Gay Canada News & Reports 2007

1 Canadian boy has two mommies – and a dad 1/07

2 The Canadian Press: Vancouver Gay Bookstore Loses Supreme Court Appeal 1/07

3 Siksay claims victory on Canadian recognition of gay and lesbian marriages 1/07

4 Gay refugee claimant fights deportation order 2/07

5 Queers left in shadows at Toronto gay conference on Iran 2/07

6 Gay, Muslim lawyer bucks stereotypes, a struggle against injustice 3/07

7 HIV: Young men at risk: Guys infection in their early 20s doubled in 2005 4/07

8 Montreal Gay Pride Parade Axed 5/07

9 Canadian Anglicans To Vote On Blessing Gay Unions 6/07

10 Study Finds Lesbian Teens Face More Violence Than Straight Kids 6/07

11 Iran in Toronto Pride Parade 2007 6/07

12 Anglican Church…Bishops narrowly overturn vote to approve gay unions 6/07

13 The Homosexual Struggle is a Human Rights Issue 7/07

14 LGBT groups get UN recognition 7/07

15 Cabinet Member Weds Gay Partner 8/07

16 Persecution still runs deep 8/07

17 Pride Parade’s marshal changed things in Poland 8/07

18 Smitherman weds gay partner 8/07

19 Gay couples increasing in Canada 9/07

20 Same-sex married couples counted in Canada census 9/07

21 Synod backs gay rights 10/07

22 Canadians mark 40 years of gay rights activism 11/07

23 Gay Muslim Outs Himself to Muslim Scholars at Conference 12/07

3 January 2007

Canadian boy has two mommies – and a dad

by Tony Grew
A ruling by a court in Ontario has for the first time given the full legal status of parent to three people. It is believed to be the first time that a Canadian child has legally got three parents.
The case involved a lesbian couple, who used the sperm of a friend to have a baby. The biological father is actively involved in the raising of the child, and is legally the father of the boy, now five years old.

The biological mother’s lesbian partner chose not to adopt the boy as that would have negated the legal parental status of the biological father. Instead the lesbian partner brought a case against both biological parents, with their support. The Ontario Supreme Court ruled that the lesbian partner is also legally a parent to the child, overturning a ruling by a lower court that denied the lesbian partner parental status not to give the female partner legal status as the child’s mother.

Yesterday’s ruling by the highest court in the Canadian province of Ontario will set a precedent. "It’s very good news for her, for her son and for her family," Peter Jervis, the partner‘s lawyer, told The Toronto Star. "She’s been the mom of this child since he was born, but this grants legal recognition to her status." Jervis said he was unable to reach the family over the phone, but he wrote an email with the subject line, "Congratulations, you’re a mom." Conservative and Christian groups criticised the court’s decision, which follows the defeat last month of a proposal by the newly-elected Conservative government to re-open the debate on gay marriage in Canada.

The Canadian Press

January 31, 2007

The Canadian Press: Vancouver Gay Bookstore Loses Supreme Court Appeal January 19, 2007

Ottawa – A gay and lesbian book store that wanted to sue Canada Customs over the way it declares books and magazines obscene hit a dead end Friday when the Supreme Curt of Canada said the case can’t get federal funding up front.
Joe Arvay, lawyer for Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium of Vancouver, said the matter is finished unless a Good Samaritan appears with a lot of money. “The case is dead,” he said.

In a 7-2 decision, the high court upheld a ruling by the British Columbia Court of Appeals and denied advance funding for the suit, which has been on hold since 2004 pending the money decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Michel Bastarache and Justice Louis LeBel said the case doesn’t meet the very special circumstances required to qualify for cash in advance. “It is only a `rare and exceptional’ case that is special enough to warrant an advance costs award,” the judgment said. The ruling said the store hasn’t shown that the issues go beyond its own individual interests.

The injustice involved “must relate both to the individual applicant and the public at large,” the judges wrote. “A litigant whose case, however compelling it may be, is of interest only to the litigant, will be denied an advance costs award.” Not even every case of interest to the public will qualify, lest the courts be overrun with cases, the judges added. “The justice system must not become a proxy for the public inquiry process, swamped with actions launched by test plaintiffs and public interest groups.”

In 2000, Little Sisters won a partial victory over the way Customs scrutinized imports of gay and lesbian books and magazines. But it argues that Customs bureaucrats still arbitrarily ban gay and lesbian material as obscene. Arvay said Customs bans thousands of books, comics, DVDs and videos at the border each year, 70 per cent of them aimed at the gay and lesbian community. “This demonstrates that there continues to be systemic discrimination directed at that community,” he said.

Joe Deva, owner of the store, called the decision “a setback to the expression rights, equality rights and access to justice for all Canadians.” Little Sisters wanted to sue specifically over the way Customs handled the import of two books and two comics that were banned as obscene in 2001 and 2003. It also wanted a systemic review of the way Customs and its bureaucrats deal with such material. A lower court judge in B.C. ruled that the case was important enough to warrant having the federal government pay costs up front.

The provincial court of appeal reversed that. “The public has not appointed Little Sisters to that role,” Justice Allan Thackray wrote in the appeal court ruling. The store appealed to the Supreme Court and argued last April that it simply can’t afford the costs involved. The court was told the store never made more than $25,000 profit in any year and actually lost $60,000 in 2003.
Arvay said the store could never come up with the money on its own.

Cost estimates for the case vary. The lower court allowed for $300,000, but the federal government said the tab could hit $2 million.
“What the Supreme Court … said is that only people with deep pockets are ever going to be able to prove that Canada Customs isn’t doing its job,” Arvay said. Egale Canada, which promotes justice for gay and lesbian causes, expressed disappointment, saying the decision leaves Customs free to discriminate. “Canadians are proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Kaj Hasselriis, Egale’s executive director. “But with decisions like today’s, Charter promises will become hollow except to the rich and powerful.”


January 30, 2007

Siksay claims victory on Canadian recognition of gay and lesbian marriages performed outside Canada

Conservatives moved to recognize legal gay and lesbian marriages in other jurisdictions

Ottawa -NDP Spokesperson for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, Bill Siksay MP (Burnaby-Douglas), today claimed a further victory in the fight for the equal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley has informed the Standing Committee of Citizenship and Immigration that her department’s interim policy on same sex marriage, which did not recognize legal marriages performed in The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States for immigration purposes, has been annulled. Last December, on a motion proposed by Siksay, the Standing Committee had called on the government to take this action.

“This is another important victory towards full equality of gay and lesbian Canadians”, noted Siksay. “The failure of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration to treat legal gay and lesbian marriages performed in jurisdictions outside Canada was clearly discriminatory.”

“Gay and lesbian couples legally married outside Canada will now be recognized as part of spousal, family class immigration sponsorship applications. This is good news for many gay and lesbian couples in Canada and for those who support the full equality of gay and lesbian Canadians,” concluded Siksay.

February 8 2007

Gay refugee claimant fights deportation order News Staff
Canada – A gay teen runaway from Nicaragua who faces deportation next week is "scared" to return home, he says, after being denied asylum because the Immigration and Refugee Board didn’t believe he was a homosexual. Alvaro Antonio Orozco, now 21, based his refugee claim on fears of homophobia in a country where sodomy is illegal. He also cited fears of domestic abuse at the hands of his father.

