January 20, 2009 – thestar.com
Activist’s ‘railroad’ helps gay Iranians
by Lesley Ciarula Taylor,Immigration Reporter
Not quite three years ago, Arsham Parsi was an Iranian refugee in Turkey. Today, he is executive director of the Iranian Queer Railroad, trying to help 200 people down the same road he took to Toronto. "Every day, people escape, people come here," he said yesterday in his downtown apartment. "It’s constant, like a railroad, always moving."
On a recent trip to Turkey, he secured refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 45 Iranian gays, but they are awaiting interviews at the Canadian and U.S. embassies. Parsi, 28, is lobbying on to get them out of Turkey where temporary residents must pay a $200 fee every six months. "People in Turkey say they’re not homophobic and I say, `You’ve living in Istanbul. When you leave Istanbul, it’s different.’ Gays have been beaten on the streets in Turkey and the police do nothing."
Canada, the U.S. and Australia are the likely destinations for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people on his "railroad," because those countries recognize the kind of persecution they face in Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said there are no gays. Iran is one of 86 countries around the world that still declare homosexuality a crime and punish it with prison or death. Parsi was still in Iran when he became an activist in 2001, first starting a clandestine online chat group for fellow gays, then an organization. He left when he heard government officials were hunting him.
Since arriving in Toronto in 2006, Parsi has been a guest speaker at the UN Human Rights Council and his activism earned him awards last year from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Pride Toronto. At the moment, the Iranian Queer Railroad is pretty much Parsi, two computers, his printer and his iPod. He screens his calls carefully because he receives regular death threats.
February 22, 2009 – dailyqueernews.com
Following the Queer Railroad to Canada – Iran’s gay refugees face many obstacles in gaining asylum
by Nadim Roberts | MacgilleTribune, Montreal
Few will forget Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s response during an appearance at Columbia University on September 24, 2007, when asked about the persecution of homosexuals in Iran. “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” said Ahmadinejad. “We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have it.”
Although Ahmadinejad skirted the question, several human rights groups and the United Nations have documented that in the Islamic Republic of Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, many executions have been reported, as well as countless cases of torture and abuse. However, according to Arsham Parsi, a gay refugee from Iran and founder of the Iranian Queer Railroard, an organization that assists queer Iranians in finding asylum in the West, this persecution goes beyond the government.
February 28, 2009 – thestar.com
Minister backs refugee status for gay Iranians – Minister backs refugee status for gay Iranians – Urges UN commissioner to process applications for those facing abuse while stranded in Turkey
by Tonda MacCharles, Ottawa Bureau
Ottawa – The cause of gay refugees who flee persecution in Iran only to face harassment in Turkey has caught the attention of the federal immigration minister, who says Canada is willing to facilitate their resettlement here. Jason Kenney wrote the Canadian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to urge quick processing of their applications after a story appeared last month in the Toronto Star. That story centred on Iranian Arsham Parsi, now a Toronto-based advocate whose "Iranian Queer Railroad" project tries to help gay and lesbians in legal limbo in Turkey reach Canada or the United States.
"I can’t imagine more legitimate grounds for protection than folks who are facing potential execution in Iran for their sexuality," Kenney said in an interview. "These are people who are clearly in need of protection, and Canada has already received a number of gay and lesbian Iranian refugee claimants through the UNHCR, typically through Turkey." Kenney suggested Canada had accepted a few dozen. His office could not provide a more precise number as this type of "persecution" is not specified for "government assisted refugees."
Parsi told the Star he recently helped secure refugee status from the UNHCR office for 45 Iranian gays, who were awaiting interviews at the Canadian and U.S. embassies. Kenney said Turkey "deserves credit" for being a place of initial refuge for the asylum seekers, but added "it is not an ideal permanent settlement location, and a lot of them are stuck in pretty awkward circumstances while they’re waiting for their applications for status to be processed."
Kenney’s letter to the UNHCR says "homosexual Iranians who have been granted asylum in Turkey are subjected to persecution (random beatings, harassment, etc.) in the country of asylum, and that homosexual Iranians are in a uniquely precarious position." Kenney told the Star more gay and lesbian Iranians could be accepted here under current targets. "We have targets for both government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees that are set for different regions of the world and I believe that within those targets we could easily accommodate more of these folks as government-assisted refugees, which is how they would be if they’re coming in through the UNHCR."
