As all Canadians know, Toronto thinks it is the centre of the Universe, and in late June it just might be. The G-20 Summit will be held in Toronto from June 26-27, bringing together leaders from all 19 countries and the European Union, involving incredible security measures, and essentially shutting down normal activity from June 20-29, all at a cost of billions of dollars.
Yet, as incredible as it may seem, while the leaders of the world are staving off global financial implosion, the 30th Annual Pride Week Toronto (June 25-July 4) will "celebrate the history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto's LGBTTIQQ2SA communities" [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies*]. They will do so with a VIP Launch Party on June 25, followed by events June 26-28 including: Seniors’ Pride on the Island; Miss Queer HUELLAS; Among Friends: Refugee Pride; We Are Family; You Belong With God; Pride Prom 2010: A Space Odyssey; and The 519’s Older LGBT Pride Picnic.
This may give new meaning to the G-20 Summit's theme of “Recovery and New Beginnings”, especially as formal protest activities are being organized for the same days. Perhaps the protesters will show greater diversity too, as various sites are inviting people to combine Pride Week and G-20 Protest. Fortunately, the highest profile Pride events, the Transgender March, the Dyke March, and the Pride Parade will be held on the July 2-4 weekend.
Perhaps the G-20 and the GLBTQ will meet common cause over Pride Toronto's stated value to manage itself "with fiscal responsibility and foresight, ensuring the viability of the organization and the fulfillment of its mission." Perhaps the "We're Here and We're Queer" crowd will be able to help the G-20 " further their discussions on ways to ensure transparency in the marketplace". Although I am not sure how the goal of the one, to celebrate "with provocative, racy, and outrageous events", facilitates the aim of the other, "to help reduce excessive risk taking and to encourage a culture of prudent behaviour focused on the long term", I'm sure Stephen will tell us.
However, there is high irony in Prime Minister Stephen Harper changing the venue of the G-20 summit to Toronto during Pride Week, as one of his first acts as Prime Minister was to flee to the Arctic to avoid opening the XVIth International AIDS Conference held in Toronto in August 2006. It was unprecedented--outside of Canada and Jean Chretien in 1996--for any national leader not to at least open this very high profile bi-annual international conference on AIDS research and treatment, and which affects all segments of society though not equally.
It was hard to find any excuse for the Prime Minister to not make the 1/2 hour flight from Ottawa to Toronto, give a 20 minute speech around 9 AM, take a few photos, and then head north for the suddenly urgent visit to Iqaluit, with a total delay of about 1.5-2 hours. Nor did Harper make an appearance at any other time in the 6 day conference. He was too busy in the Canadian Arctic highlighting potential sovereignty issues as circumpolar navigation becomes a real possibility with global climate change and the opening of previously frozen Arctic waters--some time in the future. It was especially hard given the others in attendance, including Bill Clinton, and Bill Gates.
President Bill Clinton speaking at the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto
Mayor David Miller hosted the AIDS conference, without an appearance by newly elected PM Stephen Harper
Nevertheless, there is, of course, a very serious side to both events, the G-20 Summit most obviously, but also to Pride Week.While current laws in Canada are liberal about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and same-sex rights are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it wasn't so long ago that things were quite different. Although then Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau (part of the Liberal Cabinet of PM Lester B Pearson) made the famous statement, "the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation", as he de-criminalized homosexual behaviour in 1969, as late as 1981 Toronto police raided gay bathhouses and arrested 306 men, the largest Canadian mass arrest second to that of the 1970 FLQ crisis (under the War Measures Act). The men were publicly humiliated by being force out onto the street, in their bath towels only, and their were names publicized, which ruined the lives of many. The response then was a demonstration by Toronto gays and their supporters, legal defense for the arrested, the formation of Gays and Lesbians Against the Right, and the incorporation of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Toronto. Now Toronto is among the most gay friendly cities of a gay friendly country.
Canada has become a country of refuge for gays and lesbians from countries which are markedly less liberal. One leader in facilitating life for gay Muslims and homosexuals seeking refugee status from MENA countries is Jordanian Canadian Al-Hussein. His compelling story was told in the Globe and Mail in 2004:
[...]Along with 4 other gay men, Al-Hussein was featured in the documentary Gloriously Free, titled after the words in the Canadian national anthem, "God keep our land glorious and free!" [Canadian children tend to sing this as "...glorious and freeze"--rather aptly really, given the climate. It is a phonetic error similar to that of American children who commonly sing, "José! can you see by the dawn's early light..."]
