The Integrity Commissioner’s report was unethical and here’s why
By: Lauren O'Donnell, Contributor
Folks, we need to talk. It’s time to take a hard look at what’s going on in this city — our city. More specifically, in the hallowed halls of Hamilton City Hall.
It’s no secret City Hall has a checkered past with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. If you’re not familiar with what happened in 2SLGBTQIA+ politics in Hamilton last year, here’s a comprehensive guide by former Silhouette News Editor, Trisha Gregorio. For a number of reasons, including that a city employee has an alleged history as a neo-nazi leader, the Hamilton LGBTQ advisory committee requested that Hamilton City Hall not fly the Pride and trans flags. City Hall chose to fly the flags anyway.
For a number of reasons, including that a city employee has an alleged history as a neo-nazi leader, the Hamilton LGBTQ advisory committee requested that Hamilton City Hall not fly the Pride and trans flags. City Hall chose to fly the flags anyway.
But why am I talking about this now? Early this year, the Volunteer Chair of the LGBTQ advisory committee, Cameron Kroetsch, made comments disparaging Hamilton City Council. Shortly after, an integrity commissioner investigation was launched against him, at the council’s request. The accusations that were made against him were allegedly incorrect, something which was not mentioned in the final report. Instead, the integrity commissioner issued a report recommending that Kroetsch be reprimanded and should consider stepping down from his role.
Several people and organizations, including former Hamilton Citizen of the Year Graham Crawford and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, have expressed concerns that this process has been misused and that the council’s actions can be read as alienating to the Hamilton 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
I don’t think that I can properly do justice to this issue unless I give you some background on what an integrity commissioner is and what they’re supposed to do. According to every other site I checked, an integrity commissioner exists to investigate ethics violations on the part of elected officials and local boards. The LGBTQ advisory committee does not fall under either of these headings.
Of the websites I consulted, in addition to the ones cited above, only one made any mention of investigating citizen committees: Hamilton. The page with this definition was updated to include citizen committees the day after the complaint against Kroetsch was filed. To reiterate: integrity commissioners exist to hold elected officials accountable on behalf of citizens. In this case, it’s being used by elected officials to penalize citizens that critique them. Changing the definition on the website doesn’t change the job description.
But how can I be sure that the definition update is connected to this case? How do I know when it was updated? The short answer is that I am by no means the first person to write about this topic. Joey Coleman of The Public Record, an independent news site dedicated to providing informed coverage of Hamilton’s communities and civic affairs, has begun a four-part series on the ethics of the integrity commissioner’s report and investigation which I highly recommend reading.
The integrity commissioner’s report on Kroetsch is ethically questionable at best and just plain bullying at worst. I regret to inform you that it gets worse. On Sept. 30, Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead tweeted a message that some community members interpreted as threatening, asking if the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion was open to an integrity commissioner investigation. Spoiler alert: it’s not.
“The integrity commissioner just investigated a complaint against a volunteer member of an advisory committee after a complaint by Council and on the same day that Council received the report, a Council member is already threatening to sic the Integrity Commissioner on a charity,” said Ryan McGreal, the editor for Raise the Hammer in his article on the subject.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s briefly review the timeline. Here are the facts as I know them:
→ The LGBTQ advisory committee — a volunteer citizen organization — asked that the Pride flags not be flown at City Hall. This request was ignored.
→ Cameron Kroetsch, the chair of the committee, critiqued Hamilton City Council.
→ City Council requested that the integrity commissioner investigate Kroetsch for alleged violations which now appear to be false. In doing so, both Council and the integrity commissioner willfully misused and misinterpreted the mandate of an integrity commissioner.
→ The commissioner’s report reprimanded Kroetsch and advised that he step down as chair. This is not under the purview of either council or the integrity commissioner. In a statement, Kroetsch said that he felt the report was designed to silence his voice.
→ Following this report, a councillor tweeted a potentially threatening message at a charity that helps marginalized communities, suggesting that this same procedure could be used against them.
The integrity commissioner exists to hold politicians responsible for their actions. Instead, this system has been weaponized against volunteer advocates and charities, the very people it should be protecting. This plot wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Black Mirror.
The integrity commissioner exists to hold politicians responsible for their actions. Instead, this system has been weaponized against volunteer advocates and charities, the very people it should be protecting.
