Why hasn’t Canada responded to anti-gay violence in Chechnya?

If the Liberals are true allies to LGBTQ people, they must provide assistance to persecuted groups in Chechnya

Why hasn’t Canada responded to anti-gay violence in Chechnya?

Reports of extreme government-sanctioned violence against gay men in Chechnya have quickly spread around the world. Over 100 men have reportedly been detained in concentration camp-style prisons and subjected to brutal torture methods. Three men have reportedly been killed.

Although some gay men have successfully escaped Chechnya thanks to help from the Russian LGBT Network, gay men continue to find themselves in a position of danger within the country. And despite seeing itself as a compassionate country that takes its moral obligations to its LGBTQ people seriously, Canada has done nothing to assist Chechens in crisis.

This is hypocritical and concerning on a number of fronts. While LGBTQ people face danger and violence all over the world, gay men in Chechnya are facing authorities who have urged families to kill their own gay children, and a leader who has set out to kill the entire LGBTQ community before the start of Ramadan. This crisis is time-sensitive and could result in further tragedy, making it all the more prudent that the Canadian government prioritize its cases.

Canada has developed a rather noteworthy reputation for stepping in during humanitarian crises like this one. Yet if we as a country truly believe ourselves to be a beacon of tolerance and acceptance, why aren’t we doing the tolerant thing, like offering refuge?

It’s not impossible to imagine speeding up the resettlement process via the creation of special visas, or a program similar to the one used to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. Such proposals should be given serious consideration in light of the situation’s urgency.

Still, the Canadian government doesn’t show any sign of doing so. In a statement to The Globe and Mail, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said that these men do not qualify for refugee status, and did not mention the possibility of giving them special visas to allow them to come here. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen also did not promise any specific action to help them.

As individuals facing extreme violence and persecution, it might seem like gay men in Chechnya are in a position analogous to some refugee cases. Yet the Canadian government has labeled them as unqualified for resettlement, because — given that Chechnya is a semi-autonomous republic of Russia — they have not left their country of origin, making them internally displaced people (IDPs), not refugees.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that IDPs are not necessarily in any less danger than refugees. As explained on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ website, IDPs “have not crossed a border to find safety. Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home.” This means that “IDPs stay within their own country and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement. As a result, these people are among the most vulnerable in the world.”

In this particular case, Chechen individuals certainly face danger in Russia, which is known for its hostile attitude toward LGBTQ people. A 2013 Pew Research Centre study found that 84 per cent of Russians do not believe that society should accept homosexuality.

In the past, the Liberals have posted highly publicized photos of Prime Minister Justin Trudea marching in the Toronto Pride Parade and raising the rainbow flag on Parliament Hill in June 2016. On the latter occasion, Trudeau stated that “Canada is united in its defence of rights and in standing up for LGBTQ rights.” Knowing this, it’s surprising that the Liberal government is ignoring the crisis that gay Chechens face when the party has made such a show of their support for the LGBTQ community.

Canadians should be wary of politicians who present themselves as allies to the LGBTQ community yet fail to take action that would actually help the LGBTQ community.

In this case, action means accepting Chechen gay men who need to leave Russia as refugees, and doing so quickly. Students can put pressure on the federal government to take action by getting involved with political organizing and lobbying Members of Parliament. In turn, how the government chooses to navigate those regulatory waters is up to its discretion — but something needs to be done, and soon.

 

Adina Heisler is an incoming third-year student at University College, studying Women and Gender Studies and English.

The criminalization of the oppressed

A personal reflection on how restrictive definitions of violence work against the marginalized

The criminalization of the oppressed

In the fall of last year I was involved in a somewhat controversial happening at UTSG. A group of students were hosting an event in response to Bill C-16, a bill that adds “gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected grounds of discrimination” under federal law. This reactionary rally was held because, according to some, the inability to discriminate against trans people constituted a violation of one’s fundamental freedom of speech.