“I have lost everything, but I don’t regret coming here. Now I can walk down the street without having to watch my back, wondering if I will be killed.”
When he left Amman, he gave up a 20-year career as a set designer for Jordan Television, and signed over all his assets—a BMW and Suzuki Jeep, a home and interior design business and his inheritance—to his brother, the one who had tried to kill him.
“I don’t approve of what my brother did, but I understand why he did it. It was about preserving the family’s honour,” he says, pulling down his sock to reveal several white scars and tapping his false teeth.
Mr. Hussein’s life story is one of wealth and privilege, as well as secrecy and shame, as he struggled to fit into a traditional Arab culture that considers homosexuality the greatest sin.
The family moved in the same social and political circles as the royal family.
His father, who served both as deputy defence minister and as an adviser to the royal family, received special permission from the late King Hussein I for his son to have the same name.
Mr. Hussein was educated at the best private schools and grew up in a five-bedroom house, surrounded by servants. There were weekends at Dead Sea resorts, and summer vacations at five-star hotels in Paris.
While still a teenager, Mr. Hussein began a clandestine affair with a family “slave” named Amber, a gift to the family from King Hussein’s uncle. “Because of the strict segregation of genders in Arab culture, there is a lot of closeted homosexuality,” he says.
“Most men at some stage have sex with a man because they all have needs. Women are supposed to stay virgins until they marry.”
Rumours about his homosexuality began to spread, and his father forced him to marry in 1986 when he was 29. He told his fiancée the truth, but she accepted the match because of the Hussein family’s social cachet. The couple had three children through artificial insemination.
Mr. Hussein tried to conduct his gay affairs discreetly, but in 1996, he fell in love with the head of Jordan’s national judo team. He separated from his wife and built a house on the outskirts of Amman where the lovers could meet in secret.
One night, his brother caught the two men kissing, and, enraged, threw Mr. Hussein down the stairs, breaking his leg. He underwent surgery, and spent three months in the hospital recovering, with an armed bodyguard posted outside his room.
His brother later shot him in the hospital lobby after Mr. Hussein’s lover came to visit him. When he was released, it was not to his own home, but to a tiny servant’s room with bars on the window in his brother’s home. He had become his family’s prisoner.
A sympathetic aunt in Toronto persuaded his father that Canada could save him. And so Mr. Hussein gave up his pampered life and came to Toronto with $300 (U.S.).
He went on to form Salaam, a gay rights organization for Muslims, as well as Wattan, an organization that helps gay refugees.
Recently, he summoned the courage to tell his 15-year-old daughter in an e-mail why he left the country. “She wrote me back and said, ‘You’re still my father and I love you and accept you,’” he said.
Gloriously Free is the first documentary ever to explore the world of gay immigration and the desperate search of five young men to find welcoming arms outside their countries of birth, where persecution and hatred of alternative lifestyles may lead to discrimination, torture or death. What they find is Canada, a vast country that now leads the world as the safest haven for persecuted international gays and lesbians. In just three years, the country has issued over 3,000 immigration permits to international gays and lesbians seeking refugee status, more than any other market in the world. Their compelling stories have global reach as same-sex partnerships fuel international dialogue about why North America - and Canada in particular - has softened its political stance on same-sex preference and orientation. Excluded from the opportunity to live freely in their native countries, these five remarkable and resilient young men tell stories of blackmail and torture, of broken legs and facing the end of a gun barrel.I recently had a conversation with a 19-year-old Saudi student from Jeddah, who came to Canada to study English one year ago, and didn't want to return home after the year was up. His father cut him off financially, so he was working evenings and nights in a convenience store, and studying full time in the daytime. He was also asking for refugee status. I said, "Well I know many people who have made a false claim of...", but before I could finish with different examples, he said, "Yes, many say they are homosexuals, and they will be killed if they go back to their country. I know many Saudis who have done this." I didn't expect this claim, as it was the first I had heard of it; and I didn't ask what grounds he would be using.
