All design considerations in the tight room are in honour of the altar at the front of the room. Tonight a little table is tucked in near the altar and is packed with snacks. There are 14 of us sitting in an elongated circle, some of us with our backs to the altar. One of the facilitators calls the meeting to order with the promise that tonight will be a little less business, a little more fun. Everyone agrees this is a good idea.

Like other post-secondary schools Union has student groups, which they call caucuses. Caucuses host at least one of the daily Chapel Services a year—a chance for caucuses to share their vision of Church with the rest of the student body. Queer caucus hosted last week. Part of the meeting tonight will be to talk about how it went. I am at the meeting because as part of my residency at Union's Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice I want to get involved and get a sense of queerness at a religious—albeit notoriously progressive—institution.

The meeting being "a little more fun" allows for conversation to flow freely. At one point it meanders to Union history. In the 1960s there was a letter sent from a prominent community member asking for all gay students to be outed and expelled from the school. Tensions were high. People were scared. In response all the faculty signed an open letter stating that if the request went forward they would resign. Proverbial chests puff out around the circle as the story is told. People feel proud of their brave academic linage. Later the conversation steers to the everyday—the hassle of having to come out as a theological student. Almost everyone has a story about chatting up a potential date when the unavoidable question of "what do you do?" comes up. Some stall, others disclose quickly. All agree reactions are the same: drinks become hidden, swearing disappears, and in some cases what was a flirt turns into a request to be ministered to. As one guy shares, nothing gets an unwanted hand off your thigh faster than, "I am not sure how my seminary advisor would feel about this." Everyone laughs.

In time, business arises. Consensus is queer caucus service was a success. Stories are shared of students enjoying the inclusion of secular modern pop music (Lady Gaga) and the dance party vibe. Upsetting though was how some Union people openly refused to come to service because it was hosted by Queer Caucus. For some of the Queer Caucus members this highlights how open hostility towards LGBT people, in a way that is no longer accepted towards other communities, is still part of the Union culture and the larger religious world. Last week Rev Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church announced in the face of death threats and unrelenting pressure since he was elected he would be retiring. An underpinning of tonight's conversations seems to be queer theologians are isolated within their selected vocation, in some cases their calling, for being queer, and then marginalized within queer communities for belonging to religion. While there is a lot of work being done to better queer theology, there is a long road ahead and an even larger road from the past to contend with.

For all the ground breaking faculty, wise students and decades of progressive milestones, Union is governed by the larger oppressive, heterosexist, structures of academia, church, America and western culture that, in part, keep us all down. Thinking about this I realize that Union is a place where being LGBT is still a queer thing to be.

Up until now I have conflated religion with conservatism and oppression (for good reason). The time has come for me to unbraid this narrow view of religion. Be more open. It seems that beyond faith, Union has a lot to teach me.

QUEERMONTON The Popular thing to do Being an outsider is experienced differently by everyone Nov 3, 2010

Popular theatre turns the phrase "can't see the forest for the trees" on its head by asking—if we are all trees, what kind of forest do we live in, do we want to live in, can we live in? In popular theatre different points of view are considered, collaboration through the process of creation is encouraged and dialogue in all forms is the basis for the resulting play.

In 1987 as a community engagement project in a University of Alberta theatre class, Concrete Theatre was formed, rooted in popular theatre, collaborating first with girls and women living and working on the streets. Long after the school year ended the project continued and Concrete opened up to other communities, looking at issues like dating violence, media awareness and sexuality. Finding success and fulfilment working largely with youth, by 1998 Concrete was a professional theatre for young audiences, working within a popular theatre framework. Last week launching it's 21st season Concrete is premiering Under Cover, a play exploring challenges faced by teenagers of Middle Eastern descent in Canada told primarily through the story of Ella. Under Cover is directed by a founding member of Concrete, current Artistic Director Mieko Ouchi, and written by Mark Haroun.

At first blush Haroun, a white, half Egyptian, late twenties gay guy from St Albert well known for his award winning writing on a CBC prairie drama, may seem like a strange fit to tell the story of Ella, a young Muslim woman navigating reactions from her high school peers after she decides to wear the hijab. For Ouchi, who has worked with him before, Haroun is a perfect fit, having a great ear for writing dialogue for young people she says, and because of his own experiences. "Mark took a trip to Egypt, when he came back I remember him talking about how the experience made him feel isolated in St Albert. That trip was an awaking," Ouchi recalls.

Of course as Haroun and Ouchi know, being a good writer, and experiencing "otherhood" is not enough. What is needed in Popular Theatre is an understanding that a play is a living thing, an opportunity to give life to complexity, and that creation cannot be done in isolation. As part of the writing process Haroun did research through blogs and social networking to gain insight into the lives of young Muslim women. Through Concretre, he also teamed up with Edmonton's Centre for Race and Culture (CRC), meeting many young women who engaged in dialogue with CRC and Haroun. I asked Haroun if he drew parallels between the young women he was hearing from and his experiences growing up, thinking it might be easy to draw on his own feelings of otherness in writing about someone else. "It's hard to compare or generalize ... maybe on a metaphorical level like the frustrations," he answered When I asked Ouchi a similar question she agreed with Haroun: "Even within Islam, each country, region have their own stories" pointing out that to generalize would be to misrepresent. Both resisted the temptation to universalize the play for all minorities. Instead in keeping with Popular Theatre and Concrete's ethos, both went back to the notion of complexity and a desire not to portray stereotypes on the stage. While both hope youth will find something they can relate to in Under Cover, the goal is not to put forward a parable, but rather that youth will have a greater understanding of the realities faced by Middle Eastern youths and will question whether tolerance is enough.

It is easy as a "minority" to assume an understanding of other communities' issues—to over identify and assume all our problems are the same. This is dangerous to do even within a community. Over simplification leads to problems down the road: the devil, as they say, is in the details. What the process of Under Cover highlights is that being a minority one's self is not carte blanche into the experience of others. It is through listening, supporting and getting out of the way—of the story or otherwise—that is the best we often can do for each other.

