LGBT Parenting In Canada

Building new families everday   

By Hawwii Gudeta

You do not have to be a heterosexual person to become a parent and start a family.   There is an overwhelming amount of support groups throughout the nation that help members of the LGBTQ community become parents. If you are questioning queer parenting there are several options you can look at before you take the next step in parenthood. Presently there are issues surrounding the LGBTQ community in regards to same-sex couples and families.

The LGBTQ Parenting Network and the Sherbourne Health Care Centre is located at 333 Sherbourne St. and has been advocating for gay rights since 2001.

“30 years ago if you were a lesbian that had children in a heterosexual context and you were getting a divorce by taking matters to court; 88 per cent of the time you would loose the custody battle for your children because lesbians were not considered fit parents,” Rachel Epstein said program leader at The LGBTQ Parenting Network.

According to Statistics Canada in 2006 21.2 per cent of Torontonians we reported to be same-sex couples. Approximately 45 per cent of the Canadian population believes that homosexuals should not be parenting children.

“In the courses that we run we look at how and LGBTQ people would be considered unfit parents; so we focus on issues like children being bullied at school because their parents are a same-sex couple or issues like confusion with sexual orientations amongst children   of queer parents, we spend time looking at how we can fight back these problems that surround us and we look at positive ways to involve our families, the community, schools and institutions; we analyze ways in which we can self-advocate,” Epstein said.

The LGBTQ Parenting Network recognizes that fact that youth may experience situations where they might be harassed at school because of the sexual orientation of their parents. They do not want this one issue to negatively influence the decision making of parenting in the LGBTQ community.

“Our kids are in schools and growing up in school in can be difficult; there is definitely a vulnerability issue when it comes to being young but for the most part LGBTQ parents are often defended by their children when they experience ridicule or harassment by others because they are aware that having family members of the LGBTQ community does not make them different than other families,” Epstein said.

The LGBTQ Parenting Network has positively grown over the years into a community that actively involves themselves in human right advocacy in the greater Toronto area. The success with their practices has been recognized by the federal government and today their work is included nation-wide to assist with work on human reproduction.

The 519 Church Street Community Centre is located near Yonge and Wellesley and also provides programs for members of the LGBTQ community interested in starting a family.

“We have a queer parenting program and a family resource program at our centre and I think it’s important to have programs like these because it allows individuals to sit in groups to talk about their stories and their experiences; the counseling which is a therapeutic process is extremely helpful because it helps individuals identify with their identity as queer individuals,” Howard Shulman said the program leader for counseling and anti-violence at The 519 Church Street Community Centre.


No One Cheers For Olympic Oppression

New Russian law has people questioning what should we do

By Jessica Vella

Everyone looks forward to the Olympics, from athletes to attendees, from watchers to article readers; the Olympics pulls in eyes from all over the globe as people watch their teams compete to win medals to make their country proud.

But what would the Olympics be if a full class of people were discriminated against and scared of competing and attending? Russian leader’s recently passed a law banning LGBT propaganda from being spread to minors. The law defines propaganda as any act of distributing information to minors that has a purpose of creating non-traditional sexual attitudes, making homosexuality seem attractive or creating an interest in homosexuality. Anyone who does spread propaganda faces serious charges including being held behind bars, being deported and being charged extensive fines.

The Olympics this year will be held in Sochi, Russia leaving every LGBT athlete and attendee with the choice between remaining silent and safe or standing up for their human rights and being prosecuted for doing so.

A novelist of multiple works, Helen Lenskyj, has looked into the inner world around the Sochi Olympics and the sexual oppression involved in Russia in her upcoming Novel “No More Rainbows.”

Lenskyj says that even with all of the sparked anger over the new controversial laws, Russia has always been a place for LGBTQ oppression.

“Russia has a severe history of oppression and it included sexual oppression,” Lenskyj says. “There was an anti sodomy law in 1933, any gay men who were arrested and convicted could be imprisoned for 5 years minimum. The oppression of the sexual minorities has gone on for years (In Russia).”

With the view turned on Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, Lenskyj says that Putin feels that the new law is rightly justified.

“He says he has a demographic crisis meaning the population is shrinking every year and he doesn’t want anything to interfere with the birth rate and he sees gays and lesbians as a strange view,” Lenskyj says. “He thinks we are not capable of having children which is false. Queer people have family arrangements that include children.”

Lenskyj continued to explain that even with the world’s eyes on Russia, in her opinion, Putin will never admit to the sexual oppression involved in the laws.

“I think what Putin will say is that it’s not a question of having the human rights of sexual minorities threatened; he says that gays and lesbians have equal human rights with straight people,” Lenskyj says. “What he and his government calls homosexual propaganda should not be displayed in any shape or form to minors. If you ask the Russian leader he wouldn’t say that there is a homophobia at work.”

When asked about the IOC’s (International Olympic Committee) acceptance of the new Russian laws being put into place so close to the Olympic date, Lenskyj says that they’ve never seen it as included in the rule against discrimination.