If the folks down at City Hall truly want to build bridges and foster trust with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, then they need to walk the walk. Painting a rainbow crosswalk isn’t going to cut it. City council needs to be reminded that they’re supposed to work for the people, not against them.
Update: At the Oct. 14 meeting, Councillor Nrinder Nann made a motion for council to reconsider the reprimand against Kroetsch, which will be debated at Oct. 28's meeting.
By: Adrianna Michell and Hannah Walters-Vida
A month after far right demonstrators attacked Hamilton Pride, members of the queer community are working to come together, heal and fight to rid the city of hate groups.
Past Hamilton Pride events have been attended by conservative preachers and others who attempted to intimidate festival goers who annually come to Gage park to celebrate. Hamilton Pride has typically been a family and community-oriented arts event, despite Pride’s history as a protest event beginning with the violent activism at Stonewall 50 years ago.
In Hamilton on June 15, community members and allies gathered in Gage park. Leading up to the Pride events there had been tensions between the queer community and Hamilton Police Services over police presence at Pride. “No police at pride” campaigns have sparked discussion about police and state presence at Pride celebrations across Canada.
No uniformed officers were allowed at Victoria Pride this year and in 2016 Black Lives Matter shut down the Toronto parade for 30 minutes to protest police attendance. Hamilton Pride did not permit the police to have a recruitment booth at Pride this year.
Last month’s Hamilton Pride marked an escalation of violence. Anti-Pride demonstrators gathered during the event shouting religious, homophobic and white-nationalist rhetoric. The anti-Pride group is speculated to be in part members of the fascist Yellow Vests who moved from city hall to Gage Park on the day of Pride. According to witnesses, one person was punched in the face, while another was hit in the head with a motorcycle helmet, amongst other acts of violence.
Since January, hate groups associated with the yellow vests have been holding weekly demonstrations outside of Hamilton city hall. The groups hold signs displaying far right anti Muslim, anti immigrant messages, and known white supremacists have been present at rallies.
Witnesses accused HPS officers in attendance of not stepping in early enough to prevent the attacks, leaving people to defend themselves. Pride defenders countered the anti-Pride protestors with a “black hole” tactic, wherein a large black banner was used to visually block the fascist signs and protestors, while defenders donned pink masks and used physical presence, counter protest tactics and noise makers to block the hate speech.
When asked why officers did not respond right away, Chief of police Eric Girt said at a town hall last month that responses would have been different if police were welcomed at the Pride events.
Councillors Maureen Wilson and Nrinder Nann are calling for an independent investigation into the police response at Pride.
However, not all members of the queer community agree that strengthening police presence will ensure their safety. A June 2019 study surveying 900 members of Hamilton’s queer community found that approximately one third of respondents believed that they had been treated unjustly by the police. Transgender respondents were even more likely to recount unjust treatment.
For some, what happened at Pride was an example of the queer community coming together to defend one another without the need for police involvement.
“2STLGBQI+ folks can protect each other and we do not need the police or the carceral justice system to ensure the safety of our communities,” says a statement from the McMaster Students Union Pride Community Centre, “there is no Pride in policing.”
The arrests that have occurred since Pride have further exacerbated tensions between the queer community and police. In the past month, five people have been arrested in connection to Pride. According to the Tower, a Hamilton anarchist social centre connected in the queer community, four of the people arrested were associated with the pink masked pride defenders. HPS has only announced the arrest of one far right protestor.
The most high profile arrest was that of Cedar Hopperton, the first person to be arrested in connection to Pride. Hopperton was arrested on June 22 for allegedly violating parole conditions from their involvement in the 2018 Locke Street vandalism.
On June 18 Hopperton made a speech at city hall in which they called on members of the queer community to defend themselves against violence and to not rely on police support. On July 8, the parole board voted to continue to revoke Hopperton’s parole, in large part because they ruled that Hopperton was inciting violence in their anti-police speech.
Hopperton’s arrest and parole hearing sparked massive backlash, leading to the “free Cedar” campaign, which condemns city hall and HPS and calls for HPS to drop the charges against Hopperton and other pride defenders.
Many community organizations have publicly supported the campaign. Scholars from 100 universities across Ontario, as well as McMaster faculty members, have submitted open letters expressing solidarity with the pride defenders.
