The Supreme Court of Canada today issued an important decision about hate speech directed at queers.
The background to the case concerned four documents: two flyers, one called "Keep Homosexuality out of Saskatoon's Public Schools!" and "Sodomites in our Public Schools"; and two flyers which were the reprint of a classifed ad with handwritten comments added.
Under the Saskatchewan Human Rights code, it is illegal to circulate publications which "expose a person to hatred and ridicule" on a protected ground - here, sexual orientation.
So the big question for the court was: where does prohibited hate speech end, and where does freedom of speech begin?
The Supreme Court of Canada analyzed what a publication must be like in order to contravene the hate speech provisions. It said that there must be three main elements. First, the person judging whether the publication contains hate speech must do so from an 'objective' point of view, asking themselves whether a 'reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances, would view the expression as exposing the protected group to hatred'. (In other words, you cannot only ask queers what they think about that question). Second, it is only hateful and contrary to the protections in Saskatchewan's human rights legislation if it is really hateful...in the sense captured by the words 'detestation' and 'vilification'. It's not hate speech just because it is repugnant or offensive. And finally, the decision maker must look to see what the effect of the hate speech is: is the probably effect that it will expose the targeted person or group to hatred by others?
The complainants had argued that the section of the human rights law under which they had been convicted was a breach of their constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech. True, said the Supreme Court of Canada: but, your right to freedom of speech has to be balanced against the right to be free from speech which is likely to cause hatred; and in this case, most of the human rights law is appropriate and impairs one's freedom of speech minimally.
Part of the Saskatchewan human rights legislation outlawed speech which "ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of" a person. That part of the law, said the Supreme Court of Canada, is too broad. And they struck it down.
This case has been long-awaited. Queers have been holding our breath to see whether the Supreme Court of Canada would uphold our right to be free from malicious homophobic speech, or whether once again our rights would be seen as subordinate to someone else's rights to free speech, or freedom of religion.
I'm sure you have noticed that more of your friends are left handed than you would expect...well, it's true.
A Canadian study found that if you are queer, you are much more likely than heterosexuals to be left-handed. And the association is stronger for lesbians. In fact, if you are gay, you are 34% more likely to be left handed; if you are lesbians, 91% more likely! Ray Blanchard, one of the authors of the study published in the Psychology Bulletin, says that this is evidence that at least some part of your sexual orientation is genetically or biologically determined, perhaps in the womb. Thanks to Gay Today and Jesse's blog for this tidbit.
In a progressive judgement, the Federal Court of Canada has decided that there is an an obligation upon the Refugee Protection Division to specifically discuss why the Applicant, as a homosexual living in a place where it has been demonstrated that homosexuals are harassed, would not be subjected to persecution as she cannot live her sexual orientation openly. Some GLB refugee claims are thrown out because a person cannot prove that they are queer. Here the applicant proved that, and also proved that in her home country queers faced persecution. This is an important case because it says that it is up to the government to show she would be safe returning home, rather than up to her to demonstrate that she would be in danger. C.C.F. v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration),  F.C.J. No. 1346
Sheila Gilhooly has published a fabulous new book, "Mistaken Identity" , stories about her life being (mis)taken for a man. Though cisgendered Sheila is read as male about 70% of the time.
The stories are chilling, hilarious, triumphant.
There will be a launch at Little Sisters - we'll keep you posted. And the book is available for preview - go to Sheila's website
http://sheilagilhooly.wordpress.com, and click at the bottom of the page.
Full disclosure: I am Sheila's partner and wrote the afterword.
Immigration Canada believes that there are "thousands" of fraudulent marriages between Canadian citizens or permanent residents and non-Canadians, and so they are tightening the rules.
Effective immediately, you are allowed to "sponsor" your spouse - defined to include your married partner, someone you have been living with for two years (a common law partner), or someone you are unable to live with because of the laws or social context in your respective countries (for example, consider a Muslim from Iran who is in a relationship with a Canadian: the two cannot live together as spouses in Iran; and Canada may deny a visitor visa).
