RANT

 

 

I remember when the news first broke some time ago that Donald Trump was seeking the Republican nomination.  Like many others, I thought it was a joke…some elaborate hoax dreamt up for popular consumption.  Maybe the Donald was trying to increase his Twitter following since his usual bickering had become stale and Cher stopped biting back, or perhaps he now hoped to launch some twisted new reality show idea (the Apprentice goes to Washington anyone?) But soon realization dawned that he was actually serious, and we watched as his terrible Trump train left the station with all its “deplorable” and “degenerate” followers hanging on tightly, as it bulldozed its way over anything and anyone in its path.  Our attention then turned to the conspiracy theories as a form of explanation.  The one I clung to most was that he’d been a friend of the Clintons once, so perhaps he was now somehow working for them in some devious, underhanded, and convoluted plan to elect our first female president by making a total asinine buffoon out of her only competition.  And what a friendship he and Bill Clinton must have made.  When the “grab her by the pussy” debacle broke, also known as Donald’s version of locker room talk, he noted how he and Bill Clinton had engaged in “worst conversations on the golf course” (please don’t let there be a recording, please don’t let there be a recording…) But then I started following the news stories and the media as they chronicled his rise to political power and “glory”.  I saw the meanness and cruelty and the hatred that seemed to underlie much of the commentary – HIS commentary – and with that look in his eyes, one of scorn mixed with contempt and a lack of awareness of just how damaging one could be, I knew he was serious.  And so I started to worry.  And then, as I watched the polls and saw how close the race seemed to be, I was scared.  And this past Tuesday…well, by then I was pretty much out of my mind.   I guess the stress clearly showed on my face, as I had stopped at a local grocery store on the way home from work and this older gentleman, a total stranger, walked up to me and shook his head, and whispered “it doesn’t look good.  It really doesn’t.  I think they’re actually going to elect that guy President”

So what went wrong?  We can spend weeks and months analyzing it.  We can blame Hillary for being unlikeable or unrelatable.  We can say that Donald stood for outright change, and that people were tired of the same old politics and feeling ignored and forsaken by their leaders.  We can lay fault with a flawed electoral process that sees the person with the popular vote lose, as was the case with Al Gore in the 2000 election.  We can hate on social media, for spreading ignorance and lies like some absolute truths, and a biased, jaded media for only reporting or questioning what they judged important and newsworthy, based on their own bloated self-interests.  We can consider all these things, but what we can’t seem to consider is what this entire experience – this nightmarish ordeal – says about all of us.  Now some would argue that we’ve become so politically correct as a society that many are afraid to express what they want to say, or challenge what they believe needs to be challenged for fear of being wrong or ostracized. And that because of that, the rise of Trump – this man that could say what no one else could say like no one else could say it – is the logical and inevitable outcome of that.   But you know what?  I say FUCK that.  I believe that is absolutely unfair and categorically untrue. Trump is a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, hate mongering, law breaking, politically regressive, serially lying, morally corrupted monstrous bully of a man in an ill-fitting toupee who will set, not only his country, but this entire PLANET back decades in his attempt to crush the spirits of anyone who is against him.  In the last few days we have seen what a post-Trump world will look like, and it is uglier than we likely could have ever possibly imagined.  We have seen an increase in acts of hatred, aggression, and outright violence against people of colour, immigrants, and LGBTQ communities, and I fear that’s only getting started.  You see, those that supported him – those that secretly wanted to support him – feel that Trump speaks for them, that he says what they can’t say, and with Trump in the White House, holding the biggest megaphone of all, he now gives people some self-perceived onus or privilege or freedom to act out how ever and towards whoever they see fit.  It’s a Trump World, and in it women are to be played with, abused, and discarded; gay people are immoral and the cause of many of the world problems; people of colour are criminals and misfits who do not belong in the US of A; disabled people are to be made fun of or ignored.  And the list could go on and on and on.  Trump ran and won on what’s been described as the most extreme and regressive platform in the history of the Republican Party, one that was undoubtedly tailored to match his bluster, to go to the most extreme in any conceivable way on every issue. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and his Mexican border wall are front and center, along with his pro-life, anti-abortion stance (which will make no exceptions for rape or the mother’s health).  The platform will require the Bible to be taught in schools and make religion a central part of legal decision-making.  Trump has promised to appoint family value judges to uphold family centered values, aka anything not white and conservative, and he rejects any need for stronger gun control laws, despite the mass shooting epidemics that face his country.  And this platform makes as its centerpiece the denial of basic civil rights to gays, lesbians and transgender people. It repudiates same-sex marriage, and believes a “natural marriage” is only one that between a man and a woman.  It also defends merchants who would deny service to gay customers and legitimizes their right to discriminate.