In a statement released on July 12, the PCC stated that the pride defenders were acting in self defence and should not have been punished.
“The Canadian state frequently criminalizes the self defence that is often necessary for the survival of marginalized people,” says the PCC’s statement. “This is completely unacceptable and is a tactic of repression of social control.”
In the month following Pride, community members have repeatedly taken to the streets to demand that all charges against pride defenders be dropped. There has been a heavy police presence at many of the demonstrations, with some officers showing up on horseback.
This past Monday, the Tower released a video of 11 officers arresting a young woman who had allegedly written an anti-police slogan with sidewalk chalk during a rally on June 28. A crowd of bystanders intervened and the woman was eventually released. In the comments on the video, people were critical of the police for allegedly arresting the woman over sidewalk chalk, and questioned why it was necessary to have such a large number of officers present for the arrest.
CITY HALL RESPONSE
Representatives of the queer community have been critical of city hall in the months prior to the Pride attacks, and council’s response to the attacks have exacerbated much of the tension.
Last May, Hamilton’s LGBTQ2 advisory committee voted unanimously against the annual Pride flag raising outside city hall. This was in large part in protest of the city’s employment of Marc Lemire, the former head of a white supremacist organization.
Following the Pride attacks, on July 5 Mayor Fred Eisenberger released a statement naming two special advisors for Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ community initiatives, Cole Gately and Deirdre Pike, to help address the queer community’s concerns.
However, other members of the queer community responded by stating that the discussions should happen publicly and should be accessible to everybody. Cameron Kroetsch, who was invited to take part in the discussions, stated in a public Facebook post that the private meetings did not feel safe or productive.
“I won't attend private meetings with no shared list of invitees and no detailed agenda. It doesn't feel safe, for so many reasons, and won't until Fred Eisenberger, our City Council, and the Hamilton Police Service can demonstrate that they're willing to build trust with our community,” wrote Kroetsch.
As an additional response to the Pride attacks, city council proposed a “hate incident prevention policy” that aims to assist in the identification of, and response to, hate motivated crimes. The proposed policy calls for increased surveillance on city-owned properties.
Initially, the policy placed strict limitations on acceptable activities during protests on city grounds, prohibiting the use of sound amplifying equipment, swearing and writing with sidewalk chalk. The policy has received criticism for limiting the rights of all protestors, not just hate groups.
“We said ban hate speech, not ban all speech,” said a sign from a city hall protest this weekend.
In the past month the community has come together to support one another and demand justice.
This past weekend, two different queer community groups converged at city hall. The Tower organized a weekend long occupation at city hall called “Camp Chaos Gays.” They held a series of workshops and community building events, at the same time protesting police harassment and the hate incident prevention policy.
At the same time, the July 13 “Hamilton for Who?” event cosponsored by Pride Hamilton and other organizations, was a non political, family friendly rally against hate groups.
Following the backlash against the hate prevention policy, council has since amended the list to remove many of the previously banned activities. However, the security provisions remain. The policy will now go out for public consultation.
On July 16, the Tower announced that Hopperton was released from jail early. The announcement was met with a wave of relief from supporters. However, the fight is far from over.
The yellow vests have continued to demonstrate outside of city hall every week, drawing counter protests from the community. Furthermore, many members of the queer community feel that city council has not properly consulted them and addressed their concerns. Demonstrators have reported being harassed and intimidated by police officers at protests, and many queer people report feeling unsafe around police.
Members of the queer community are working to regroup, support one another and find a way forward.
By: Julia Healy
“Sexually active” is an awkward phrase that many of us only hear in the doctor’s office. It is used in an attempt to bridge the intimate world of sex with the clinical and professional world of medicine, which is not an inherently harmful goal.
What is harmful is that whether or not one is sexually active is often the only question concerning sexual health that is asked during a doctor’s visit. And more often than not the answer is confined to heteronormative, penis-in-vagina penetrative sex between a cis man and a cis woman.
I recently had a negative experience that sums up how the use of this clinical language can lead to misunderstandings and humiliating experiences for LGBTQ2S+ individuals like myself. After having a bizarre 25-day period, I decided to go to the doctor. He told me that a wide variety of problems could have caused this problem. He then referred me to an ultrasound clinic for testing.
