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“Pride has always been a fight for justice”

A look back on queer women's activism in Toronto and U of T

“Pride has always been a fight for justice”

On the corner of Bloor and Brunswick you can see a three-storey, nondescript, red-bricked building. A Rexall occupies its lower level, while a walk-in clinic and a family lawyer advertise their services from the top floors. 

The building was also the site of one of the most important moments in the history of queer women’s resistance in Toronto. 

Before its eventual gentrification, 481 Bloor Street West housed one of Toronto’s most famous watering holes. Nicknamed “the Brunny,” it was a popular Friday night spot among U of T students.

Forty-five years ago, a group of four women, now known as the “Brunswick Four” — Pat Murphy, Adrienne Potts, Sue Wells, and Heather Elizabeth Byer — attended an open mic night at the bar. Potts and Murphy took to the stage and sang “I Enjoy being a Dyke” to the tune of “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” They were ordered to leave, and, after they refused, they were harassed, assaulted, arrested, and charged by police for having supposedly instigated a “lesbian riot.” 

Potts was punched in the back of her head, and was later thrown down by one of the officers. Another one of the four was threatened with criminal punishment on false charges, all for having the audacity to sing.

They were ordered to leave, and, after they refused, they were harassed, assaulted, arrested, and charged by police for having supposedly instigated a “lesbian riot.” 

That same year, 13 students arrived at a U of T classroom for their first lecture of the semester. Their class, taught by Professor Michael Lynch, was entitled “New Perspectives on the Gay Experience,” and was the first of its kind to be offered in a Canadian university. This garnered negative press, including a snub by the Toronto Star, whose editors refused to publish a story on the class for fear of “[aiding] the aggressive recruitment propaganda in which certain homosexual groups are engaged.” 

The attention was distressing for the administrators at St. Michael’s College, which was, and still is, deeply affiliated with its Roman Catholic roots. Following a confrontation with the college principal — one that Lynch dreamed about for years afterward — he was presented with a choice: either keep silent or leave the university entirely. Lynch ended up transferring the following year. 

It’s important to be mindful of the fact that in 1974 — the year that both incidents took place — the legality of homosexuality was fresh in Canadian minds. It was only seven years prior that Pierre Trudeau famously quipped that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” And it was only in 1973 that the The American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder.

Neither Canada, Toronto, nor U of T were safe spaces to exist as a queer woman. Making my way along the Dyke March on June 22, past the rumbling engines of the flag-bearing Dykes on Bikes, the political and often hilarious protest signs, and the easy, gentle shows of affection around me, I couldn’t help but marvel at the quiet revolution that has taken place. Mind you, it’s still not easy being a Canadian queer woman: it’s hard, and there are plenty in the community who still struggle. But it’s definitely easier than before, and it came about only through sustained pushback from countless women over the years. The privileges of today were won by the battles of yesterday. 

1974 was a pivotal year for queer women organizing in Toronto. Up to that point, efforts had been focused on creating safe spaces for the community, a stark contrast to the politically charged activism of the gay male community. Tom Warner, writing on the response to the Brunswick Four event, notes that it “indicated a radical change in the consciousness of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, and of a hardening resolve to fight back.”

And fight back they did. The 1980s brought with them a wave of social and political conservatism with the rise of the political “New Right” in Canada. Police officers capitalized on their looser leashes, and started regularly conducting bathhouse raids as an intimidation tactic against the LGBTQ+ community. 

The biggest of those raids took place on February 5, 1981. Officers raided four of Toronto’s five bathhouses, taking 306 men into custody on charges of prostitution or indecency, making it the third largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Crowbars and sledgehammers were used to create significant damage to the bathhouses. The community protests which began at Wellesley and Yonge the following night came to be known as the “Canadian Stonewall.” That name was well-earned, considering the police brutality and the fact that over 300 arrests were made that night. 

While these raids disproportionately affected gay men, queer women also had a strong presence at the protests and felt, more than ever, the need to create a strong resistance.

Moreover, while transgender people were visible participants in both the protests and in the community, activists and legislative reformers only started to focus on trans-specific issues around the mid-1990s, following increased pressure for change. 

Just a few months after the raids, Lesbians Against the Right (LAR) was born at the 519 Community Centre. As its name suggests, LAR was primarily intended to counter the rise of right-wing social conservatism. Unlike previous groups, LAR was a political entity first and a community space second. Its primary goal was to “organize lesbians autonomously from other movements and to bring [their] lesbian feminist politic to the gay, feminist, union, anti-imperialist and other movements for social change.” 

