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PrideHouse Toronto: Ensuring a place for all in sport

Inclusive venue attracts first major corporate sponsor

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PrideHouse, gay news, Washington Blade
PrideHouse, gay news, Washington Blade

A group of volunteers in front of PrideHouse in Toronto. (Photo courtesy Les Johnson)

This summer, LGBT athletes, coaches, spectators and visitors to the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games experienced a decidedly positive, safe, welcoming and fun environment. That’s due to the efforts of PrideHouse Toronto, which has been working with the 2015 Organizing Committee and the city for the past three years to make the TORONTO 2015 Games the most inclusive multi-sport games in history. Central to these efforts is the PrideHouse Pavilion, offering a safe, welcoming space for LGBT and allied athletes, visitors and local residents to watch and celebrate the Games.

For all the successes that we have achieved in human rights, sport continues to be a human endeavor that is still not accessible to everyone, particularly LGBT people. That was made clear during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Not only did LGBT people not feel safe, they faced jail and persecution for being themselves as either participants or spectators.

Eleven nations competed at the TORONTO 2015 Games that still criminalize LGBT activity. Even in those countries where it is legal, our communities still face discrimination on the streets, in classrooms and on the field of play.

That’s why it was imperative for the 14 organizations that founded PrideHouseTO to send a message worldwide that there can be a place for all in sport. We know that when we make sport and recreation spaces more inclusive for LGBT people, that they become more welcoming and inclusive for everyone. This is especially important for opening doors to our young LGBT athletes.

PrideHouseTO is part of an international movement offering inclusive spaces for LGBT people and allies within multi-sport games. Akin to the various national houses at such events, they are welcoming places to view the competitions, to enjoy the event, to learn about LGBT sport and homophobia in sport and to build relations with mainstream sport. The first Pride House was organized for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver/Whistler, with others following in Warsaw (2012 UEFA Euro football cup), London (2012 Summer Olympics) and Glasgow Commonwealth Games (2014).

The next Pride Houses are already being planned for the Rio Olympics in 2016, the South Korean Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in 2018, and the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020. Pride House representatives from all those countries are visiting Toronto to get a first-hand look at the largest Pride House to date.

PrideHouse Toronto has achieved a number of firsts. For the first time in Pan Am history, an openly gay runner participated in the torch relay, arising from the close partnership of PrideHouseTO with the TORONTO 2015 Organizing Committee. It’s the first to ever receive government funding, which in this case came from the government of Ontario and City of Toronto. And PrideHouse TO lead partner CIBC is the first major corporate sponsor in the history of the Pride House movement.

Located in the heart of Toronto, PrideHouse offered daily live feed games viewing at its licensed indoor lounge. Each weekend of the games, PrideHouse Celebrates! offered outdoor licensed games viewing, parties and entertainment. It took over an adjacent street where sports organizations offered sports demonstrations and recreational activities for families and people of all ages.

The Pavilion also hosted a number of visits by LGBT athletes and allies. The Canadian Olympic Committee and PrideHouseTO hosted a reception during Pride Toronto in late June with athletes and members of amateur and professional sports organizations including representatives from the Canadian Football League, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Right to Play, who all marched in the parade under the banner #oneteam. The event sent a powerful message that the movement to welcome and embrace LGBT athletes is growing at both amateur and professional levels of sport.

If you are going to be visiting Toronto, you should definitely add visiting the PrideHouse Pavilion located at 519 Church Street to your list of must do activities this summer.

Les Johnson is vice president of external affairs for the Federation of Gay Games, gaygames.org. Learn more about Pride House International at pridehouseinternational.org.

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Supreme Court: What we know is bad enough. What should we do?

If you want a better Supreme Court, if you want better policies, if you want a better democracy, you must vote and get others to vote

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(Blade photo by Michael Key)

As the shock of actually seeing a Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade sunk in, reporters and many concerned people once again started asking me whether the Republican Party and the Supreme Court it has packed with agenda-driven justices pose a threat to same-sex couples’ freedom to marry, which we won through a decades-long campaign. My one-word answer was and is: vote. 

When an alarm sounds and there’s a fire in your kitchen, you don’t sit back and debate whether it might spread to the bedroom. You fight the fire. 

Don’t waste time and energy sitting around cataloguing all the many additional bad things that might happen. What’s happening right now, to women, to all of us, is bad enough – and we can do something about it. We can elect representatives who will defend the rights of Americans and strengthen our democracy, who will pass legislation to protect voting rights and reproductive rights (and elections, economic opportunity, racial justice, and more), and who will select judges and justices who are faithful to the Constitution, not to theocratic ideology, partisan or shadowy funders’ regressive agendas, or an oligarchic wealth and power grab. We can vote out the elected officials who are dividing Americans to distract and demoralize them, foisting their unpopular minority views on our pluralistic people, driving our country into a ditch.