At the clinic, I filled out my paperwork and waivers. One form asked if I was sexually active and left no space to elaborate. I had to think about how to answer; I had had sex before, but it was with another woman, so what was this form actually asking about? Possibility of pregnancy? Exposure to STIs?
I decided to check ‘yes’ since I do consider myself to be sexually active and my doctor had mentioned that an STI could be a contributor to my problem.
Once I was inside the ultrasound room, lying on a table in a hospital gown, the technician noted that I was sexually active. She then muttered under her breath that I would need to be to to get a transvaginal ultrasound, while picking up a large internal ultrasound wand.
Not having known that being sexually active in a heteronormative sense was a prerequisite to the procedure, I decided that now was a good time to clarify. I tried to phrase my predicament as delicately as possible, so I emphasised that I had never had penetrative sex before.
The technician became very frustrated and started to interrogate me, demanding me to explain.
I thought that a medical professional who specialized in sexual healthcare would understand my phrasing. I thought that she would at least consider that different people have different types of sex.
Instead I was there, lying half-naked on a table, being yelled at by somebody who did not seem to consider sexual differences. Humiliated, I said in a very small voice, “well… I’m a lesbian.”
The technician’s demeanor instantly changed. She became less aggressive and seemed embarrassed. She left and brought back new paperwork for me and indicated that I should write that I was not sexually active and that I did not consent to the tests that I had previously consented to.
I went home frustrated about being yelled at and ultimately denied the testing that was recommended by my doctor. I decided to follow up with the clinic and while the receptionist was sympathetic and said that they would follow up with the technician, they also defended the clinic’s position by saying, that I was technically a virgin and that I shouldn’t have indicated otherwise.
This entire situation was incredibly uncomfortable for me and it could have been avoided if only the original paperwork had been clear in its questions. If I had space to elaborate on my sexual experiences in the paperwork, I would have and would have spared myself from the frustration of the technician. If I had known that penetrative sex was a prerequisite to the test, I would not have signed the consent form.
However, even with these language changes, the clinic’s penetrative sex requirement is an inappropriate policy. Everyone with a vagina should have access to reliable ultrasound tests regardless of sexual activity. Smaller ultrasound probes that can be used with less discomfort do exist, but unfortunately, not many ultrasound clinics use them. In my city of 600,000 people, you can only gain access to a smaller probe by going to the hospital.
When discussing barriers that lie between the LGBTQ2S+ community and healthcare, it’s not just about blatantly bigoted “bad apples” who refuse to treat queer patients. Barriers are deeply ingrained in the language that is used and assumptions that are made about a patient’s experience.
Barriers include failing to take LGBTQ2S+ experiences into account when designing medical procedures and failing to provide access medical equipment that works for all bodies, regardless of previous sexual activity. Barriers also arise when medical staff are ill-informed about the language that groups use to describe themselves and their experiences, and when this language is challenged in a hostile way.
Sexual health is incredibly important. However, encouraging people to take control of their sexual health only does so much if one’s identity and experiences are not incorporated into our healthcare systems.
By: Coby Zucker
Saturday’s Pride volleyball games went off without a hitch, in part due to the organizational skills of Shawn Small, a manager in the department of Athletics and Recreation. The event was designed to merge athletics with a celebration of the LGBTQA2S+ groups on campus and in the Hamilton area.
“It’s just a celebration of the community,” said Small. “And trying to bridge our department with the community on campus and outside in the Hamilton community. Again, it's a celebration game and just opening up the doors, making sure that people know what we stand for, who we are and making an inclusive environment for everyone.”
Small is something of an industry veteran, having had the opportunity to work in a similar role within the professional sports scene. During his time with the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, he was able to help organize a similar event for the Toronto Raptors. Looking at what the pro teams were doing, as well as other universities, it was only a matter of time before the Pride event wound its way into Marauders athletics.
“The Toronto Blue Jays do a game,” said Small. “And Ryerson University, York University. So it's something that's pretty prevalent in the sports community. Pretty common. So we felt that it's time that we make sure that we're recognizing and celebrating our community as well.”