When asked how he felt about his imminent deportation, Orozco told CTV’s Canada AM that he was "scared" about the "discrimination by the people there." Orozco left Managua in 1998 at age 12, fleeing an alcoholic father who threatened to kill any child of his who was homosexual. "When he was a child and living within his family home, he was subject to abuse and violence within the home and in his community, because he was different, because he didn’t conform to gender norms," Orozco’s lawyer El-Farouk Khaki told Canada AM. After a year hitchhiking through Central America and Mexico, Orozco arrived in Texas. He was detained by immigration officials who placed him in a group home, but was released when he agreed to return to Nicaragua.

Instead, he fled and was taken in by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He says he kept his sexual orientation private because he was worried they would reject him if they found out. Orozco travelled to Toronto in 2005 after learning that Canada respects gay rights. "Gay people in Latin America have to act straight to hide their (sexual) identity because people there are Catholic and are very conservative. I was afraid," he told the Toronto Star.

"The (refugee) judge just didn’t think I was gay enough and I didn’t qualify to be gay." IRB adjudicator Deborah Lamont, who heard the case from Calgary via videoconference, questioned his lack of same-sex relationships while he lived in the U.S. "I found the claimant’s many explanations unsatisfactory for why he chose not to pursue same-sex relationships in the U.S. as he alleged it was his intention to do so and he wanted to do so," she wrote in her decision.

Instead, she concluded: "…he is not a homosexual… and fabricated the sexual orientation component to support a non-existent claim for protection in Canada." Orozco’s lawyer questioned the logic that his client was expected to be pursuing same-sex relationships at that age. Khaki, who didn’t represent Orozco at the hearing, will file a motion in federal court to stay the removal. He is also filing a motion to reopen his refugee claim, arguing the IRB failed to consider guidelines on treatment of a vulnerable person.

"We’re alleging that there was a breach of natural justice, in that there was a failure to recognize that Alvaro is a vulnerable person because of the abuse that he’s suffered. He’s got a grade 6 education. He’s been on the run since he was 12 years old," Khaki said, appearing on CTV’s Canada AM. Orozco is vulnerable, Khaki says, because he is young, uneducated, alone, homeless, and a victim of domestic abuse. Khaki is also seeking a ministerial permit from Immigration Minister Diane Finley that would allow Orozco to stay.

A Nicaraguan law introduced in 1992 could see individuals campaigning for gay rights prosecuted, according to a 2006 Amnesty International Report.

NOW Magazine

February 22 – 28, 2007

Terra terror for gays–Queers left in shadows at Toronto gay conference on Iran

by Glenn Wheeler
As participants gather at University of Toronto on a late-January Saturday for a symposium on gay rights in Iran, the clock is striking 7 pm in Tehran, where it’s been a mild winter day, not too cold to go to Daneshjoo Park – site of many public events and just as much gay cruising.
But, as the world knows well, Iran is terra terror for gays and lesbians, as this conference in the splendour of the Hart House debates room hears in detail. Still, the proceedings tell as much about the Iranian diaspora here as about the queers over there.

This event is no small achievement for the main organizer, Arsham Parsi of the Iranian Queer Organization, who’s been in Toronto only eight months after arriving via Turkey as a refugee from Iran. Significantly, it’s attended by leading lights from the local Iranian community, many of whose members have brought their discomfort with homosexuality along with them to Canada. Parsi tells me that he contacted the six Farsi-language publications in Toronto. "Five of them would not even talk to me,” he says. However, the sixth – the weekly Shahrvand, the largest of the papers – was entirely supportive and ran ads for free.

Indeed, there are more non-gay members of the Iranian community than queers in attendance. Parsi says he knows about 30 Iranian gay refugees in T.O., but only one other is here today. "They’re still afraid to be out, even here," he explains. The conference hears a report from Jessica Stern, a New York-based researcher with Human Rights Watch who’s interviewed dozens of gays and lesbians both in Iran via e-mail and instant messenger and in countries where they have become refugees.

One interviewee, "Ali," had relocated to Tehran because of death threats in his hometown but was arrested one night in the cruising park. His friend confessed under torture that Ali and a third man were lovers. After being forced to endure rectal exams that came back "positive" for homosexuality, Ali’s friends helped get him released from jail, and he escaped to the UK, where he now lives.

Sadly, this story is not unusual in Iran, where men have been executed for committing sodomy. It’s those systematic violations that have occasioned this get-together, but oddly the situation of women gets the most airtime here, and organizers promise somewhat apologetically there’ll be more gay content next year. But it’s fitting that the complete menu of human rights be on offer at this gathering, because rights violations in Iran affect just about everyone, and it’s politically risky to make queers the star of the drama.

One reason is the information shortfall. Because of the shame attached to homosexuality, friends and relatives of those harassed or executed for being gay aren’t motivated to speak publicly, and little can be gleaned from sentencing courtrooms, which are kept secret. Gay groups have used the resulting twilight zone to put their own spin on facts. For example, one U.S.-based gay exile group has claimed 4,000 people have been executed since the ayatollahs gained power in 1979. "I don’t really know where they get these numbers,” Stern tells me.

The perils of relying on uncertainty was brought home in 2005 when two teenage boys were publicly executed in the city of Mashhad – for sodomy, it was said at the time. The story appeared to be shocking confirmation of the gay pogrom underway in the Islamic republic. Trouble was, the boys weren’t executed for consensual sex but for gang-raping a 13-year-old at knifepoint, according to a deconstruction of the episode in progressive U.S. magazine The Nation. Stern, whose organization was part of the general outrage, now tells me that the case was "problematic." Still, she says, even if the facts were not what they first appeared, the death penalty alone was cause for concern.

But the other dilemma for gay activists is how to protect their own in a situation where there is no campaign against gays and lesbians per se, but rather a general repression whose reach extends to all those perceived by the regime as a threat. As Kaveh Ehsani, an Iran expert at the University of Illinois-Chicago, tells me over the phone, it is the control of sexuality that is the key concern of the regime, in which real power rests with the ayatollahs rather than with the Holocaust-denying prez we see on TV.

"Sexuality is politicized in Iran," he says. "If you get to what is an Islamic revolution, in the end it comes to controlling people’s bodies in public. In terms of economics and politics, there’s not much there." Those most frequently caught up in the regulatory net are women. And while gay house parties have been broken up by the religious police, so have heterosexual gatherings where police fear that drinking, sex or prostitution may be taking place, he says. When it comes to the denial of humancana rights, gay people in Iran may not be so special after all.

March 29, 2007

Gay, Muslim lawyer bucks stereotypes–El-Farouk Khaki says human rights abuses call for a `jihad,’ a struggle against injustice

by Nicholas Keung
If you want to understand El-Farouk Khaki’s approach to fighting stereotyping and injustice, you can catch a glimpse of it in his vintage attire and unorthodox demeanour in court. His perspectives are largely the product of his own struggle – and ultimate triumph – to reconcile a multi-layered identity as a gay, visible-minority, Muslim, immigrant lawyer.

"No matter how you slice it, the denial of human rights and dignity (call for) a jihad, a struggle against oppression and injustice," explains the immigration lawyer from his small office on the fringe of Toronto’s gay village, at Yonge and Alexander Sts. "Our biggest enemy is our perpetuating invisibility. By being invisible, your existence is denied. "There are many taboo issues around us, but people choose not to acknowledge them. To create a just society, we need to talk about the dirty and dark secrets among us."

Khaki has raised awareness of racial discrimination in the gay community and homophobia in the Muslim community, and pushed the boundaries of Canada’s immigration and refugee system to extend equality rights to gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. His dedication to promoting understanding of the LGBT community has earned him the 2007 Steinert and Ferreiro Award from the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal Foundation. He was honoured Tuesday at a reception at the Fuzion Lounge on Church St. Born in Tanzania, Khaki and his political activist parents, Aziz and Gul, of Indo-Persian-Arab blood, fled to England in 1971 before moving to Vancouver three years later.