QUEERMONTON Letting sex circulate- Oct 20, 2010

Sitting there at the back of the bar a few years ago watching the dancing, the music more of an echo than a pulse, the solitude of being alone with everyone was broken as he slid across the booth next to me. His thick denim-clad thigh was quickly against mine. He smelled the same brutish way he had 10 years ago. The throw of the gyrating dance floor lights cast hypnotically against his familiar face—wrinkles falling into shadows highlighting dimples. There was no need for the theatrics of catching up or being surprised. We smiled. Even after it all just faded away years ago we were still happy to see each other. They were about to leave, he said gesturing towards some hot young guy, face illuminated by his text screen, waiting by the door but he didn't want to go with out saying 'Hi,' nor without saying something he had wanted to for a while. With his hand on my leg, I reached for my drink, securing my lips against the straw as I moved in. The front of his face saddled up to the side of mine. With the brush of his stubble against the top of my jaw, his warm beer breath awash across my ear, he whispered slowly "We should have had more sex," stretching out each syllable, "I would have gone–further."

His bottom lip touched my earlobe on his last word. My breath gave out, I swallowed hard, choking on my ginger ale, letting the hard plastic cup find its own way back to the table top nearby as ice flew across our laps. I pulled back to face him. His eyes were a bit drunk but focused. He held eye contact as he slid away. With his hands beneath him he lifted himself up to go, his shoulders coming together, his button-up shirt went slack exposing the top of his chest. It looked different, less perfect, more inviting. The tattoo above his heart was obscured by hair I couldn't remember being there. Before he turned and walked away he cocked his head and dialed his smile up a few watts, his eyebrows arching to the heavens. All of it had worked. He had won. I sat there feeling wide-eyed, slightly winded, hot with desire, regret and wonder. It had not just faded away years ago as I liked to tell myself. I had killed it—tormented by what I wanted, and obsessed with not being one of "those gays" who let sex run their lives, I was too afraid of my own body and desires to let go. I watched him leave, desperately wanting sex to run my life.

I left the bar, letting the Edmonton autumn night air bite at, and then numb my ears as I walked down Jasper Avenue alone, remembering how I use to revel in watching other people walk towards parked cars, waiting cabs or the bathhouse, imagining what they would do to each other as soon they could. I would halt my growing excitement with judgment, consoling myself into thinking going home alone was the right thing to do, choosing to forget my fear of taking off my shirt or how I would let my dread and desire of what might happen stop me from indulging.

Even now, again, years later, walking home from the bar, Gaga echoing in the ether, Britney and Xtina busy with babies and Jasper Ave more alive than I ever, I pass the Macs on 113th and the glow of the telephone booth out front reminds the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sex and shame remain together. For all the leaps forward I make, or advances the gay rights movement puts forward as success, the most radical and enduring thing I can do is own my sex. Barrelling through my 30s memories of what could have been pile up in the recess of my mind: I don't want to get stuck. I want to let go, move forward, not be afraid of being "one of those gays" but rather enjoy being the queer man that I am. I think this means opening up, letting go, letting sex in and ensuring that sex circulates.

QUEERMONTON Neither suicide nor false hope- Oct 05, 2010

When I lived in London, England I spent a lot of time in the tube stations getting high off the winds that would suck through as trains passed, the smell of newspapers, history and people. I would look down at the tracks from the safety of the "mind the gap" line trying to see and unsee all the rats scurrying across the lines. Not seeing rats made them more dangerous in my head while seeing them—their damp bodies, their slimy long tails—made them more real and so less scary, and helped me understand rats would not find their way into my bag without me knowing, or that if one was nibbling at my feet, even if I dozed off, I would feel them and wake up.

Often while staring down at the tracks I would think about all the stories I heard of people taking their own lives by jumping in front of the trains. I would think about the conductors who would be powerless to react in time, the high pitched sequel of the sudden stop, the ghost-faced bystanders witnessing the end of someone's life while on their way to work. I remember thinking how tumultuous it must have been for bystanders who turned away, possibly also feeling hopeless but who would not/could not kill themselves. And of course I would think about the people who jumped, wishing them love and wanting something different for them.

I started to get obsessed and would bring up the subject of train suicides with everyone, everywhere: crowded pubs, hot water flats, sitting in Soho park. I was collecting an oral history because nowhere else could I find any information. One day a lady in a lunch room got mad when I brought it up, saying the reason authorities don't publicize train jumps was because they don't want to give anyone any ideas. She called me selfish for talking about the jumping. She was not wrong. We ate our lunches in silence after that; I soon quit the job.

For much of my time in London I was broke, largely alone and physically unwell. Everything felt damp and stale. I struggled to find purpose. I never thought about killing myself but enjoyed thinking about suicide. Talking about death gave me insight into how people actually value life, being able to say suicide without it being a call for help allowed me to consider different ways to think about it, and sense how it impacted others. Later I realized I had grown as person, found out about myself along the way. In the same way seeing the rats made me less afraid, taking about suicide gave me something to live for.

Last week at least nine queer youth took their own lives and the worst we can do is act like this too shall pass. We need to own the pain that caused the deaths and talk about the sense of loss we may feel. Let the nine lives remind us the status quo fails us all—even the bullies. One of the most violent aspects of the current gay rights movement is the selling of the lie that gays can be just like everyone else, that we can be normal. How has this actually made life harder for queer kids who want something different, better, more, who have lost the freedom of outsider status as gay enters the mainstream (and with it pressure to be normal and happy)? As queers we have to make space for lives to be lived wonderfully imperfect, and ensure people can be a variety of themselves in what ever way that manifests. Fuck resiliency. I want a world which allows the weakest to thrive and the freakiest as much latitude as they need.

No one is normal. Things will not get better until things change. As queers we know this and hopefully find strength in seeing the rats, gain hope in the knowledge that since we all travel with pain we need to devise more just and sensitive tracks. We need to help queer kids prepare for being different in an often unforgiving society, meanwhile keep working to change our unforgiving society.

QUEERMONTON Cruel summer Queer activists find solace in active creation- Sept 21/20101

The attack on Shannon Barry and the robust conversation-changing response by Edmonton queers last April kicked off what ended up being a long hard summer that grew to include solidarity work with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid when it was almost censored from participating in Toronto's Pride Parade, and a rally and fundraiser in support of G20 protesters. To sum up this triad of actions in one sentence does not capture the unrelenting sense of being attacked and called to action that the summer's heat brought—nor the emotional and energetic cost paid for being active by people who can often least afford it. It was a summer where capital city queers and activists put their skills to the mat for the betterment of their city and country. But at what cost? As summer fades and winter begins many queers are left wondering if they can continue to live in such a harsh climate.