Yet with this in mind, we’ve already seen the Donald, who campaigned on promises of everything and anything to get elected, reverse his stance on things like Obamacare and taxing China and jailing Hillary (I think the return of waterboarding still stands though).  His transition team is full of the very sort of Washington insiders and lobbyists he campaigned against, so it appears that  his “draining the swamp” of career politicians must now wait.  We’ve seen Trump name three of his children (Ivanka, Eric, and Junior….um, sorry Tiffany!) to run his global empire AND he has given them prominent roles on his transition team (because clearly there’s no conflict there?)   As for his Cabinet plan, there are rumblings of Ben Carson as a pick for either Secretary of Education or Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Now, Ben Carson is a retired physician who is a creationist and believes evolutionary biology is essentially a fairytale, and that being gay is a choice because people “go to prison straight and come out gay”.  So yeah, THAT guy could lead all education or health/human services initiatives in the country.  Then there’s talk of dear old Sarah Palin as possible Secretary of Interior, overseeing federal lands and the national park services, which means – “drill baby, drill!” – it will now become open season for oil and gas drillings on public lands.  And since Trump has already loudly proclaimed that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by “the Chinese”, what does any of that silly environmental nonsense stuff really matter?  Now as dangerous as all that really sounds, the one to really watch out for is vice president-elect Mike Pence.  He who is “a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican, in that order”.  Pence has been at the forefront of the GOP’s battles against birth control access and abortion rights for years, and cuts that led to the closure of Planned Parenthood and an unprecedented HIV outbreak in rural areas of the state where the family planning provider had been the only HIV testing center. He signed a controversial “religious freedom” bill into law that licensed discrimination against LGBTQ people, which following some significant backlash he later revised.  Most concerning of all, Pence supports conversion therapy, a contoversial “treatment” used with LGBTQ people to “turn them straight” that has incorporated electric shock treatment and chemical castration in the past. Together, he and Trump have been described as the “perfect storm of classic, out of touch, Grand Old Party extremism.”  And what’s most frightening about all of this is that, with his sort of cabinet in place, Trump may truly become the most reasonable person in the room.

But here’s the thing.  We don’t get to admire Trump for his “remarkable rise to power”.  There’s nothing to admire here.  What Trump did was tap into every dark and insidious place he could find to promote white extemism. He turned over every rock to find it’s ugly underbelly.  He fanned the flames of hatred and ignorance and intolerance and from it sprung forth an inferno that consumed the country.  And as much as we can’t admire Trump, we don’t get to blame Hillary. She didn’t lose over some corruption scandal.  She didn’t lose because she’s unlikeable, stiff or cold.  She didn’t lose because she didn’t appeal to the poor or the working class.  She was the ONLY choice. And she lost because she’s a WOMAN, a strong, opinionated, determined woman, and our patriarchal and misogynistic society could not deal with that.  And what we should have known is that these attitudes and belief systems were there all along.  We have grown complacent and soft.  We thought the great U.S. of A a country so progressive it had elected a black man for two terms, so surely there was a place at the head of the table for a woman in power.  We thought we’d achieved so many of our goals with LGBTQ rights, and we believed we were opening our hearts and minds to the plight of immigrants.   And yet there were some pretty big goddamn signs we weren’t quite there yet.  The rampant racial profiling, the abuse of black men by law enforcement, the mass shootings targeting people of colour or LGBTQ communities.  Maybe Donald’s promise of change reached out and touched those people affected by all those things we didn’t see, or didn’t acknowledge, or chose to ignore – the disenfranchised lower class and the working poor.  But in the end, we were fooled by a great con man.  The only change we will see will be a dangerous, ignorant, regressive one.  Trump is most dangerous in that he is an arrogant, selfish, small minded man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and will be far too proud to ask for clarification.  A Trump government will strip away rights of those most marginalized and oppressed.  It will disregard serious concerns for our already fragile environment, and eliminate any policies and structures we have safeguarding wildlife and ecosystems against climate change.  It gives voice and reason to the irrational, and it will allow ignorance, intolerance, and hatred to thrive and grow virtually unchecked.

So do we just give up and say that evil has triumphed? Do we shout out platitudes like #LoveTrumpsHate or continue to tell our children that bullies never win (because clearly they do), and then call it a day?  Do we check out and check back in four years later?  Will we still be here four years later if we do?  And as a Canadian, why am I even concerned?  Well, as citizens of this planet, as someone who believes strongly in social justice, and with our neighbor the US as a daunting influence with a  looming shadow, we have a LOT to worry about.  So here’s what I’m going to suggest: When you go to social work school like I do, you spend much of your time thinking and talking about oppression, and about privilege, and about one’s social location – where they are positioned in society in terms of one’s gender, race, orientation, class – and how we manage the resulting privileges and oppressions we face day to day. As a white male living in a middle class neighborhood, I have experienced privilege.  As a queer person who grew up in a lower/working class neighborhood, I have experienced oppression.  If you’re wealthy, or have access to higher education and health coverage, you have privilege.  If you’re a woman or a person of colour in our world today, its damn sure you experience oppression.  In her book Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression (if you’ve never read it, DO!), Anne Bishop displays very simple wisdom in telling people that in order to fight oppression we must be willing to fight ALL oppression, and recognize that my oppression is not worse than yours, and so on.  It’s good advice, but there is one chilling line I remembered from this book in the days since the Trump win that that’s given me some clarity in the chaos.  Bishop said “we carry with us the blueprint of our culture’s oppressive patterns to be reproduced wherever we have influence”.  We carry it with us, the ugliness and the hatred and the ignorance we have seen.  It is generational, bred within us to the very core of our being, sometimes buried, often hidden, but in times like this given power and influence and life. But we can challenge that terrible birthright.  We can recognize that ALL oppression is bad.  We can stop caring about our rights or the rights that affect us most – women’s rights, gay rights, black lives matter, all of it – and start caring about them ALL.  We can stop thinking that there is some hierarchy to oppression because there isn’t.   OPPRESSION: IT. IS. ALL. BAD.  When we see someone being bullied or harassed, we can help.  We can side with the victim, comfort them, acknowledge that not everyone feels THAT way.  We can make certain they know that some of us are different, and that some of us are better.  We cannot let racism, sexism, homophobia and bigotry become more normalized than it already has.  We cannot become more desensitized to violence and sexual exploitation than we already have.  If you witness acts against others, be sure to stay safe but at the same time don’t stand for it.  If you experience acts against yourself, reach out for safety and support, because you will find it. Seek out allies that share  your beliefs.  If someone is ignorant than challenge that ignorance with knowledge and awareness and even understanding.  You don’t know what their experiences have been.  You don’t know what dark paths they may have walked.  But you know what can and are willing to tolerate, and you know what you’re not.  Stop using Facebook and Twitter as you’re ONE source for news and information.  Start challenging our media to be less sensationalized and more inclusive in their coverage.  We have differences.  Acknowledge them.  Educate yourself if you have to.  Educate others when you can.  Be KIND to one another.  Be KIND to yourself. If we do all of that, maybe somehow we can survive what’s yet to come.