Khaki sensed his attraction to men at 11. But growing up among the few Muslims then living on the West Coast, he found it difficult to find friends who could relate to his experience as a minority in every circle – gay or straight, Muslim or not. On the rare occasions he came across a gay Muslim, they tended to ignore each other, fearing being "outted" in a close-knit,

"It’s always a challenge for a gay person to come to terms with any faith. My parents are very religious; they pray five times a day and there’s no alcohol allowed at home, but their practice of Islam preaches God as a merciful and embracing creator," says Khaki. "The one thing taught by my parents is God’s forgiveness," he says. "Why would God create gay men to be second-class citizens? Why did he create them only to have them condemned?" Khaki strikes an unmistakable figure, in court or walking through the Church St. village: faux-Mohawk hairstyle and ring-studded ears and hands.

"El-Farouk has a reputation of being a quirky, unorthodox lawyer because he doesn’t fit into the stereotypes. He’s just a walking anti-stereotype," says friend and colleague Andrew Hwang. While his wardrobe may draw the occasional double-take from judges and Crown attorneys, Hwang says Khaki is highly regarded, especially as a pioneer in the movement to extend asylum to refugees facing persecution as a result of gender or sexual orientation.

"He’s a high-profile, out-and-proud gay man who is also Muslim and a visible minority. His ability to successfully reconcile three distinct identities into one cohesive and adjusted whole, combined with his outspoken advocacy and activism, makes him a great role model." In 1991, Khaki founded Salaam, a social support group for gay Muslims. Three years later, he helped set a new tone in the Immigration and Refugee Board, spending eight sittings educating adjudicators about a gay refugee’s claim. The case led to sensitivity training for IRB members. He also fought – successfully – for the claim lodged by an incest victim, a dual British/U.S. citizen who had fled both countries with his mother because neither offered protection against his abusive father.

"There is still a mentality out there that if you remained discreet about your sexuality, you wouldn’t be persecuted. But people wouldn’t ask you to stop practising your religion or (political) belief so you wouldn’t face persecution," notes Khaki. A graduate of the University of British Columbia law school, Khaki, 43, was called to the bar in 1988 and worked as a legal adviser at the refugee board and later was a political staffer at Queen’s Park until 1993, when he started his own practice. He plans to dedicate the award to his late partner of 15 years, Guy Lahaie, who helped inspire his love for life and commitment to social justice. "The award recognizes the work I do. It recognizes all the (sexual, religious, cultural and racial) identities that exist. It recognizes all these invisible lives out there and gives them hope and a future – that they don’t have to be invisible any more," he adds.

He plans to spend the $10,000 prize to realize his dream of becoming a father with the help of a surrogate mother. "The money from the award," he says with a smile, "will be my *seed* money."

April 26, 2007

HIV: Young men at risk: Infection among guys in their early 20s doubled in 2005

by Candace Joseph
Men between the ages of 20 and 24 were the hardest hit by HIV infection in 2005, according to a report released this month by Toronto Public Health.
The report, titled Communicable Diseases In Toronto 2005, found that while overall rates declined slightly, infections among young men almost doubled between 2004 and 2005. Within this group, it was men who have sex with men (MSM) who had the highest rate of infection, says Rita Shahin, associate medical officer of health for the City Of Toronto.

Ben Houghton, youth community education coordinator at the AIDS Committee Of Toronto, blames low self-esteem for the increase.

"Young people who have a high sense of self-worth and positive coping skills practice safe sex," says Houghton. He feels that low self-esteem is especially a problem for young queers, who may experience homophobia at home and at school. "We put them through a school system that doesn’t recognize them and treats them as invisible in many ways," says Houghton.

For the third year in a row the overall reported HIV-infection rate decreased — the 2005 rate was two percent below that of 2004 with 555 reported cases compared to 569 in 2004. But it’s not a significant decrease, says Shahin, and the 2005 infection rate is still approximately four percent higher than the rates were in the 1990s. Among the 412 men who were diagnosed with HIV in Toronto in 2005, 74 percent reported sex with men as their risk factor. In 2004, that number was 79 percent.

While she notes that the relationship between HIV and MSM is a complicated one, Shahin says that not knowing the HIV status of potential partners, meeting sexual partners in bathhouses, the use of recreational drugs like crystal meth, depression and mental illness are all factors that contribute to MSM engaging in higher risk behaviour that may then lead to higher infection rates. Out of the 555 reported cases of HIV infection in Toronto in 2005, only 87 were women. The most common known risk factors for women were travelling to an HIV-endemic country (59 percent) and contact with a male partner whose risk factor was unknown (18 percent).

In addition to higher rates of HIV infection, young men also continued to have the highest rate of infectious syphilis in 2005 with infection rates increasing for men between the ages of 20 and 30; infection rates among men in other ages ranges decreased. Syphilis increases the risk of contracting HIV, says Shahin, adding that Toronto is still in the midst of a syphilis outbreak within its MSM population. Thirty percent of those diagnosed with infectious syphilis were coinfected with HIV in 2005; the lowest level of coinfection since the syphillis outbreak started in 2002, according to the report.

In light of the increasing HIV-infection rates among young men, Houghton says the queer community at large has a responsibility to help our youth by helping them connect to the community.

"If we help them find that sense of self-worth then we’ve done a good job for community."

May 17, 2007

Montreal Gay Pride Parade Axed

by Kilian Melloy, EDGE Ft. Lauderdale Contributor
In 1993, 5,000 people came to the Montreal Pride parade. By 2003, the number had exceeded one million. But there will be no 2007 Pride parade in Montreal, evidently because of issues of cost and political infighting.

"I’m terribly disappointed there won’t be a parade this year, but there is no alternative," Jacques Tricot, spokesperson for Célébration de la Fierté LGB2T de Montréal, said of the decision. The web site reported May 17 that earlier this year, Célébration de la Fierté had taken over organizing duties when Divers/Cité, the previous group behind the parade, saw a report that showed one quarter of parade spectators do not go to the rest of the Gay Pride festival, while just over three quarters of the festival-goers bypassed the parade. Given the cost of mounting the parade, and also in the wake of protracted tensions with community organizations and Gay Village shop owners.

The shop owners reportedly wanted more input, and more profit-sharing, in the parade. Rather than continue to deal with their demands and shell out the money needed for parade logistics when so many festival attendees did not even watch, Divers/Cité decided against a parade this year. That’s when Célébration de la Fierté LGB2T de Montréal came into existence, with the purpose of making the parade happen anyway. But then the City of Montreal refused the group a permit for their chosen date, June 16. The city and Célébration de la Fierté began to negotiate alternate dates, but Tricot says that community organizations stepped in wanting the board of Célébration de la Fierté dissolved and a new board elected.

The new organizers then turned back to Divers/Cité, but the decision had been made to forgo the parade and was final. The festival, now in its 15th year, will go forward without a parade and will take place Aug. 1-5. Somewhat similar circumstances have led to the cancellation of New York City’s PRIDEFest, which was shelved by orgnanizers after the city refused a permit for the day the organizers requested. (The parade is still scheduled to proceed, however.) In Moscow, the city mayor refused a permit for a Pride parade for the second consecutive year. The status of this year’s parade in Jerusalem is uncertain following last month’s discovery of what appeared to be a plot involving explosives to disrupt the event.

"It’s upsetting," Tricot said of the parade’s omission from this year’s festival. "But sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward." Next year might be different: already, plans are in place to look into a Montreal parade for 2008.