Fear-mongering over alleged restrictions on free speech has been a particularly widespread and accelerated epidemic as of late. Anxieties over restrictions on speech are almost always retaliatory responses to being called out for bigoted or discriminatory behaviour. According to those that are concerned over restrictions on speech, the inability to perpetuate racism, sexism, transphobia, or otherwise oppressive dynamics through language, without any consequences, is a violation of freedom.

This is a deeply flawed understanding of freedom. Even with protections such as C-16, these people are still essentially free – free to believe in white supremacy, free to think of trans people as subhuman, free to harbour oppressive views of women. They are still free to own these thoughts, ideas, and opinions, and are even free to talk to others about these views.

However, when others begin to use these views to materially discriminate against the demographics concerned, when they start to do things like deny people of colour jobs, or use their positions as professors of prestigious institutions to publicly advocate for discrimination against trans people, consequences will result. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. In cases like C-16, the state is the one facilitating these consequences because the groups targeted have no power to respond themselves.

This group was rallying against their newfound inability to discriminate against trans people without consequences. They invited professor Jordan Peterson, well-known for being outspoken on this issue, and Lauren Southern, a then-commentator for The Rebel.

A few trans and non-binary people, including myself, showed up to counter-protest the event. We were rushed and disorganized. Being extremely new to activism, I was not really sure what to expect.

Someone had rented a couple of amps, thinking that we would try and out-voice them and deny them a platform. I suggested that we play harsh noise — music made up of abrasive, continuous, screechy and loud frequencies.

The harshness and violence of the music set the mood of the rally – it quickly became explicitly antagonistic and confrontational, instead of just implicitly so. Everyone became agitated and some became physical with us, attempting to sabotage our equipment or shove us aside. Many yelled slurs, while the official speakers for the event calmly droned on about the illegitimacy of trans and non-binary identities.

At some point, through all of this mess, Southern approached me and held out her mic to me. It felt to me that she genuinely took glee in our hurt and anger. Faced with such blatant disregard for both myself and for those like me, I snapped and lashed out at her, grabbing her mic and trying to yank it out of her hand.

Of course, I was arrested, charged with assault, and obliged to navigate the legal system for the next several months. This was all reported very publicly by Southern, The Rebel, and their fans. I continue to receive hate mail to this day.

There is a lot of discussion about whether actions like mine are justified, even within left-leaning groups. Consequently, I received essentially zero inter-community support after this happened. I was condemned online even by those who claimed to support the fight against transphobia, because I had become violent and had broken the rules. Yet, when rules are established and maintained by a system that condones and perpetuates consistent and pervasive discrimination against trans people, we hardly work on an equal playing field.

An expansive definition of violence is in order here, considering the many forms of harm that discrimination takes. And contrary to what is condemned by law, in exchange, the violence that others use against trans people is violence in accordance with the rules — it is legitimized and legal, and can be used to invalidate and erode our identities in a hundred different ways.

We do not have the power or the social capital to be violent towards our aggressors in non-physical, state-condoned ways. The system is set up this way – so that the only way we can fight back is with our bodies. When we do, we are unjustified, criminalized, penalized.

After I was charged, my only real option was to enter into a peace bond – meaning that I am not allowed to be in the same spaces as Southern. Because she’s a far-right reporter whose method is to enter politicized spaces and attempt to agitate the left, this essentially means I am altogether barred from entering political spaces.

After the terrorist act on the mosque in Montréal, people here in Toronto stood outside the US Consulate, in solidarity against Islamophobia and Trump’s attempted ban on immigrants from Muslim countries. I was barred from attending this protest because of the reporter’s presence there.

I am now, in a large way, denied political voice — denied the ability to exist in certain spaces. I decry this restriction on my freedom of movement, these constraints that play out on my body, as a form of violence enacted on me by the state that both justifies and continues to perpetuate anti-trans discrimination.

My crime here was nothing but becoming angered at those that deny the validity of my identity and my existence. Yet, the retaliations of the oppressed against their oppression will always be illegitimized.

 

Meera Ulysses is a first-year student at New College studying philosophy and equity. 

Giving up the Grind(r)

On dating apps and the mental health crisis in the gay community

Giving up the Grind(r)

Growing up in the suburbs with a traditional Desi family and coming to terms with my sexual orientation, I had hope that one day I would fit into a tangible gay community. I placed high expectations on dating apps like Grindr to provide that sense of community.