I’m up for the challenge. Are you?

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SOCHI’S Gay: Ellen Page, Michael Sam, and a Tale of Good Timing

Rainbow Flag

There’s something to be said about good timing.

I don’t mean being ON time.  As someone who’s spent an absolute lifetime perfecting the art of chronic lateness,  I would never speak to THAT.  I mean choosing the RIGHT time….that quintessential second to raise your voice and be heard, or  that now or never moment to jump to your feet and take action. During the journey of most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, there inevitably comes THAT day.  When it comes  you either peek your head out of that figurative closet you’ve lived in and take some cautious steps out into the world,  or you cozy back up in the corner with a blanket and think “I’m just fine just hanging out in here for now, thank you very much” or you go all ninja like and attack the door, kicking and screaming until there’s nothing left but splinters and sawdust.  Now truth be told, for most of us the journey to outness isn’t that literal, and for many it often involves variations of all three of those options, sometimes during some very different stages in our lives.   Some roads on this incredible journey are dark, with fear, intimidation, and self loathing at almost every corner,  and other paths are brighter, full of hope, promise, and some hard-won feelings of acceptance and belonging.

Ellen Page’s moment came on Valentine’s Day,  as she stood, nervous but brave, on a small stage in Las Vegas,  ready to finally share her story.  Here, at the inaugural Time to Thrive conference (sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, an organization dedicated to the betterment of the lives of LGBTQ youth everywhere), Page delivered a very eloquent, very moving, very personal speech.   She spoke of being fearful of coming out and how, as a result – now listen up, because this is important – not only her relationships but also her spirit and her mental health suffered greatly.   Page spoke of her belief  that gay people should be able to love freely, openly, and without compromise,  and that together we have suffered “too many dropouts, too much abuse, too many homeless, too many suicides” as a direct result of people being bullied, mistreated,  abused, and rejected simply because of who they are, and for living the life they were born to live.

Now the cynic might look at Ellen Page and roll their eyes and say clearly they knew about the “lesbian thing” years ago, or complain about these celebrities who feel the need to share all the intimate details of their sex lives with the world.   Just sorting through my Facebook feed alone the last few days I’m quick to discover comments like “why do these gays feel the need to come out anyway?  I didn’t come out STRAIGHT” or “it doesn’t matter to me if someone is gay or not, I just wish they’d keep quiet about it so I wouldn’t have to know”  (Alas, it will be hard to deprive myself of these little nuggets of wisdom, but somehow I sense some Facebook UNfriending soon).

As important as Ellen Page’s  coming out has been, she’s not the only one making “gay waves” in the news today.  Michael Sam, a defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, announced last week that he was gay, and is now poised, post draft season,  to become the first openly gay player in NFL history.  Sam noted his coming out was driven by concerns someone else might leak details of his private life, and he felt the need to “own” his own truth, saying “no one should tell my story but me”.  Sam’s candour has been divisive among the professional sporting world, but for the most part he’s been shown mad support and acceptance, particularly from his fellow players and coaches.

It’s ironic that these two people, heroes to many, have come forward at a time when we’re celebrating the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  The controversy that surrounds Sochi has certainly affected my enjoyment of the Olympic games on a personal level.   This is disappointing because, as a guy who’s not so great at sports, the Olympics are my chance to feel like a total jock.   Or, at the very least, play armchair athlete and sit around in my underwear, drink beer, and scream at the TV “are you blind??  That was clearly just a twizzle and not a triple toe double loop, you big idiot!”

Like many other parts of this world, the rights of LGBTQ people in Russia have long faced legal and social challenges, with gay people often subject to various forms of abuse, harassment and discrimination.  What makes Russia “unique” in this respect is that just eight months before the start of the Games, Russian President Vladimir Putin passed a law making the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors illegal.  The media claimed the legislation was blatantly  “anti-gay”, while LGBTQ rights activists took it one step  further by condemning the law as a return to the Middle Ages, and the government’s way of effectively banning most forms  of LGBTQ culture.  Since the passage of the anti-gay propaganda law, the media has reported the arrest of many gay rights activists, as well as an alarming increase in incidence and severity of homophobic violence, including attacks by ne0-Nazi groups against young minors.

This struggle for gay rights that has now played out on the world stage serves some very good and important purposes.   It has made  the International Olympic Commission reconsider just how hosting the games in a place like Sochi contradicts the principles of their Olympic charter regarding anti-discrimination in sport, and will likely force them to review these principles and more carefully consider proposals from future host cities.   Above all,  it has uncovered blatant human rights violations suffered by LGBTQ citizens of one of the most powerful nations in the world, and brought to light the discrimination, abuse and hardships visited upon them each and everyday.  It is a cry for justice that will not go unheard long after these Olympic Games are done.

