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Seeking the magic ingredient

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Along with a cultural history favouring chosen families, GLBT* people hold an openness to creating new family forms. Some of this comes with biology, and some comes from social-political pressures. For many queer parents-to-be, finding sperm is a key part of planning a pregnancy.

Lesbian cis partners and single queer uterus-possessing parents are some of the most likely queer families to seek sperm when they decide to have kids. Trans parents of any gender, depending on hormones and biology, may find themselves looking as well.

So how do queer parents who need sperm get started? There are legal issues, relationships and roles to define, costs, and preferences to consider. The two basic routes to acquiring sperm are through either a sperm bank or a known donor.

“Unknown donor sperm is often seen as desirable because it allows lesbians to parent with autonomy and security,” writes Joanna Radbord in her 2010 paper GLBT Familes and Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Radbord is a Toronto-based lawyer who has won awards for her focus on GLBT* legal equality. The issues can be expanded to include queer parents of other genders too. She says unknown donor sperm is the route most lesbian partners take.

While it does protect the parents legally, unknown donor sperm is costly and sometimes ineffective. There’s also a shortage of ethnically-diverse donors in the Canadian sperm pool because of how it’s set up.

Known donors

Sperm from known donors provides less legal security, but is a do-it-yourself route many prospective queer parents are choosing. Although some believe there is a legal risk of prosecution with self-insemination, Health Canada has stated the intention of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which governs these activities, does not intend government involvement in the private matter of home insemination.

“If it’s a classic turkey baster at-home insemination, no one’s ever been prosecuted for that and I don’t imagine that anybody would be,” says Karen Busby, professor in the faculty of law at the University of Manitoba. Busby’s work focuses on GLBT* legal issues and she’s been key in shaping Manitoba’s laws on same-sex relationships, which are the most comprehensive in North America.

Her advice to people using known donors is, “Make sure you talk as much as possible with the known donor about what expectations are and then see a lawyer to write up an agreement.”

She refers to such agreements as “arrangements,” and is clear that what they do is express the intentions of the parties involved. Without consulting a lawyer, she says, people are unlikely to cover all of the issues they need to. But if push comes to shove and there’s a legal dispute, this contract is not what’s going to determine a judge’s decision. In family law, a court will never ask the question, ‘What were the contractual arrangements?’ The court will always ask the question instead, ‘What’s in the best interest of the child?’ says Busby.

A Montréal donor, who wishes to remain anonymous for the sake of the couple he’s helping, did just this and drew up an agreement in consultation with lawyers and the couple.

“The idea was for me to give up all rights and responsibilities to the extent that the law makes that possible,” he says. “The parents, i.e. not me, will have full freedom—they’ll be considered the legal parents, they’ll have custody, they’ll be allowed to move with the child if they want to. They’ll cover all the costs.”

Interestingly, a known donor is technically unable to give up child support rights because it falls under the rights of the child.

And although technically issues could arise, Busby points out many people using known donors don’t have agreements drawn up, and most of the time things work out just fine.

It gets more complicated if those using known donors also have problems conceiving. “The law around sperm donation is absurdly restrictive in my view, because if you’re not in a sexual relationship with the person, the sperm must be held in quarantine for six months before it can be used,” says the Montréal donor.

After the tainted blood scandal in the ’80s, the Canadian government became extremely risk-averse to the possibility of HIV, and so fertility clinics operate under a law that says they have to hold sperm for six months and re-test donors. The law also ends up being homophobic, because straight couples are allowed treatment right away, since they’re considered to be in contact with each other’s fluids anyhow. Even if someone has been previously trying with a donor’s sperm for months, the clinic must quarantine it if they’re not in a sexual relationship.

In the Montréal donor’s case, the couple had hoped to have his sperm frozen and shipped to another part of the country, but barriers became excessive. He discovered his sperm dies when frozen, something that happens to some sperm and not other, and researchers are unsure why. “The [quarantine] law is self-defeating in a way,” he says. “It probably drives people to… bypass the clinic system entirely.”