@mcmasterwvb 🏐 warming up for their PRIDE DAY 🏳️🌈 game in their @truehamiltonian shirts. Get here to get yours and show your support! 💕
.#GoMacGo #YouCanPlay #HamiltonIsHome pic.twitter.com/zJIV3G7McF
— McMaster Marauders (@McMasterSports) February 9, 2019
Small explained that beyond just a celebration of the LGBTQA2S+ community, the event also helps promote equity and inclusion within university athletics.
“Generally, there's a stigma around sports and the LGBT community,” said Small. “So we're trying to break down those barriers and make sure people know that it's an inclusive and equitable environment at the David Braley Athletic Centre and at the Athletics and Recreation Department.”
Though high-level athletics and the LGBTQA2S+ community have frequently been at odds, Small feels as though stigma within the Marauders community is mostly imposed from the outside and not by teammates.
“I mean, we've had some openly gay athletes and student-athletes on our teams,” Small said. “And there is this stigma of people outside the sports world. But when you're in it, all the people on the teams that know these openly-gay athletes are already open arms, and there's no stigma within the environment. But when you're outside the environment, we feel like there is always a perceived stigma, but perception is not always reality.”
The game itself was an overwhelming success for the Marauders. Both the women and men’s volleyball teams easily handled the Nipissing University Lakers in three-set sweeps. While the women’s team has remained competitive in the Ontario University Athletics West division, the men’s team is in prime position to go for OUA gold once again.
Even still, the team’s dominance was not a large factor in the scheduling of the Pride event and was more of a happy coincidence.
“We don't have many available dates with other things going on,” said Small. “So it landed on this date and we're actually very excited again because the men's volleyball team has been doing so well and it's a strong draw — we always have a solid crowd. So it helps enhance what's already a good event.”
This is not the first time Marauders sports have been fused with celebratory or awareness-spreading campaigns. Bell Let’s Talk Day, which promotes conversation around mental health, was marked by a sizable campaign led by student-athletes and punctuated by McMaster basketball games in support of the event. Chances are, the two events won’t be where the themed games end.
“We're really trying to look at our calendar and schedule appropriately,” said Small. “Making sure that we have the opportunity to break down walls and invite different groups from all cultural, sexual orientation, gender or whatever it would be. So we try our best to make sure we spread the net wide and bring everyone together and to our building.”
After another successful social event in the Marauders community brought fans and athletes together through sports, the volleyball teams will build on this energy to boost them through the rest of the season.
In recent years, Hamilton’s downtown core has changed rapidly, with many businesses closing down and new ones popping up, just as fast. While some may welcome these changes, many others point to a loss for the LGBTQA2S+ community, with many popular gay bars closing down as the city evolved.
In the early 2000s, there were five major gay bars people could go to: The Werx, the Rainbow Lounge, The Embassy, M Bar and The Windsor, all of which were located in Hamilton’s downtown core. Since then, all of these bars have shut their doors.
For James Dee, a McMaster alum and Hamilton resident since 2004, bars such as the Embassy were an important aspect of their experience with Hamilton’s queer community as a place where they could go without threat of violence.
“We maybe have a little bit of drama and be kind of mean to each other….But when the lights came on at the end of the night you know everyone was checking in with each other like 'text when you get home and so I know you're safe,'” Dee said.
While Hamilton’s queer scene thrived in 2004, it was not without violence. In that same year, Hamilton Police Services, among other municipal agencies, raided the Warehouse Spa and Bath and arrested two men for indecent acts. That raid was followed by protests from Hamilton’s LGBTQA2S+ community.
“It felt a lot more dangerous to be visibly queer in 2004,” Dee said. “I think it's easy to kind of romanticize the time when we had brick and mortar spaces but it's also easy to forget why we needed those spaces so much.”
Dee believes that, to some degree, places closed down due to a decline in need, but also points to the gentrification of Hamilton as another key reason these spaces disappeared.
“It's not just the story of queer Hamilton, it's the story of Hamilton in general… a lot of the places I used to enjoy hanging out [at] are now bougie coffee shops,” Dee said.
For example, following the shuttering of the Werx’s door, the building was converted into the Spice Factory, a popular wedding venue.
“All across the board, [the gay bars] catered to people with less money,” Dee said. “They don't survive downtown anymore.”
For Sophie Geffros, another long-time Hamilton resident and McMaster graduate student, the loss of brick-and-mortar spaces has meant a segregation within the community.