While many local queers were buoyed by the activism of this summer, and have a new sense of pride in their community and new connections and friends, the others are left hurt, angry and disillusioned. It is exhausting for those always on the defence, unearthing injustice, educating others and working to call people out on it. What is it worth for these queers to always be fighting? Where is the pay off for them when at most "greater awareness" is created but nothing really changes? Often these people best able to identify inequality are most negatively impacted by it so the cost of sticking one's neck out when they are already targeted for their queerness or otherness is higher than for others. For many, the depths of disappointment are reached not when dominant forces fail to evolve but when there is insufficient support from the queer/activist community, or when the communities replicate the oppression they are supposedly fighting against.

In some ways queer activism can be understood as disrupting current and insufficient ways of doing things based on a ideals of normality (rooted often in heterosexuality) that cause violence against those that do not fit into the definition of normal. Be it questioning the police state, challenging notions of free speech, or working to defy the consolidation of power, queers work to complicate the way that power works. What would it mean then if queers were not always activating against something and rather were working for something? In reading the essay "Sex in Public" I feel as though authors Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner make such a case when they talk about queer world-making, or queer culture-building—creating a world in which heterosexism and the domination of norms are removed and replaced with "changed possibilities of identity, intelligibility, publics, culture and sex."

For a while I thought maybe queer world-making was the way forward. I could see the burn out in my friends and the way we had become more negative, suspicious and always ready for a fight. I thought if there was a way to get out of the cycle of fighting, ditching the world and starting our own was the way out.

One day as I was contemplating this around the bases to a conclusion, a guy in a pick-up truck yelled "QUEER!" out of his window at me. It was as if the universe didn't believe I was going to get the right conclusion and sent the bluntest, dumbest instrument it could to teach me that while queer world-making is not a waste of time, it is not the final answer. We cannot escape the larger systems in which we exist. The problem is that these queer worlds still exist within violent and oppressive systems.

Yet not all is lost: hearty Edmonton queers fear not, starting this summer and continuing into the depths of winter a group has sprung up to address the violence of inaccessibility within Edmonton's queer community. The group will audit venues, rating places based on their accessibility for the community to reference when hosting or attending events. This group highlights that in the end there may not be a final answer in demolishing violence, but along the way, through support, queer worlds can be made. So, yes, we live in a harsh world, but it can be made a bit softer by small interventions.

QUEERMONTON Value in unexpected places- Sept 14, 2010

Last week, after HIV Edmonton's AIDS Walk for Life the Metro newspaper ran the unfortunate headline "Walking for those who cannot." The poor article that followed equated HIV with death and failed to illustrate that in the nearly 30 years society has been living with HIV much has happened, including the introduction of universal precautions, activism around global health and equality and quality-of-life improvements for people living with HIV while overall new infection rates have dropped. While there is still so much still to do, in the grand scheme of things when it comes to AIDS, we are winning.

A week earlier on's cruiseboard, a lengthy thread was started by a man living with HIV looking for love and tired of guys using his HIV status as a cop out for why they can't have sex or get into a long-term relationship with him. In the subsequent posts people debated viral load, undetectability and transmission of HIV. Running through the posts are guys' honest admissions that they are afraid of sleeping with dudes living with HIV and the frustration over the misconceptions of HIV. What is never made clear is that people living with HIV can have fulfilling sex lives with both people living with and people living without HIV.

It is often lamented that the public has grown apathetic around HIV and AIDS. But as the two incidents reveal I think we are all actually overwhelmed. We are stuck in antiquated ways of thinking and we don't know how to move forward. At the heart of the problem is the foolish higher standard of scrutiny HIV is held to over any other aspect of the human experience. Why do we expect HIV to make more sense than any other aspect of being alive? We will be better off when we accept HIV as part of our lives the way we accept airplanes, cancer, Fruit Loops, the Rolling Stones and any number of other things. There will be less stigma and discrimination related to people impacted with HIV, and we will move on to see HIV not as something to be afraid of, but rather as something that is part of us.

In this coming age gay men can be the leaders in this paradigm shift. As it has been scandalously reported out of proportion, there are gay men who want to have HIV. While one may disagree with their desire it does herald a different way of looking at HIV.

Right now almost everything one consumes around HIV is based on the premise that no one wants HIV, and that we should avoid it at all costs. What this very tiny group of men illustrates is that the belief that HIV is bad is not a universal truth. For some HIV provides a way to create bonds, family and identity. While I am not encouraging this line of thinking, I think it is terrible to ignore or dismiss it.

Other gay men living with HIV credit the incurable fatal virus with saving their lives, stating that due to the reckless ways they were living before they knew they had HIV—often as a way of dealing with heterosexism and discrimination—getting news that they were positive was a wake up call for them to value life.

HIV is in our shared system so it will continue to circulate, at least into the foreseeable future, be it in poorly written articles or in our blood. This is nothing to be afraid of—it is something to know. It is too late to think we can curb HIV from existence—that moment passed when systemic discrimination was selected over proactive and decisive leadership. What we need now is helpful, frank, compassionate, informative conversations with space for questions so we can move forward to respect and understand we live with HIV. We love, have fun, escape, feed our babies, inject, give birth, cope, fall off wagons, fall in love, trust, thrust, gamble, search, ache, hope, receive close our eyes and sometimes we emerge with nary a scratch, sometimes not. HIV does not make sense, but there is value in HIV.

VUE WEEKLY VUEPOINT Game changers - Aug. 25, 2010

On July 31 at a Golden Baseball League game in Orange County the Edmonton Capitals field manager Brent Bowers released a tirade of homophobic insults at umpire Bill Van Raaphorst. In his vitriolic outburst it is clear that he and others partook in gossiping about Van Raaphorst's sexual orientation. International sports media criticized Bower's actions. The Capitals, part of the sports organizations including the Edmonton Oilers owned by the Katz Group, reacted swiftly along with the League. Bowers was fined $5000, and suspended for the remainder of the season, shortly thereafter Bowers resigned. Within days the Oilers and Capitals—under the leadership of President and CEO Patrick LaForge were consulting with gay and lesbian community members. Last week the Oilers invited Van Raaphorst to Edmonton. He spoke to the Capitals, met with members of Edmonton's sexual minority and human rights communities, and participated in a press conference.