June 2, 2007

Canadian Anglicans To Vote On Blessing Gay Unions

by The Canadian Press
Winnipeg, Manitoba – Just weeks before Anglican leaders decide whether their church should bless gay and lesbian unions, one of the few things that appears to be unifying them is a feeling of uncertainty.
The church, which represents some two million Canadians and is the country’s third largest religious denomination, has spent almost 30 years trying to figure out how same-sex relationships fit into the Christian faith. As they approach a vote on the issue later this month at the church’s General Synod in Winnipeg, many members are wary of the outcome.

"We simply don’t know,” says Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the church’s national leader, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison. Even the head of a group that opposes same-sex blessings is taking nothing for granted despite a May bishops’ statement that essentially rejected same-sex blessings. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Rev. Canon Charlie Masters, national director of Anglican Essentials. “The Anglican Church of Canada is at a crossroads.” Delegates will be voting on a motion that would leave it to each diocese to decide whether priests will bless same-sex couples. Of Canada’s 30 dioceses, only the British Columbia diocese of New Westminster currently allows the practice.

"Both sides have their teeth into the bone and they’re not prepared to give it up,” says Chris Ambidge, president of Integrity Canada, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian Anglicans. As a gay man, I want a place in my own church and I don’t want to be downgraded to second- or third-class Christianity.” Even if the motion passes, Ambidge points out that individual priests couldn’t be forced to comply.

"Every clergyman, in the Anglican Church anyway, always has the option of saying `no.’ If you really, really don’t like remarrying divorced people, and for that you can make a strong argument out of scripture, then Rev. Joe Blogs can say `no,”’ Ambidge said. "If this were to pass, it would never be the case of people being forced to marry people if they felt this were the wrong thing.” Ambidge and Masters both agree that if Canada’s Anglicans adopt same-sex blessings, they will face a real threat of dissociation from their worldwide church.

Some of the more conservative Anglican churches have threatened their U.S. counterparts, the Episcopalians, with expulsion from the international Anglican Communion. The Americans have been given a Sept. 30 deadline to ban the blessings of same-sex couples _ approved by American bishops in April _ and the ordination of gay bishops. In a visit to Toronto earlier this spring, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, urged the Canadian church to consider the unity of the church internationally when deciding whether to bless same-sex marriage.

Putting off the decision once more time won’t help, says Masters, basing his thoughts on words from Hutchison. " He made it clear, to do nothing, (we) would still find ourselves to have walked apart from the Anglican Communion,” Masters says. Along with the same-sex blessings vote, delegates will also elect a new primate to replace Hutchison, 69, who is retiring.

The June 22 election will also be closely watched, because the Canadian church could elect a female leader for the first time. The candidates are: Bishop Victoria Matthews from the Diocese of Edmonton, Bishop George Bruce of the Diocese of Ontario, Bishop Bruce Howe of the Diocese of Huron and Bishop Fred Hiltz of the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

June 15, 2007

Study Finds Lesbian Teens Face More Violence Than Straight Kids

by The Canadian Press
Vancouver, British Columbia – A new report says gay, lesbian and bisexual teens in British Columbia face more violence and health problems than heterosexuals. The report was prepared by University of B.C. researcher Elizabeth Saewyc and released by the McCreary Center Society of Vancouver. The survey found that gay, lesbian and bisexual teens were up to three times as likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse or harassment in school, as well as discrimination.

Members of the same group are also three times as likely to have become pregnant or gotten someone pregnant. There are some encouraging findings, such as a decline in sexual and physical abuse among gay males between 1992 and 2003, but this was offset by a rise in violence against lesbian and bisexual girls. In the same way, suicide attempts fell for gay and bisexual males during the same period, but rose for lesbian and bisexual females.

June 24, 2007

Iran in Toronto Pride Parade 2007

by Darya
Toronto’s annual Pride Parade is not only the biggest in Canada, but also one of the biggest in the world. The event honours diverse sexual and gender identities, histories and cultures. This year’s Pride Parade, held on a beautiful Sunday afternoon of June 24th, culminated a week of gay pride activities all over the city that featured over 600 artists in a free outdoor multidisciplinary artsGay Pride festival. This year’s International Grand Marshall was Rossana Flamer-Caldera, co-secretary of ILGA (International lesbian and Gay Association) who also works as a queer activist in Sri Lanka as a founding member of the organization Equal Ground. This year Pride Toronto decided to highlight eight countries where queers face persecution in the form of torture, punishment, or the death penalty.

The eight chosen countries were Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Belarus, Russia, Jamaica and Honduras. Carrying their respective flags, representatives of each country marched at the head of the Parade just behind Rossana, showing the world the pressure they face to remain silent. Arsham Parsi was invited by Pride Toronto as an Iranian queer activist to take part in the Parade for this purpose and carry the Islamic Republic of Iran flag. The flag-bearers were trailed by the rest of the parade – a celebratory march filled with music and dancing, bright costumes, proud slogans and floats from various queer groups and organizations that make up Toronto’s diverse queer community.

June 25, 2007

Anglican Church…Bishops narrowly overturn vote to approve gay unions

by Michael Valpy
A razor-thin majority of Canada’s Anglican bishops yesterday overrode the wishes of their laity and clergy and vetoed a resolution that would have allowed for blessings of homosexual unions.The bishops’ action will spare the Canadian church from censure by leaders of other branches of the global Anglican Communion, almost all of whom are vehemently opposed to blessing same-sex unions and permitting priests to be in open homosexual relationships.But it will anger many Canadian Anglicans, particularly in large urban centres, and isolate the U.S. Episcopal Church, which alone in the worldwide Anglican Communion has approved a liturgy for same-sex blessings and appointed an openly gay bishop.The resolution put to the Canadian church’s triennial general synod, or governing parliament, in Winnipeg, would have permitted blessings of committed same-sex unions in parish churches with the concurrence of the local bishop and "in a manner which respects the conscience of the incumbent [parish priest] and the will of the parish."

It needed a triple majority of bishops, clergy and laity to pass. The laity voted 79 to 59 in favour and clergy voted 63 to 53, but bishops voted 21 to 19 against.Bishops who opposed the resolution told synod delegates that a Yes vote would have violated the oath Anglican priests take on ordination to remain in communion with "the Church of England throughout the world." The 77 million-member Anglican Communion, Christianity’s third largest denomination, traces its roots to the Church of England.One bishop said that such a "de facto impairment of the communion" would have been a costly choice for the Anglican Church of Canada. The church has 800,000 members on its parish rolls, but only about 130,000 regularly attending worship services.

On Saturday, the 175,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church, which has close ties to the Anglican Church of Canada, narrowly defeated a resolution on same-sex blessings at its biennial national gathering, also held this year in Winnipeg.The Lutheran church’s national bishop, Susan Johnson, was openly disappointed by the decision and said, "I hope the Anglican delegates have the courage to make the decision we failed to make this weekend."The Anglican’s vote coincided with Gay Pride Day in Toronto – where prominent Anglicans Bill Graham, the former foreign and defence minister, and Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario, attended a service at Toronto’s gay Metropolitan Community Church.One downtown Toronto Anglican parish, Holy Trinity, passed a resolution prior to general synod stating it would approve the blessing of same-sex unions regardless of what synod decided.

The retired archbishop of Toronto, Terry Finlay, had his licence to perform marriages lifted by his successor this year after he took part in the marriage of a lesbian couple. He and five other retired archbishops circulated an open letter to synod delegates urging them to approve the resolution; he also wrote a Comment page essay for The Globe and Mail.Michael Ingham, bishop of the greater Vancouver diocese of New Westminster, who authorized the blessing of same-sex unions in 2003 after his diocesan synod had voted in favour of the blessing in three successive years, has not said what he will do.No other bishop has followed his lead. Indeed, when the synod of the Ontario diocese of Niagara voted this year in favour of blessing same-sex unions, its bishop, Ralph Spence, refused permission for it to happen.