On October 17, 1981, LAR, in conjunction with other queer organizations, held Toronto’s first lesbian march. The Dykes In the Streets March saw around 350 women march down Yonge street, chanting slogans like “look over here, look over there, Lesbians are everywhere!” and “we are the D-Y-K-E-S” over and over. A pamphlet published after the march described it as “magical. Nobody wanted to disperse.”

The march passed by important lesbian landmarks around Toronto, but it culminated at Old City Hall. This was a strategic choice. An article written for The Body Politic, Canada’s first, and, at the time, most prominent LGBTQ+ publication, said that the final stop was meant to highlight lesbian resistance to “police harassment, lesbian solidarity with gay men on the bath raids protest, child custody cases of lesbian mothers and the exclusion of lesbians from the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

The LAR closed in 1983, and the Dykes In the Streets March only lasted a year. It was not until 1996 that the first annual Toronto Dyke March took place. However, the 1981 march was an important acknowledgement of the frustration of queer women, and a striking, bold moment of resistance. 

UTSU celebrating in the Toronto Pride Parade. DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

The LGBTQ+ community at U of T was not spared from the roiling waters of 1981. Two weeks after the bathhouse raids, Gays at the University of Toronto (GAUT) organized U of T’s first Gay Awareness Week. Events included self-defence classes, a seminar on sexual choice, and a dance party at The Buttery — “Dance your buns off,” suggested the advertisement for the event. Though there is no current Gay Awareness Week at U of T, LGBTQ+ organizations around campus still host many diverse events, aimed more at members of the community rather than those outside of it.

The most disturbing backlash was a “jeans-burning,” in which jeans were lit up and tied to a signpost by students in what The Body Politic described as an “eerie imitation of KKK cross burnings.” 

 

The event that attracted the most attention was Gay Jeans Day. The GAUT spread pamphlets around campus reading “If you are gay, or support gay rights, wear jeans this Thursday.” 

This induced extreme reactions. Engineering students threw shredded computer cards from a balcony onto GAUT members staffing an information booth. Displays were vandalized, and eggs were thrown at windows and tables. The most disturbing backlash was a “jeans-burning,” in which jeans were lit up and tied to a signpost by students in what The Body Politic described as an “eerie imitation of KKK cross burnings.” 

In an interview with U of T Magazine, Dan Healey, the head of GAUT and one of the event organizers, did not seem to recall such extremes, saying that, “the occasional egg was thrown at the table, but people generally were polite.” GAUT even received student union funding, as eloquently noted in a Varsity article titled “Gays Get SAC Support.” 

Efforts, of course, continued throughout the years. U of T started the Positive Space campaign in 1995, which is now responsible for the small rainbow stickers that adorn many university doors. The Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans People of U of T organization was formed, followed by the establishment of Canada’s first LGBTQ Resources & Programs office. 

In the broader community, the City of Toronto officially recognized Pride Day in 1991. The first openly lesbian Member of Parliament was elected in 2001, and, four years later, Canada sanctioned same-sex marriage nationwide, becoming the fourth country to do so.

Last Saturday, after meandering past stalls selling overpriced rainbow suspenders, temporary tattoos, and dildos of all shapes and colours, and noting the conspicuous lack of a Progressive Conservative presence against colourful booths from the other three major political parties, I planted my feet in front of the small stage that marked the Dyke March’s starting point.

Following some awkward maneuvering of my camera, recorder, and notebook — “sorry!” I whispered to the couple who kindly smiled at my fumbling — four women took to the stage. A surprising combination of an imam, a lay cantor, an Ojibwe spiritual leader, and a pastor, each spoke of, and for, acceptance of queer women in their respective congregations. 

Toward the end of her speech, Imam Teresa Rogers said that “pride has always been a fight for justice.” Scattered applause rang out from the crowd. I think that, looking at queer history in Toronto, this rings true. Queer women activism is not about anger, though it is at times angry. It’s not a privilege, as those who, for some inexplicable reason, want a straight pride may argue. It’s about being able to freely be, without fear or prosecution, and that, in my opinion, is true justice. 

What it means to be Out at School

U of T professor turns research project into play for Pride Month

What it means to be <i>Out at School</i>

The Nexus Lounge, located on the 12th floor of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) building, is intimate in size but offers breathtaking views of downtown Toronto. The room is encircled by large glass windows, which allow the sun to linger over the stage set in the middle of the space. In this setting, the stage itself feels closed off from the outside world, yet simultaneously above it.

At the Lounge, I recently viewed U of T Professor Tara Goldstein’s latest “performed ethnography,” titled Out at School and put on as part of Toronto Pride celebrations. According to promotional materials, Out at School is “a verbatim theatre piece based on interviews with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) families about their experiences in Ontario elementary and secondary schools.” 