The result is that now, rather than having anxieties about coming out anxieties arise for me when one of my white gay friends says that they find Grindr a useful tool to make connections. Though I’ve experienced some success using Grindr on and off for almost two years, it has also been the source of many problems. Grindr fails to foster community for individuals who do not fit in the cis, white, able-bodied, fit, masculine mould — in this way, it is reflective of the mainstream gay community in general.

Hook-up apps such as Grindr and Scruff — not to mention the omnipresent Tinder — have now become ubiquitous. In 2000, 20 per cent of gay couples met online, a figure that skyrocketed to 70 per cent in 2010. Grindr is a prominent feature of gay culture, and installing it has become a rite of passage for young gay men.

At the same time, many members of the gay community are experiencing a mental health crisis, one that is not significantly improving despite parallel strides toward representation and legal equality. The use of hook-up and dating apps can aggravate these concerns, especially along intersectional lines.

Coming out is not a single effort, but rather a process that all members of the LGBTQ community endure throughout their lives.

Globally, gay men are still more likely to experience mental illness than straight men. A recent Huffington Post article by Michael Hobbes brings attention to an international “epidemic of gay loneliness.” In the Netherlands, gay men are three times more likely to suffer from a mood disorder. In Sweden, the suicide rate for men married to other men is triple that for men married to women. In Canada, more gay men in recent years have died from suicide than HIV-related causes.

Hobbes also starts a discussion on minority stress, which is caused by the additional effort required in various situations if one is also a member of a minority group. For example, if a gay couple wishes to avoid homophobic aggression while travelling, they are more conscious of their body language and actions, avoiding any public displays of affection.

This is a reality for gay men who are open about their sexual orientation, in spite of the common misconception that coming out of the closet signals the end of a struggle. Coming out is not a single effort, but rather a process that all members of the LGBTQ community endure throughout their lives.

While Grindr is a wonderful way to meet other gay men, its ubiquity has normalized problematic behaviours toward minorities. The ‘no strings attached’ hook-up culture associated with apps like Grindr often pressures younger gay men into using hook-up apps to pursue casual sex instead of seeking meaningful, long-term relationships — adding an element of fetishization on the basis of skin colour and ethnicity for racialized gay men.

In this vein, Hobbes notes the alternative prejudices that exist within the gay community along intersectional lines: “All of a sudden it’s not your gayness that gets you rejected. It’s your weight, or your income, or your race.” Hook-up apps play a role in placing this prejudice front and centre. A 2015 study conducted by William Elder suggests that 90 per cent of gay men on the app wanted a partner who was tall, young, white, muscular, and masculine.

There is also a personal inner dialogue that takes place when interacting with Grindr and trying to fit into the mould. I’ve constantly asked myself whether I should be looking for meaningless hook-ups, if I should subscribe to a specific ‘tribe’ based on my body type, or if I should overlook the casual racism that is ubiquitous in the gay community.

Throughout their lives, gay men are burdened with the idea that they do not belong. And though many gay men find a community in which to feel at home, the rejection of gay men who do not fit pre-established criteria only fuels depression and anxiety.

Though I am confident in my own personal identity and understand that the mould created by dating apps is not one I necessarily want to fit into, there is some grief for the community I envisioned as a teenager. It is the expectation that the gay community will be welcoming that may further aggravate mental health concerns for gay men when this expectation is not fulfilled.

Ultimately, a shift in attitudes toward gay men who do not fit into the cisgender, white, able-bodied, fit, masculine mould is necessary. This kind of change is systemic and will take time. Meanwhile, however, we ought to acknowledge that apps like Grindr cater to a very specific niche and should not be considered rites of passage insofar as they fail to be inclusive to entire segments of the gay community.

Avneet Sharma is a second-year student at Trinity College studying English and Cinema Studies. His column appears every three weeks.