S0 how important is the idea of movie actresses and professional athletes announcing to the world they are gay and ready to live their life out loud?  I say it’s more important than you know.  The whole process of coming out for many is a terrifying one.  A gay kid is first already burdened with this terrible knowledge that they are different from everyone else.  Their differences single them out – to be made fun of, left beaten down,  made to feel their worth as a person is somehow less.  And no matter how true it is, even when surrounded by others a gay kid often feels alone in the world… isolated, mistreated, and misunderstood.  It’s challenging enough to navigate all the wonders and mysteries and awkwardness of adolescence for anyone, but for a gay kid it becomes, for these reasons and more, so much more difficult.   So imagine, if you will, that artsy loner kid who now finds herself a kindred spirit in Ellen Page, or the basketball fan who sees in his sports hero Michael Sam a glimmer of himself.  Imagine watching these proud gay Olympians hold their head high and represent their sport and their country with dignity and grace in a place that would marginalize, reject, and condemn them.   Accepting you are gay means accepting, in many ways, that as you travel down those roads in life, your path is going to be just that much harder, with enormous obstacles and burdens along the way.  But it can also mean that life, despite it’s hardships and its compromises, will ultimately be that much more grander, richer, vital, and fulfilling.   We can say “it gets better” but we need to live by those “better” principles, or otherwise the message is meaningless.   That means standing up for what’s unfair and what’s unjust.  It means being brave and opening ourselves up to the world, being that role model that others need so that they might  grow and learn from our strengths and from our weaknesses.  It means recognizing we’ve already lost far too many beautiful lights, and taking five minutes, as Ellen so perfectly noted, to recognize each other’s beauty instead of attacking each other for our differences.  It means loving and accepting ourselves, so that we’re at a good time and in a good space to do all of these things.

That’s the kind of world I want to live in.   That’s the kind of world I plan to live in.  Won’t you join me?

Pride Flag in Halifax for Olympics 2014

The Light

October is National Anti Bullying Month, a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. I work in child and adolescent mental health, and over the years, I’ve come to know well those that would qualify as bullies, and those that would suffer as their victims, My team and I work hard to, in a sense, “rehabilitate” the bully, source out that negativity, reinforce positive behaviour with positive attention, uncover the deeper reasons that invoke these behaviours, and instead promote and encourage better, more positive peer relationships. With the children who are bullied, we work to build resiliency and better self esteem, to help them find a voice, seek support when in despair, and perhaps most importantly to do whatever they can to hang on to that thing that makes them most special, worthy, important….that light that we all have inside. Most times we’re successful, sometimes we’re not, but we’re THERE, we’re present, we’re listening, and we’re eager to lend a hand, to guide a way. I’ve come to find that people think they know the answers to bullying, that we believe we can sum things up in few short lines – poor parenting, teachers that don’t care, an entertainment industry glorifying sex and violence, kids that are just born mean. It’s easy to blame the wondrous technological advances of this era, and look to social media as the villain, with the magnitude of unfiltered garbage free to flow into our living rooms, onto our laptops, via our mobile phones. As a society, we don’t “talk” anymore. We text, we tweet, we post funny or revealing Facebook updates. One quick sound bite, 140 characters or less. And in that short time span, we go for impact, we try to be provocative, we try to get the best laugh or the biggest shock value. We don’t make those simple human connections we once did. And through this social media we can be anonymous, we can be outspoken, though provoking, even inflaming. But what we don’t recognize, what we fail to realize, is the damage those “words” can do, and, as adults, the lessons our actions can teach, the impressions we can leave behind to those who look up to us the most.

Aside from my passion for my work, this epidemic of bullying has touched me on an even deeper, more personal level. I have a 7 year old nephew and a 17 year old niece who have faced struggles with issues like these often in their daily lives. My nephew is a shockingly bright, incredibly well spoken, handsome little guy, small for his age but with a personality bigger than life. An only child, unlike his uncle he didn’t grow up with four siblings and one Monopoly game and have to figure out how to share and play together NICELY, DAMN IT, and so school is where he learns, like most kids, how to maneuver his way through those minefields of childhood relationships. And so this perfect little child, so charming with adults, has he’s always struggled fitting in with kids his age, so rule bound and precocious as he can be. This struggle, almost comical at first in his description of it when some other child just wasn’t LISTENING, turned frighteningly real last year, when he started coming home with cuts and bruises and torn clothes due to tussles on the playground –well, not so much tussles as his running away in fear for his safety, being caught, pummelled, and having no one around close by to help or intervene.

My beautiful niece’s struggles have been different, yet no less severe. She has always been a very warm and loving little girl, who easily wins over friends with her engaging personality. A strikingly sensitive soul, she empathizes easily with others, so much so she’ll often take on their problems and champion them as though they were her own, not recognizing the toll at times that might take upon her. Like lots of young people her age, she’s gone through those awkward early adolescent and teenage years questioning the confusing world around her, and one particularly important question she’s faced is in regards to her own sexual identity. She’s still just figuring it out, and like so many others will likely continue to do so for many years to come, but gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, trans….to her, the label doesn’t matter, she just hopes to find someone to share common ground with and then later to fall in love. To find someone who truly and genuinely loves her, regardless of their age, their race, their shape or size, or their gender. A rather enlightened and self assured attitude for a teenage girl, it’s not one necessarily shared by other people her age, and so, as a result, she’s encountered some gossip, innuendo, teasing, and cruelty. And because of her belief system, she’s been forced to hold her head high and carry on during some rather trying, difficult and downright painful times.