Understanding the Bowers/Van Raaphorst incident as an issue of homophobia would be to miss bigger issues of diversity in general and the role sports play in shaping our culture.

LaForge has a history of using his influence as a civic leader and respected voice within the patriarchal world of sports and business to discuss taboo topics such as drugs in sports and domestic violence. And he again recognized the opportunity to explore and change how those issues along with homophobia flourish within sports culture.

In the wake of Van Raaphorst speaking tour here in Edmonton we have a greater opportunity to look at larger issues within sports: how does the hyper-masculine world of sports lead to drug use, violence, discrimination and abuses of power? In what ways can the Oilers use its resources to create cultural change, ushering in a more balanced view of what an athlete, a competitor can be? How can difference be better understood as a competitive edge?

The Oilers have handled the situation well and what may make future Oilers and Capitals events continue to be worth the price of admission is how the organization continues to use these opportunities as a positive game changer.

QUEERMONTON Paths to progress Debate over marriage laws misses the bigger issues- Aug 25 2010

While I am partial to queer, militant anti-marriage views that question why anybody (queers specifically) would want to be part of something that replicates the problems of heterosexism—or further invite capitalism and the state into the fabric of their personal lives—I cannot get wholly behind them when faced with real people getting married. Marriage is one of those acts in which I don't expect people to make sense or live up to what I perceive to be their politics.

For me being against same sex marriage in practice limits the ways I can understand queerness, life and love to work. While I am cautious of how marriage—as queer theorist David Halperin may suggest—can get us too "knit up in a web of mutuality," not being anti-same sex marriage is my way of being open to the ways people—queers—can tinker with marriage that will eventually result in new, better and various ways marriage can be inhabited. I think about performance artist Keith Murray who married himself, or the straight hippie couple from Edmonton that in a wrist tying ceremony have committed to each other for only a finite span of time.

Do these possibly lax and romantic considerations make me a disappointing queer? I don't think so. Participating in the complexity of an issue while making space for humanness is part of cultivating a good queer. In terms of marriage I think many of us are being rail-roaded into simplicity, choosing a side and along the way missing a chance to dive into bigger issues. The tyrannical way marriage dominates the American LGBT discussion—being misrepresented as fundamental to equality—is the problem, not merely marriage. One of the only reasons I bring up marriage, living in a country where same sex union legislation was passed five years ago, is because it has become an issue from which we understand and measure other queer concerns. The energy spent on fighting for and against marriage pushes important issues to the margins. With marriage we are being manipulated by states, supposed gay rights groups and the marketplace to focus on ramifications of heterosexism and conservatism rather working towards removing "isms" at the core. Talking about marriage distracts us from challenging the limited acceptable ways of being that enact violence on how we actually live.

One need look no further than current headlines in Canada about the ship from Sri Lanka to see how larger issues are compartmentalized to pit people against each other. Rather than a national debate about what Canada is doing to ensure no one feels so unsafe they must flee their home, we instead debate the merits of turning the boat away. How is that even up for discussion?
Earlier this year Shannon Barry was assaulted while walking home. Rather than succumbing to the typical fear-motivated conversation of minority as victim, people—primarily through the Community Response Project—took the opportunity to focus on the Canadian prison industrial complex, queer's complicity if we play the Hate Crime card and the different ways we can conceive of justice. This moved the discussion from constructed, played-out scripts of bad guys, cops and victims that maintain status quo power, to real action and conciseness around broken systems, our own roles and a questioning of where we can go from here, an understanding that change can come and queers can power it.

It is the seed of action like the Community Response Project, not that binary dynamics being sown in debates like Same Sex Marriage, that queers have the opportunity to nurture. Instead of fighting against those we may oppose—like those who may choose to get married—queers have an opportunity to respect perceivable gains made within the LGBT rights movement—like marriage—by using the successes, improving/queering them and moving beyond to ensure real equality for all. Let's leave behind the pettiness of one way or another and move forward with queer complexity guiding many ways forward.

QUEERMONTON Long live the Queenie Fringe play queers up the Royal Family to explore identity - AUG 4 / 2010

Writer, performer and educator Valerie Mason John, better known as Queenie, was given her nickname a while ago by a group of gay male friends from San Francisco who said that she was the biggest queen they had ever known. Years later, while maybe not as wild as she once was (who is?) but just as fabulous, the name Queenie has stuck.

This year, as part of the 29th annual Edmonton International Fringe Festival, Queenie will be bringing her camp sensibilities to tackle another royal highness, the Queen of England. In the North American premiere of her one-woman show, Brown Girl in the Ring—Queenie will be playing a black woman who has the duration of the play to convince the audience that she is the Queen of England.

Helping Queenie's character out on stage is a small cast of identities, including a young , innocent and black Michael Jackson performing lines such as "You'll be all white in the morning." While the play has a humorous premise, queers will pick up on the interesting ideas around history, family, citizenship, belonging, people and populations being disappeared and the ways institutions such as the Royal Family replicate and inflict societal violence that come up in the play, making Brown Girl in the Ring a funny and thought-provoking experience.

Queenie wrote the first incarnation of Brown Girl in the Ring more than 10 years ago in the UK where she lived. The play was part of a theatre experience in which playwrights created work around their own cultural references. At the time she was thinking about how growing up the Royal Family (all white) dominated the cultural space, and how being the only black person in her adoptive white family was impacting her. Questions came up: how does the dominant, omnipresent image of the Queen in schools and on our money inform those who cannot see themselves in her majesty's portrait? How is the Royal Family the ultimate symbol of heterosexism? Not only do they reproduce, they reproduce living gods. And, what can be gained by queering who gets to be the Queen? How do our own complicated identities get bleached out in the face of dominance as the Royal Family?

Through doing the work to write the play she started to understand herself better. "I am not black, I am coloured, we are all coloured," says Queenie, sharing something she realized at the time. She also started to see how people of colour are disappeared from history including African descendant Princess Sophie Charlotte who upon marrying King George III of England became the Black Queen of England. She has been nearly written out of history. Queen Sophie's story helped inspire Queenie to imagine and play on the theme, "What if a black woman really was the next Queen of England?" The play, braiding together humour, facts and contemplation, premiered in London to one critic writing that Brown Girl in the Ring is, "A royal meditation of bigotry from a royal highness with a difference."