Those who would roll back the clock on America’s progress, and even undermine American democracy itself, didn’t succumb to despair, cynicism, apathy, or inaction, and nor should we. We can mobilize and turn out. We can overcome obstacles. We can reclaim power.

Who gets elected makes a difference. 

Republican senators, led by Mitch McConnell, stole a Supreme Court seat (now filled by Neil Gorsuch). They railroaded through a second Trump nominee (Brett Kavanaugh) without meaningfully investing his sketchy past (not just the credible charges of lying about a sexual assault, but Kavanaugh’s paper-trail while in government and even his finances and the unresolved question of who paid off his debts). They ruthlessly (and hypocritically) seated a third Trump nominee (Amy Barrett) literally in the middle of an election. They pretended to believe that these nominees would respect precedent. And, of course, it was Republican presidents who packed the Supreme Court with litmus-tested ideologues; would Hillary Clinton have appointed the three right-wingers that Trump did? Would Al Gore have chosen the likes of Samuel Alito? 

Voting, or not choosing to turn out to vote, has consequences.

The justices installed by Republican presidents who didn’t even win the popular vote have gutted voting rights, subverted labor organizing, shifted the rules of the economy to favor the wealthy, carved out special licenses to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom, impeded progressive and pro-environment actions of government (intended to be, as FDR put it, our people’s “greatest single instrument of cooperative self-help”), and now, come after women’s empowerment and health.

No political party, no politician, is perfect, but the difference between the Democrats and Republicans today could not be starker – not just because they differ radically on matters of policy, but because the primary difference is now that one is the Democratic Party and the other is anti-democracy itself. 

And the difference between heading in the right direction and the dark place American politics is in right now can turn on as small a number as two: If there were two more Democratic senators, notwithstanding Republican obstruction and Trumpist lies, the Senate would dispense with the filibuster and follow the House in passing legislation to safeguard our elections and Americans’ right to vote, assure access to abortion, reform policing, invest in the middle class, extend the Child Tax Credit, address the need for safety in the face of the insane prevalence of guns, and so much more. Urgently needed reforms to protect and reinvigorate our Republic, including Supreme Court expansion, would be on the table as correctives or at least deterrents (full disclosure: I am on the advisory board of Take Back the Court). President Biden and progressives (who right now are leading effectively despite having zero political margin) would be delivering much more on what they ran on, what a majority voted for, and the country would be moving forward faster.

If you want a better Supreme Court, if you want better policies, if you want a better democracy, you must vote and get others to vote.

Justice Alito in his draft rightly notes that in some ways, abortion is different from other questions, and professes that that distinguishes the right to choose an abortion, which the majority takes away, from other rights, such as the freedom to marry without restriction based on race or sex.  “We emphasize,” Justice Alito writes in his draft, “that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” 

Analysts are right not to believe him. He and Justice Clarence Thomas, at least, have indicated their absolute desire and intention to go after the freedom to marry as well as other basic rights, including contraception. Justice Alito’s draft contains an attack on the very idea that the Constitution protects an underlying liberty (sometimes denoted as our right to privacy, or our right to autonomy); the “unenumerated” right that the Court has invoked to affirm American’s freedom to make important life-defining choices, such as when and whether to bear a child, or to have sex, or whether and whom to marry. 

Justice Alito pretends that because the word “abortion” is not in the Constitution, it is not protected. (The Constitution also does not contain the word “marriage” – or, for that matter, the words “freedom,” “education,” “corporation,” or “judicial review”). What the Ninth Amendment does say, of course, is “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” 

That clear constitutional text won’t be enough to stop Justices Alito and Thomas. But the fact that they may be ready to roll back the gains of the past fifty or more years, or overturn the New Deal, doesn’t mean there are five votes to fully adopt the specious, fraudulent attack on Americans’ underlying liberty that the draft opinion sketched out, or to follow it to where he might want to go. 

More than a million gay people have gotten legally married in the US. We didn’t win marriage as a gift from the Court; we mobilized, organized, persuaded, shared our stories, fought, and worked for decades to change hearts and minds, and then the law. We won in legislatures, in state courts and then federal, at the ballot, and in millions of personal conversations. When I wrote my law school thesis in 1983 advocating for the freedom to marry, polls showed support at 11%. We grew that to 63% by the time we went for the win at the Supreme Court in 2015, and support has widened and deepened since. The latest polls now show support for the freedom to marry at 70%, including majority support even among those over 65, even among those still willing (despite Trump, despite Putin) to identify themselves as Republicans. We won by overcoming losses, and turning no into yes.

There are many reasons to hope that the freedom to marry victory remains secure – even while there is reason, of course, to fear.