Geffros, who spent their teen years in Hamilton, had many of their formative experiences at bars such as the Embassy, where they met older members of the LGBTA2S+ community in addition to those their own age.
“There is still an isolation that I think that can only be combated by in-person interaction,” Geffros said.
“We're a little more fragmented. Like if I'm going out… I'm going to be going out with people I already know who are members of the community,” they added.
For Geffros, the loss of Hamilton’s queer spaces is especially harmful, as these spaces were often the most accessible hangouts for queer people living in rural communities that lack direct bus service to Toronto.
“Those are people who are particularly isolated, who are often closeted throughout the week and would come to Hamilton on the weekend to blow off steam and be amongst themselves. That's a real loss,” Geffros said.
While there are no longer any physical LGBTQA2S+ spaces, there are opportunities for Hamilton’s queer community to converge. Dee is one of the founders of Queer Outta Hamilton, a collective that runs monthly queer pub nights, typically at Gallagher’s Pub.
There are also many LGBTQA2S+-friendly bars and clubs, such as Sous Bas, which offers queer events, typically in partnership with Queer Outta Hamilton.
While Hamilton may have lost its major physical queer spaces, the community continues to support each other the best they can.
If you are on campus at all during Welcome Week, you might notice a wave of Welcome Week representatives out and about with flamingo patches on their suits. These patches symbolize the new Pride Representative Network at work, a pet project of Miranda Clayton, the McMaster Students Union Pride Community Centre coordinator.
“This year, when I took over the [PCC], we did this whole thing where we rebranded it, we completely overhauled it and how we conceptualize our LGBT community on campus,” she said.
If a representative has a flamingo patch on their suit, it means that they are knowledgeable about all the services and supports available to McMaster students. These representatives also serve as ambassadors for the PCC during Welcome Week, as they can offer information to any first-year students who may be interested in learning more.
According to Clayton, the LGBT community at McMaster has felt fractured for many years, partly due to the focus on cisgender, gay men in typically LGBT spaces.
“I started at Mac in 2011, and I've been a bisexual on this campus for about 8 years now… When I got here, and I knew the QSCC existed, but I didn't feel like it was a place I could go, because it was very much presented itself as a place if you are gay and only gay, which I'm not,” she said.
“I wasn't in that straight/gay binary that people seem to think exists, so I was like, "I guess this isn't a place I can go,” Clayton added. She also pointed to results from her survey, which illustrated that many students on campus felt they were not welcome at the PCC, whether they were trans, non binary, bisexual or lesbians.
“We are truly for everyone under the LGBT spectrum,” Clayton said.
As a part of her initial assessment of the service, Clayton sent out a community assessment survey for LGBT students to complete, and found that many LGBT students were either unfamiliar or unaware of the PCC’s existence.
Another issue plaguing the service, according to Clayton, is simply its location; unlike other MSU peer support spaces on campus, the PCC’s main space is in a part of the McMaster Student University Centre that does not receive a large amount of foot traffic.
Clayton hopes that the Pride Rep Network will alleviate some of that confusion by offering students information about LGBT spaces on campus the second they enter campus grounds.
At the time of writing, there are currently 192 representatives signed up to be a part of the Pride Rep Network, and Clayton only expects that number to grow as more representatives are given the chance to sign up. Both the PCC and other faculty societies will post about the initiative during Welcome Week to ensure students are aware of what the flamingo patches mean.
For another representative, supporting LGBT students comes at a crucial time, as they will be a social science representative and is one of the reps a part of the Pride Rep Network.
“When [the MSSS Welcome Week planner] reached out to us about this experience, that's when I researched roughly some of the communities, I looked up Miranda, and saw some of the movement and the story she was telling and I thought that was very compelling and I thought it was an important initiative that needs to be on campus,” they said.
As the summer winds down and campus is flooded once again, LGBT students attending McMaster can take solace in the flamingos that will quietly attending classes with them.
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By: Sophie Geffros
Someone you know has been homeless.
This can be hard concept to wrap your head around — if you’re lucky, homelessness is something that happens to other people, and we can only conceive of homelessness as what housing advocates call “street homelessness.” According to a 2013 report by the Wellesley Institute, for every individual identified as street homeless, another four are part of what advocates call the “hidden homeless” population.