A decade later, now located in Edmonton, Queenie decided to revisit the play and rework it for Canadian audiences. Along the way, Queenie has provided herself a chance to learn more about Canada including the pride of Tim Horton's and the shame of how aboriginals are treated. She sees how Canada is no different than the UK in the ways we wish—as a society—to not discuss some things. "Sweep it under the rug" is a reoccurring line in Brown Girl in the Ring referring to the ways in which difference—all kinds of difference: race, sexuality, religion, class and others—are not properly discussed in polite society. Through her art Queenie carves out a space for people to have these discussions.

While it is ultimately up to you whether you believe that Queenie's character is the Queen of England the journey that leads you there may tell you a lot about yourself and the society you live in. The Queen is Dead, Long Live Queenie.

QUEERMONTON All together now Marginalized groups need to connect to fight for health- July 21, 2010

Early in 2009 six queer Canadians filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission stating that the Canadian healthcare system is homophobic. In their filing document they provided a list of health issues affecting queer Canadians, including lower life expectancy than the average Canadian, higher rates of substance abuse, depression, and inadequate access to care and HIV/AIDS. While G20 countries work to make good on their pledge to cut deficits in half in the next three years, a broad coalition needs to act and raise awareness on how the G20 negatively impacts health.

Looking at current statistics, budget cuts will only worsen a bad situation. According to Health Canada "although they represent only 3.3 percent of the Canadian population, aboriginal persons comprised five to eight percent of existing [HIV] infections and six to 12 percent of new HIV infections." In 2008 gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men made up 45 percent of new HIV infections in Alberta, an increase from the previous year. "Prior to 1996," reports AVERT, "females comprised 14 percent of HIV diagnoses in the age group 15 – 29, whereas in 2007 this proportion was 36 percent." It could be estimated that racailized people are also over represented in HIV cases, but not confirmed as many test sites do not collect information on ethnicity—in many ways a practise that silences or disappears a group of people.

Looking at this collection of statistics and considering the work of early AIDS activists you can understand the devastation they would feel of having worked to ensure those who came after would live longer and with less stigma only to have them harassed by police, suffering greater health risks and caught in judicial purgatory for exercising their democratic freedoms. What is the point of fighting for life when the quality of those lives is comprised?

It is not just through HIV rates that we know minorities are under attack in Canada. If we take a social determinants of health approach to looking at the quality of life for Canadians—the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age—then we see that the Government of Canada is putting our health at risk. The cuts to the Status of Women department, Jason Kenney's editing out of same-sex marriage in immigration documents, the ongoing treatment of aboriginals in Canada, the delisting of gender reassignment surgery and the handling of the G20 arrests and profiling of queer activists all point to the fact that our well being is being ignored.

As queers in some cases we are under attack on multiple sides. Not just for our sexuality or our politics, but also for our economic beliefs, our gender, our skin colour, our background, our definition of family and so on. With this in mind, maybe it's time to pool resources and create our own reality to ensure that all peoples are being taken care of.

In his book Pleasure Consuming Medicine Kane Race advances the idea of "counterpublic health"—a take off from Michael Warner's work on publics/counter publics. In an interview with activist Trevor Hoppe he discusses how creating counterpublic healthcare highlights the limitations of 'public' health care when dictated by a mainstream moral ideology as we have in Canada and points to the benefits of collective organizing, “So much health work and health education today advocates individual solutions to public health problems. But if we think about the early response to HIV/AIDS, it is quite clear that much of its success depended upon creating a shared horizon of concern about the threat, as well as specific contexts of collective self-activity.”

In truth we have to do both. We have to hold governments accountable—as not play into the neo-liberal dream that all individuals will just take care of themselves leaving governments to spend all our taxes on "security"—and we have to work together to ensure we all have the possibility for healthy vital lives.

QUEERMONTON All ages - June 30, 2010

In 1979 Boots n' Saddles opened and became one of Canada's longest running gay bars. Boots, as it came to be known, became the home for Edmonton's Bears, a community typified by big-bodied furry men, as well as older gentlemen and their admirers.

On March 13 of this year Boots majority owner Jim Schafer passed away. A large, loud and sometimes cantankerous figure, Jim also had a sweetness about him that shone through when he wanted it to. Since his death, rumors have been circulating about who received Jim's stake in the businesses (Boots as well as the neighboring Garage Burger). Is it Jim's long time business partner? His recent boyfriend? Did Jim have a will? For many, at the end of the day it does not matter. The doors are closed, "for lease" signs hang in the window and good old gays looking to grab a beer, or a conversation are left to find another place. Some have done the once unthinkable and started going to Woody's, the gay pub above Buddy's on Jasper and 117th. It's not that there is anything wrong with Woody's, more that a turf war is alive in Edmonton's gay watering hole communities. To cross the threshold of a competitor's doorway is a transgression that speaks more of the need for companionship than it does of realigned loyalty.

Others not able or willing to make the eastern trek have relocated a few blocks from Boots to Prism on 101 Street and 105 Avenue, coincidentally a stone's throw from Mila's Pub, what may have almost been Edmonton's first gay space. Known primarily as a lesbian bar, Prism has the same sort of earthy, regulars-based vibe that Boots had.

The seemingly inconsequential dilemma of where to drink may register as small, but for men who found friendship, community and validation at Boots it can be a serious issue. Many of these men grew up pre-Stonewall where the idea of gay acceptance was never something they considered, let alone have fully embraced. Some have families, ex-wives and children that may not talk to them, others may have lost life partners and/or groups of friends to AIDS, and others could see their friends now dealing with other health issues and no longer be around. All of this can be isolating—complicated by society's heterosexism and ageism, which is often intensified within the gay community. While I am not one to be a bleeding heart for able-bodied white gay men in light of the poor quality of life facing many queers of color, those living with disabilities and trans folks, the fact is old age is the great bitch-slap of injustice, especially if you do not have money or status. Having a place to go and belong can mean the difference between life and death.

In 2008 the Government of Canada released a health survey in which they found "People who are socially isolated and have few ties to other individuals are more likely to suffer form poor physical and mental health and to die prematurely." For a regular at a bar the people that sit in the stool beside you become your family, bartenders become trusted confidants and anyone new who walks in becomes a possible future friend—all of it working together to stave off social isolation, providing something to look forward to, a reason get up and take care of one's self. When a bar closes this can all disappear.