“The Olympic charter doesn’t exactly have a law against discrimination; globally it just says in the charter that discrimination in the context of the sport, every reference to discrimination talks about sport,” Lenskyj says. “So if Russia has gay athletes competing and nobody reports that a gay/lesbian athlete has been disqualified from a Russian team for their sexual orientation that would be a violation of the Olympic charter.”

Gold Medal Message (GMM) is a group, which focuses on getting not only Canada-wide but world-wide attention to the Olympic controversy, has created a petition campaign to get the IOC to allow athletes and attendees to voice their opinions about LGBT rights in Russian.

Dayne Moyer from GMM says that he believes that if you take the Olympics out of Russia, you take the voices from the LGBT Russian community.

“When you take LGBT people out of hostile communities or when you don’t hold events in protest to this, it never gets better,” Moyer says. “Taking the Olympics out of Russia would create a hostile environment for LGBT Russians. It wouldn’t help change and reform laws that promote a healthy LGBT community there.”
Suggestions of boycotting the Olympics have come up, but Moyer says that in his opinion boycotting would just lead to a more hostile Russian environment.

“There are so many Russians who have economic and emotional stake in it and if it was boycotted and if the games didn’t happen I believe that it would result in violence against the LGBT community in Russia,” Moyer says.

When asked about the reassurance from the IOC that attendees and athletes will be safe, Moyer says that a verbal assurance is only that, a verbal assurance.

“There’s no formal written assurance and there’s nothing really specifying what they mean by that,” Moyer says. “More pressure needs to be put on the IOC to come out and express exactly how athletes and attendees are going to be protected because those laws are already so vague. All you have to do is walk past a minor wearing a rainbow pin and you’re spreading propaganda to minors.”

Judith Timson a local columnist for the Toronto Star says that even with all of the ideas of protesting and boycotting, it might not make a difference.

“If Putin isn’t swayed by world condemnation from state leaders, a bunch of rainbow flags isn’t going to matter,” Timson says. “But the protests should happen anyway because the reason leaders push ahead with repressive measures is that they look around and say, hey, no one outside this country cares what we do to our citizens.”

Timson says that Russia needs a new accepting leader if they are ever going to move forward.

“(They need) a new leader that people aren’t so afraid of. More people getting comfortable knowing someone is gay which means more Russians need to come out,” Timson says.


Hit With A Sex Ban

By Erin Cassidy

Allen Priest would love to donate blood. After all, his own life was saved after he received a blood transfusion when he was eight-years-old after falling ill with Kawasaki disease.

“I would not be alive without the donations of blood I received,” says Priest.

Priest, a 24-year-old gay male at Trent University, is not a fan of Canada’s updated blood donation policy for the gay male population.

Up until this past July, Canada had a lifetime ban on gay men   donating blood. With the updated policy, the ban has been lifted, but they are faced with yet another setback: The policy requires them to be celibate for five years before they can donate.

In September 2011, Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) board of directors passed a motion committing the organization to re-examine the lifetime ban policy.

“It’s just pure discrimination to be celibate for 5 years for them to give blood,” says Jean Clipsham, co-chair of Rainbow Nursing Interest Group. “It’s discrimination. It’s an equity issue.”

Although, she went on to stress that the donation process is about sexual behaviour, and not orientation.

Marc Plante, communications specialist with Canadian Blood Services, said that CBS has always been open to changing the policy. Plante said that CBS has been actively pursuing data with patient groups in order to update the lifetime ban.

“Patient groups are those that are direct recipients of blood and blood products, those that bear 100 per cent of the risk,” Plante says. “These include hemophiliacs, sickle cell disease, and other cancer patients.”

Canada, other countries have different policies when it comes to allowing gay men to give blood: England’s policy is one year, South Africa’s is six months, and the United States still has a lifetime ban.

“I think Canada’s policy is outdated and discriminatory, as we live in an age where all donated blood is tested for infections and diseases,” Priest says. “CBS perpetuates an arcane practice out of tradition and convenience, when in reality, an update would pose no difference and provide it with more donors.”

More than 21 per cent of Toronto’s population identified as being gay or lesbian in a survey in 2006.

“That’s a big population that Canadian Blood Services could draw from,” Clipsham said.

Why should only gay men be at the brunt of this ban? Homosexuals are not the only ones at risk when it comes to contracting diseases. Priest feels like this is an attack.

“Gay men do not differ from lesbians or heterosexual couples in regards to sexual practices,” Priest says. “At the end of the day, if someone wants to donate blood, and practices safe sex, and is not a recreational drug user or is on medications that cannot be removed from the blood, they should be able to donate at will.”

Plante said that patient groups had historically been opposed to any change in this policy while LGBT groups had been advocating for a change in screening process rather than simply changing the deferral time.

“Five years was an acceptable first step by patient and community groups in reducing the current deferral policy,” Plante said.

According to Plante, five years is enough time to determine if there is any risk in their bodily system.

Clipsham suggested that there might be a blood shortage as well, as they are always looking for more donors. It is so important to donate blood as it can go a long way.

“People with illness need blood and blood products to keep them alive,” Clipsham said. “People with leukemia for example, people who are in serious accidents or surgeries, so it’s important that they have blood. It’s important for medical care that the LGBTQ community can give blood.”


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