Larkin Schmiedl's Blog

Journalist at work

Posts Tagged ‘queer

Final countdown

leave a comment »

What athletes think about the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on the eve of the Games

http://outwords.ca/2014/issue-february-2014/final-countdown/

From Feb. 7 to 23, queer athletes – some out, some not – will compete in the Winter Olympic Games hosted by an increasingly GLBTQ*-hating Russia. The 22nd Olympic Winter Games will not only be the most expensive Games ever hosted, held in Sochi’s subtropical climate, but will also put athletes, trainers, spectators and others on an international stage in a place where skinhead gangs have lured and videotaped assaults of gay teens, a village has gotten together to kill a suspected gay neighbour, and where Orthodox priests have led assaults on gay rights demonstrations, among other events.

 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed its anti-discrimination mission statement, Principle 6, includes sexual orientation, yet the IOC has refused to speak out against Russia’s laws. Betty Baxter, a former Olympian in Canadian women’s volleyball who was later fired as head coach in 1982 for being a lesbian, said she thinks the IOC bears the brunt of the blame for not thinking about the impact of holding the Games in Russia. Openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup, who will be competing, said he thinks the way the IOC protects its athletes needs to change. Russian President Vladimir Putin has assured the IOC the Games will be “comfortable” for GLBTQ* athletes, but many are unconvinced.

Skjellerup, a who trains in Calgary and competes for New Zealand, said he will be wearing his Pride pin during Olympic ceremonies. “Hopefully more people will offer up a statement of support or some kind of sign of support – and not only for the solidarity of the GLBTQ* community in Russia, but for the solidarity of GLBTQ* people across the world.” Skjellerup came out shortly after the 2010 Olympics and has been a driving force in GLBTQ* activism in New Zealand’s schools. He said there is nothing he’s afraid of in Russia and that, “If anything does happen, then so be it… It would definitely expedite conversation in making sure that when Olympic Games do happen, they happen in countries that are safe for all people.”

Blake Skjellerup displays his Pride pin from the London Games.

Because he was already out, Skjellerup said he couldn’t shy away from the issue. “I wouldn’t have been staying true to myself.” But the gay friends he has who are not out are more focused solely on competition. Skjellerup said he sees an opportunity forthe Games to bring about change. “The person who has put on these Olympic Games, Vladimir Putin, is the exact opposite of what the Olympic Games stand for. It’s a great opportunity for the Olympic Games to do its part in highlighting those morals that should be showing during that time.”

Baxter takes a different, more cynical view of the Games. “The way the modern Olympics are is it’s really about selling product and proving your country’s dominance,” said Baxter. “The ancient Olympics was to keep warriors fit in between wars…. And then the modern Olympics were founded basically on the same thing.” While Baxter is critical of the endeavour, her main concern is always to look at how athletes can be supported. “The last thing we want to do is move some well-meaning political campaign in and take away from their opportunities. We need to condemn Russia, but we need to be very careful in our strategies so that doing that doesn’t take away from the athletes who have worked hard. Athletes have to take four, eight, 12 years of their lives to get [to the Olympics]. What my concern would be is if there’s too much action around the [GLBTQ*] issue in Russia, it’s a distraction.”

She said the reason more high-performance athletes don’t come out is because it takes away from their main focus, their athletic feats. “When you’re competing in something where it’s a hundredth of a second, or a psychological pause where you can lose what you’ve been attempting to do with your performance, you can’t be distracted by somebody saying, ‘I support you because you’re gay.’” Even a scene with supporters at the Olympics would be harder on GLBTQ* athletes than we would imagine, said Baxter. She’s glad the call to boycott the Sochi Olympics failed. Athletes like openly-gay figure skaters Johnny Weir and Skjellerup also condemned the boycott, saying it would have punished athletes more than Russia.

The 1968 Games saw an organized call by African-American athletes to boycott, but when that fell apart, two athletes memorably took their protest to the medal stand. Baxter said one strategy that would have worked should have been implemented some time ago. “Each Olympics has generally a beverage company, generally a telecommunications company and generally a petroleum company…. If we’d had massive boycotts for those companies, the Olympics would have been moved out of Russia, there’s no doubt.”