In general Edmonton has become more hospitable for gays and lesbians since Boots opened up more than 30 years ago. But just because the times have changed, it does not mean that the lived reality for many individuals has. If we as a city are to continue to evolve there needs to be meaningful ways for LGBTQ seniors to participate, engage and feel apart of communities. This means groups need to become more open for people of all ages to participate, communities need to work to eradicate ageism, venue owners and event planners have to consider both physical and cultural accessibility and more intentional, safe and welcoming places need to open up. If we are lucky we will all grow old; let's think about the kind of world we will want.

QUEERMONTON Whose Pride? Identity struggles emerge as corporate sponsorship gains ground - June 2, 2010

On March 10 of this year Pride Toronto (PT) released a notice regarding the Pride Parade stating "Participating groups must agree ... to have their messages and signage approved by the ethics committee of Pride Toronto in advance of the event." Due to public outcry, PT reversed its decision saying that it would no longer be vetting content before the parade. Sadly the victory was short lived.
From the beginning it was clear to members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) that PT's attempt to control messaging was related to them. Last year, after marching in 2008, it was suggested that QuAIA be banned from the parade. Funders, supporters and PT got nervous. In a letter reviewing a conversation that the City of Toronto had with PT, Executive Director of Culture for the City of Toronto stated, "A review will be made as to whether they can ban a group on the basis of being called 'Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.'"

Formed in 2008 during Toronto's Israeli Apartheid Week, QuAIA has worked to draw attention to the Palestinian cause, calling out those who may defend Israel's actions due to their (limited) support of gay rights and illustrates the ways in which race, statehood and sexuality are interrelated. This rubbed many people the wrong way including Toronto mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti who helped reignite the issue by putting forward a motion for the City to de-fund Pride—a move that made PT scared again, considering that if the motion passes on June 14 it would mean a loss of over $200 000 in cash and in-kind city services to PT.

In light of the threat to funding, the PT board in a four-to-three decision banned the use of the phrase "Israeli Apartheid" from the parade, thus for all intents and purposes banning QuAIA from participating. With this move it seems PT has put the future of Pride in greater peril than just the possible loss of income. In an open letter to PT, founders of Pride have called on PT to rescind the ban, stating, "This sets a very dangerous precedent for the exclusion of certain political perspectives within our movements and communities from Pride events."

A generous reading of PT's decision and even Edmonton Pride Week Society's decision last year to give parade title sponsorship to TD Trust (something the group has not repeated this year) suggests that groups are accepting money with strings attached, implicit or otherwise, to ensure that they will be able to provide ever-lasting positive experiences for those that they think they are serving.

Most LGBT endeavors, like Pride, start with the mission to improve lives. Quickly the pressure to grow and succeed becomes distractionary. Suddenly mandates can be corrupted by outcomes and supposed community expectations, resulting in knee jerk reactions to continue and get bigger. Unquestioned growth in the modern queer context creates over-simplified fabled ideals around a monolithic LGBT community and while there is a possibility of a greater majority being served due to growth, how are some being excluded? Who needs Pride more? Straight people? Enshrined prosperous gays? Or marginalized queers navigating an often subtly yet undeniably violently oppressive world?

In reality, immigration, discrimination and patriarchy are all real battles being waged by queers everyday in Canada. Is Pride with its roots in activism, acting around current issues or is it just leveraging its past success to act now as a vehicle of the marketplace? What LGBT organizations, including Pride, should be considering is: who benefits from growth and how can growth corrupt once noble intentions?

Locally as Edmonton Pride continues to grow there is an evolving feeling that it is becoming less accessible for some, both physically and culturally. In the end, support, sponsorship, nor the threat of losing either, should overly impact LGBTQ endeavors. Sure money matters, growth has it benefits, but in the end neither should not be the factor that reigns on our parade.

QUEERMONTON We’re all in this together- May 19, 2010

For his talk delivered last week in Edmonton entitled "Whose Streets?" writer, activist and executive director of Queers for Economic Justice (New York), Kenyon Farrow weaved together urban renewal, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, global markets, hate crime legislation, labour, media, HIV/AIDS and a warning to be leery of World Fairs (Expos) into a relatable way of understanding the world and along with it illustrated questions on how the status quo allows for the violences of injustice to continue. And it made sense.

Farrow points to the way we understand urban development and a failure to see impacts of race and sexual orientation on where we live. He provided the example of realtors driving through a largely lower income and racialized neighborhood. If they see even one white person they will be inclined to think that that area is the new, up-and-coming neighbourhood. The wheels of gentrification begin as the realtor helps first hipsters, gays and artists to move in and soon actively recruits more affluent demographics to buy property. This out prices people who may have lived there for generations and have a whole network of survival set up that is slowly and systematically dismantled in the name of development. Farrow is not suggesting white people are bad, rather he points out the ways in which our bodies and realities are interconnected and responsible for each other in ways we fail to fully realize.

As we organize and assist each other in the face of these interconnections, what does it mean to be an ally? If our issues are interdependent then the notion that you elect to be involved becomes impossible to be true.

I recall at a meeting having a conversation with a gay man who said he would never get too deep into trans issues because it does not personally affect him. At first blush this might sound like a noble thing to say, almost anti-colonial, but once it sits for a while, you begin to see how, as a gay man, trans has a lot to do with him. By being a gay man he, like a trans person, is likely to evoke gender controversy in the world around him. While he may be masculine and wear gender conforming clothes, by virtue of wanting to get with another man he is challenging gender. Gender then is not only the concern for trans people in Alberta or poor women in Africa, it is something we all live with and should not attempt to make it a private issue for those who have to deal with it in an often hurtful way everyday. We all have an interest in investigating and challenging dominant ideas of gender for the further liberation of all.

For the Farrow talk I wanted to make the event accessible to all. With a slowly evolving understanding of issues around ablism and disability, thanks to some patient people, I thought maybe I could get it right and as one of the organizers select an accessible location to ensure people often systemically excluded could be part of the event. But I didn't get it right. I found a space that had the ideas of accessibility but not the lived reality—a difference between someone being able to seamlessly and fully participate and someone having to be conscious of their movements, needs and the comfort of others. I settled on a place only fulfilling bare requirements because I did not embody the idea of ablism and disability. I saw myself as an ally rather than a person impacted.