The Homosexual Struggle is a Human Rights Issue

New Vision (Kampala)
3 July 2007
Posted to the web 4 July 2007

by Opiyo Oloya, Kampala


Dear Dr. Nsaba Buturo, Minister of Ethics and Integrity, I understand where you are coming from in making homosexuals appear to be dangerous deviants that should be relegated to the dustbin of society. In fact, your utterances about gays remind me of someone I once knew – me. You see, when I arrived in Canada in 1981 as a refugee, I came face to face with an alien culture that turned my life upside down.

At Queen’s University in Kingston, about two and half hour drive from Toronto, I became aware of an organisation called the Queen’s Homophile Association (QHA). When I asked fellow students what the organisation was about, I was told that it supported homosexuals, bisexual and transidentified individuals to live openly and positively with their sexual orientation. I did not know what all those terms meant. Imagine my horrors when it was explained to me that members of QHA were young men and women who were attracted to their own gender rather than the opposite sex. I was thoroughly confused, disgusted, and very scared.

Nothing in my upbringing in Pamin-Yai village, west of Gulu town had prepared me for what I saw as an abomination to society. I was afraid that, alone in this twisted new world, I might become a victim of these strange people who could hurt, worse, make me a member of their group. I had no experience to fall back on since I had never met a gay person, let alone spoken to one. I was complete in my ignorance, prejudice and deep fear of homosexuals. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, more homosexuals began "coming out" in the open in Canada.

Coming out was the most radical statement a gay person could make at the time, namely, telling family, friends and the larger society that he or she was homosexual. In the meantime, reports of incidences of violence against homosexuals became routine in Canadian media. Interestingly, I cannot recall any headline about homosexual violence against heterosexuals.

Gays, it seemed, adopted a Gandhi-like approach

23rd July 2007

LGBT groups get UN recognition

by writer
The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has voted to accredit two gay rights organisations. Delegates came down in favour of allowing the Coalition gaie et lesbienne du Québec and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) consultative status. 22 countries voted in favour of both groups. Thirteen voted against the Quebec coalition and fourteen against the Swedish federation. ECOSOC accreditation governs whether NGOs can attend UN meetings, submit written statements, make oral interventions, host panels and get access to UN buildings. The NGO committee had advised against admitting the gay groups.

In 2006 the German lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender federation and the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) were refused observer status at the United Nations. Friday’s decision on the Quebecois and Swedish gay groups had been preceded by forceful lobbying campaigns from countries such as Egypt that do not consider LGBT persons to have legal rights. Canada and other countries argued that LGBT people should be heard at the UN.

Sören Juvas, the president of RFSL, called the decision extremely gratifying. "The work that was necessary to reach it has shown the need for a clear voice in favour of LGBT persons’ rights in the United Nations," he said. ILGA and Amnesty International estimate that there are currently 90 countries in the world where homosexual contacts are illegal. In several countries, homosexuals risk the death penalty purely on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

"RFSL now has the possibility to, together with others, affect and improve the situation for the world’s LGBT persons," Mr Juvas added. "We will do everything we can to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities, rights and obligations, regardless of sexual orientation, gender affiliation or expression of gender."

August 4, 2007

Cabinet Member Weds Gay Partner

by The Canadian Press
Toronto, Ontario – Ontario’s first openly gay cabinet minister is taking himself off the singles market. Health Minister George Smitherman is tying the knot with his partner Christopher Peloso on Sunday at a lakeside lodge near Sudbury, Ont., before 202 close friends. With the imminent end of his freedom in sight, the colourful and gregarious deputy premier said he wasn’t nervous about anything _ except the co-operation of Mother Nature.

“But I can’t control that,” said Smitherman, 43. After talking about having a “shotgun wedding” if the federal Conservatives reversed the country’s law allowing same-sex marriage, Smitherman made his engagement public in February. He has joked about the need to get in shape for the big day to avoid wearing a “Homer Simpson inspired muumuu.” Training for a recent three-day charity bike ride from Toronto to Kingston, Ont., took care of any excess weight and Smitherman said he’s both mentally and physically ready to get hitched to 33-year-old Peloso.

“It’s going to be great,” he said in an interview. “I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be fantastic.” Smitherman popped the question to Peloso over Christmas by giving him a cream-coloured tuxedo with a wedding invitation in the pocket. Initially, Smitherman said the couple tried to keep the guest list to 130 people but ended up with over 200 invitees, Smitherman said.

“But imagine how big the wedding would have been in Toronto,” said Smitherman, who holds the downtown Toronto riding for the Liberals. I’m old. I’ve been around for a long time and I know a lot of people.” Despite the large number of friends and family, Smitherman said the couple is keeping the ceremony low-key with “no ties allowed.” Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office said he isn’t attending the wedding because of a personal scheduling conflict. But McGuinty said he wishes his deputy the best of luck in married life.

“I’ve got nothing but the best of wishes for George,” said McGuinty before adding, jokingly, “I’m hoping that this marriage will help him come out of his shell.”

Conservative Leader John Tory, who sent Smitherman a bottle of Pol Roger champagne when he heard of his engagement, said he was very happy for the couple. “I like George Smitherman,” Tory said. “We’re combatants . . . (but) I know George and I’ve met his partner and spouse-to-be.” That leaves Tory with only one dilemma _ what to get the newlyweds. “You’ve reminded me of something I should probably address,” Tory said, rejecting the suggestion of an ever-popular crock pot.

Smitherman first met Peloso, a manager at chocolate company Lindt Canada, 10 years ago but the two only reconnected a few years ago after dating on and off. The newlyweds plan to honeymoon in northern Ontario briefly before Smitherman returns to Toronto to gear up for the Oct. 10 provincial election.

August 4, 2007

Persecution still runs deep

by Travis Lupick
Josué has been living in single­-room accommodation in a cheap hotel on Granville Street for the past five weeks. The carpet is dirty and cut in several places, the paint chips from the walls, and what little food there is in the refrigerator was donated by a local charity. "Sometimes I cry because I really cannot go back to my country," Josué (not his real name) told the Georgia Straight . "I really cannot go back, because I know that they will kill me." Josué has applied for refugee status in Canada. He uses a pseudonym on the advice of his lawyer, Rob Hughes, because his claim remains under review. According to the personal-information file Josué submitted to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada , he is afraid to return to his country of origin because he believes he will be killed for his sexual orientation. Born and raised in Colombia, Josué loved his home there. But Josué is gay. He says he was forced into hiding and to run for his life.

Generally speaking, if you are gay the world is not an easy place to find peace. "There are many, many places where it is very, very dangerous to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered," barbara findlay, a human-rights lawyer, told the Straight . "I got in a lot of trouble with my family because they did not want to have a gay son," Josué said. He moved in with his partner when he was 16 years old, and the two lived together, under various circumstances, for 12 years. "He made me the person that I am now. He made me, he taught me, he showed me the world and life," Josué said.

In Colombia, Josué said, he had an apartment, he ran a small business, and he owned property that he rented for a modest sum. For a time, life was comfortable. Then one day Josué’s brothers came asking for a favour. He said they forced him to use the property he owned as collateral for a loan. The loan was never repaid and Josué lost everything. When he went to the police, the rest of his family turned on him. "My mother told me that she would send somebody to kill me," he said. Josué claimed his family tried to follow through with the threat. As he moved around the country in fear, people followed. They left messages on Josué’s phone and sent e-mails promising to find him and make him pay for being gay.