…talk as much as possible with the known donor about what expectations are and then see a lawyer to write up an agreement.”

This is particularly the case if someone wants to use a gay man’s sperm for conception. Sperm donation for gay men is only allowed with special doctor’s permission, a relic of homophobic policies from the ’80s. This means it can only easily be used if someone has no trouble conceiving and does not have to go through fertility clinics.

Unknown donor sperm – issues to consider

Another reason people use fertility clinics is to access sperm from an unknown donor. The process usually begins at a doctor’s office with a referral.Importantly, human rights legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status for those seeking reproductive assistance. As of August 2012, trans rights are protected in Manitoba as well.

Because most fertility clinics were set up to treat infertile heterosexual couples, there are varying levels of awareness when dealing with GLBT* clients.

The Toronto-based LGBTQ Parenting Network has some tips for queer people navigating the clinics. The network’s guidebook on assisted human reproduction notes the “norm” for clinics is heterosexual, cisgender clients who are partnered or married with access to two incomes.

This can mean intake forms lack appropriate places to record gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship status or family configuration. The counsellors at the clinic may not understand realities specific to GLBT* reproductive choices and parenting plans. This will vary widely by clinic.

Know that fertility clinics are privately-operated and most of their services are not covered under Manitoba Health.

Also know that the technology exists for HIV-positive people to conceive and give birth to children without transmission. As of August 2012, the guidebook notes, there were six clinics in Canada offering pregnancy support services to HIV-positive people.

Family law is presently receiving an update in Manitoba to recognize that some children have more than two legal parents. This will open the way for queer families to include more people on a child’s birth certificate. While some people reproduce as couples, others wish to have their donor and maybe his husband or partner involved in the child’s life. Still others have family forms as unique as the relationships they negotiate. While family law across Canada is uneven and unprepared to deal with this reality, it’s evolving and beginning to catch up.

First published in Winnipeg’s OutWords Magazine, Aug 2015

http://outwords.ca/2015/issue-fall-2015/seeking-the-magic-ingredient/


–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance writer living and working in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice, especially when it comes to other queers.

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March 13, 2016 at 11:02 pm

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Questionable Sex Ed: What’s being taught in Manitoba’s schools

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http://outwords.ca/2014/issue-december-january-2014-15/questionable-sex-ed/

Promoting abstinence in sex education is what Candace Maxymowich, a Winnipeg public school board trustee candidate, did during her campaign, before she lost by a wide margin in October’s election. But her discussion on infusing the value of Christian-style abstinence into education begs the question: what are kids learning in sex ed in Winnipeg’s schools, and are they learning anything about same-sex and trans issues?

Among all of Winnipeg’s school divisions—some more progressive when it comes to sex ed than others—curriculum is mandated by the province. The physical education and health curriculum are the sections that apply to sex ed. The province’s website details a framework on how schools are to deal with “potentially sensitive content,” of which sex ed is a part.

Requiring a planning process that includes parental involvement, school divisions make independent decisions about sex ed, including content, how it is taught, how it’s graded and what resources are used to teach it. Not teaching it at all is an option, as the framework gives school divisions the power to decide how much depth and breadth to give the topic. There is also an opt-out for parents who’d like their children to learn the subject by another means if they disagree with what the school’s doing.

Winnipeg’s schools are many, and range from Dakota Collegiate, which is hosting an upcoming national gay-straight alliance conference in May, to others that have faced controversies over Bill 18 and over transgender students.

When it comes to sex education, what is being taught varies widely as well.

“It’s division-to-division on what kind of language they use,” says Roselle Paulsen, program director at Winnipeg’s Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC). She was consulted on the health curriculum when it was created and published in 2000. “There are different approaches to how people interpret the student learning outcomes. So if you see a word like ‘diversity,’ or those kinds of things, people are going to interpret them differently.”

Paulsen points to a couple of examples in the curriculum. The first, a learning outcome for Grade 7, tells teachers to “identify effects of social influences on sexuality and gender roles.” Topics like violence against women, media ads, gender equity and culture are generally covered under this topic, Paulsen says. But “Somebody who wants to take more latitude could say that when we talk about gender roles we could delve much more deeply into things like gender identity and social morays.”