Outside the safety of the Olympic Village, tireless gay Russian activist Nikolai Alekseyev has announced a Sochi Pride March to coincide with the opening of the Games. Meanwhile, athletes like Skjellerup will be doing their part to raise visibility within the confines of the Village. “It would be nice to not have to stand up and to fight for who I am, but that is unfortunately the situation that I’m in. I have to speak out, and I have to be that voice, because there aren’t a lot of GLBTQ* athletes in sport. That visibility isn’t there, and that visibility needs to be there. GLBTQ* youth who are growing up need to see that you can be whatever you wish to be in life, and that your sexuality isn’t something that prevents you from doing that. Your sexuality is something that you should be very proud of, and it’s not something you should let in any way define who you are, especially when it comes to living your life.”

Published in OutWords Magazine, Feb. 2014

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

Advertisements

Written by larkinschmiedl

September 3, 2014 at 3:23 am

Writing trans-genres

leave a comment »

http://outwords.ca/2014/issue-april-2014/writing-trans-genres/

Because transgender arts and literature are not often understood on their own terms, and because when trans work is reviewed, it’s often viewed through stereotypical lenses, poet and University of Winnipeg assistant professor Trish Salah decided to organize Writing Trans Genres. Part academic conference and part performance cabaret, the three-day event at the University of Winnipeg will include panels, workshops, keynote speakers and presentations of papers on May 22 to 24.

“What I’m interested in doing is creating a space for trans people to talk about how we understand our work,” said Salah, author of two books. “Interest in trans figures frequently translates to an interest in trans figures produced by non-trans people, and those representations – you know, I can think of exceptions that are quite good, but the majority tend to be quite stereotypical and quite either condescending or fetishizing, or just simplistic.”

Although the conference is not trans-exclusive, it centres on trans authors, performers and artists as the people who are the most knowledgeable about their own work. That sounds straightforward, but self-representation flies in the face of a long history of misrepresentation. 

“I figured the best way to start that conversation was to get large numbers of trans writers together.”

Salah hopes the conference will build an understanding of how to read trans writing in ways that are attentive to the specifics of different people’s experiences. She also hopes some active networks of trans, two-spirit and genderqueer writers and critics will emerge.

And non-academics are welcome. The keynotes and daytime readings will be free and open to the public, and parts of the conference will be streamed online and digitally archived for later public use. To attend the entire conference, fees range from $10 for unwaged attendees, to $120 for those employed full-time. Registration is open until April 15.

Keynote speaker Rachel Pollack will talk about what it means for trans people to make literature for one another, rather than to explain the trans experience to non-trans people. Another keynote will address ways of thinking about indigenous approaches to gender and sexuality.

“We will be having conversations specifically around intersectionality and the ways in which racialized linguistic and cultural identities interact with sex and gender identities in shaping people’s literary production,” said Salah.

And the ways the queer and trans communities relate will also be a topic of conversation. “Certainly there are trans folks and trans artists who participate within queer contexts, but there’s actually a much broader segment of the trans community that probably doesn’t, so that will also be reflected in the kind of art we make, the kind of writing we do,” Salah said.

The conference’s call for papers asks, “Are there unknown histories of trans literary production?” and “What genres and figures have been important for two-spirit, genderqueer, trans-identified writers and writers with transsexual histories?”

“It’s often assumed trans literature is just an expression of identity, or a simplistic response to oppression,” said Salah. “And certainly we do respond to oppression and we do talk about our experience and the difference of trans lives from cis lives, but there’s a lot more complexity to what’s being produced than that.”

Inspired by trans film and arts festivals in Toronto in the late ‘90s, and by historic conferences like Women and Words, which brought women writers together to debate and define women’s literature, Writing Trans Genres aims to build a public cultural space for trans people.

“I’m hoping that we can bring a similar spirit to imagining what trans folks’ literature looks like,” Salah said. 

Check out the details at www.writingtransgenres.com.

Published in OutWords Magazine, April 2014

– Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist living in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice, especially where it involves other trans folks.

Magical camp transforms lives

leave a comment »

Annual Camp Aurora in the Whiteshell builds self-esteem of queer youth

http://outwords.ca/2014/issue-julyaugust-2014/magical-camp-transforms-lives/

Imagine a space where queer youth could go to feel safe. Imagine GLBT* teens openly being themselves and spending time with others like them—perhaps for the first time. Manitoba youth get this opportunity every August with Camp Aurora. “Camp is the most amazing, loving, safe place I have ever been in my life,” reads a participant quote from the camp’s website.