The play took place on a hot Saturday evening in June, in the middle of Pride Month, and highlighted the narratives of 37 families interviewed by Goldstein’s team. This research project took the experiences of these families and wove them together into dramatized production, resulting in a story of hope.

When I first entered, the room was humming with the noise of multiple conversations amongst the various families, friends, and peers who had just finished watching the afternoon performance of the show. I was immediately struck by a feeling of familiarity and welcomeness ⁠— it felt as though I had stepped into a family gathering. Professor Goldstein and her partner tended to a table of refreshments and chatted with attendees, and I was immediately greeted with hugs and multiple offers to grab a snack. 

Following the show, I inevitably realized that this was exactly how Out at School is supposed to make you feel: as though you belong. And although I did not know many of the people in the room, I noticed that the audience was largely composed of large groups of families and friends of the performers, which made the show all the more intimate. 

Goldstein and her team successfully built a safe and positive space for all, regardless of background, and invited the audience to simply listen to what her research had to say. What really fascinated me was how this play was a product of the intersection between scholarship and creativity: a product of Goldstein’s own academic pursuits but expressed in a way that is easily digestible by anybody. As simply put in the program for the play, this was “where theatre meets research.”

This was an intentional and tactful choice. As Goldstein told me, the play “is what we call a verbatim play because we only use the words [from] the interviews [with LGBTQ+ families].” They, of course, edit and thematize the interviews in the process of adding music and images. Nevertheless, she explained that “Every single one of those words [was] spoken by one of our families.”

In highlighting the voices of real Ontario students and families, this play offered a refreshing addition to Toronto Pride ⁠— one made all the more political in light of Doug Ford’s cutbacks to the Ontario education budget and changes to the sex education curriculum.  

When they introduced the play, the directors explained that it was a “relaxed performance.” This was an apt description. It felt like listening to a friend talk rather than a staged event: there were no microphones, and the stage was empty, save for chairs arranged in a semicircle and a slide show behind the cast that displayed original artwork for each scene. This also made each scene feel like a support group.

Performers sharing their stories on stage. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAR WELLS

I was fond of this idea because it reflected how personal the stories in the play really were, and emphasized that verbatim accounts were being used. Furthermore, the use of direct quotes from the interviews conducted in Goldstein’s research project powerfully conveyed the honesty and personality in the stories shared onstage. 

Out at School highlights the shortcomings of the Ontario education system in supporting LGBTQ+ students and families in a meaningful way. In an interview after the show, Goldstein explained how her research particularly reflects this. “We heard a lot of parents talk about making strategic decisions of when to come out or not,” she told me. “To be out means you can talk very directly with the school system about how to support your family. On the other hand, if you think you’re going to be rejected you may choose not to come out.” 

This means that the choice to come or not depends heavily on the school culture, which in turn is fostered by the educators and the curriculum they teach. For example, Goldstein explained, “We’ve had some students talk about how during elementary school everybody knew they came from a family with two mums, but when they changed to high school they would wait and see if there was a social cue that made it safe for them to talk about their family.” 

The stories I had the opportunity to hear were not just about hardship and pain, but resilience and advocacy. Although this kind of advocacy might work in small ways, the minute changes made can come together to make a real difference in the lives of many in the community. This is the message that Goldstein not only tries to convey in her writing, but also incorporates in her own way of teaching here at U of T. 

As she told me, “When you’re working with teachers, if you do this work with one teacher, you could have an impact, if they’re in elementary school, on 30 [students] and families, and if they are a secondary school teacher you could have an impact on 150 to 200 students and family lives.” She explained that although schools constitute the locus of her activism, she also wants “the issues to be talked about outside of schools and [her] own classroom.”

After all, she told me, that desire to reach a wider community informed their decision to stage the research project as a play, and is why they are considering putting the play on in Ontario schools. 

This demonstrates how the changes Goldstein and other LGBTQ+ advocates hope to see must begin with smaller, localized communities. Furthermore, safe spaces need to be a reflection of the population around us. From there, larger-scale reforms can be staged to make schools more comfortable places for everyone.

This is the kind of change Goldstein witnessed while teaching at U of T. When asked about the connections between the play and the university, she recalled the multiple progressive changes that have taken place at U of T in recent years. “I have watched the growth of the sexual diversity program at the U of T from the very beginning,” she told me.

“As the program grew and students started to join [it], they were the ones who advocated for more resources.” She smiled. “A number of people here today are looking out the windows of OISE, and noticed the Pride flag and the trans flag flying at Varsity Stadium; that meant a lot to people because they hadn’t realized U of T would celebrate Pride in that way ⁠— big and proud.”