LGBTQ lecture series at Regis College sparks concern

Event for Catholic school staff encourages celibacy for gay students

LGBTQ lecture series at Regis College sparks concern

Regis College — a theological school affiliated with the University of Toronto — is holding a lecture series to train Catholic school board staff on supporting the mental health of LGBTQ high school students. The series, titled That They May Have Life to the Full – Accompanying LGBT Youth, has drawn criticism for its usage of the Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation as its core text.

The series held its first session on October 13 and will hold two more sessions on October 20 and November 3.

Concern has centred on the doctrinal stance of this policy document, published by the Education Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, which states that gay and lesbian adults should remain celibate in order to live moral lives.

According to the Pastoral Guidelines, this stance is based on the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching that “homosexual orientation is not sinful,” but “homosexual acts are immoral.” “Homosexual acts” are defined as “genital sexual activity and erotic relational behaviour with a person of the same sex.”

The Varsity spoke with Father Gilles Mongeau, Professor at Regis College, who is presenting the lecture series. He insisted that the Pastoral Guidelines’ policies are focused on supporting LGBT students, stating, “If you read through all of them, you see where they’re saying ‘be compassionate, be careful, don’t use power.’”

Mongeau said that the aim of the lecture series is to help Catholic high school staff to “understand what the [Pastoral] Guidelines are about,” because “implementing the guidelines requires that each of the actors in a Catholic high school understand the responsibilities and the limits of their roles.”

“It will not be a part of this lecture series to suggest that the experience of homosexual or non-cisgender gender identity is wrong,” he said. “What we’re trying to prevent by having this [lecture series] is instances where religious authority or any form of power is used to oppress the young person or cause them to have a distorted psychological or psycho-spiritual development.”

Describing the content of the lecture series, Mongeau outlined the appropriate roles of Catholic school staff. Administrators, for example, should “ensure that homophobia and transphobia are overcome and prevented in the school,” by establishing a “safe environment” to prevent bullying and making sure that LGBTQ peer support groups exist in the school.

While Mongeau claims to teach Catholic school staff new strategies for healthier engagement with LGBTQ students, others argue that continuing to teach high school students that sexual and romantic same-sex relationships are immoral is entirely incompatible with creating a safe or psychologically healthy environment for LGBTQ students.

Matthew MacDonald, a University of Toronto alumnus, found the lecture series via the Toronto School of Theology (TST) Twitter account. Regis College is a Jesuit school that is a member of the TST, which is affiliated with U of T regarding their conferral of joint degree programs. Upon reading the event description and the Pastoral Guidelines, MacDonald described the stance on homosexuality as “appalling” and “pure bigotry.”

In an email to The Varsity, he said, “The aims of this course… make no student safe or encourage them to live a full life.” His email went on to say, “This course is harmful and damaging — as a bisexual man who grew up in a christian household, I can attest to the inner torment and anxiety these kinds of programs and teachings cause in youth and LGBTQ people of all ages.”

When asked about the possible negative effects of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality on LGBTQ students, Mongeau responded: “It’s just not possible in a Catholic school to propose alternative moral paths… The challenge is to present that teaching in a way that remains psychologically sound.”

He emphasized that “a healthy psychological life is the basic condition for the possibility of make healthy and fruitful moral choices for one’s life. If anyone makes moral choices from a place of psychological or spiritual unhealth, that’s not a good thing and I would never suggest that’s a good thing.”

The Varsity reached out to Althea Blackburn-Evans, Director of News & Media Relations at U of T, for a statement on the lecture series. She pointed out that “[the university’s] relationship with Regis and other colleges who are members of the Toronto School of Theology is strictly related to the conferral of conjoint degrees, and TST and its members are solely responsible for creating and running their academic programs.”

Blackburn-Evans emphasized that this lecture series “appears to be continuing education/not-for-credit, so these are entirely separate from the conjoint degree programs.”

This is not the only time this issue has come up: in 2013, the Newman Centre, a Roman Catholic parish located on U of T campus, made national headlines after it hosted a group program encouraging gay students to be celibate.

Black Lives Matter TO, this is your space

Removing police floats from the parade is crucial to creating an inclusive Pride

Black Lives Matter TO, this is your space

“Everyone in this space, sit down,” said Alexandria Williams, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto. “This is your space.”