The sentiment is a common one, experienced by GLBT* youth at a small handful of queer camps throughout Canada, such as Alberta’s Camp fYrefly, British Columbia’s CampOUT! and Ontario’s camps Rainbow, Ten Oaks and Project Acorn.

From August 26 to 29, young GLBT* Manitobans will head to Camp Brereton, in the Whiteshell Provincial Park on the Ontario border. “Being an LGBTTQ* youth or ally can be tough,” reads the website. “At Camp Aurora, that part of your day-to-day is forgotten.” The camp aims to build the self-esteem and resiliency of queer youth, and builds important relationships that get some teens through the whole year.

It’s organized by volunteer community leaders and has a nurse, social worker, lifeguard and counsellor on staff. Peer youth leaders between the ages of 20 to 26 apply to act in mentorship roles within the camp, to campers from the ages of 14 to 19. There is space for 43 campers in all, and the deadline to register is July 15. Canoeing, swimming, crafts, talent shows, obstacle courses, campfires, bunk beds and hotdogs are all on the agenda.

The cost is $250 to attend, but campers who cannot pay that can apply to have part or all of the fee waived. The camp welcomes donations so it can continue offering opportunities to youth regardless of their finances. Transportation is provided from and return to Winnipeg, and all meals are included at camp. Visit campaurora.ca for more information.

Published in OutWords Magazine, July 2014

–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist living in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about queer things.

Written by larkinschmiedl

September 3, 2014 at 1:27 am

Violence: Domestic abuse in the queer community

leave a comment »

http://www.outwords.ca/content/violence-domestic-abuse-queer-community

An issue beginning to come to light, domestic violence in queer relationships, is misunderstood by many. With rates comparable to violence in straight relationships, yet mired in a homophobic culture, queer people of all stripes who are living with abuse find themselves with fewer resources to draw upon, and fewer people on their side.

Services available for cisgender women are typically well-known, though not always welcoming to queer women. And services for men and trans people are less well-known and sometimes just don’t exist.  The issues facing the queer community revolve around police misunderstanding and minimizing same-sex relationship violence, making it difficult for queer people to get help.

Providing the only shelter of its kind in Canada, Winnipeg’s Men’s Resource Centre caters to all men regardless of orientation or gender history. According to Steve Sutherland, therapist and administrator at the centre, it can house men as they leave an abusive relationship and help them get back on their feet.

Dan, who will be identified by his first name only, was a client of the centre earlier this year. After being closeted in an abusive relationship for a number of years, married to a wife he was financially controlled by due to his immigrant status and who he felt he had to marry, Dan made his escape. “I would not have been able to do it without the Men’s Resource Centre.” The centre signed Dan up for unemployment insurance. It also helped him find low-income housing and spruce up his resumé.

“I didn’t have a place to go because of how isolated I had been,” he said. “I didn’t really know anyone well enough that I could ask them to crash on their couch. The biggest help was [that] they provided shelter.” While waiting for his first cheque to arrive, the centre provided meals. And Dan found emotional support. “They made it very easy,” he said. “Even as I was dealing emotionally with what I was going through and wasn’t able to think straight.”

Though resources available for women are more common, they aren’t available to all women. The situation for trans women seeking shelter in Winnipeg could be described as dire. Bradley Tyler-West, LGBT* program facilitator at Winnipeg’s Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC), said, “I have heard of individual experiences of trans women who have gone into shelter and some have had a good experience there getting access to support and services, and some did not – and I think that’s really based on their ability to pass or be stealth.” He’s heard the problems have come from residents at shelters rather than staff. And the trans women he knows of who have gotten help have been in mixed-gender relationships, with violence coming at the hands of male partners. He noted that falls into the heteronormative pattern assumed of domestic violence.

Sutherland refers trans women to Sage House. “They’re very LGBT friendly,” he said. “But that would be the only shelter I know in Winnipeg that would be providing services to that segment of the population.”

Sage House could not be reached for confirmation.

There are resources available for women in lesbian relationships. Yet if shelter is needed, sometimes a lack of sensitivity can limit access. Glenda Dean, executive director of Winnipeg’s Alpha House, said she sees a “real gap” in lesbian and bisexual women utilizing shelters. Although she said she doesn’t know why that gap exists, she said perhaps shelters have not reached out enough to the community.