But, again, we shouldn’t be sitting around cataloguing, fretting, or waiting in dread of additional bad things. Trump and his enablers are mounting a continuing coup attempt. Extreme candidates threaten to take power in states and in the House. And now looms the despicable prospect of a constitutional right such as a woman’s right to choose – embedded in the law and our lives for nearly half a century – being cynically stripped away, with all the harm that will inflict on women, children, and families. We know enough already.

Instead of worrying about whether the freedom to marry is at risk, we must heed the call to action already upon us. By taking action now, above all by winning elections, we will best undo damage and move our country forward, the best protection for all that we we care about.

*********************

Evan Wolfson led the campaign to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Since victory in 2015, he advises and assists diverse movements in the US on “how to win,” as well as activists seeking to win marriage in other countries worldwide.

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Dispatch from Kyiv

Intersex activist remains in Ukrainian capital with mother

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Julia Pustovit attends an Egalite Intersex Ukraine event at the Kyiv City Museum of Antiquities and Art in Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo courtesy of Julia Pustovit)

War came to our house suddenly and severely. It was brought by a cruel and ruthless aggressor: Russia.

More than 10 million Ukrainians were forced to seek refuge around the world, where it is much safer today. My elderly mother and I stayed in Kyiv because she needs daily help and support, and she can’t move far from home because of her poor health.

It is not easy for an intersex person to live in Ukraine, even in peacetime, but in times of war it is even tougher. Moreover, without the appropriate ID (passport) that corresponds with my gender and appearance, it is nearly impossible for me to leave the country.

More than 10 years have passed since I began my struggle to get a correct document, but today the lack of one creates for me a real danger. During the occupation of Bucha and Irpin and other cities we lost touch with some our intersex colleagues. We do not know what happened to them, and for me it’s very scary because as it turned out I live just 10 km from the frontlines.

I am well-known to the Russians because of my activism, and as it turned out they are not tolerant of Ukrainians. I know that they are even more cruel towards people like me. They also slaughter LGBTIQ people; torturing them before killing them.

Julia Pustovit is the head of Egalite Intersex Ukraine, the first intersex rights organization in Ukraine. Pustovit lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with her mother.

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LGBTQ Ukrainians will do our best to resist Russia

Putin invading country with ‘traditional values’

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Olena Shevchenko (Photo via Facebook)

Today I woke up at 5 a.m. because of the massive attack on our cities from Russia. Nobody in Ukraine can still believe it is happening right now. I got dozens of messages and calls from different regions, from people who are asking me what to do, and I didn’t have any answers. It took us few hours to collect information on different regions and cities and members of our LGBTQI+ communities there.

We have branches in 11 regions, including Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro, which are located in eastern Ukraine. We started to collect names of those who must be relocated immediately.

So why it is so dangerous for LGBTQI+ people to stay under possible occupation?

Russia is coming with its “traditional values” and will be hunting us, those who are dangerous for their evil empire. I heard they already have lists of activists who will be persecuted first and I am sure that LGBTQI+ activists are on those lists.

We already had a similar situation in 2014, when Russia occupied our territories and many people were forced to leave their homes. Many of them were LGBTQI+ people, who told us they were hunting them and some were killed or disappeared.

In 2014 we opened a shelter for LGBTQI+ internally displaced persons in Kyiv. This time it seems we do not have any place to go and we want to protect our homeland from occupants. Therefore, the situation is difficult and nobody knows what will be next and who will survive. We are doing what we can do now: Providing psychological support to people, opening a hotline for consultations and asking international communities to somehow help us. But it seems these instruments don’t work anymore in the world and we must fight this stupid war on our own.

I think the international community needs to realize that it’s not just some war in Eastern Europe. It is the start of a huge international crisis and possible war all over Europe. The Russian president clearly showed he doesn’t care about international obligations, rules or sanctions anymore. He will continue and never stop.

We are living in very interesting times in which a new story is being made, and this is not only our Ukrainian history, but also in the geopolitical history of the world. Existing international institutions and existing mechanisms for deterring and maintaining peace have proved imaginary. When I say imaginary, it does not mean that they do not exist. This means that they are not effective. They help only if you believe in them and hold on to that faith. In essence, we need to rethink this and create other, new and working mechanisms, and here Ukraine must show its strength to others.

Jokes about “deep concern” are no longer funny. We understand that this is the maximum of what an imaginary democratic world can give us now. In recent days, our international partners have been writing to me almost every minute, many of them asking if we have a crisis plan in place, and, if not, when will we develop it. I want to tell everyone again: What plan can work in the event of a full-scale invasion? (We do not have planes to take people to a safe place, as you did.) In any case, we remain to defend ourselves and our country and will continue to help people. Our activists from the LGBTQI+ communities are staying and keep working, providing support to the most marginalized ones. Honestly, I don’t know how long we will be able to resist, but we will do our best for sure.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Everything will be fine!

Olena Shevchenko is the chair of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group. Shevchenko lives in Kyiv, Ukraine.

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