“Big and proud” is the message of hope echoed at the very end of the play. Movingly, each member of the production stood up and said what they hope to see change in the future. A desire for change has been expressed in many different ways during the past few months, given the actions of the Ford government. With budget cuts that threaten the current education system, Goldstein highlighted the 2012 Accepting Schools Act as something more hopeful.

As she explained, “Despite Doug Ford’s ideas about curriculum, we still have the 2012 [Accepting] Schools Act, which requires all schools and all teachers to keep all kids safe.” Goldstein paused, then continued. “If that’s going to happen, we have to talk about LGBTQ+ lives.”

Disclosure: Hemrajani is a St. Michael’s College Director for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). 

Editor’s Note (July 30, 1:00 pm): This article has been updated to disclose the author’s affiliation with the UTSU. 

Doug Ford doesn’t deserve to march at Pride

Premier has a record of disregarding the needs of minority communities

Doug Ford doesn’t deserve to march at Pride

Earlier this month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he would not be marching at Toronto’s Pride Parade on June 23 as long as uniformed police officers remained banned from the event. Uniformed police officers will not march at Pride for the third year in a row, following a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest at the 2016 Pride Parade.

BLM successfully demanded the removal of police floats from future parades and voiced the need for Pride to better include communities of colour. Since then, criticism over perceived police inaction and mishandling of several disappearances in the Church and Wellesley Village has also underlined the continuation of the ban. 

Ford’s decision not to march — calculated and political — is not surprising, considering his history of exclusionary policy-making, some of which reduced funding for healthcare, education, and social services.

These changes will impact the most vulnerable of our community and blatantly express a disregard for constituents who are unable to access these resources independently. His choice to march in the York Pride Festival on June 15 alongside the York Regional Police is just another reminder of Ford’s disregard for the marginalized in Toronto and raises the question of whether the premier was marching in support of Pride or in support of police.

Ford breaks six-year tradition set by Wynne in 2013

By contrast, Kathleen Wynne became the first sitting Premier to march in the Parade in 2013. Wynne, who led Ontario’s previous Liberal government, was unaware of this historical first, and said of her attendance, “Every year I take part in the Pride events. Jane and I go to the Pride and Remembrance run on Saturday morning. I go to the church service, which is always very, very moving, on Sunday morning, and of course I walk in the Parade.”

Wynne, who was the first Premier in Canada to openly identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, noted at the time that many of her constituents told her that Pride was like an annual family gathering, given that many of their own families had excluded them from important events.

On the other hand, in 2014, while running for the mayor of Toronto, Ford — alongside his brother, former Mayor Rob Ford — declined to march in the parade, infamously saying, “Do I condone men running down the middle of Yonge Street buck naked? Absolutely not.” He continued, “Maybe there are some people in this city that approve of that, and maybe they can bring their kids down to watch this.”

The Fords have long been criticized for their absence at the parade, and it is unreasonable to expect Ford to attend the parade now. Since taking office last summer, Ford reintroduced a regressive sexual education curriculum which, as discussed in a previous Varsity editorial, greatly threatened the ability for LGBTQ+ students to learn in an inclusive space.

After much backlash from Ontarians, including legal challenges by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Ford’s government backtracked on its plans, instead opting for a new sex ed curriculum that appears similar to Wynne’s 2015 version. However, though sexual orientation and gender identity are still in the curriculum, they will now be taught much later, and parents will also have the ability to opt-out their children from the curriculum.

Absence at Parade follows legally-challenged move to revise Ontario’s sex ed curriculum

In truth, Ford’s appearance at Toronto’s Pride Parade would be a farce, as his policies do not reflect the needs of the community. In practice, his reversal of Wynne’s sex ed policies is regressive and detrimental to students’ health education. A 2015 comparison by Global News revealed that the previous government’s policies brought Ontario’s sex ed curriculum closer to that of Canada’s other provinces and territories. 

By reverting Ontario’s sex ed curriculum this year, he instigated a harmful discourse questioning the importance of LGBTQ+ identities. Eliminating references to sexual orientation, gender identity, and same-sex relationships — as Ford planned to do before the reversal — threatens efforts to normalize different gender and sexual identities through the public school system.

Not only did the previous curriculum aim to foster a community of inclusivity, but it also strived to eliminate gender and sexuality-based persecution and bullying in and outside of schools. In many situations, this curriculum may have been the first time many students below grade eight encountered issues related to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Ford government claimed that Wynne’s curriculum was too detailed in its description of certain elements of sexual health and reproduction and introduced certain concepts too early in students’ education. Rather than rewriting and introducing an alternative curriculum that would specifically remedy these issues, Ford wanted to roll back Wynne’s 2015 curriculum, a decision which the CCLA says “stigmatizes, degrades, and alienates” LGBTQ+ students and parents.