Adding to the problem is the current neo-liberal equation where regimes remove responsibility from the state and push ideas of individual responsibility and capitalism as the answer onto citizens, subsequently issues become ghettoized. Lap dogs and victims of neo-liberalism hear the call and work to create institutes and organizations that serve niche groups ensuring a privileged, private few move ahead, leaving those who can't or won't garner institutional support to fight for scraps provided by the state.

If Farrow's talk and my own mistakes taught me anything last weekend it was that the answer to the question "Whose Streets?" is obvious: our streets. The damage of privatization, of focusing only on one group and seeing "accommodation" as a checklist is it leads us to believe that other people's troubles are not our own, that through resiliency, everyone should be able to overcome. It removes from the equation the very real systemic barriers that exist institutionally, interpersonally and beyond. There are no allies when you are all in it together.

VUE WEEKLY Rethinking justice Communities stand up to examine underlying causes of violence- May 2010

Last February in a public panel discussion Professor Cressida Hayes reminded the audience of the 2004 incident in which then-premier Ralph Klein was asked to comment on funding for AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) and responded by saying, "I'm sure none of you want to talk to me about AISH, do you? No, because you're normal. Severely normal." In recounting the incident Hayes reminded the audience how normal-centric services and mentalities are in Alberta. Recent acts of violence serve to remind us how ill-equipped institutions such as the Edmonton Police Service are in dealing with issues beyond the normal.

Two months ago an 18-year-old aboriginal man was abducted on Jasper Avenue by a group of men. He was taken beyond city limits, beaten, burned, had racist symbols carved into the flesh of his back and then abandoned, left to make his way to a farmhouse to get help. The people at the farm took care of him as they waited for the police to arrive. His mother says that dealing with the police left her son re-traumatized. A family friend says that the police have treated him "as if he was the criminal" because they suspect the violence was related to gang retaliation. The young man and his mother are now currently working with the Wicihitowin Justice System Action Circle, which is part of the larger Wicihitowin: Shared Responsibility & Stewardship organization, designed to create a dialogue with the EPS to change how police handle first contact with aboriginals.

In Alberta over the last five years, 23 Somali men have been brutally murdered. The last case was in late November 2010 when 23-year-old Robleh Ali Mohamed was shot in the head in broad daylight. When asked by the CBC about steps the EPS is taking to solve the crime, Constable Ken Smith, a community liaison officer with Edmonton Police said, "The police aren't there when it happens. We need people to come forward to us and tell us what happened." The Alberta Somali community is not satisfied with how the EPS is handling the case. There is a petition circulating asking for the Alberta government to form a task force to find ways to solve the murders. So far it has over 2000 signatures.

Last month Shannon Barry, a lesbian, was violently attacked while walking home from Whyte Ave with some of her friends. Barry was beaten so badly she needed reconstructive surgery. A 14-year-old boy has been charged in the assault. Within 12 hours of a photo of her bruised and dazed appearing on Facebook her friends formed the Community Response Project with over 800 members to react to the brutal crime and incompetence of the Edmonton Police Service. The attending officer the night of the attack failed to file a report until five days later, after CBC Edmonton's Charles Rusnell broke the story.

Barry has said that since news of the assault broke she has received messages from over 150 people from all walks of life sharing their own stories of being attacked and systems in place offering little or no satisfactory service.

At the end of the first Community Response Project meeting, held in the cramped, partially flooded Pride Centre basement—which had been broken into a few days earlier—Barry donated a modest sum to the Centre, which had been donated to her by a group in Jasper who heard of her attack. Barry said that she could not, as an individual, accept the donation considering the state the Centre was in. Barry's generosity is noteworthy considering that she will be out of work for a while due to the attack, and that, historically, women earn less than men, and lesbians earn less than their heterosexual counterparts.

While each of the violent attacks—be them physical, verbal or systemic—warrant their own specific understanding in terms of the personal, societal and systemic issues at play it is important to pull back and see the incidents of violence in context of each other. When you do so it is clear that difference is still under attack in Alberta.

Despite initiatives such as the EPS Chief's Community Advisory Council—meant to "foster a climate of safety, security and mutual respect" in diverse communities—in all the above cases there is a dissatisfaction with the systems in place to deal with the violence. Instead, it is community members and grassroots organizations that are coming forward to provide support, work to achieve satisfying versions of justice and address larger issues that result in violence. While the work and effort of community members like Shannon and organizations like the Wicihitowin group, the Somalis who have started the petition and the Community Response Project should be applauded, it's fair to ask what the implications of private citizens and small organizations using their limited resources to meet the needs that the organizations are funded to provide are. In what ways are communities subsidizing the bad work of government funded institutions like the EPS which put forward a proposed budget of $238.6 million for 2010 (an 11 percent increase from the previous year)? In what ways could those funds be reallocated for more truly community-based, approaches to justice? How would establishing such approaches help alleviate some of the work of the EPS, thus enabling it to do a better job of serving the public without increasing its budget and turning Edmonton into a more-dysfunctional police state?

Overwhelmingly there seems to be a desire to rethink justice, be it the violent attackers who are arguably avenging their own sense of order, or the victims of such attacks who want more than just jail time for those that hurt them. In Edmonton, as across Alberta, the fallacy of normal continues to be obliterated as we grow more diverse. As this continues, more work needs to be done to understand how race, class, orientation, gender and other factors intersect not only to prevent further acts of violence but also to learn how to properly deal with incidents when they occur. In 21st-century Alberta, nothing should be considered normal.

QUEERMONTON Let the rain fall- April 28, 2010

In Edmonton it is impossible not to think about dust. It is so dry here. Visions of dust bowls, real or imagined, factor into our being a northern prairie outpost near the top of the melting world, not even benefiting from trickling down moisture, the sun absorbing it before it reaches us. Even the snow we do endure does not absorb into our soil. Once the snow disappears dust blankets the city leaving a thin brown layer over our stretched-out, already brown town. Dust forms like sand rivers between our sidewalks and the streets making it harder to bike. Dust gets into our teeth as the wind slaps across our mouths. Dust buries itself into our scalps, lover's fingers unearthing it as we lay in bed—if we should be so lucky.

By early last week we had all seen the worn down, beaten woman's face and heard the story of what had happened to Shannon Barry—how her and her friends had been walking home and had been attacked by a group of men, how being a woman had saved her to a degree. Her friend yelling to the attackers that Barry—already on the ground inhaling dust, as her body was being kicked—was a woman. The attackers stopped, fled. As the joke has been inappropriately made: who said chivalry is dead in tumbleweed Alberta?