According to a workshop for service providers presented by Saskatoon’s The Avenue Community Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity Inc., lesbians often experience a lack of understanding about the seriousness of abuse when violent incidents are reported to therapists, police or doctors. Because of homophobia, queer relationships are sometimes seen to be inherently unstable or unhealthy.

When abuse happens, police will sometimes be called to domestic violence scenes. Both Tyler-West and Sutherland have heard in their work with men about police incidents where violence was minimized or male victims of abuse were even mocked. Myths such as that abuse doesn’t happen to men, or for men in relationships with women that it can’t happen because the man is bigger or women aren’t aggressive, lead police to sometimes misunderstand abusive situations, said Sutherland. He said discrimination can be especially bad in First Nations communities.

But he added that police are making steps, and so is the Province of Manitoba. A GLBTQ* domestic violence working group was launched in November 2012 and began distributing posters and brochures addressing the issue of queer domestic violence last month. Part of the group’s mandate is to provide GLBTQ*-sensitivity training to staff at service organizations. According to Beth Ulrich, executive director of Manitoba’s Status of Women, who the group is hosted by, shelters are working on some of their issues.

“That’s a commitment where I think some shelters are probably more ahead of others perhaps. I think that there’s a willingness and an awareness now that ‘OK, we need to make sure we’re being respectful’,” she said.

The Rainbow Resource Centre is another place victims of abuse can receive counselling and support. Located at 170 Scott St., the centre has pamphlets for those who are wondering if their relationship might be abusive and has counsellors trained in helping fill out protection orders. Tyler-West said, “We are hearing more conversations… so that is encouraging—a small light at the end of the very dark tunnel. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but it is definitely better than it was, say, four or five years ago.”


– Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist from Vancouver, B.C. He’s an LGBTI contributing editor with rabble.ca, the former host of a queer-issues radio show called Gaydio, and loves to write about social and environmental justice.

Published in Outwords, December 2013, Volume 206

HIV: unlocking some of the stories behind the numbers

leave a comment »

http://www.outwords.ca/content/mystery-hiv

Unlocking some of the stories behind the numbers

HIV is a charged topic for many because of the stigma, history and reality that surround it. But for gay men in Manitoba and nationwide, it’s a topic worthy of attention. Gay and bisexual men and other MSM continue to make up the greatest proportion of new infections: over 46.6 per cent in Canada in 2011. And MSM (a category created to be inclusive of behaviour rather than just identity) represent 50 per cent of all people living with HIV in Canada according to CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information.

While numbers in many other populations are going down around the country, those for queer men continue to rise. In Winnipeg, HIV prevalence among MSM is 19 per cent, states the M-Track survey.

After decades of scientific research, public education and detailed knowledge on how to prevent infection, it may seem confounding that infections are still on the rise. It’s a very complicated issue, according to Olivier Ferlatte, research education director at Vancouver’s Community-Based Research Centre for Gay Men’s Health. He’s worked in HIV research for about a decade. “If there was a very easy answer, I guess we would have probably resolved the epidemic,” he said. Government funding, or lack thereof, as well as approaches used to address the issue are both factors.

The need for a targeted strategy

Ferlatte said there is a lack of funding for HIV prevention that is targeted toward gay men in particular, despite the fact that they represent nearly half of new infections. “Also what we’re seeing is that the efforts that we have are perhaps not really addressing all the causes of the epidemic.” Ferlatte’s research shows HIV risk among gay men is connected to both mental health and substance-use issues. The approach often used for educating gay men about HIV and encouraging changes in behaviours isn’t bad, but it isn’t addressing connected issues that actually increase HIV infection. “One of the shifts in the last several years has really been shifting from dealing only with HIV… to basically looking more at health more holistically and running services that are about gay men’s health,” said Andrea Langlois, manager of community-based research at the Pacific AIDS Network. “And so yes, HIV is within that, but so are other STIs, so is depression, so are all of those related issues.”

However, one of the challenges with this new approach is how to bring services into smaller communities, since a gay men’s health clinic would depend on a dense population to make it worthwhile. Langlois said partnership organizations within smaller communities are one way people are talking about making it work.

Sané Dube is membership co-ordinator with Nine Circles Community Health Centre in Winnipeg, a community-based non-profit specializing in HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) prevention.