But Kenney said he cautioned their Canadian-based advocates they must ensure "these are legitimate claims." The Immigration and Refugee Board has recently rejected what it says is a number of fraudulent claims based on sexual orientation. Kenney also said Ottawa was looking "at ways to address the issue" of the low number of visa approvals for Iranians. Canada has a "very awkward diplomatic relationship with Iran," he said, which makes it difficult for visa officers attempting to enter Iran under diplomatic passports. "It’s a sensitive matter, and I don’t want to say anything more."
March 09, 2009 – thestar.com
Future of gay rights rests with youth
by Alana Evers
Along with the United States’ 2008 presidential election, California’s passage of Proposition 8 made national headlines and caused uproar across America. Amid widely publicized celebrity opposition, citizens of the state once known for its gay-friendly atmosphere cast their ballots in favour of the proposition that denies homosexuals the rights and privileges associated with marriage. This is discouraging news for proponents of same-sex marriage in the U.S. But has the gay rights movement made any more progress north of the 49th parallel?
A few short decades ago, Canadians could be labeled sex offenders and imprisoned for admitting to homosexual activity. Today, same-sex couples in Canada can legally marry under the Civil Marriage Act, enforced since July 20, 2005. Angela Berlingeri, a member of McMaster University’s Queer Students Community Centre, is optimistic that the gay rights movement will continue to bring about change. "(There has been) a huge amount of change in the past decade – the past few decades, even, but there is a lot more to come." Berlingeri says continued social change and acceptance of homosexuality may come with today’s youth. "It’s just going to take…younger generations who are more used to the idea (of accepting homosexuality) to get up there and assert (themselves)."
While shifting norms in North American society are more difficult to measure, notable public figures, be they celebrities or appointed officials, continue to publicly support the cause. Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s emotional acceptance speech at this year’s Oscar ceremony spoke to gay and lesbian teens, offering them his assurance that they are "beautiful, wonderful creatures of value." He finished with a promise that "very soon, (they) will have equal rights federally across this great nation."
Despite lingering homophobia, Berlingeri is equally hopeful. "We are definitely continuing to make our way forward." As a result of numerous law suits and mass public protest, California’s Proposition 8 was reexamined before the Supreme Court just days ago, on March 5, 2009. Though impassioned arguments were presented on both sides, the ruling may come down to the distinction between definitions of marriage and civil rights. The Court is required to issue a final ruling on the case within 90 day of the hearing.
Alana Evers is a graduate of the University of Guelph’s Bachelor of Landscape Architecture program. She is shamelessly idealistic and believes that doing small things with great love is the root of positive change.
September 11, 2009 – Xtra-West
Vancouverite launches Q Hall of Fame – First inductees include Trudeau, queer pioneers
by Natasha Barsotti
A former prime minister and four well-known queer pioneers will be the first inductees into the Q Hall of Fame when it launches Sep 19 with a ball at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. The late Pierre Trudeau, Dogwood Monarchy Society founder ted northe, Little Sister’s manager Janine Fuller, Olympic gold medal swimmer and Outgames co-founder Mark Tewksbury and longtime volunteer and philanthropist Robert Kaiser (Joan-E) will be honoured at the Q Ball for their contributions to gay rights.
The Q Hall of Fame is the brainchild of CIBC’s Pride Network president Paul Therien, evolving out of a desire to raise funds for Qmunity (formerly The Centre). Qmunity will house the hall of fame’s physical aspects, such as inductee biographies and photographs, and receive a portion of the proceeds of this year’s ball as a caretaker’s donation in return.
Therien stresses, however, that the Q Hall of Fame is independent of Qmunity and CIBC, the event’s presenting sponsor this year. “It’s going to be its own separate entity; it will be registered nonprofit federally,” he says.
“We want it to be national,” Therien adds, “because in every region, in very province, in every city, there are outstanding members of our community who’ve done great things but they don’t get that national recognition. When we get the final logistics set up, we’ll have it headquartered here in Vancouver, and then we would like to have regional boards so that we have national representation,” he elaborates.
It’s time for gay Canadians to pay more attention to their own community’s history, he says, as opposed to events such as Stonewall that have happened around the world. “The community in Canada, we tend to forget our own history,” he says, “so we wanted to do something that would recognize that and would be a permanent place of recognition.”
A hall of fame would help break down the barriers both within and outside of the queer community, Therien believes. “We’ve got lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people and although the community is always lumped as LGBT, it’s not always so,” he observes. “We’re all in our own little niches and there isn’t something that binds them together. There isn’t something that shows that unified history that we have.
“The hope of the Hall of Fame is that it will achieve that — help bind us together.” He says the Q Hall of Fame could also honour those who are not members of the queer community. “We’d be looking at people from all walks of life who’ve done things either directly or indirectly that impact or that has had an impact on the human rights movement for the LGBT community,” Therien notes.