This year’s Toronto Pride parade was halted by a sit-in protest organized by Black Lives Matter TO. Citing Pride Toronto’s erasure of Black infrastructure, the group made the following demands: full funding for community stages — including the reinstatement of the South Asian Stage — continued space and logistical support for Black Queer Youth, and prioritizing the hiring of Black trans women and Indigenous peoples at Pride Toronto.

Of these demands, the most controversial was the call for the removal of all police floats from the parade. Sparking various reactions from members of the LGBTQ+ community and police officers themselves, many claim that such a demand represents the exclusion of police officers from Pride, and that the protest as a whole was disrespectful to the LGBTQ+ community.

Despite these criticisms, Pride should be an open space for everyone to express their personal identities. Black Lives Matter deserves a space in Pride and should be prioritized over police officers.

The Toronto Star recently published an open letter from Chuck Krangle, an openly gay police officer, expressing his feelings of exclusion. In his letter, Krangle wrote about dealing with the fear of persecution, coming-out, and attending the Pride parade for the first time in 2016 with the support of his co-workers. He outlined the experiences of LGBTQ+ police officers, and their struggle to gain a workplace free of discrimination and bias.

“Members of police services, and their employers […] have just as much right to participate as any other group,” wrote Krangle. “Police Officers are significantly represented in the LGBTQ community and it would be unacceptable to alienate and discriminate against them and those who support them.”

What Krangle fails to recognize in his letter is that his occupation is a choice. He can still attend Pride without his badge and uniform. Blackness, on the other hand, is not a choice and cannot be shed in the same manner as a uniform.

Pride itself originated as a riot led by trans women of colour in response to the police raid of the Stonewall Inn. At the time, it was suspected that the New York Police Department was specifically targeting gay clubs. Because Pride originated as a movement of resistance against oppressive police force, it is antithetical for police to have floats in the parade, as Pride Toronto should respect both the history of Pride and the individuals who made Pride possible.

Despite the representation of Black and queer-identifying police officers within the force, as well as those who do not perpetuate violence against minorities, the very presence of police continues to incite fear in racialized minorities. It is crucial, therefore, that we recognize the institution of the police force as a symbol of oppression; members of racialized minorities continue to be murdered and harassed at the hands of police. For example, shortly after the Black Lives Matter protest in Toronto, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were both killed by police officers in the United States.

Because Pride originated as a movement of resistance against oppressive police force, it is antithetical for police to have floats in the parade, as Pride Toronto should respect both the history of Pride and the individuals who made Pride possible.

It is not the case that police officers should be excluded from Pride entirely. If police officers are to participate in Pride in any capacity, they should fulfill the role of promoting public safety — something that many marginalized communities have been deprived of.

Instead of marching in the parade, the police should take actions such as protecting attendees from hate crimes, preventing hate groups from entering the vicinity of Pride events, and monitoring public transit routes leading to and from the parade to ensure the safety of individuals travelling outside the boundaries of Yonge Street. Police participation in Pride should prioritize the protection of queer people — especially those of colour — instead of taking up their space.

The reception of Black Lives Matter at Pride was far from welcoming. “Don’t boo,” Alexandria Williams said in response to spectators of the sit-in. “[This is] the only time I have ever heard this from a community who should understand what it feels like to be oppressed.”

Pride belongs to Black Lives Matter more than it does to the region’s police officers.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community opposed to Black Lives Matter’s actions should seek to understand the position of the black community, especially since both have faced similar systemic oppression at the hands of police. They should also recognize that Black Lives Matter is an intrinsic part of Pride. A common misconception — one that Williams challenges when she tells the protestors that Pride is their space — is that Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ+ community are two completely separate entities. This assumption oversimplifies and ignores the numerous intersections of class, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity that make up the LGBTQ+ community — all of which should be recognized by Pride Toronto.

Pride belongs to Black Lives Matter more than it does to the region’s police officers. We must not condemn the actions of Black Lives Matter, but instead we must condemn the violent actions perpetrated by the police against people of colour. It is the systemic violence against black people that forces Black Lives Matter to protest, halt the parade, and make demands that would lead to inclusion and safer spaces for numerous marginalized communities. For these reasons, the removal of police floats is crucial to creating an inclusive Pride.