Dube acknowledged the HIV program in Manitoba is very Winnipeg-centric, and many patients have to travel to access specialized care. An estimated 25 per cent of new diagnoses are in people living outside Winnipeg. In 2013, three outbreaks of HIV occurred in Northern Manitoba, where communities are often under-resourced. An estimated 1,100 people in total are living with HIV in Manitoba, said Dube.

And, aboriginal Manitobans are disproportionately affected. “In 2012, 61 per cent of all newly-diagnosed people were aboriginal,” said Dube. The effects of race and class on HIV infection rates are well documented in Canada and the U.S. A Fenway Health report released in January found that among MSM, black men were especially impacted in the U.S.

The report from the Boston-based GLBTQ* health and education centre also said that in the U.S., HIV prevention is largely targeted toward heterosexuals and other risk groups, despite MSM representing 64 per cent of new infections. Only 27 per cent of HIV education and risk reduction funding in the U.S. was targeted toward MSM. The director of the Centre for Disease Control’s HIV centre, Dr. Kevin Fenton, even acknowledged funding for gay men was half what it should be due to stigma and homophobia cascading down and resulting in underfunding.

Environmental factors come into play in HIV infection and prevention

The U.S. report also named “resiliency factors” linked to lower rates of HIV-risk behaviour among GLBTQ* youth, such as having openly-gay role models among teachers or family, anti-bullying policies in schools and parental acceptance. Dr. Sean Cahill of the Fenway Institute wrote, “Public health departments should fund campaigns and interventions that promote parental acceptance of gay sons as a resiliency factor that can be protective against HIV infection.”

On the flip side, health disparities affecting gay youth, such as bullying and social isolation, can play into higher risks for HIV. “If we don’t address those epidemics, we’ll really never resolve the HIV epidemic.

We need a holistic strategy that addresses many issues, many health disparities that gay men are facing, because HIV is only one. And we don’t have that. I think it’s getting even worse,” said Ferlatte from Vancouver.

The Sex Now survey Ferlatte helped conduct showed gay men today are experiencing as much discrimination as previous generations, and sometimes more. “[People think that] in today’s age, homophobia and discrimination are less of an issue for gay men. Although we have now perhaps made most of the gains we could have made from a legal standpoint, we’re seeing the climate in which young gay men are building their sexual identity, and it’s hostile to that,” he said. “Things like workplace discrimination…. young gay men still feel they’ve been discriminated against, even though they started working at a point when workplace discrimination was [a] protected [grounds]. This has an impact on their mental health, which has an impact on HIV infection.”

The risk of not knowing

In Vancouver, a shocking one-in-five gay men are HIV positive, found a 2008 sexual health survey called ManCount. That’s in contrast to the general population in the city with a rate of one in 100. Numbers are comparable across Canada. Dr. Terry Tussler worked on the survey and said numbers alone are a big part of the increasing infections among gay men. Being in a fairly fixed population means the percentage of HIV-positive men will increase each year as people within the population sleep together.

The survey also found that 2.5 per cent of men surveyed were HIV positive but believed they were negative. Tussler believes rising infection rates are partly driven by men making decisions under the false assumption they are negative. People who are newly infected have a higher chance of passing on HIV, since they will have a high viral load.

On Dec. 1, this World AIDS Day, it will be 32 years since the first diagnosed case of HIV. An estimated 71,300 Canadians were living with HIV as of 2011, according to ACT. And a quarter of Canadians living with HIV aren’t aware they’re positive. A common mental image of the illness harkens from the late ’80s, but HIV and its treatment have changed drastically. Canadians with access to adequate shelter, food and treatment often live long, healthy lives. HIV today is seen as a chronic illness, rather than a death sentence.

Factors such as class, cultural background, refugee status, type of work, trauma and more can play large roles in people’s access to health care, and thus affect how HIV influences their lives.

This year, the first-annual Prairies HIV Conference by Manitoba and Saskatchewan took place Nov. 4 and 5 in Saskatoon.

– Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist living in Vancouver, B.C. He’s a GLBTQ* contributing editor with rabble.ca, hosted a queer-issues radio show called Gaydio, and loves to write about social and environmental justice.

Published in Outwords, November 2013, Volume 205

Written by larkinschmiedl

November 10, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , , , ,

Queer content

leave a comment »

Hey, check out the pieces I’ve written on lesbian online dating, gendered sports outfits and trans athletes, Saskatoon author Wes Funk’s writing on gay prairie life, and more!

%d bloggers like this: