Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Busy News Day

The Monday "Vancouver Sun" is probably the least interesting edition of the entire week.  For one, it's short, each section usually no more than a few pages, and the entire paper itself is skinny, not nearly the great behemoth that shows up on our doorstep early every Saturday morning. Still, as I've learned over the years, don't be deceived about the contents just because it doesn't look like there's much there.  You might be very surprised.

As I was yesterday, Monday, December 21, 2009, when I started to turn the pages of the newspaper.  In two separate sections, there were not one, not two, but three pieces on some aspect of being gay, all of which I found engaging--and disturbing.  What I found interesting was that each piece said something about the current state of what it means to be gay today.  Unfortunately, in virtually all three cases, I discovered there is still much to do to further the cause of being gay.

Here's a brief synopsis on the three articles that appeared on the same day:

1).  In the "Sports" section, former NBA player John Amaechi, himself an out gay man, had advice for Gareth Thomas, the ex-Wales rugby captain, after he disclosed that he's gay.  Amaechi had the following to say:  '"When people learn you are gay, often that can squash your definition so all the good stuff goes and you just become 'some gay rugby player,' which is quite difficult for many athletes to deal with." And, 'homophobia still exists in sport.  "Sport still needs to grow up in certain areas," said the Briton.  "As much as society has moved on, sport is still dragging behind [p. C4]."'

I would add to this that homophobia is still largely prevalent in the military too, particularly in the U.S. military, where the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is still in place, which is the source of much grief for dedicated men and women of the armed forces.

I couldn't agree more with Amaechi.  But, in general, society still needs to grow up about homosexuality.    It's all well and good to state that society has moved on where homosexuality is concerned--I assume he suggests that it's no longer an issue--but, in many cases, that isn't the case at all.  I think the overall attitude of many people is that there's nothing wrong with gay people--as long as they're not in their own families. That's another thing altogether.

Plus, "XTRA! West," the local gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper, still reports on a regular basis that someone in the gay community has been yet another victim of gay bashing, and that local law enforcement was hesitant in calling assaults against gays and lesbians hate crimes. There's still a lot of work to be done to help gay men and lesbian women feel safe, even on some of the streets in our biggest cities in Canada.

And one final thought on this article:  Who can believe that the status and reputation of an up-and-coming sports figure is changed just because he comes out of the closet, and that he's reduced to "some gay whatever?"  Did something suddenly happen to his ability to play the sport he's engaged in just because he came out?  Incredible.  

2).  In the "Canada and World" section was an article about Scott Brison, "an openly gay Nova Scotia MP," who "ignited controversy" when he mailed out Christmas cards with an innocuous picture of him, his male partner, Maxime St. Pierre, and their dog, Simba, affixed.  The picture was taken this fall in a field near the home that all three share. Brison and St. Pierre stand several feet away from each other, both wearing appropriate autumn attire, while Simba sits between them. Brison was surprised when a news story appeared on a national newspaper website, believing that politicians have sent out cards with family pictures on them for many years, and none has ever made the news.  Brison also added that, through emails and phone calls, he's received plenty of support from people across his riding, from Canada, and around the world.

I applaud Scott Bison for what he did.  I think he's being disingenuous if he thought sending out a Christmas card of this nature wouldn't get the attention of the media.  Frankly, it's not every day that people see two men declare their relationship in a picture, whether its on a Christmas card or elsewhere (although the two of them almost look as if they could be brothers, which would have generated no media stir at all).

That said, what he did was not only not wrong, it was time someone pushed the envelope and made the statement that lots of gay men are in long-term, monogamous, and loving relationships, and that no special attention should be paid to them.  All gays and lesbians want are the same rights straight people have to love who they choose and to go about their lives together.  If the picture of Brison and St. Pierre, likely carried now in major newspapers across the country, help Canadians become adjusted to the idea of gay men being in relationships together, then I have to extend a big thank-you to whoever came up with this idea.  Chris and I really admire what Brison did, and we plan to send out Christmas cards with our picture as a couple on them next year. (Plus, I intend to send an email to Brison to thank him for the example he set.  See separate post in this blog.)

3).  And, finally, also in the "Canada and World" section was an article by Craig and Marc Keilburger, co-founders of the organization Free the Children, who write articles that appear in "The Vancouver Sun" weekly, and who try to bring injustices around the globe to the attention of people in first world countries.  Monday's article was entitled "Uganda's anti-gay law will closet homosexuals, lead to more high-risk behaviour, increase HIV/AIDS infections."

Here are some of the telling quotes from the article:

"...The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 is currently being debated before Ugandan parliament.  Criticized worldwide, it threatens gay, lesbian and transgender individuals with life imprisonment and, until recent amendments, the death penalty."

Further:  "Those who don't report homosexuals to the authorities would face a fine and up to three years in prison.  That includes people working in public health agencies trying to counsel homosexual men on HIV prevention."  It could also include family and friends of gay and lesbian men in Uganda.

Finally:  '"If you are going to be given life in prison when your sexuality becomes a matter of public record, how likely are you to seek treatment [for HIV and AIDS]?...This not only sentences the gay and bisexual male population to jail time, it sentences them to death because there can be no discussion about HIV/AIDS [all quotes are from p. B7]."

I think the gist of the article is evident in the quotes above.  Here we have an African country that blames  homosexuals for the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and it believes that by wielding severe penalties for being gay, it can fix and eradicate the illness and suffering of its people.  But what it's really doing is making matters infinitely worse by sending gay people underground, by denying them the medical attention and counseling they need and deserve, and by forcing gay men to marry women, while, in many cases, still engaging in sex with men.  All of this can only spell disaster.

That we're hearing about an Anti-Homosexual Bill being debated in the parliament of any country in 2009 send shivers up my spine.  And enforcing the reporting of gays to authorities amounts to nothing less than a witch hunt.  I'm appalled that gay men and lesbian women would be thought of in this way, and that friends and relatives could face such severe penalties for failing to turn in loved ones who are gay.

It's a wild and wacky world we live in, and we have a long way to go to ensure gays and lesbians are treated the same as straight people in countries at all four corners of the earth.


  1. Hello Rick, I've been going through your early posts and I admire the depth you bring to real issues. As an African myself, I fully appreciate the hostility towards gay people on the continent and the sad thing is this- It is not going to get better.

    For most of us, the closet is a temporary home whether you are home or abroad. In my case, acknowledgment and self-acceptance are big steps in themselves but I'm not sure there's room for further transition.


  2. Donald, many thanks for your kind words about my writing and blog. With each post, I try hard to get to the core of what I need to say. It's great to have readers like you who appreciate my efforts.

    I've included several posts here, particularly those written in January and February of this year, for those struggling to accept and love themselves, when they can't be as open about being gay as many can in other countries. I hope you'll take a look at those because I believe you'll find them helpful.

    Ultimately, the advice I give is limited. I know I can't suggest all gay people should leave their homelands to live somewhere more accepting of them. That's not realistic. What I believe is realistic, no matter where you are, is you can know in your heart you are all right just the way you are. And you can love yourself, as you say, a huge step in itself, but so necessary to your spiritual wellbeing.

    I pray wherever you live that enlightenment of the people and the country occurs very soon, and that you will be able to live your life as a fully realized gay man. My thoughts are with you.

    Thanks again for your interest in what I have to say and for taking the time to leave a heartfelt comment. I hope to hear from you again soon.

    Stay positive and live comfortably in your truth.