Think of your high school friend who surfed couches when his parents kicked him out after discovering he was gay. Think of the sibling that struggles with addiction and is in and out of halfway houses. Think of the friend who confessed tearfully that she and her mother spent the summer in a women’s shelter after leaving a violent spouse. The majority of the homeless population is intermittently homeless, and therefore hidden. Even if you don’t know anyone like I just described, I promise you that statistically speaking you have worked with, or attended classes with, or been friends with someone who has been homeless. It’s not the kind of thing you talk about, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t present.
The Degroote School of Business’ “5 Days for the Homeless” both ignores these populations and gives a false idea of what street homelessness looks like. 20 percent of the street homeless population are youth 16-24, of whom at least 40 percent are LGBT and about 60 percent are Aboriginal. When surveyed by Covenant House, they identified the greatest risk to their lives to be physical and sexual assault while sleeping rough or in shelters. Spending five nights sleeping outside the Student Centre gives a false idea of what homelessness is, and is far safer than the conditions street homeless youth actually experience.
It is good to raise money for charity. Nobody is denying that. But donating food to middle class students so they can pretend at homelessness borders on self-parody. If you have a genuine desire to alleviate suffering in the Hamilton community, donate your time or money directly to the Good Shepherd, or the Hamilton Dream Centre, or the Hamilton Community Core, or any of the dozens of other neighborhood food banks and housing programs that assist the vulnerable in our community. The campus OPIRG runs an excellent program called “Food Not Bombs,” and you can begin the process of helping them out without even leaving campus.
Programs like 5 Days for the Homeless appeal to us because they sanitize housing insecurity. They make us feel good about ourselves for caring, without having to be confronted with the unpleasant realities of homelessness. Advocates for the campaign will say that it raises awareness of street homelessness, but raising awareness for street homelessness is absurd. If you are honestly unaware that people are sleeping on the streets in our city, you are willfully ignoring the men and women sleeping rough by every downtown bus stop.
Spending five nights sleeping outside the Student Centre gives a false idea of what homelessness is.
I want to ask you a question: do you look at street homeless people when you see them on the sidewalk? How many of you are willing to donate your food and converse with the students aping at homelessness outside of MUSC, but ignore the man at the bus stop asking for change? How often do you justify not helping when you are confronted with the need by saying “well, they’re just going to spend it on drugs anyway?” How often do you willfully look away when you are confronted with suffering? Too many of us fail to recognize the humanity and dignity of others when confronted with their pain. We can all strive to be better at this. Pretending to understand a struggle that is not ours so that we can write heart-warming Facebook posts about what we’ve learned is not the way to go about it. The unkempt street homeless man who asks you for a dollar is just as human as the commerce student sleeping outside the student centre.
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By: Kaiwen Song
Television programs, with their widespread reach and exposure, can have many beneficial impacts on individuals and society. TV not only provides entertainment, but can also help generate societal acceptance of minority groups such as the LGBTQ community through positive representation. Looking back we can see the impact that TV shows featuring LGBTQ characters, such as Will & Grace and Glee had on the increasing acceptance of queer people in North America. These shows had a snowball effect, with many others beginning to feature LGBTQ characters. Indeed, 2015 saw a plethora of attempts at positive representation. Unfortunately, they often left much to be desired. Here are three major ways in which we could improve LGBTQ representation on television in 2016.
First, give LGBTQ characters enough screen time to fully develop. Creating a character that only says a few inconsequential words every episode — or worse, flashes by on screen for mere seconds — is not enough to leave a lasting impression. One example is Captain David Singh in The Flash. While the show is theoretically highly inclusive, Singh, the gay police captain is only featured in 16 of the 23 total episodes with a total screen time of less than two minutes. Similarly, Teen Wolf featured the token gay lacrosse player Danny for less than five minutes throughout its first three seasons before the character disappeared altogether with no explanation. These token LGBTQ characters are extremely disappointing. How can an audience enjoy or relate to a character they don’t get the chance to know?