It’s up to the interpretation of the school divisions. Another example is in grade five where the curriculum talks about celebrating all kinds of families—again open to interpretation. By Grade 9, sexual orientation is named explicitly. Since it’s included, Paulsen says there should be no reason for schools not to talk about same-sex issues within the context of sex ed, although some don’t. “The frustration with this sort of document, is on the one hand, sexuality education within the health curriculum is mandated. On the other hand, the department says, but each division in the province can determine, based on their own community needs, the depth and breadth of what they provide. That’s the problem.”

Vycki Atallah has also seen a wide variation between what is taught in sex ed. As co-ordinator of Klinic Community Health Centre’s Teen Talk program, she’s invited into schools to give sex ed talks when schools want more. “It can really look a lot different in different schools and communities. For some schools and communities, we’re really welcome, and come in, and some classes get multiple workshops from us; and other schools and school divisions simply don’t book us; don’t extend an invitation for us to come into their school.”

Teen Talk approaches sex ed in line with the provincial curriculum, but from an anti-oppressive standpoint, which includes education about healthy relationships, and the range of genders and sexuality. Their workshops make it clear that all types of couples are valued on an equal level and that body parts can belong to people of any gender, says Atallah.

She says Seven Oaks School Division and Winnipeg One are among the most progressive on these fronts she’s worked with.

Anastasia Chipelski, who works with service providers who talk to teens about sex in her capacity as health educator at Nine Circles Community Health Centre, says she doesn’t think the majority of teens are learning their sex education in schools anyway. The teens her clients are in contact with are way ahead of any adults who are teaching them about sex. “Who knows where the teens are learning it from?” she says. “They’re not learning it in schools.” One guess she has is they’re getting information from well-informed peers.

Perhaps one piece of the puzzle is that the curriculum schools are teaching needs updating, says Paulsen. “Everybody agrees that it [does],” she says. “Things have changed a lot.”

“We have a spectrum of how people identify and their attractions, and all of those kinds of things.
If we’re going to be inclusive and comprehensive and provide a safe space for all students, then it is time to be realistic and pragmatic, and let’s not pretend that this isn’t an issue.”

Published in OutWords Magazine, Dec 2014


–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance writer living and working in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice.

Transgender and Incarcerated: How do our jails treat some of the most vulnerable prisoners?

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http://issuu.com/outwords/docs/outwords_210_may-june_2014 – pages 8-10

Transgender prisoners – particularly women – often face harsh situations in Canada’s jails. Without documentation or not having medically transitioned, offenders may face difficult questions when entering the prison system, not the least of which is what their gender is. Those who are non-operative or pre-operative are, by standard practice, sent to the prison that matches their sexed genitalia, said a spokesperson for Manitoba Justice. This is done regardless of how long they have lived as their identified gender.

A famous 2001 Canadian case saw Synthia Kavanagh, a 41-year-old trans woman who had begun hormone therapy and lived as female since she was a teen, placed in a men’s prison and given restricted hormone therapy. This resulted in a reversal of the physical changes hormones had provided her. After her requests for gender-reassignment surgery (GRS) were repeatedly denied, Kavanagh attempted to slice off her genitalia out of desperation.

Kavanagh filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and eventually won her case in 2001. She received surgery at a cost of $14,000 and was then moved to a women’s prison. This followed several years in segregation after alleged sexual assault and harassment at the hands of male inmates. Kavanagh’s case illustrates all too well some of the hardships trans women face in Canada’s prison system.

“They’re mixed in with the general population, and they’re assigned based on whatever sex organs they still have.”

The case in Manitoba

In Manitoba, the Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in the provision of services. The Commission’s website states, “Systemic discrimination is a form of discrimination that is often not intended. It takes place when a policy or practice that seems neutral has a greater negative effect on some people based on their protected characteristic.”

Failure to reasonably accommodate a special need that is based on a protected characteristic is also prohibited in Manitoba. The Code has special status over all other laws in the Province of Manitoba.

Factors like self-identification, gender on official ID and any file history about past placements is taken into consideration before placing a transgendered prisoner, said the spokesperson for Manitoba Justice. “Placements also consider the individual’s health and safety and any security concerns that could result. As I understand it, a transgender inmate in a correctional facility would likely be placed in an area with either a smaller population of inmates (i.e. not a dorm-style arrangement), or in other areas better suited to protect his or her safety.”

The spokesperson said Manitoba Corrections has effectively managed trans offenders in the past and isn’t aware of any significant incidents. Of a total inmate population of around 2,600, they estimate that there may be four to six transgender inmates in the provincial system at any time. The spokesperson said trans inmates have access to hormones if they have been taking them before coming in. The official was unable to say whether any pre-operative/non-operative trans women have ever been placed in a women’s prison in Manitoba.

Manitoba Corrections does not have policies specific to transgender inmates.

The case for transgender inmates the same across Canada

In addition to provincial facilities, there are three federal penitentiaries in Manitoba. Correctional Service Canada’s regional communications manager for the Prairies, Jeff Campbell said in an e-mail interview, “Pre-operative male to female offenders with gender identity disorder shall be held in men’s institutions and pre-operative female to male offenders with gender identity disorder shall be held in women’s institutions.” For all placement decisions, individual assessments are done to ensure those offenders diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) have their needs for safety and privacy accommodated, Campbell said. This means that without genital surgery, an offender would be placed in a prison that corresponds with their physical sex, but possibly not with their emotional and psychological well-being.

In order for an inmate to be diagnosed with GID and access trans-specific medical care, they must see a psychiatrist who is a recognized expert in the area. This mirrors the process many trans people outside prison must follow to access healthcare. The process for inmates happens if and when such a psychiatrist is available, according to Correctional Service Canada policy. The policy states inmates with GID diagnosis are the ones who can initiate or continue hormone therapy.

The policy also says, “Sex reassignment surgery shall be considered during incarceration only when: a recognized gender identity specialist has confirmed that the offender has satisfied the real-life test.” The real-life test refers to living full-time as one’s identified gender for a year in order to qualify for surgery. For inmates, the real-life test must have been completed prior to incarceration. If they are eligible for surgery, Correctional Service Canada foots the bill. This policy amendment was enacted following Kavanagh’s human rights victory.

Dealing with misidentification

One source OutWords spoke to has seen some of the effects of these policies on the ground. In a telephone interview, an employee of federal corrections described some of the ways trans women are treated in male penitentiaries and how some of them cope. “They’re mixed in with the general population, and they’re assigned based on whatever sex organs they still have,” the source said. “Even if they’ve had breast augmentation and have been living fully as female and on hormones.” Others could care less if they’re in with the males, and “[those ones] only live as female part-time or by choice.”

“But there are a couple in particular who live fully as female and identify as female and we call them by their female names… Most of them are forced to work the streets when they’re out, and then they come in, and if they really want to affect change it’s pretty hard, because they’re kind of used as females within the prison,” said the source. “In some ways for some of them it gives them a lot of power in the prison, because they have something to barter with. But for others who are sincerely wanting to change, and [who] live their lives as females socially, it’s an added struggle for them. I think it’s kind of shameful.” The source described the situation as psychologically damaging and quite bad. “But I don’t know what the other solution is either.”

Prisonjustice.ca, an activist organization for trans prisoners, notes the connection between criminal activity, poverty and the isolation and stigmatization many trans people face. Incarceration rates within trans communities are disproportionate, and this is linked to the vulnerability of the trans population.

Moving forward

The federal employee said Manitoba Corrections is looking at work done by the Winnipeg police to help plan an expansion for its own diversity programs. “We’re also doing it [federally], because we work with a diversity committee, and we’re looking to bring in speakers and stuff from related organizations that have been successful in doing diversity training with their staff.”