As news of what happened to Shannon circulated, so did anger at how the Edmonton Police Service mishandled the attack. Not arriving until 30 minutes after the ambulance, the responding officer did not interview witnesses, nor file a report until four or five days later and thus did not put into play resources that the EPS has. On Thursday Police Chief Mike Boyd refuted a report that an internal investigation was underway to understand why procedure had not been followed, instead he categorized it as a review, a downgrade that mocked the fact that it was National Victim Awareness Week, with a theme of "Every Victim Matters."

As if all of that was not enough, earlier in the week Edmonton's Pride Centre was broken into, a window smashed and among other things the computer containing payroll information was stolen, a poetic injustice considering the Centre is in financial need, barely able some months to make payroll.

By the end of the week an updated face of Shannon Barry emerged post reconstructive surgery. Her face looked tender, more painful. A photo by Larry Wong in The Edmonton Journal attempted to pick up the angry colors of her bruises and the brutality of the attack by juxtaposing Barry in between blooming flowers—a kind gesture, a nod to a fertile future.

On Thursday two women, friends of Shannon started the Community Response Project, a Facebook group "dedicated to crafting a queer, systemic response to the recent assault against Shannon Barry (and others)."

It rained on Friday night, cloud coverage providing shelter for expression, hungry vegetation soaking up the moisture. As the city streets grew slick with rain the Community Response Project gained steam with over 400, 500, 600 members and counting. The Facebook wall filled up with messages of support, suggested next steps, plans to meet up, links about hate crime framework and stories of violent attacks including the brutal story of a young aboriginal man who was abducted, beaten, scarred, burned and abandoned.

On Saturday afternoon the EPS released information that a 14-year-old boy had been charged in Shannon's attack. The news made nothing better. No longer was it just about the awful one-way brutality absorbed by Barry but rather now it was the network of violence that hangs over all of us. The air felt dry again.

"Let the dust settle" is a phrase meant to suggest one should wait before taking action. This is impossible when the dust is unrelenting. Edmonton is a young city- still shifting in its own footprint, kicking up earth as it decides who it wants to be. In response us queers have a chance to mould this place, secure a better foundation for everyone. With a radical questioning queer approach we can work this land and make it hospitable for all. What can we grow here? Where do we want to go from here?

QUEERMONTON Protesting Pride engages diversity- April 07, 2010

There was a time when Edmonton's Pride Festivities were not sanctioned by City Hall. For many this reduced the legitimacy of the events, the ease with which Pride could attract a strong audience, sponsorship, pool of volunteers and diminished its ability to secure a sustainable future. This of course did not stop members of Edmonton's LGBT communities from putting on and attending Pride all the while also lobbying Edmonton City Hall to reconsider. Under threat of a human rights complaint, former Mayor Bill Smith begrudgingly granted Edmonton's Pride celebration a proclamation in 2003. The year after, then-new mayor Stephen Mandel fully supported Pride by providing the proclamation as well as partaking in the parade. Since 2004, under the hard work of committed volunteers and one paid staff, Pride has grown into a more legitimized event attracting thousands in audience numbers and sponsorship dollars.

As part of 2009's Edmonton Pride there were three separate acts of peaceful protest at the parade, and following, facilitated by queer groups. The first, the Queer Liberation Army marched in the parade with placards that read "My Pride is Not for Sale" in protest to the parade's naming rights being given over to TD Canada Trust and the overt commercialization of the event. The second action, also part of the parade, was walking entry partners Exposure: Edmonton's Queer Arts and Culture Festival (of which I am a member) and Mile Zero Dance's various improvised movements such as die-ins in protest, and in front of, the manned military tank entered into the parade by Edmonton Police Service. The groups questioned the involvement of such an aggressive weapon as part of an LGBT event. The last act of civil disobedience was the placard and megaphone interruption of Progressive Conservative MLA Heather Klimchuk's speech by the Queer Allied Network during the celebrations after the Parade due to the PC party's delisting of sexual reassignment surgery and passing of Bill 44, which at once finally and tardily enshrined sexual minorities into Alberta's human rights legislation while limiting the ways in which Alberta teachers can teach important topics such as sexuality.

Last month Pride Toronto, in preparation for 2010 Pride, as well as thinking about World Pride 2014, which Toronto will be hosting, announced that all signs in the Pride parade must be vetted by a Pride Toronto ethics committee to, "ensure that messages support the theme of the 2010 festival." In reaction to the attempt to curb freedom of speech, "Social media exploded" writes's Marcus McCann who summarized what happened in a great article entitled "How a Queer Protest Pushed Pride Toronto to Withdraw its Censorship Policy." Facebook groups were started, letter writing began and Twitter was used all resulting in Pride Toronto rescinding the idea.

Above the tact or content of the protests in Edmonton and Toronto, the fact they exist is a sign of progress and a direct link to Pride's riot roots. In the past the act of producing Pride in Edmonton was a form of activism as a result to the hostility from the City of Edmonton. Once the City provided it with its seal of approval activist energy, as experienced in 2009, could shift from a united front to have Pride happen to spread to multiple focuses that serve to question Pride as well as see Pride as a site for bigger conversations that affect queer people.

Moving forward protests of Pride are important because they provide an example of the ways in which we, who it can be argued have shared and/or overlapping identities (LGBT and Queer people), can oppose each other, have conversations with each other and articulate our important differences.

For me this is an important realization. More and more I find myself disengaged by the current gay and lesbian groups and movement that in some ways are typified by the existing incarnation of Pride. I feel that much of the work being done in terms of gay rights is coming at the expense of segments of society and limit true gains for everyone. I feel that by virtue of being same sex attracted I am lumped into these conversations and provided a point of view I don't agree with in the same way people walk away from Pride thinking that being gay is just about hot boys in booty shorts and biker ladies with no bras.

In thinking about a queer future I think Pride is a perfect shared site to dismantle ideas of a homogenous homosexual community. For me it is also a good time to engage in dialogue on the ways queer identities are disappeared, misused, and assumed within the larger LGBT context, how our queer consent has been assumed or misappropriated to push ideals we may not believe in.

The act of questioning and pushing forward is at the heart of Pride. Lest we forget Stonewall '69: Pride was born a protest.