My nephew and niece are already heroes in their own fight, and don’t even realize it. My nephew would cry himself to sleep at times, so fearful of these school yard bullies, but then shake it off in the morning and be first on his school bus, excited to face the challenges and rewards of a new school day. With concern for his well being, his parents (my sister and brother in law) brought him to his pediatrician, who, after hearing their concerns and some description from my nephew, had this strong message for them– “don’t’ you DARE let these bullies stomp that bright light out from inside this child. Go to the school, fight for more supervision, transfer districts if you have to…but do NOT let them take away his light”. As for my niece, with her mother and step-father’s support, she was able to make a very grown up decision to cut some negative peer influences out of her life and find some truer friends, and from there slowly make her way out from underneath some darkness that had surrounded her. My nephew and niece are lucky. They have mothers and fathers that love them and have instilled in them so many of their own good qualities, qualities passed down by our parents, that I’m confident they’ll find their path. My sisters will protect their babies like all good mama lions would, but I know aside from that fierce protective nature they’ve already given them the strength of character and the strong sense of family that they will need to see them through whatever difficult or trying days they might face ahead. But one thing that these two, and in fact my other niece and nephewall share in common, the one thing that makes them all so very precious, is how sensitive they are to their surroundings, how deeply – how BIG – they feel things in this world. But instead of being celebrated, this sensitive nature will likely something they’ll need to learn – to be expected -to somehow overcome.

 

I read in horror and dismay the fate of Amanda Todd, a 15 year old girl from British Columbia who committed suicide days ago after years of struggling with cyber bullying. Years earlier Amanda had made a seemingly harmless but devastating mistake. She flashed a stranger on a webcam, a stranger who took that image and used it in an attempt to exploit her, and when this exploitation proved unsuccessful in gaining what he wanted, he released the image, posting it online and forwarding to Amanda’s friends, her family, her neighbours, and her classmates. And so this embarrassing picture became widely distributed, and this girl who made a simple mistake became the subject of scorn and the victim of terrible abuse, until ultimately In an effort to escape her pain she took her own life. And with that news, my mind flashed to the kids under my care, to my family, to my own experiences. Cyber bulling itself seems its own vicious animal, in that at least with physical bullying there are scars and marks and the visible evidence of the abuse, and with it the chance of police involvement and the possibility of charges laid, of justice done. With cyber bullying the abuse is pervasive and ongoing, and it invades the places we should find safest. Words hurt, and the scars and the marks that come from their use cut just as deep. For kids, the warzone isn’t just the classroom or the school yard or the movie theatre or the shopping mall – it’s their living rooms, their bedrooms, the very sanctuary that should be their homes. And as a society we have become a group of passive bystanders – we see these daily struggles but do little to stop them, but then later rush in to lend our sympathy and support in the wake of such tragedy, gnashing out teeth and pulling our hair and asking how this could possibly happen. I don’t know Amanda’s circumstances – I don’t know what her family life was like, what her school supports might have been, or what access she might have had to mental health professionals. I do know she moved and changed schools a number of times in an effort to escape her tormentors, so that tells me her parents tried to protect and shelter her, and school administration must have advocated for these “new starts” to happen. I know she was treated for anxiety, so her mental health needs, however seriously considered, must have at least been considered or raised. Certainly she must have suffered with severe depression and debilitating anxiety due to her life circumstances, and being so unwell she may not have been able to see the resources that were there, the options that she had. I am sure her family must be devastated by this turn of events, and her teachers and friends’ grief stricken and shaken in the aftermath of this terrible solitary act. But with all that, I also know that this little girl made the most public cry for help there is, posting a video of herself on YouTube, in grainy black and white, silently flipping through flash cards, telling her sad tragic tale, telling us in her own words that “I have no one. I need someone.” Whoever saw it, whoever acted upon it…whatever was offered, it was not enough. We need to stop acting like bullying is some school yard problem or prank, some rite of passage as we move through those difficult adolescent years. Bullying needs to be taken seriously and treated like the criminal act it is, with consequences and repercussions to match the crime. Whoever this man was who distributed the naked picture that was the catalyst for the sad fate of this young girl needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for distributing what was, in essence, child pornography. The “friends” who now dare to send their sad condolences on the very Facebook page they used as their platform to torment and, in fact, bully this girl to death need to be held accountable, if not possible by law then by their community, by their families, by their schools, and by themselves. We need to stop being passive bystanders and instead become active participants. Be the eye rolling, incredibly irritating parent you swore you’d never be. Be the over protective big brother, the meddling big sister. Constantly check in with the little people in your lives. Watch for any change in behaviour and act upon it swiftly and accordingly, by probing and questioning, and trust your instincts when something appears wrong. Monitor kids online, restrict their access, patrol the sites they surf, and keep their passwords close and safe. Be vigilant, and when they are in need, don’t rush to judgement, simply listen….and then help them to find some solution, some light at the end of the tunnel, some way out. Don’t treat it as some teenage drama; treat it as the life and death situation it might become, that it IS in that moment to them. And conversely, when you see a child acting out in hatred, know that it likely comes from a dark place, and strive to find inside yourself some compassion. We must strive to understand those misguided ones and help them find the support and guidance they need to find a better way of being. Because there IS a better way of being, and they CAN find that way. Remember everyone has a story, and be sure that your story is an example of how best to treat your fellow man, with kindness, compassion, a sense of moral duty, and a strong guiding hand. Bullying feeds on a person’s weakness and insecurity, and from there it fosters and grows. We must stem the tide. Bullying doesn’t just hurt…it kills.