A guide put together by Joshua Mira Goldberg for the Justice Institute of British Columbia aims to provide criminal justice personnel with the information necessary to respond appropriately to trans people in the criminal justice system. It suggests a case-by-case approach to placing trans prisoners. “In some cases, it may be appropriate to place a prisoner according to their identity (e.g., placing a trans woman in a women’s facility). In some locations, it may be possible for trans prisoners to be housed together in a special unit. In some instances, a trans prisoner may request placement in general population or protective custody… There needs to be a framework to guide the assessment.”

Australia’s model is a three-tiered policy that prioritizes prisoner safety. First, it is asked which facility would be safest for the prisoner. Then, the prisoner’s general appearance and what gender they live as are considered. The last consideration is physiology and genital status.

An international academic study that looked at transsexuals within prison systems in North America, Europe and Australia found that only 29 of 64 correctional institutions said they would maintain existing hormone therapy if it had been prescribed prior to imprisonment. Sixty-two of 64 facilities said all inmates must wear the clothing appropriate to the institution regardless of the inmate’s gender identity. And only 40 per cent of correctional services had policies addressing issues like hormone treatment.

Published in OutWords Magazine, May/June 2014

–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist living in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice.

Tomboy goes deep using simple moments

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see article on The Omega‘s website–scroll down to 5th article

please note this is not a part of my current food project

Larkin Schmiedl, Copy Editor  Ω

Transgender children have been coming more to popular awareness lately, with Anderson Cooper featuring a family with a transgender child on his show, CBC’s Passionate Eye looking at the topic back in January, and CNN covering it last September.

Director Celine Sciamma engaged this topic with her second film, Tomboy, which played on Saturday, Mar. 10 at the Kamloops Film Festival. Tomboy shows us in intimate detail the life of a 10-year-old transgender child during a pivotal summer in his life.  It’s a French film, and was made in 2011.

Tomboy keeps a slow pace, but rather than being tedious, it allows viewers to absorb the significance of each moment as it unfolds.

‘Laure’ is the oldest daughter of two in a close loving family.  When her  family moves to a new neighbourhood, she introduces herself as Mikael to Lisa, the first other kid she meets.  Lisa later falls for Mikael, leading to complications down the road.

Mikael begins living as a boy all summer long, without the knowledge of his family.

The movie comes across first and foremost as a story about a specific person’s struggle with gender identity, and this is where it succeeds and draws its power.

Mikael carries a silent, inexpressive air with him throughout most of the film.  His muted expressions convey the palpable sense of the weight he carries, of the secret he feels he can’t tell anyone.

The cinematography was brilliant, revealing the emotions of characters even during moments of silence through close-up face shots.

Tomboy is not depressing, but interesting, educational, fun and extremely well-storied. Each event contributes to the plot in some way and nothing is wasted.

Mikael is always quietly calculating and on guard, having to construct scenarios to prop up his new identity.  As a result he is rarely able to be open and spontaneous as a child.  This tension is felt through the screen as everyday scenarios play out.

During a soccer game with the neighbourhood kids, Mikael sits out.  The boys are playing a shirts versus skins game, and that night, Mikael goes home and inspects his chest in the mirror.

He practices spitting in the sink like he saw another boy do during the game.

The following day, he strips off his shirt and plays along with the others.  He even spits.
The body dysphoria experienced by many transgender people is shown when Mikael looks at himself in the mirror different times, trying to adjust what he sees to fit his image of himself as a boy.

His yearning to fit into this image is tangible.

When the kids later decide to go swimming, Mikael takes his bathing suit into his bedroom and cuts off the top half to create trunks.  He folds in the jagged cut top and models his new suit in the mirror, and smiles widely with glee.

Mikael realizes he must fashion a penis to wear in it, so he sits down with the play-dough machine beside his sister and fashions a small roll.

The audience laughed most at the parts of the film where this makeshift penis was shown.

For anyone who likes a film showing people and their relationships, that describes psychological dynamics profoundly through straightforward life moments, or who’s interested in gender or wants to know more, Tomboy is a must-see.

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 14, 2012 at 1:45 am

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