Avneet Sharma is a second-year student at Trinity College studying English and Book and Media Studies.

Pride within the practice

LGBTQ+ inclusivity is becoming a part of the corporate world

Pride within the practice

Growing up in the closet was not easy. It caused me to over-analyze every word that came out of my mouth, in fear that someone might figure out my identity. This constant worrying took a lot of time and energy, which could have been put towards more productive tasks.

A person is at their best when they are comfortable being who they truly are. For me, this was nearly impossible when I was hyper-aware of every single thing that I did and how others might perceive me. I later came out and hesitantly decided on a university and career path: business. I knew I could do well in this field but was concerned about how my personal life would mesh into what I thought would be an ‘old boys’ club.’

Fortunately, attending my first corporate event back in high school made me realize I had made the right choice. I listened to representatives from the industry speak about the importance their respective firms placed upon diversity and inclusion in the workplace, specifically in regards to LGBTQ+ employees. It gave me the confidence to be proud of who I am and feel comfortable about my university and future career choices.

Today, massive firms go out of their way to make sure they have as diverse of a workforce as possible and that inclusion practices are in place to support their employees.

Corporations are often painted in a very negative light, which unfortunately diminishes all the philanthropic work they do. Yes, banks used to be an old boys’ club, but that is not the case anymore; over time, things have changed for the better. Today, massive firms go out of their way to make sure they have as diverse of a workforce as possible and that inclusion practices are in place to support their employees.

Attending the Canadian Board Diversity Council’s Annual Report Card Launch, I was able to see the manner in which some of the largest corporations have dedicated themselves to diversity. Over the past 10 years, we can observe a clear trend in favour of diversity with respect to these boards of directors. There has been almost 10 per cent more women on these boards and even more in specific industries. Additionally, the per cent of self-identifying minorities on boards has tripled. This is pretty clear evidence that leadership is changing for the better.

Fortunately, along the same lines, support for the LGBTQ+ community has also been flourishing within the corporate world. While there has been a lot of work done over the past 16 years, corporations like Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) have been allies to the LGBTQ+ community for decades. Back in 1994, before same-sex marriage was even legal in Canada, TD extended its employee benefits to same-sex couples. Today, they are one of the leading sponsors of Pride Weeks around the world and one of the community’s most active allies.

On a broader institutional level, support is also growing. With organizations like the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Pride at Work Canada, Canadian Board Diversity Council, and Out On Bay Street, careers in finance, accounting, consulting, human resources, law, energy, engineering, plus more are becoming more accessible for LGBTQ+ people. These organizations provide opportunities for individuals in the community to network with industry professionals, get career advice, and find jobs.

These organizations also provide support to their corporate partners. They oversee training, improve working conditions, and help senior leaders implement more diverse practices that can help all employees feel more comfortable being their authentic selves at work.

The Williams Institute, a group of scholars dedicated to researching the social and economic implications of sexual orientation and gender identity, released a poignant study on this very topic in 2013. They claim that pro-diversity and the implementation of supportive LGBTQ+ policies have had a positive effect on job satisfaction, work relationships, and productivity. As part of its recommendations, the study emphasized the importance of hiring more bisexual and transgender employees. It will be interesting to take a look at the studies in a few years and see the changes in demographics.

While the future of my career remains uncertain, one thing rings true: I will be in the employee resource group of my workplace, fighting to make sure all that has been done over the past few decades is taken further and further.

I will be comfortable bearing my Pride flag at whatever company I want. In comparison to three years ago when I was too terrified to speak, I am astounded by how much I have personally — and professionally — grown.

Troy Peschke is a third-year student at Innis College studying Finance and Economics. He is the Director of Corporate Relations for the Rotman Commerce Pride Alliance.

Malicious is the message

Racialized narratives surrounding the Orlando shooting should make us wary of media bias

Malicious is the message

When I heard about the shooting at Pulse nightclub on Sunday, June 12, the first thing I did was turn on the news to learn all the details of what had happened. Yet, things were different for a Muslim friend of mine; he had little interest in going on social media, or anywhere else, for information about the shooting — because he knew people would be talking negatively about Islam.

He wasn’t wrong. On Sunday, within minutes of reporting that the shooter’s name was Omar Mateen, CNN also told its viewers that he was raised in a Muslim family, supported ISIS, and had Afghani heritage.

This comes in stark contrast with other news reports; on the same day as the Orlando shooting, a white man was arrested on route to the Los Angeles Pride Parade with multiple guns and explosive materials on him. Yet the media did not report on his race, religion, heritage, or family beyond that. Donald Trump did not jump on the chance to tweet hateful things about white people, and Hillary Clinton did not blame the man’s religion for his actions. On the other hand, both politicians used Orlando to further their Islamophobic agendas and rhetoric, with Trump reiterating that the USA needs to suspend Muslim immigration, and Clinton blaming ‘radical Islamism’for the day’s events.

For years now, whenever there has been a shooting or bombing in which the perpetrator has had anything to do with Islam, or has been a person of colour from another community, stories about the individual have dominated news cycles for days.

This is clearly not a new phenomenon; the same thing happened after the attacks in Paris, Brussels, and Boston. For years now, whenever there has been a shooting or bombing in which the perpetrator has had anything to do with Islam, or has been a person of colour from another community, stories about the individual have dominated news cycles for days.

It takes both liberal and conservative news channels and political figures no time at all to blame violence on Islam, overshadowing what is arguably much more important — in this case, the fact that the Orlando shooting was clearly a hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community, and disproportionately targeted racialized persons.

The mainstream media’s greatest mistake when it comes to the Orlando shootings was using the deaths of queer people of colour, specifically the Latinx LGBTQ+ community, to vilify another marginalized group. Instead of deliberating on why it is that queer and trans people of colour face disproportionate amounts of violence compared to white queer and trans people, the media focused on painting Muslims in broad strokes as inherently homophobic people, neglecting to recognize how this might affect queer Muslims.

Instead of drawing attention to hypermasculinity and easy access to firearms as contributors to the attacks, much of the media fostered more hate following the deaths in Orlando by playing into the East/West dividing rhetoric — which ultimately helps radical terrorists to carry out their motives.

We expect the news that we consume to be objective. However, this is problematic, because people of colour and racialized religions are talked about disproportionately after events like the Orlando shooting. Even though research shows that the people who commit the highest number of mass murders in America are young white men, we continue to associate brown men with terror. The media is partially to blame.

The way that Islam and men of colour are talked about on the news feeds into an active discourse that condemns Islam and people of colour simply for existing.

The way that Islam and men of colour are talked about on the news feeds into an active discourse that condemns Islam and people of colour simply for existing. When we hear so much negative information about certain groups of people — particularly in times of crisis, when emotions and tensions are high — this information only serves to reinforce other stereotypes and channels of discrimination against these groups. As a result, individuals begin to believe hateful messages about these groups. We become angry at Muslims, and afraid of people of colour.

Furthermore, these marginalized communities then have to bear the consequences of sensationalist news reporting. After Islamophobic rhetoric rose to the surface following the Paris attacks, many Muslims all over the world reported being harassed — a mosque in Peterborough was set on fire, several mosques in the States were vandalized, and harassment against Muslims in London, England tripled.

Every religion has extremists, yet every day people who have racialized faiths are held responsible for crimes they would never commit and do not condone. In the case of Orlando, while the media focused on Islam, we heard much less about other oppressive actions against LGBTQ+ people, including those who had been victimized in the shooting.

We heard little, for example, about the Westboro Baptist Church — a radical religious group — who viciously protested homosexuality outside a funeral for a victim of the Orlando shooting. We heard about all the politicians who were supposedly saddened by the shooting, but the media neglected to mention the names of the many politicians that voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which makes homophobic hate crimes illegal under US federal law.