There is NO more precious resource in this world then our children. Remember those little people in your life are always listening, always learning, always watching. Be the role model they need…be THAT person. Show them the way. This was a sad failure of a community, of a school system, of our mental health profession, and of our society as a whole. We need to do better. We need to do so much more.

Please. Take action today. Don’t let another bright light in this world go out far too soon.

Chow Down at Chick Fil A

CHOW DOWN AT CHICK-FIL-A

I have a secret.  A secret only a few very select people know.
Something I only just this past week shamefully admitted to my boyfriend of four years…
I LOVE fried chicken.  In particular, Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken, with its 11 secret herbs and spices.
It reminds me of hot summer days of my childhood when, after a day of swimming and sun burning at Front Lake or Dominion Beach, we’d all pile into the car (or at least as many of us as could fit) and head off to the nearest KFC to get a monster bucket of chicken, with all the fixings: golden french fries, coleslaw,macaroni salad, soft rolls and hot gravy.  Sometimes if someone was feeling really extravagant, we ordered the potato salad too (never as good as mom’s though!)  AND as an added bonus to all this yummy goodness, we got to use paper plates and forks, and when you come from a family of five kids plus their  friends and your very own large extended family hanging about on any given day, and your chore that week was to wash AND dry all the dishes, THIS was a major blessing!  And so, sandwiched inevitably as I was next to my much bigger and left-handed brothers, my much smaller and woefully right-handed self would clash elbows in an all out war before those crispy fries got cold, battling for bread rolls and gravy, creamy coleslaw and ice cold pasta salad, and the most mythic, legendary piece of them all: the keel (Hell, I didn’t even know what keel meant – it’s actually the breast bone of the chicken – but I knew I’d fight to the death for it, or at the very least until my brothers would hold me down and stick their disgustingly wet fingers in my ears until I screamed and gave it up!)
Over the years I tried to branch out, with a dabble or two into Mary Brown and her offerings, and a weekend special here and there at Sobey’s or some local pizza joint, and as a grown up I even tried to make my own healthier, oven baked variety.  (Also, I learned about things like clogged arteries and double chins, and decided the rare and occasional indulgence suddenly suited me best).
But alas, nothing could compare to the good Colonel.   And to be honest, dining alone on a Toonie Tuesday could never compare to the epic battles of my youth.   Where was the fierce competition, sense of adventure?  Where was the yelling, hair pulling, and tripping one another (and that was just the fight over who got to CARRY the bucket!)
Would I ever recreate that long ago magic?
So it was with some interest that I heard a few months back about a possibility of some famous deep fried chicken franchise known as Chick-Fil-A possibly opening in Halifax. Could it be I’d find a newfound love, where I could trick a group of  innocent and naive friends into going out for dinner, and then before they even knew what was happening jump ’em and hold them down with the threat of some wet willies or atomic wedgies until they gave up the most desirable pieces and were left, sad faced and still hungry, holding nothing but some small, sad, shriveled wing?
But then Chick-Fil-A hadto go and ruin things and bring the Baby Jesus into it.

Now, unless you’ve been living in a box somewhere, cut off from all society and its many trappings, you  have seen, heard, or read about the controversies surrounding Chick-Fil-A these day.  Founded in Atlanta  by the Cathys, a southern Baptist family with some pretty deep religious convictions, this once small town American family restaurant has grown into a monstrous chain, going from 1 store in 1964, to over 1600 strong present day.  Dan Cathy, son of the company’s founder, and current President and Chief Operating Officer, has come out raging in the media (well, perhaps ol’ Dan wouldn’t approve of “coming out” or “raging” as the best choice of words) as a very outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and a strong supporter of conservative Christian causes.  EXTREME conservative causes that Chick-Fil-A has allegedly bankrolled for a cool 5 million,  like Exodus International, those zany “straight advocates” who support “ex-gay” reparative theory (ie, they promise to “pray the gay away” and restore you to blissful heterosexuality) or the Family Research Council, who’s charming philosophies put forth the idea that gay men are all mentally ill pedophiles, that gay sex should be illegal and criminalized, and that they’d support gays being exported from the country. (Not sure what island nation they plan to ship them off to, but I’ve gotta admit, that would be SOME party!)  I’ve since googled this stellar organization, and came across images of a few of their founders such as Tony Perkins (no relation to Psycho) and Peter Sprigg, and seems to me one thing they all have in common is an unfortunate case of “Gay Face”.  Or in other words, I doth wonder if they protest too  much?