"What were you thinking you fucking bitch gay? We know that you moved from the apartment on 48th street. We are going to take you.…We are looking for you again," one e-mail read. The Colombian police, Josué said, whether for lack of resources or lack of will, would not help. Last March, he said, the men his family had hired caught up with him. "For about three weeks I was inside because I couldn’t go out. The murderers were outside my home," Josué said. "I was afraid. I called the police many times. But they never came." That was when Josué knew he would have to leave.

Findlay Said That in many countries, one of two things happens: "Either there are laws which make it illegal to be gay, or even without laws, the police harass queers and they do so with impunity."

Michael Battista, a Toronto immigration lawyer, told the Straight in a phone interview that Canadian refugee claims made on the basis of sexual orientation come from all over the world. He noted that the successful ones are made from countries with well-documented histories of persecution. "So we’re looking at the Middle East, Africa, countries in Asia, South America…" he said, trailing off. "There really isn’t any corner of the globe that escapes allegations that they’re persecuting lesbians and gays." Battista recalled the emotional story of an old Iranian man’s arrival in Toronto. An immigration official asked him on what basis he was making a refugee claim. The old man was speechless, Battista said. "So, eventually, the immigration officer at the airport suspected his sexual orientation and said, ‘Is it because you’re gay? Is that why you’re here?’ And he burst into tears because it was the first kind of public acknowledgment of who he really was."

And there are stories like that of a man from Zimbabwe who escaped to Canada after the president there, Robert Mugabe, ordered gays to be rounded up "like pigs and dogs", Battista said. Closer to home, Jamaica was recently condemned by Amnesty International as a country particularly dangerous for gays. A public statement issued by AI in April 2007 reads: "The organization is particularly concerned by reports of mob violence against persons perceived as homosexuals who are targeted because of their appearance or behavior, which seems to be increasing in frequency." Alan Herbert, a gay former city councillor and long-time participant in Vancouver’s Pride Parade, told the Straight in a phone interview that even relatively liberal countries such as the United States still need to improve the way people of different sexual orientations are treated.

"Gay men and women are, in law, second-class citizens in the U.S.," Herbert said. He argued the U.S.’s Defense of Marriage Act, which "expressly and explicitly forbids any kind of civil union, marriage, or domestic partnership [between persons of the same sex] in the majority of states in the U.S.", lowers the status of gay individuals to a point where they are less human than heterosexuals. "If you are a gay man living in the United States, you are decidedly second-class under law," he said. One theme of this year’s Vancouver Pride parade is human rights. John Boychuk, president of the Vancouver Pride Society, told the Straight that with gays still being persecuted around the world, "We realized that there was something that we could do as a role model with Vancouver Pride Society and as a community at large." He said that with this year’s parade, the Pride Society is reminding the gay community where it came from, what it has been through, and where it still has to go.

The Immigration and Refugee Board does not keep statistics on the number of refugees admitted to Canada on the basis of sexual orientation. However, according to lawyer Hughes–who specializes in representing gay and lesbian refugee claimants–hundreds of such claims are made to Canada every year. A Vancouver spokesperson for the IRB, Melissa Anderson, agreed with that estimate. Anderson said, however, that it is difficult for the board to maintain statistics on refugee claims made on the basis of sexual orientation because those claims are lumped into a more general category called "membership in a particular social group".

Colleen French, a communications coordinator for the Canadian Council on Refugees, told the Straight from Montreal that Canada has a very good reputation abroad for accepting refugee claims made by gays and lesbians escaping persecution. "Particularly if we compare with other countries," she noted. "But the problem in Canada is that the decision-making is very uneven," French added, "largely due to the fact the government has not put into place the IRB Refugee Appeal Division."

Hughes explained that the appeal division should have been implemented in June 2002, when the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into effect. "But the government of the day said they needed a year to implement the provisions," Hughes said. "Well, it’s been five years." As things stand now, once an individual’s refugee claim is denied, there is little hope he or she will be able to remain in Canada. In May 2006, Bloc Québécois MP Nicole Demers (Laval) introduced an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to ensure that an appeal division will exist in the near future. The bill has since passed through the House of Commons and will go before the Senate for a second reading after the 2007 summer break.

Josué Made It To Vancouver in May through work with a cruise line. After the job was finished, he was escorted to Vancouver International Airport for his flight home. Josué said he found a customs agent and told him: "Sir, I cannot go back to my country.…Sir, because I’m gay and because they want to kill me." A Canadian immigration official fed Josué and promised to help him. "Her name was Rachel," Josué recalled. "I will never forget that name, because she was like my angel." Josué was taken to a Citizenship and Immigration Canada office in downtown Vancouver, where he was interviewed for several hours. Then he was granted refugee-claimant status, given documents for his referral to the refugee-protection division of the IRB, and told he could go.

"And then I was out in the city with my new life," Josué said. "At that moment, I felt very safe. I felt happy." Today, he waits for his refugee hearing, when he will be interviewed by an IRB member who will decide his fate. If his claim is approved, he will be permitted to file for permanent-resident status in Canada as a refugee on the basis of sexual orientation.

August 04, 2007

Pride Parade’s marshal changed things in Poland

by Laura Payton and Kate Webb , The Province

This weekend’s Pride Parade will be led by a grand marshal who isn’t used to pride events that draw about 350,000 people. Tomasz Baczkowski, a pride parade organizer in Warsaw, remembers when only three people marched in that city’s first pride parade seven years ago. While Warsaw’s parade now attracts upwards of 10,000 people, Poland remains a tough place to be gay. "The Polish government is always very conservative and the government will do nothing [that] is against the Catholic Church . . . and, of course, this situation for gay and lesbians is not very comfortable," said Baczkowski. While it’s not illegal to be gay, in 2005 Warsaw’s mayor — now Poland’s president — banned the parade because he said it was dangerous for public morality. Baczkowski, married to a German man, said gays and lesbians in Poland have three choices: "We can emigrate, we can just sit and wait for something or we can be active and try to change something. My choice was to try to change something."

Vancouver’s 140-entry parade starts at noon Sunday at Robson and Denman streets, curves around Beach Avenue to Pacific and ends at Thurlow Street. It follows on the heels of the HSBC Celebration of Light finale Saturday night. Alicia Maluta, general manager of the fireworks competition, said attendance so far has been on par with past years. Vancouver police Const. Howard Chow said police are used to dealing with large events and have an operational plan to deal with the crowds this weekend. It includes Mounties, a police boat, bike cops and undercover surveillance officers.

"The message is very clear: Leave your booze at home," he said, adding that police responded to over 400 alcohol-related incidents at Wednesday’s fireworks. The long weekend will be one of the hotel industry’s busiest all summer, said Francis Parkinson of the Vancouver Hotel Association. "It’s a very good weekend for the hotel and restaurant businesses in Vancouver," he said. "A lot of the major hotels are booked up . . . and are recommending Richmond hotels to guests looking for places to stay."

August 06, 2007

Smitherman weds gay partner
…Match ‘heaven-made’ for Ontario’s deputy premier and Christopher Peloso, in northern Ontario

by Bruce Demara, Staff Reporter
Elliot Lake–One groom wore white and blue; the other groom wore blue and white. But this was no double wedding, and when it came time to express their "I dos," they exchanged them in a most unlikely setting. Deputy Premier George Smitherman and his partner Christopher Peloso made it official, exchanging vows yesterday before about 200 family members and well-wishers at Laurentian Lodge, a rustic and idyllic resort north of this small former mining community. The 40-minute ceremony was conducted by Ojibway spiritual advisor Ron Indian-Mandamin, who referred to the ancient concept of gay or "two-spirited people" who in generations past often served as tribes’ mystics or medicine men.

"Truth is the most powerful of all things. We need to show that this is a beautiful thing. The blood that flows through each and every one of us is the same," Indian-Mandamin said. Barrie-area Justice of the Peace Gerry Solursh conducted the civil portion of the wedding, followed by jazz/blues singer Molly Johnson, who sang a moving rendition of her song "If You Know Love." Smitherman, who as provincial health minister is a senior member of cabinet and often mentioned on the shortlist of future candidates for mayor of Toronto, acknowledged that such a public pronouncement of love would have political overtones.

George Smitherman, in blue, smiles, holding hands with partner Christopher Peloso.
To their left is guest Meladina Hardy, while Charles Fox is at right.

"We haven’t sought to make it political. It happens to be who I am and what I’ve done for almost my entire adult life so it’s no surprise that it is going to have some political elements to it," Smitherman said. "It was going to make a statement wherever it was. Christopher’s a northern boy (from Sudbury) so it’s pretty appropriate we do it here," he added. The guests were mostly extended family (four generations from both sides) with only three area politicians invited, as well as human rights lawyer Doug Elliott, a long-time friend, and former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall who made the wedding cake, along with 200 individualcupcakes.

Premier Dalton McGuinty was invited, Smitherman noted, but "he wasn’t able to. He worked hard on his schedule," he added, but Elliot Lake "is a hard place to duck into – to drop in for the ceremony and head somewhere else." Last week, McGuinty expressed his congratulations to Queen’s Park reporters, adding wryly: "I’ve got nothing but the best wishes for George and I’m hoping that this marriage will help him come out of his shell." The town of 13,500, about 40 kilometres north of the main highway – where "retirement living" replaced uranium mining two decades ago – is the epitome of sleepy and quaint.

Lorraine McLeod, 71, a local taxi company owner, who has lived in the town for more than 45 years, said the wedding is fine with her. "I don’t hear very much static about it. It doesn’t bother me." Ray Bradbury, 75, a lifetime GTA resident who has since retired here, said the idea of a same-sex marriage wedding involving the province’s second most powerful politician leaves him a little bewildered. "It’s hard to believe for an old fart like me. If that’s what they want to do, go ahead and do it. It doesn’t affect me. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s up to them," he said.

Wedding guests were kept busy with three days of activities, including hiking, golf and a shuttle service provided to events where alcohol was served, giving a real boost to the local economy. Smitherman, 43, and Peloso, who first met 13 years ago, began dating about two years ago before deciding to make a lifelong commitment. "This is not politically motivated – we don’t want to be gay rights activists, that’s not our intention. We just love each other and want to spend our lives together," said Peloso, 33. "But we are thrilled if we can be a positive influence on others to feel comfortable about themselves," he added.

Mary Ann Peloso, Christopher’s mother, called the wedding "a bit of a growing experience." "Because it was so new, there were no traditions to fall back on. But we’re breaking new ground." Margaret Smitherman, George’s mother, said the event did cause some concern. "You do worry … but we are in the right place at the right time. It’s amazing. This is a good time in my life to see how happy (George) is and the match with Christopher is heaven-made," she said.


September 12, 2007

Gay couples increasing in Canada

Montreal (AFP) — The number of same-sex couples in Canada has tripled in the past five years even though they still only represent 0.6 percent of all the country’s couples, officials said Wednesday. In the country’s "family portrait" released by Statistics Canada, the government agency said it had counted 45,345 gay couples of which 7,465 had married after the inauguration of gay marriage laws in July 2005. It was the first time the agency had counted gay married couples in the national census, carried out in 2006.

More than half, some 53 percent, of the gay married couples were men. "Half of all same-sex couples in Canada lived in the three largest census metropolitan areas, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, in 2006," the study said, adding that "Toronto accounted for 21.2 percent of all same-sex couples." Gay couples however only made up some 0.6 percent of all Canadian couples, a figure which compares with Australia (0.6 percent) and New Zealand (0.7 percent).

The census also revealed that more people are choosing to live together without exchanging vows, with the number of married-couple families only up 3.5 percent since 2001 to 6.1 million, compared to the numbers of common-law partners which had leapt 18.9 percent to 1.4 million. The number of single-parent families also surged 7.8 percent to 1.4 million compared to the previous census carried out in 2001. The figures were the third set of data to be released by Statistics Canada since last year’s census of the country’s 31.6 million people.

13th September 2007

Same-sex married couples counted in Canada census

by Tony Grew
The 2006 Canada census gave lesbian and gay married couples the chance to register their status for the first time – and 7,465 couples did so. The national survey, carried out every five years, was criticised by gay rights advocates because same-sex married people had to register their status in the "other" box. Gay marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005. The country’s statistics bureau considered a range of options to record them on census forms, including the use of non gender-specific terms like ‘spouse’, which was ultimately ruled too confusing. It is thought that many gay and lesbian married couples ignored the "other" box in protest that they were being treated differently from heterosexuals. The census was conducted last May and details were released yesterday.

There are 6,105,910 married-couple families, almost 70% of all census families. 45,345 same-sex couples were recorded, a rise of 32% from 2001. The majority of same-sex couples live in the Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver census areas. 9% of same-sex couples had a child under 24 living at home. Statistics Canada said it will consult with LGBT groups before the next census in 2011 over the same-sex marriage issue. The row with gay activists mirrors discussion in the UK about the next census, also in 2011. In April Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons asking the government to ensure that a question is asked in 2011 about sexual orientation. Mr Williams, the MP for Bristol West, welcomed National Statistics’ decision to ask a question about civil partnerships, but said that is important to know how many gay people there are in the UK.

Final decisions on the content of the 2011 Census will not be made until the consultation and testing programme is complete and Parliament gives formal approval in 2010. A White Paper setting out the Government’s proposals is scheduled for the next parliamentary session.

October 14, 2007

Synod backs gay rights, Anglican church leaders in Ottawa vote to allow clergy to bless same-sex marriage, inflaming debate

by Stuart Laidlaw , Faith and Ethics Reporter
The Ottawa diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada yesterday approved same-sex marriage blessings in a move sure to inflame a debate over gay rights that has pushed the communion to the brink of schism. By a margin of 177 to 97, delegates to the diocese’s annual synod in Cornwall approved a motion asking the local bishop to allow clergy "whose conscience permits" to bless same-sex unions. Conservative church leaders immediately condemned the move.

"It goes to the very opposite direction to what the international church is calling for," retired Newfoundland bishop Donald Harvey, moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada, told the Star.

The worldwide Anglican Communion has been bitterly divided on the issue of same-sex marriage blessings since the appointment of the openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2004. The majority of Anglicans worldwide belong to conservative churches in developing countries, which have been pushing for a more orthodox approach to policy. Harvey said yesterday’s vote makes it more likely the Anglican Network will go ahead with a plan to join forces with several conservative U.S. Anglican groups trying to set up a new church along orthodox theological lines. The Anglican Network meets next month in Burlington to discuss the plan.

"This is a far deeper dispute than same-sex blessings," Harvey said. Ron Chaplin, who introduced the motion at yesterday’s vote, said he hopes the move does not inflame the debate around the issue. "We in Canada and the United States need to do a better job of explaining what we are doing and why we are doing it," said Chaplin, people’s warden at Ottawa’s St. John the Evangelist Church.

At a press conference after the vote, Ottawa Bishop John Chapman said the final decision on whether to bless same-sex marriages rests with him. Chapman said he plans to consult with other bishops across Canada and internationally before deciding what to do. The Ottawa diocese covers most of eastern Ontario and western Quebec, and has 142 congregations. The Montreal diocese is scheduled to vote on a motion similar to Ottawa’s next weekend. The actions of both dioceses will then be discussed at a meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops later this month in London, Ont.

Chaplin said he expects to see several dioceses across the country introduce similar motions at their annual synods over the coming year, and he expects most to pass. Such votes, however, fly in the face of a vote at the national church’s synod last June, where delegates voted down a plan to let local churches decide for themselves whether to bless same-sex marriages, Harvey said. Despite that vote, he said, the Canadian church is clearly moving toward blessing same-sex marriages. "Bit by bit, we’re going to end up having it without any of us knowing how it came about," he said. "By the time of the next national synod, it will be a fait accompli."

9th November 2007

Canadians mark 40 years of gay rights activism

by Chrys Hudson
On November 7, 1967, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the appeal of George Everett Klippert, who had been condemned to indefinite imprisonment for consensual sexual relations with other men. The next day, Tommy Douglas, the first leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, rose in the House of Commons and called for homosexuality to be decriminalised. Since then, the NDP has led the pack in defense of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. New Democrats succeeded in banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, tirelessly worked for equal marriage and are fighting today for international LGBT rights and for an end to discrimination based on gender identity. As proof of its firm resolve to stand up for full equality and human rights, the NDP marked this important anniversary by unanimously adopting a comprehensive range of policies on LGBT rights during its Federal Council in Winnipeg last weekend.

"This action by the NDP federal council gives us the clearest and most comprehensive policies on LGBT issues of any party," Bill Siksay, MP for Burnaby-Douglas and NDP spokesperson for LGBT issues, said in a release. These policies, sponsored by the NDP-Quebec Section and by the Burnaby-Douglas (British Columbia) and Trinity-Spadina (Ontario) riding (constituency) associations, go to the heart of the struggles the LGBT community face. In particular, they call for policies that protect young LGBT people from the hatred and social inequity that causes such appalling rates of suicide and homelessness among them. They also take a clear stance against the discrimination faced by refugees fleeing homophobic discrimination and violence; for legal protections and equity for transgender and transsexual people; and for the Canadian government to meet its responsibilities to work for human rights for LGBT people around the world.

According to Siksay, "Canada has led the world in equality and participation of gay and lesbian citizens. But challenges remain. "Transsexual and transgender Canadians need full human rights protections, and LGBTT people in Canada and around the world suffer prejudice and discrimination, even to the point of violence and death. Our work is not yet done."

December 3, 2007

Gay Muslim Outs Himself to Muslim Scholars at Conference: Doors of tolerance start to open for gay Muslims?

Johannesburg (PlusNews) – Suhail AbualSameed looked calm, yet he was shaking inside. He was seated before a row of ulama, distinguished Islamic scholars, from Afghanistan to Yemen at the International Consultation on Islam and HIV/AIDS, organised by the charity, Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week. The previous day, several of them had denounced homosexuality as un-Islamic and evil. Today, AbualSameed had something to tell them.

“As a gay Muslim, I feel unsafe, unloved and unrespected in this space,” he said. “Were I to become HIV-positive, the first thing I would lose is my Muslim community. I couldn’t come to you guys for support.” You could cut the tension the room with a knife. AbualSameed continued: “I wish you did not refer to gays with the (Arabic) words ‘shaz’ and ‘luti’ – perverts and rapists – because we are not.”

Two men in keffiyas, the gingham headcloth worn by men in many Muslim countries, waved their arms to silence him but the chairman nodded for him to continue. Spellbound, the audience listened as AbualSameed, a Jordanian living in Canada, did the unthinkable: outing himself. The groundbreaking consultation brought together Muslim community leaders, academics, doctors, relief workers and HIV-positive activists to rethink the Islamic response to HIV and AIDS. One key issue was HIV prevention among hard-to-reach vulnerable groups like sex workers, street children, injecting drug users, and men who have sex with men.

Jaffer Inamdar, the HIV-positive founder and programme manager of the Positive Lives Foundation in Goa, India, told IRIN/PlusNews: “Lots of sex, drugs and gay activity take place during the high season from September to April in this popular tourist destination. Harsh, condemning language make them [gays] run away, hide and continue to spread HIV.”

Anti-gay laws

Homosexuality is forbidden and considered a crime in most Islamic countries. Six officially Islamic countries (Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and the 12 northern states of Nigeria) invoke sharia – Islamic religious law – and maintain the death penalty for consensual same-sex sex, according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International. Other countries punish homosexuality with fines, jail or lashes, coupled with social stigma and blaming Western culture for introducing gay lifestyles.

Not surprisingly, AbualSameed was fearful. “I saw their gaze, their body attitude, and my memory told me there could be a physical reaction,” he said. But he had nothing to fear. “Afterwards, veiled women, bearded men, the most religious types, came to me and apologised if they had said something offensive, if they had made me feel unloved or unsafe.” Each friendly gesture signalled belonging. “This is us: our culture is intimate, warm, based on relationships. When I outed to my family, they did not turn on me,” a relieved AbualSameed told IRIN/PlusNews.

The following morning, the ulama had a surprise.

Conference spokesperson and IRW head of policy Willem van Eekelen read their collective statement, saying that although Islam does not accept homosexuality, Islamic leaders would try to help create an environment in which gay people could approach social workers and find help against AIDS without feeling unsafe. “This first time ever that a high-level religious forum has talked, acknowledged and accepted gays,” said AbualSameed. “This will open the door to talks with the Muslim gay community and help other gay Muslims to come out in a safer space.”

To see theologians from Egyptian and Syrian universities, and imams – Muslim community leaders – from India, Sudan and Pakistan defy official Islamic homophobia is “definitively a first,” said sheikh Abul Kalam Azad, chairman of the Masjid (mosque) Council for Community Advancement, in Bangladesh. “Homosexuality is a sin but we should not be cruel. They [gays] suffer a lot in the Muslim world.” Inamdar welcomed the statement. “There are many gays in my group [in Goa]. Islam says it is a sin and we have to follow Islamic rulings, but we are all human and deserve respect.”

An unlikely ally for gay rights turned out to be Sudanese sheikh Mohamed Hashim Alhakim, dressed in a white robe with gold trimmings and a white turban, and his wife, clad in a black hijab, with their baby just behind him. Alkahim runs the S-Smart Training and Consultancy Centre in Khartoum, which also runs AIDS awareness programmes. “I used to be very hard against homosexuals and sex workers,” he said. “But I learned to respect their humanity. I advise them to change, but if they are going to continue they must practice safe sex so they don’t harm themselves and their partners.”

Evil ways

During the weeklong consultation, AbualSameed, who is coordinator of the Newcomer/Immigrant Youth Programme at the Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto, had endured homophobic statements. Just the day before, one scholar had ranked homosexuality with bestiality and adultery as evils to avoid. “The harshness of the comments made me passionate; I had to do something for my own identity and dignity, and of other gay Muslims,” said AbualSameed.

His decision to speak out was nurtured in his conference working group, made up of Muslims from Iran, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania. South African psychologist Sabra Desai spoke about care and solidarity, and recalled the Prophet’s words: “‘If one part of my body hurts, my whole body hurts’,” she said. “I take this to mean that if one member of my community hurts, we all hurt.” Then she squeezed AbualSameed’s hand under the table and passed him the microphone. Slowly, he started: “As a Gay Muslim …”. And with every word, the doors of tolerance opened wider.