The way that we are given information in times of crisis should be something we are constantly analyzing and deliberating for ourselves. The Orlando shooting was a horrible tragedy, but the media has prioritized Islamophobia over paying respect to those 49 lives lost on June 12. Do not take what is given to us by major news outlets as absolute, and do not let rhetoric distract you from what is truly important.

In memory of the victims, here are their names.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

 

Shailee Koranne is a third-year equity studies student at Victoria College.

Challenging the change room

Panel discusses institutional safe spaces in regards to sport, policy, and the LGBTQ community

Challenging the change room

On Thursday night, the Equity Studies Students’ Union hosted the first in a series of events called Linked Oppressions. The inaugural event, entitled Challenging Institutional “Safe” Spaces was co-hosted by Hart House’s Change Room Project, a tri-campus initiative devoted to giving voice to LGBTQ athletes’ experiences in the locker room, represented through the students’ text-based lived experiences. 

At the event, many questions were posed regarding how institutions like U of T respond to concerns over safe spaces, especially within the athletic community. “…physical fitness and physical educational are a huge part of mental health everybody needs to move their bodies in order to feel well in the world,” explained Day Milman the project coordinator for the Change Room Project and panellist at the discussion. 

Milman explains that the project was created from the idea of what change room walls would say if they could speak, and how LGBTQ voices are often unheard during conversations in athletic spaces such as change rooms. “[LGBTQ] voices are often muted or unheard completely and one of the thoughts I kept having [was] about graffiti and how there is always this subtext going on in private space like bathrooms and change rooms” explained Milman. 

Joining Milman on the panel was OutSport Toronto chair Shawn Sheridan and U of T alumni Christine Hsu, both of whom are distinguished and visible members of the LGBTQ community advocating for safer spaces within the realm of sport and athletics.

Sheridan, has worked in his capacity as the chair of OutSport Toronto to educate the Varsity Blues about the influence they have as role models not only to create safer places for LGBTQ student-athletes but also that they have responsibilities as role-models in the student-community. 

“One of the ideas we tried to get across [to the Varsity Blues] is you know what, you guys are incredible role models whether you believe it or not… people are going to look up to you” explained Sheridan, “…trying to get across to them [to] be careful how you act be careful what you say, think about… in terms of inclusivity especially is incredibly important because you will set the tone, whether you want to or not you will.”

Education was one of the keystone topics of the night, which all three panelists agreed was a primary objective for initiatives like the Change Room Project and for kick-starting change within gendered and exclusive policies of many sport-governing bodies. Trying to eradicate discriminatory policies within sport, which is inherently gendered, however, is no easy feat. “We’re very hung up in sport, right across the board about not just changing [policies] but about the gender binary, which in my humble opinion is a stupid distinction,” explained Sheridan regarding the categorization of all professional sport into two categories: men’s competition and women’s competition, a distinction that both Sheridan and Hsu don’t think is necessary. “Christine and I had this conversation about instead of splitting things between men’s and women’s leagues it should basically be split by stature,” he explained, while acknowledging that such a controversial idea will take time to implement. “…if we just got [it out of our heads] that we have to divide this between men and women but instead divide it between stature and etcetera and stop having this gender binary… but that’s probably not going to happen for a long time.”

While acknowledging that major strides have been made in the past few years by major sport governing bodies like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — who are expected to update their transgender policy before the summer Olympics in Rio to remove gender reassignment surgery as a requirement to compete — it is still true that many organizations lack the education to go along with their policies which can be problematic. “Policy needs to change yes, but there needs to be people who are regulating those policies and who are implementing those policies,” said Hsu.

Sheridan added that without education, new gender and LGBTQ friendly mandates are a moot point. “Policy without programs is useless so you start with policy, great… now you say how do you make the policy a reality because that actually has to happen.” 

One of the most important take-aways for students, and a message that was repeated throughout the two-hour panel, was that of respect. Respect and celebration for athletes, for students, and for those who identify as LGBTQ who have traditionally not had their voices heard, nor their needs met in specific situations like athletics or the change room — something Sheridan hopes we can change through starting a conversation. “I think these stories we can tell and these messages we can get out start to help make those spaces better… because people will start to realize you know this isn’t just some comment that doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else.”