Languages: English, Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin, Polish, Russian, Spanish
He was claiming refugee status as he didn't want just a student visa, but rather a visa that would give him the right to work off-campus, which making a refugee claim does. Making a refugee claim also provides other benefits, as does being a refugee, which a student visa doesn't, like free health care. I still think he would do better with a student visa and a similar (minimum wage) job on campus, but I wasn't able to discuss that with him, given the casualness of our acquaintance. I'm not sure if he or the others recognize that later a false claim on those grounds could become problematic, in any instance where documentation was required about visas, citizenship status and how acquired. The same is true of military deferments on false medical grounds. It isn't the falseness, it is the grounds that may be a problem in some circumstances, for example that of a friend whose initial application for a visa to Canada was rejected because of the false medical claim he used for deferment of obligatory military service in his home country.
Apparently refugee claims of homosexuality and persecution by family and government are now so common that many claims are rejected for lack of proof, or evidence. Claimants are required to provide witnesses to their gay lifestyle, and documentation like love letters and photos (hard to fake given forensic detection of timing of the documents). Lawyers say that their clients may have spent a lifetime hiding signs that they were gay from their family, society, and repressive government and so have no evidence; or be too new to the community here (where they may be out for the first time) to have longer term evidence of relationships and friends willing to testify (not all homosexuals are out to their families, workplaces, heterosexual friends, clubs, etc, even in the major cities). Some lawyers introduce their clients into the gay community, and have them build social connections to support their refugee claim.
After the 2006 International AIDS conference in Toronto 160 participants refused to return to their homelands and sought asylum in Canada, claiming persecution as homosexuals in a number of countries. Some have been rejected, and others have had their claims accepted. However, this poses a problem in some senses. It does little to advance gay rights in their home countries, and it also accentuates and may exaggerate the intolerance for gays in those countries--in the eyes of Immigration Canada and the government generally, and in broader Canadian society, especially as this type of topic is prime fodder for journalists who have access to information about grounds for refugee claims, approval rates, etc.
Which brings us back to Toronto and the G-20/ GLBTQ interface: both funny and serious. Security measures will be serious. Clashes with protesters hopefully not too serious. Having a simultaneous influx of Pride Week celebrants and G-20 participants could be funny, though crowded. And...Toronto's gay "ghetto" and the financial district aren't that far apart--geographically!
Yes, indeed, while it may not be the centre of the Universe, for a few days in June, Toronto will be painting the G-20 meeting in the rainbow colours of GLBTQ Pride.
What do you think of the G-20 and Pride Week being held together in the same city?
What is your impression of the choice of Toronto for the G-20 Summit, given the security questions, the economic compromises, the cost vs major city, prestigious event, central hub?
Would it have been better to hold it as originally planned in a smaller out of the way place, like a resort?
What positive functions, if any, do the G-20 summits serve?
What is your reaction to LGBTTIQQ2SA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies)*?
Have you ever seen a Pride Parade? What was your impression?
How accepting, or not, is your country/ culture/ religion of non-heterosexuality? Formally or informally? In public or in private?
What is your impression of Al-Hussein's life experience and current life?
What would you have advised the Saudi student to do about staying, obtaining a visa, other?
What types of domestic problems in other countries should be considered for refugee status in a different country?
Is Canada too accepting of refugees?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?
*Transsexuals or Transgendered are those who are "in the wrong body" for their psychological gender, and usually seek sex-change therapy with hormones and surgical reconstruction; Intersex are those with ambiguous or a dual set of genitalia and sex characteristics ("hermaphrodites"); Queerness is more an attitude and style, one with socio-political connotations/ Questioning are those who question their own gender identity or sexual orientation; 2 Spirited is the Native North American concept of homosexuality/ bi-sexuality/ mixed gender roles; Allies are the supporters (often heterosexual) of the "not straight", "not hetero-normative". In medicine in Canada, where relevant, patients are asked to "self-identify" regarding gender identity and sexual orientation. Self-identification is the criterion for identification of gender and sexual-orientation used by society more broadly as well.
All posts on the G-20 Summit:
The G-20 Meet the GlBTQ
The G(irls) 20 Summit: Part I--Background
The G(irls) 20 Summit: Part II--The Delegates
G-20 Summit 2010 Toronto: Protesters vs Demonstrators vs Rioters; Another Brilliant Harper Idea
G-20 Summit 2010 Toronto: Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, and Young Saudi Delegates
G-20 Summit Toronto 2010: Summarized--Part I Fake Lake and Fiscal Responsibility, Indeed
G-20 Summit Toronto 2010: Summarized--Part II Riots, Amnesty International, and an Unfinished Agenda