In addition, his cuts to public education threaten the livelihoods of teachers, parents, and students as schools will be forced to make cuts to specialized programs, elective courses, and classroom supplies. It also grossly increased class sizes, reducing face-to-face time between students and teachers. These disproportionately affect students who are not able to access programs outside of school due to financial, physical, or environmental factors.

Ford’s Student Choice Initiative has also threatened funding of LGBTQ+ student advocacy groups

Similarly, Ford’s highly controversial Student Choice Initiative (SCI) allows students to opt out of non-essential fees. Institutions must rationalize “essential” services according to the framework set out by the Ontario government. Student groups, such as The Varsity, will need to provide a fee opt-out option. The Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario and the York Federation of Students subsequently launched a legal challenge against the initiative in May.

The opt-out policy has the potential to defund or severely restrict funding for groups and services whose members may be otherwise without a community to depend upon for social support. Particularly at U of T, an institution that has been criticized for failing to foster a positive collegiate atmosphere, students rely on clubs and group activities to transform our university into a place of emotional and social growth and support. Minority students, many of whom may not be able to express themselves in their communities and homes — whether through their gender identity, sexual orientation, or cultural and ethnic heritage — will be without these support systems.

The SCI will potentially cut the ability of levy-funded student organizations, like LGBTOUT, Rainbow Trinity, and Woodsworth Inclusive, all of which advocate for LGBTQ+ students.

University is meant to be a place of growth and of self-discovery, and Ford’s SCI limits individuals’ and clubs’ ability to fully support this element of postsecondary education.

Ford’s funding cuts do not stop at the SCI. His reductions of OSAP funding threaten lower- and middle-income students’ ability to access postsecondary education. In particular, the decrease in grants for loans, the consideration of parents’ incomes up to six years after being in school, and the fact that the loans will accumulate interest immediately after graduation have detrimental effects on students’ ability to access funding. Just this week, many students took to social media to show how much funding they stand to lose in comparison to previous years.

According to Higher Education Today, a blog by the American Council on Education, “higher education has historically been and remains a positive location for students’ identity development.” Gender and sexual identity development should not be bound to an economic bracket.

Placing an increased pressure on lower-income students to find funding for school not only places these students in a compromising position, but uniquely challenges LGBTQ+ identifying students by limiting their access to a historically supportive space — and especially considering that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be in lower socio-economic brackets. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Bisexual and trans people are over-represented among low-income Canadians… An Ontario-based study found that half of trans people were living on less than $15,000 a year.”

Doug Ford has never been for the people, and there is no reason to believe he has a place at Toronto Pride. His policies have increased financial and systemic pressures on the province in general and on the LGBTQ+ community specifically.

Ford continues to tout his adherence to his campaign base while ignoring and flagrantly opposing much of the social and financial support systems which aim to benefit marginalized communities and individuals. By limiting access to student groups, financial aid, and modern sexual health education, Ford is unduly challenging members of the LGBTQ+ community who rely on these services.

Ford’s last-minute decision to participate in York Pride was his opportunity to assure his base of his support of the police force, and, in the process, his prioritization of the needs of institutions over vulnerable communities and individuals. Supporting the LGBTQ+ community was never the nexus of his appearance. If it were, he would have attended the Parade during his time as a city councillor. Doug Ford chose not to go to Pride, but the truth is, Pride is better off without him.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Queering the scoreboard

An athlete reflects on the history, experiences, and challenges faced by LGBTQ+ athletes

Queering the scoreboard

Every young queer needs a hero. At least, that’s what I always tell myself. Having grown up playing sports — and only coming to terms with my sexuality in adulthood — that person for me is one Brittney Griner.

But before I go further, I must clarify that I use the term ‘queer’ in this article as an umbrella term to refer to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and other non-normative sexualities and gender identities.

Griner has always been one of my favourite athletes. I can still vividly recall one of my earliest memories of watching her play some 10 years ago; it was an 80-second YouTube clip featuring the Texan and then-Nimitz High centre perform dunk after dunk during what appeared to be a break during practice.

At six-foot-eight, Griner went on to dominate the college basketball scene at Baylor University, leading the team to a national championship in her junior year and obliterating records in blocked shots and buckets in the process. To no one’s surprise, she’s since gone on to have a stellar career in the pro leagues, scoring a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury and several additional titles with her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Griner changed the game and left a legacy. Watching her dominate the court has been delightful, but it has been her courage off of it that transformed me into super-fan.