People everywhere seem to be taking sides, with liberal mayors in cities such as Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco telling the Cathys that their chicken lovin’ but homosexual hatin’ selves aren’t welcome in their towns, so they can forget about any expansion plans (although technically it’s illegal to block a business due to a person’s religious beliefs, according to that pesky Constitution of theirs, so not sure how THAT’S going to work out for everyone).  In recent days, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who demonstrated his racist roots with some ill informed attacks on the Barack Obama’s childhood experiences during his failed presidential nomination bid, and his stupid roots by crying downright moral outrage over the Chick-Fil-A anti gay backlash, and  calling for Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, urging people across the country to demonstrate their love and support for “a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse” by showing up at the chicken chain on August 1 and blissfully buying their way to obesity, cardiac arrest and Type II diabetes.   Chick-Fil-A went on to record sales that day, and as a counter move by some prominent gay activist  groups, same-sex couples were encouraged to protest with “Kiss Ins”, by storming their nearest Chick-Fil-A and taking videos and pictures, then later posting them online,  of some good new fashioned same sex PDAs.
Then, most recently, a (former) CFO for a medical manufacturing  equipment company in Arizona by the name of Adam Smith got fired from his job after berating some girl named Rachel who was working the drive thru at Chick-Fil-A when Mr. Smith drove up to express his righteous indignation at this “horrible company with horrible values”.  Calmly and politely keeping her composure throughout, although looking on the brink of tears, young Rachel  gets berated – and worse, videotaped before even having the opportunity to run off and check her hair or makeup – while  Mr. Smith has his say, who then rides off yelling he’s “totally straight, I just can’t stand the hate.”  Well Mr. Smith, while I’m sure you at least thought you were well intentioned, and undoubtedly  ‘mos everywhere appreciate the straight man support, I have but one thing to say to you: You, sir, suck.  Furthermore,  ANYONE who gets all up in the face of some fast food drive thru worker person SUCKS.  You see, as a former drive thru worker myself, I know what it’s like first hand to be barely 17 and be expected to work “close” and stay out til almost 3 am on a school night and STILL smell like raw meat during your 10 am history class the next day, no matter how much Irish Spring and your dad’s Right Guard you use.  And THEN, while at work, having to deal with the irate customers who are throwing a hissy fit because you accidentally let an onion touch their Big Mac or you forgot the damn sweet and sour sauce for their chicken nuggets.   Trust me, I doubt being the Chick-Fil-A drive thru girl is Rachel’s dream job (NO offense, but for that matter, who wakes up one day and says “I know, I want to be a medical manufacturing equipment guy when I grow up!”).  No, she probably gets to scrape by on minimum wage, and you were probably just one small example of any number of jerkfaces she must encounter and strategically maneuver about, all the while keeping a bright smile on her face, day after day, night after night.  Next time you want to express such an opinion, ask for the manager – from my experience, they are better paid (although probably still not nearly enough) to put up with the average customer’s crap, and, more likely then not,  they’re probably off  napping, taking a 2 hour coffee break, flirting with the new girl half their age or busy yelling  at the new guy why they are so much  better then him.  See, if you yell at each other, then Rachel and the new guy are left alone.  Also, it’s pretty clear now that all you’ve accomplished  in this messy situation is to go and get yourself fired, while likely getting Rachel one kick ass promotion.  I figure when she’s running the show and starts supporting anti medical equipment manufacturing groups, shutting down companies like yours and insisting we go all holistic and home-grown instead, you’re going to be one even sorrier dude then.
However, I think it’s important to note that with all this drama, we’re forgetting one very important demographics in all this:  the chickens.  Think of all those poor little chickens who got plucked and flash fried and gave up their very lives to satisfy those good Christian masses.  And then the poor few that survived the All Appreciation Day Massacre, likely gone to waste the very next day as all those good soldiers that lined up the day before now run screaming from those very same Chick-Fil-A stores, worried they’d catch ” the gay” with all those demonstrations of man loving and girl on girl action.
But seriously, with that said, I truly think that, at the end of the day, everyone needs to calm down.  It’s CHICKEN!  And not even boneless, skinless chicken, but deep-fried!  And I’m not sure what YOU believe in, but as the good Catholic boy I was raised to be, I do believe somewhere there’s a higher power, and I’m pretty certain that He/She/It  has a hell of a lot of better things to do then intervene in the affairs of some Southern deep-fried chicken franchise and its wacky owners, even wackier supporters, and the latest folks they’ve antagonized this week.  Also, might I suggest that if all those good Christian soldiers wanted to show true appreciation for life, liberty, justice and God above, then perhaps they could’ve lined up outside a local food bank and donated the cost of a spicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries to it, rather than fattening the already deep pockets of the Cathy family and their at best suspect and mostly insane causes.  Or perhaps, in a better world,  the Cathys could support some causes I’d be willing to get behind, like banning the term “sushi pizza” (its raw fish people, it’s got NO place on a pizza pie!) or criminalizing the sale of skinny jeans everywhere (I don’t care how small and cute you think your butt looks, this “human sausage look”, where I can visibly count the small change in your pocket, looks good on NO one!)
I must say I do find the whole idea of the “Kiss In” as a form of protest rather amusing.  Who wants to join me in a big ol’ same sex make out session at the nearest KFC so I can protest those artery clogging halcyon days of my youth?
Although don’t be fooled….I’m really just there for the 2 piece and the neon green glowing coleslaw.  With a side order of  jabbing elbows and wet willies of course!

PS I “borrowed” the title “Chow Down at Chick-Fil-A  from a video by Willam Belli, a FIERCE queen and star of RuPau’s Drag Race.

As she notes, “if Drag Queens endorse Christian owned Chick-Fil-A, is it still an endorsement?  NOPE”

Check it out. It’s FUNNY!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO-msplukrw&feature=channel&list=UL

No. More. Hate.