But now, says Canada, there are two new requirements. According to Jason Kenney, these new requirements are designed to stem fraud arsing out of fraudulent relationships in which a couple marries solely for the purpose of bringing the non-Canadian to Canada, sometimes for a fee.
The first requirement relates to you only if when you made your application for spousal sponsorship, you had NOT been living together for two years AND you have no children. In that situation, the law now requires that you live together for two years after you come to Canada. The rule makes an exception if you are in an abusive relationship. In that case, you should go immediately to your doctor, and report the abuse so it is on record. Then you should go to a lawyer, or call Immigration Canada, and explain why you have moved out.
The second requirement is that once you are yourself sponsored as a spouse, you cannot sponsor anyone else as your spouse till five years have passed from the date you acquired permanent residency.
Congresswoman Mary Gonzalez was elected in May as the state's first lesbian member of the House of Representatives. At the time she was dubbed the 'Latina lesbian lawmaker'.
In a thought-provoking interview with the Dallas Voice, she now explains that her identity is pansexual. Not bisexual, as in attracted to both men and women, but pansexual - attracted to people whatever their gender identity.
It is an odd feature of the English language that our sexual orientation is defined by the gender of the person we are attracted to. And it moves from odd to unworkable as soon as you take into account trans people. What is the correct term for a person attracted to trans people, or to both trans and cisgendered people?
There are in the world people attracted only to trans people. How would you describe their sexual orientation?
If your partner is transsexual and transitions from one gender to the other, does that mean your sexual orientation has changed?
For me, 'queer' solves a multitude of problems of that kind. I think that it is conceptually weird to say that if my partner changes gender, my sexual orientation has changed if I stay with my partner. First of all, if s/he is transsexual, maybe it was her/his transsexuality (rather than her ascribed gender) that I was, even unknowingly, attracted to in the first place. Second, even if her/his genitals have changed, her/his gender identity has not: s/he had the 'wrong' genitals in the first place. So if my sexual attraction was to someone who transitioned from male to female, she was always female. Though the world would have 'seen' me as being involved with a man, and after her transition, with a woman, and the world would have described my sexual orientation as "changing" if we stayed together after her transition, I think that way of describing what is going on is simply inadequate.
What do you think?
Immigration Canada denied Leatitia Nanziri's claim for refugee status because they don't believe she is a lesbian. Nanziri fled Uganda when she was outed by her girlfriend's father. Lesbians in Uganda are often stoned to death.
The Refugee Division refused her claim because she was carrying a child when she arrived: a product of having been raped. Then they turned down her claim to stay in Canada on compassionate grounds because she had a second child in Canada, with a man.
Canada doesn't understand that if you live in a repressive country you may hide your sexual orientation; you may have a heterosexual marriage. And just like many Canadian lesbians with a husband and maybe children in their past, Ugandan lesbians may marry...and still be lesbians.
It is deeply distressing that Nanziri will be going back to Uganda to face the possibility of death for being queer, when Canada, a country that styles itself as supportive of queers, has sent her there.
Angela Dawson is a transsexual woman who lived at. Atira Women's Resource Society. She was evicted by the society, and ultimately agreed to leave the residence. Atira's grounds for the eviction were that Dawson did not observe the non-violence rules of her agreement with the housing facility (which provides housing for women in the Downtown Eastside). Later
Ms Dawson said she had been harassed by other tenants; and filed a human rights complaint. But her complaint was dismissed even before a hearing because Atira produced affidavits (sworn statements) from tenants who complained about Ms Dawson, and about Atira's responses to Ms Dawson, but Ms Dawson did not have equivalent sworn statements. So the tribunal concluded that Ms Dawson could not possibly succeed at a hearing, and dismissed her complaint.The take-away lesson for people who are harassed for being queer is that in order to be successful at a human rights hearing, you MUST write down everything that happens as it happens; you must bring the harassment to the attention of the managers/employer/landlord; and you must get witnesses who will agree to sign sworn statements about the treatment you received. The same take-away lesson applies to societies, employers, or landlords: document situations and your response to them as the situation occurs, and be prepared to produce sworn statements from witnesses. Dawson v. Atira Women's Resource Society,  B.C.H.R.T.D. No. 166