When Griner came out as lesbian in high school, she was kicked out of the house at her father’s request, and lived on her assistant coach’s couch for six weeks. At Baylor, due to the school’s stance on ‘traditional’ relationships, she was warned not to discuss her sexuality, especially because of her national profile as a star athlete.

Sport has never really been an apolitical domain, or simply about the numbers. In simply existing — let alone thriving — in her chosen field, Griner, a Black queer woman navigating a world dominated by white men, has never had the luxury of separating herself from her layered identities. While definitely not the first known queer athlete in sports history, she is certainly one of its most decorated.

But how does Griner fit into the larger picture? Attempting to map out a definitive, comprehensive history of queer athletes is difficult at best and problematic at worst. We simply aren’t monoliths. However, reflecting on major events in the sporting world over the past several decades can perhaps encourage us to evaluate both progress made and progress needed.

After iconic swimmer Diana Nyad came out as lesbian at 21 in 1970, legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova followed suit in 1981. Where King and Navratilova were trailblazers for women in tennis and sports in general, this was a significant moment in sports history by anyone’s account.

Meanwhile, in an announcement preceding the opening ceremony of the 1994 Gay Games, prolific American diver Greg Louganis publicly declared that he was gay, though, to those in his close circle, this was not much of a shock.

More recently, former NBA player Jason Collins as well as former NFL and CFL player Michael Sam disclosed that they were gay, in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Just last year, Collin Martin of the MLS’ Minnesota United acknowledged that he was gay on Twitter before the squad’s Pride Night, making him the only active male athlete in major professional sports leagues to publicly identify as queer. Despite the courage displayed by these athletes who openly acknowledge their sexuality, other moments are sober reminders of how far we have to go to make athletics a safe place for queer folks.

Recall the International Association of Athletics Federations’ humiliating and disturbing demand that South African intersex runner Caster Semenya undergo “gender testing” in 2009; the results of the test were leaked and she was “hounded mercilessly by the press and on social media.”

Meanwhile, in 2017, Texas high school wrestler Mack Beggs, despite asking to wrestle in the boys’ league, was forced to compete against girls. Under Texas law, athletes are required to compete under their assigned sex on birth certificates. Although he took home the state championship with a 32–0 record in 2017,when he took the state championship again last year, he was targeted on social media and in person at meets due to his gender identity.

There are countless other stories, moments, and figures that could give valuable context to the queering of sport. But how can we determine what constitutes progress? For every league like the WNBA, where so many of its biggest stars are openly queer that their ‘coming out’ stories don’t even make headlines anymore, there are countless others, like the men’s Big Five sports leagues, which have only one active and openly queer athlete collectively. And this doesn’t account for coaches like former Pennsylvania State University women’s basketball boss Rene Portland, who once said that she refused to “have [lesbians] in [her] program.”

But, for every Caitlyn Jenner — who, with the protection that comes from a life steeped in wealth, class, and racial privilege, rightfully earned the Arthur Ashe Courage Award following a very publicized transition — there are dozens more Brittney Griners and Andraya Yearwoods, young women simply trying to compete in the sports that they love. So, ultimately, while it’s good to celebrate the progress made, it is so much more important to be mindful of how much work there is left to be done.

Moving toward trans-inclusive healthcare in Canada

U of T researchers advocate for affirming and personalized health care practice for LGBTQ+ individuals

Moving toward trans-inclusive healthcare in Canada

Canada’s transgender population continues to face challenges from transphobia and discrimination, which, among other factors, influences their health and development.

Recent efforts by the Canadian government and affiliated agencies address issues that LGBTQ+ communities face.

In 2016, the Canadian federal government passed Bill C-16, which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and expression as one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

In the health care setting, LGBTQ+ individuals face multiple barriers that contribute to the disparities in the management and care of these individuals.

Alex Abramovich, Assistant Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Independent Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), has been studying the health care needs of LGBTQ+ youth for more than a decade.

From his experience working with young trans people, Abramovich wrote to The Varsity that this population has an unmet need for mental and physical care.

Many transgender individuals are “unable to come out and speak honestly about their identity and healthcare needs because they may not know whether or not it will be safe to do so,” wrote Abramovich, explaining how gender identity affects access to health care.

He added that some trans youth do not even have a family physician due to “previous experiences where their gender identity and sexual orientation were pathologized.”

To address the urgency for improved health care accessibility by trans populations, Abramovich recently co-authored an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) that provides comprehensive steps for physicians to follow to become more trans-inclusive and trans-competent.

One of the recommendations listed in the article was to privately ask all patients what name and pronoun they go by, instead of making assumptions based on perceptions of their voice, appearance, or name and sex listed on their health card.