A few weeks ago, I took part in what’s become something of a tradition for some friends and I – a sneak preview during Pay What You Can Night at Neptune Theatre, where, for $5 dollars, a small donation to the Food Bank, and a 2 hour plus wait outside in all kinds of weather, you can see some very talented people put on some energetic, thought provoking and wildly entertaining performances for basically a steal. This particular night was for their take on La Cage Aux Folles. Being a fan of the movie “The Birdcage, and the hilarious performances of Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, and Hank Azaria, I was eager to see the original stage production on which that movie was based. As we settled into our seats, I couldn’t help but notice, with a bit of disappointment, that the crowd seemed smaller than usual. I could also see, aside from a few exceptions, the audience appeared mostly straight and decidedly senior-ish in age. In the row behind us, however, I spotted two young gay men, one with his arm wrapped fiercely around the other, as he laughed a bit too loud, while his friend looked warily about as he sat stiff and ram rod straight in his seat. As I caught his gaze, his eyes suddenly grew alarmingly wide and he appeared frozen as he stared back. We’re actually about to watch a love story about drag queens, I thought, and this poor guy is afraid to look gay! Giving him a slight smile and a nod, I could see him exhale and relax slightly as the lights slowly faded and the music came up.

As the “girls” first took the stage, I could hear a smattering of uncomfortable laughter amongst the audience, and worried, for a moment, the play would somehow “cater” to this predominantly straight crowd. That they would simply titillate the audience and give a wink and a nudge their way with the very idea of a man – who is clearly, by all appearances, still a man -in a dress and high heels. And as a huge fan of that classic diva RuPaul, and in an age when RuPaul’s Drag Race is perhaps by far the most compelling hour on televisions week after week, I felt an urge to stand and shout to the rooftops for the rights of these queens to sashay and shante their way across this or any other stage – when, suddenly, the nervous whispers and giggles soon erupted into joyous, heartfelt laughter. Clearly the love and affection the two leads displayed for one another was soon almost palpable, and the romantic storyline that culminated in a passionate embrace and deep kiss at the end of the play resulted in the biggest standing ovation I’ve yet seen at this fine theatre. Turning around to give my fellow ‘mos a mental high-five in the row behind, I found they were far too busy macking down on one another (to which, if I’m not mistaken, they were receiving an ovation for as well!. And as corny as it might sound, I remember this warm feeling settling over me as I revelled in the warmth and acceptance felt all around. Thinking back, this was one of the best nights I’d had in the GAYborhood in a while.

On the contrary, one of the worst experiences in the gayborhood happened about a year or so ago. My boyfriend and I were at Pogue Fado, a local Irish club I’d spent many hours of drunken debauchery and a good portion of my pay cheque in years past (the night my friend Elaine and I drank vodka and red bull til closing while I helped her maneuver about on crutches with a broken ankle while singing and celtic dancing is STILL legendary!) This particular night, we’d stopped by to catch the last act of some cover band I was a fan of, and stayed to have a few ciders and draught and to dance away admist a fun, friendly, and very crowded dance floor. And so indeed, through the course of the night, we laughed loudly, drank (to be fair) a rather large quantity of alcohol, and danced our way to a sweat soaked frenzy, all the while making friends out of our fellow dancers along the way (so much so that one girl was so completed enamored with Shawn that once he excused himself for the washroom she said “um, you sooooo don’t deserve that guy!” When I asked why she said “because you’re not enthusiastic enough….LOOK at how much fun he is!” So when he came back I tried to be my enthusiastic best, to which she whispered “nope, still not good enough!)

Now, I love dancing with Shawn – he’s a great dancer, with a very fast, energetic, and carefree style, and being 6 feet tall with a football player’s build, seeing his moves in action can be quite a sight to behold. And beholding this sight that particular night were a couple of tall, burly bouncers on the far side of bar. I whispered to Shawn that perhaps we should take a break, but he glanced in the direction I was looking, laughed, and gave me a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek said “don’t be silly, it’s cool, we’re just having fun!” But literally seconds later, one of the watchful bouncer was at his side, tapping him on the shoulder and motioning us towards the door. Shawn asked f there was a problem, but the stern-faced bouncer kept repeating “you just need to follow me sir”. Once at the door, he told us we had to leave for the night. When pressed for an explanation as to why, he wouldn’t give one, and just insisted, more heatedly, that if we wanted to be able to come back another night then we needed to leave RIGHT NOW. When Shawn posed the question “Answer me thiis….are you asking me to leave because you think I’ve had too much to drink, or as you asking me to leave because I’m gay? ” He received only a silent, stone faced reply. But that stone face? It spoke volumes.

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PreOCCUPIED

PreOCCUPIED


Grand Parade Square

I’ve had a couple of encounters with Halifax’s Mayor Peter Kelly over the years.  The first was at a local elementary school, during its annual Health & Wellness fair.  I was there in part to provide information to parents, teachers, and community members about resources and mental health services offered here in our fair city.  You know, that pesky day job that takes me away from all the writing I should be doing.   A colleague and I were told by the organizers that Mr. Kelly planned to attend (and who, coincidentally it seemed, was running for re-election at the time), and was interested in chatting with us, hearing a bit more about the type of work we do and the families we work with.  The press was there as well, most notably a camera crew from Global.   My co-worker was excited about all the fuss, and laughed about the possibility of meeting Mayor Kelly and perhaps getting our picture taken for the newspaper.  As the mayor made his way into the gymnasium, he walked a short distance before stopping to chat with a pretty blonde nutritionist, a number of smiling youngsters in tow.  The cameras rolled, the lightbulbs flashed, and the moment was caught for prosperity.  Then, as the cameras were packing up to leave, the very MINUTE the press in attendance waked out the door, I overheard him say to an organizer “well, look at the time.  Seems I must go!”  And with that he made a quick dash through the gym, slapping at hands as he went past (mine included), kind of like a rock star leaving a stage after a concert except – well, Mister Kelly’s no rock star.

Concerts for Cash Scandal

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