“Qmunity would be honoured to house the Q Hall of Fame,” says co-chair Craig Maynard. “The legal equality struggle of queers in Canada is well-documented,” Maynard notes, but “the significance of the hall of fame is to say that even with legal foundations and protections in place, the personal trials of significant people in our community need to be acknowledged. What the Q Hall of Fame attempts to do is point out people, significant faces in our community, that have stepped forward [to fight for] equality.”
Maynard also sees the hall of fame in educational terms. “Striving for equality is not meant to be kept within the domains of a courtroom, classroom or legislature. It’s meant to be — as we see with some of the inductees — on the stage, in the swimming pool, in whatever walks of life, and by doing this we’re saying that we make it most relevant to queers everywhere.”
Q Ball keynote speakers will be Canadian Museum of Human Rights’ chief operating officer Patrick O’Reilly, Qmunity’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear and Therien. The evening’s emcee is drag artist Symone.
September 21, 2009 – Passport Magazine
by Jimmy Im
Diversity is expressed in lifestyle, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation, which, in the city, is famously obvious and equal. The gay community in Toronto is widely accepted, prevalent, and fierce. As Kyle Rae says: “Toronto is not a gay-friendly city. Toronto is a gay city.” Rae also helped organized Toronto’s very first pride in June 1981 and spearheaded the celebration for eight years. “One thousand people turned out for our first gay pride parade in 1981. Last year, we saw more than a million.” That’s almost half the population.
Read full story from Passport magazine.
October 19, 2009 – PinkNews
Toronto to host World Pride 2014
by Jessica Geen
The Canadian city of Toronto has been chosen to host World Pride in 2014. Toronto Pride announced the news on its website, which said: “Presented by InterPride, World Pride promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues on an international level through parades, festivals, and other cultural activities.
"Announced in the first session of Sunday, October 18th, at the annual InterPride Conference in St Petersburg, Florida, this will be the fourth scheduled World Pride since the event’s inception in Rome in 2000.” Executive director of Toronto Pride, Tracey Sandilands, said: "This triumph for Pride Toronto will not only be beneficial to the community, but will also have a greatly positive outcome for Toronto, for Ontario, and in some ways, for all of Canada."
"Of course, the most obvious impact this event will have is on the economy," she added. Sandilands continued: "A festival of this nature will bring Pride contingents from all over the world, building international awareness of our culture and identities. It will highlight those countries where similar freedoms aren’t available and where human rights abuses against queer people still occur."
Last October, it was announced that Pride London has won the right to hold World Pride during the summer of 2012, just ahead of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is expected to attract more than one million visitors. The two-week festivities will most likely take place from June 23rd to July 8th 2012, with the main parade held on July 7th.
December 2009 – www.msmandhiv.org
Health, Community and Vulnerability to HIV among African, Caribbean and Black Gay and Bisexual Men in Toronto
Background and methods
Discussions among members of the African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO) identified a need for research evidence to guide and inform HIV prevention efforts among African, Caribbean and Black gay and bisexual men and other Black men who have sex with men (MSM) in Ontario, particularly Toronto. The MaBwana Black Men’s Study was implemented in 2006-2008 to address this need, and is the first study to examine vulnerability to HIV/AIDS among African, Caribbean and Black gay men in Toronto. The objectives of the study were to: profile the sociodemographic characteristics of African, Caribbean and Black gay and bisexual men; understand their sexual relationships and behaviours; examine the experiences, influences and decision-making that may be associated with HIV risk; and understand how Black men assess current HIV prevention campaigns.
The study involved three sequential phases of data collection: interviews with key informants, the MaBwana survey, and indepth interviews with Black gay and bisexual men. The nine key informants were knowledgeable about Black gay communities and networks through community activism and/or professional involvement. The purpose of the key informant interviews was to gather perspectives on effective implementation of the study, and enhance the research team’s understanding of community interest in the study. The key informant interviews were followed by the MaBwana survey, in which 168 men participated. The survey was designed to examine a range of issues that may influence vulnerability to HIV. Survey participants were recruited from a variety of spaces frequented by Black gay and bisexual men, and through postcards and posters distributed among various networks. The indepth interviews were designed to provide a more detailed understanding of some core issues from the survey (e.g., identity, sexual relationships and behaviours, HIV testing, community involvement, affiliation with HIV/AIDS issues, etc.). Twenty-four men were interviewed, including 17 who had participated in the survey.
Read Report HERE