Another key recommendation made in the article was to ensure that patients are addressed with a gender-affirming approach that does not view gender variance as pathological.

“These are just some of the things that health care professionals can implement immediately,” wrote Abramovich, expanding on the purpose of publishing such health care recommendations.

Staff Physician and Adolescent Medicine Specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital, Joey Bonifacio, argues in a review article recently published in CMAJ that adolescents’ mental health improves when they receive gender-affirming care.

Bonifacio mentions that primary care providers are equipped with some published medical guidelines on providing care for the transgender population. However, practice is hampered by a lack of experience and training in trans health issues.

He suggests that primary care providers support trans adolescents with gender dysphoria by facilitating discussions about the “timing of social transitioning, reviewing and overseeing the potential use of medical management, and connecting them with local community resources and supports.”

Besides improving the management and care of trans individuals, U of T-affiliated researchers suggest that routine data collection can “contribute to evolving norms in Canadian society regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Currently, there is a lack of national and territorial data on trans populations, mainly because there is no standardized way of collecting and analyzing data about gender identity.

Andrew Pinto, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at U of T and Staff Physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, tackled this challenge with his research group by examining how Canadian patients react to being asked routinely about sexual orientation and gender identity.

By administering a sociodemographic survey of all patients in the waiting rooms of St. Michael’s Hospital on a regular basis and later conducting semi-structured interviews with 27 patients, Pinto and his research group found that the majority of patients appreciated the variety of options available for both the sexual orientation and gender identity questions.

However, some patients felt discomfort in answering such questions, and some felt that their identities were not reflected in the options despite efforts to provide diversity in survey responses.

Based on these research findings, the authors suggest that an open-ended option such as Identity not listed (please specify) could be included in addition to prespecified options. They also suggest that health care organizations should set the stage for asking these questions by explaining how the data will be used and ensuring that clinics are LGBTQ+-positive spaces.

Pinto and his colleagues hope that further research will be done in a variety of Canadian and international settings in consultation with LGBTQ+ communities, as such data can help organizations identify health inequities and build a framework with improved and inclusive care.

The NBA needs to take a stand

Why Charlotte shouldn’t host the 2019 NBA All-Star Game

The NBA needs to take a stand

In February, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina will host the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend, where the best basketball players in the world will team up and compete against each other. On the surface, this may seem like nothing out of the ordinary — just another city hosting the final night’s All-Star Game. However, avid NBA fans know that this is Charlotte’s second go at hosting the event.

The city had been previously announced as host for the event’s 2017 edition, before having its role stripped in response to North Carolina’s passing of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, or HB2, which discriminated against the LGBTQ+ community by excluding sexual orientation and gender identity from the definition of nondiscrimination.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver responded to the situation early, warning that if significant changes were not made, Charlotte would not host an All-Star game.

In an effort to regain the game, which typically generates tens of millions of dollars in revenue, the state government repealed HB2 in March 2017.

Keeping his word, Silver agreed to give Charlotte another crack at hosting the 2019 All-Star Weekend. While the NBA undoubtedly helped to catalyze change within the North Carolina legislature, it failed to uphold its own standards by not holding out for more change.

For many years, and especially since Silver was named commissioner in 2014, the NBA has prided itself on being the most progressive North American major sports league. While the NFL has not supported players protesting the national anthem, the biggest stars in the NBA have spoken out in support of social justice causes, with the support of the league’s front office.

The NBA as a league has recently launched new social justice platforms centred around diversity and equality. Individual teams have also taken on significant roles in their communities, ranging from the Boston Celtics leading anti-bullying campaigns to the Golden State Warriors hosting an open discussion between law enforcement officers and the community.

For a league that prides itself on standing up for what it believes is right, it should have been a no brainer to demand that North Carolina do better. So, while the NBA helped to get HB2 repealed, it stopped short of truly protecting LGBTQ+ rights. Upon repealing HB2, Governor Roy Cooper banned local governments from making any changes to discrimination laws for three years.

This is not an invalidation of all the hard work that the NBA has done over the years regarding social issues. However, there is a time and place to stand one’s ground. For Silver and the NBA, that should have been with Charlotte hosting the All-Star Game. As Silver himself put it, “In this day and age, you really do have to stand for something.”

He’s right, you do have to stand for something. In this case, the NBA should have stood a little longer.

Varsity Blues win big on first-ever Pride Night

Blues women’s hockey team defeats the UOIT Ridgebacks 4–1

Varsity Blues win big on first-ever Pride Night

A Pride fag sticker is illuminated on the back of second-year forward Louie Bieman’s helmet. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

 

Fifth-year defenceman Julia Szulewska stands ready during a break from action. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

 

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team huddles around starting goaltender Erica Fryer. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

 

Blues captain Becki Bowering battles for possession of the puck. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

“To serve and protect who?”