Secondly, ensure that your attempts at positive representation don’t end up doing more harm than good. Quantico, one of the most anticipated shows of 2015, had commercials that highlighted the inclusion of a major gay character named Simon — the show held extra promise as it was created by Joshua Safran, who is openly gay. This promise was shattered almost immediately when it was revealed that Simon was only pretending to be gay, meaning that TV was robbed of some potentially fantastic queer representation. Safran didn’t stop there; the other minor gay character on Quantico was depicted as cowardly, running away from a bomb while others stayed behind to defuse it, later committing suicide at the prospect of facing imprisonment after being caught for a crime. Both actions perpetuated the negative stereotype of the cowardly or incapable gay man. Needless to say, LGBTQ characters do not, and should not, have to be perfect human beings, however, with so few representations of queer characters on TV, we must take care that the few rare portrayals of LGBTQ characters on TV don’t buy into pre-existing negative stereotypes.
Thirdly, do not be afraid to show LGBTQ characters engaged in romantic and sexual relationships. Modern Family, a comedy series with several LGBTQ writer-producers, is a success on many fronts: it features a gay couple in major roles and allows them to be both good and bad, nuanced just like the rest of the characters. However, Modern Family has long been criticized for glossing over displays of physical intimacy between its gay character. According to the American Sociological Review’s 2014 study, although people may support civil rights for the LGBTQ community, many are still be uncomfortable seeing same-sex public displays of affection. Thus, it is important for TV shows such as Modern Family to play a role in normalizing same-sex physical intimacy. Seeing characters at their most affectionate and intimate is an important part of seeing them as human.
2015 saw a plethora of attempts at positive representation. Unfortunately, they often left much to be desired.
Fulfilling all three criteria, all the while maintaining critical and commercial success, is not impossible: take a look at How To Get Away With Murder. The show features a lead bisexual character and a major gay character, each with individual strengths and weaknesses, who are part of romantic relationships that are depicted with as much explicitness as their straight counterparts. By taking the time and effort to portray members of the LGBTQ community in a meaningful way, TV shows can be elevated from being simply entertaining to being influential and important. Writers and producers — straight and LGBTQ alike — take note!
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It’s clear that the year old MSU Women & Gender Equity Network is settling comfortably into the fabrics of the campus. From November 16 to 20 WGEN ran a weeklong campaign for Trans Visibility Week. Events revolved around awareness, acceptance and the promotion of open discussion.
Hayley Regis, WGEN coordinator, is enthusiastic about the support.
“Last year we ran a little event on trans visibility, trans programs and trans rights, but that was only a pilot. This year we wanted to do something on a larger scale,” she said.
The week opened with events like Trans Archive and mini information sessions geared towards teaching people how to be better allies.
“I want people to know what trans is,” explained Regis. “I did Welcome Week training and a lot of people didn’t know that being trans is not a sexuality. We want to be able to explain things to people who have never been exposed to this kind of stuff before, making it accessible while still doing advocacy.”
Monday ended with a screening of the Marsha P. Johnson documentary ‘Pay It No Mind.’ This is not the only movie made in the name of revolutionary trans activist Johnson; The 2015 film Stonewall has been critiqued for promoting cis-whitewashing, a topic of conversation that came up in the discussion period after the viewing. “A lot of people who came out were already engaged in conversations about trans identity,” gearing the event more to those already immersed and familiar with the community.
Wednesday’s activities largely revolved around self-care, with activities such as yoga and a storytelling circle. Friday featured a talk with a talk from keynote speaker Dr. Carys Masserella. Dr. Masserella leads the team of physicians at the Quest Community Health Centre, a care clinic specifically for transfolk located in St. Catherine’s.
“I think people from a lot of different areas of McMaster would be interested in seeing a talk by someone that works as a doctor but works as a doctor that runs one of the only specialized clinics in Canada.”
The week ended with a vigil for those who have passed in acts of hate and anti-trans violence. Candles were decorated in the WGEN office before hand, sparkles and markers strewn about by those who walked in to show their support.
Moving forward, Regis hopes to have similar events sprinkled throughout the year.
“While we have the underying rhetoric of supporting survivors and transfolk and anyone really, we are working towards showing that more outwardly.”
Downsizing to a single day or hour of events instead of a whole week would allow for more frequent events as well as the potential for repetition of the events that garnered the most support. For Regis, she would love to see have another viewing of ‘Pay It Forward,” her favourite event in what was a successful week of advocacy by WGEN.