Toronto Police should listen to marginalized LGBTQ+ folks and attend Pride — without the badge

“To serve and protect who?”

Last month, Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, announced that the Toronto Police Service (TPS) will march in the 2019 parade in uniform, following their absence in the last two parades.

In the 2016 parade, a Black Lives Matter protest successfully demanded that police floats be removed and officers not show up in uniform for future parades. Some view the upcoming re-entry of police as a step forward for the community’s relationship with the TPS.

But it has also drawn ire, particularly among marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community, whose negative experiences with the TPS had made it difficult for them to attend the event in the past. They had been strongly supportive of the absence of the TPS.

One can understand the desire to portray a united front when trying to achieve reconciliation. The presence of the TPS at the Pride Parade might one day become a symbol of the triumph of community and love over injustice and persecution.

However, it is inappropriate to access this symbol until that triumph has actually been attained in an effective and permanent capacity. Many of the most vulnerable among us still feel as though their relationship with the police has a long way to go toward respect and repair. 

A demonstration in opposition to police in uniform at Pride was held in front of Pride Toronto’s headquarters on November 3. Organized by Ashley Cooper, the Facebook event for the demonstration drew support from over 1,000 individuals.

The event was attended by leaders in the LGBTQ+ community, including Nick Mulé, an associate professor at York University and the Chair of Queer Ontario, sociologist and activist Gary Kinsman, one of Canada’s leading academics on LGBTQ+ issues, and Alphonso King Jr., also known as DJ Relentless and Jade Elektra.

Their speeches were impassioned, focused, and reflected a bitter frustration toward the executive directorship of Pride Toronto for what feels to many community members like a severe betrayal of Pride’s history of resistance.

It is important to recognize that the Pride festival exists to commemorate the progress made by activists against decades of violence abetted and often executed by governmental and law enforcement bodies. 

Kinsman opened his address by introducing himself as one of the organizers of Toronto’s first Pride event held in  June 1981.

“I want to remind people a little bit first of all about the history of that first Pride. 1981 was the year of the bath raids and the mass resistance on the part of our communities to the police invasions of our lives, the arrests, and all of the horror that occurred as a result of those raids.”

37 years ago, on February 5, 1981, the Metropolitan Toronto Police conducted a raid of four bathhouses, arresting 286 men and prompting outrage from Toronto’s gay and lesbian community and its public allies.

Toronto Pride Week grew out of the mass protests that ensued, which were organized against not only the raids, but also against the systemic discrimination of the queer community perpetrated by the city’s police force. 

The insistence that the officers be allowed to march in uniform is accordingly troubling. The attempt to paint the social institution of policing as an ally in those achievements, as opposed to its historical role as aggressor and deterrer, is misleading.

“It’s right there at the top of their website: ‘To Serve and Protect.’ But to serve and protect who?” Cooper asked of those in attendance at the November 3 demonstration.

Recent interactions between the community and the police indicate that the relationship is far from healed.

In the fall of 2016, it was brought to the public’s attention that the police were engaging in an undercover operation titled Project Marie, in which police arrested 72 individuals after luring them into soliciting sex acts at Marie Curtis Park. The 89 charges laid were almost entirely bylaw infractions, a baffling choice considering that undercover operations are utilized primarily for cases of criminal activity.

This year, the arrest of Bruce McArthur for the first-degree murder of eight men between 2010 and 2017 dug a deeper schism between the community and the TPS. In December 2017, already months into an investigation, Chief Mark Saunders claimed that there was no evidence of a serial killer targeting the gay community.

Not only did the TPS publicly deny the connection of the disappearances to a serial murderer, but a statement released by Pride Toronto in April revealed that the community had earlier voiced their concern about the disappearances, only to be dismissed by the investigators.

At the demonstration, it was made clear that many feel that the decision to once again extend the invitation to police is primarily based on a threat to Pride of losing its government funding.

“‘It has come to threaten our very existence as a publicly funded non-profit community organization.’ That is a direct quote from their statement,” Cooper cited from Pride Toronto’s announcement. 

To insist that the LGBTQ+ community be the first to extend their hands in friendship to the police, especially in invitation to an event that is such an emblem of rebellion against oppression, is neither fair nor reasonable when reciprocal efforts toward reconciliation have not yet been appropriately rendered.

“The people who wear the badge are welcome,” Cooper said. “It is the badge we have asked to stay at home.”

Anna Osterberg is a first-year Master of Teaching student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.