Sunday, June 30, 2013

Taking Homophobia to the Mat: Sports and the Fight for Equality

Almost two years ago, I wrote an article about homophobia in sports and the efforts to end it once and for all that was to be published in a special edition of Metro News across Canada. In the end it did not get published (the editors decided to replace it with future-oriented articles about genetically modified athletes and pills as a food source). 

This past week was Pride Week in Toronto and it got me thinking about this article once again. I also thought about the old saying, better late than never, and decided to post it. Some of the content in the article is a little out of date, but the message is still very significant. There have been many great steps in this area of society since I wrote the article, but I still think it is a relevant piece and, even more so than that, an important one for many people to read. Hope you like it!

Taking Homophobia to the Mat: Sports and the Fight for Equality

North Americans might be speaking a new language in 20 years.

A language that fills locker rooms and arenas with openness, respect and equality.

A language spoken between athletes that doesn’t include homophobic slurs or hurtful slang.

At least that’s what former collegiate wrestler and football player R.J. Jenkins says.

Jenkins, now a PhD candidate and student advisor at Harvard, has often seen the homophobic side of mainstream sports rear its ugly head.  

“I think homophobic language is as prevalent in the change room as ever and this language breeds a culture where people think they can talk like that because it won’t affect anyone.”

But Jenkins also sees the power words can have when athletes join together to fight ignorance.

“What we need are straight advocates who don’t tolerate homophobic language and for whom that kind of language is as offensive as it would be if that person was gay or lesbian,” says Jenkins.

For Mark Tewksbury, a former Canadian Olympian and swimming gold medalist, competing in a homophobic culture was a major struggle.

“I didn’t speak about it, I was very closeted and not just in swimming, but in my entire life,” says Tewksbury.

“I think whenever you have to keep secrets and have your life really rigidly protected in some ways it really hinders performance.”

Being able to talk about it, though, may have changed his career.

After coming out to a coach in the last year of his career, Tewksbury had one of the best 12 months as an athlete.

“It’s hard to quantify, but in that year I finally came out to a coach and was able to get past that and had a spectacular improvement.”

Almost 20 years after his retirement, Tewksbury is starting to see sports becoming more open about the issue of homosexuality in sports.

He points to former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and openly gay rugby player Gareth Thomas as people who have made people in, and out, of the sporting world stop ignoring the issue of homophobia in sports and start talking about ways to end it, with their support of gay rights.
Hudson Taylor is one person who is working hard to make sure all athletes are comfortable with their sexual orientation.

As a coach of Columbia University’s wrestling team, Taylor is working hard to help his athletes take homophobia, as well as their opponents, to the mat.

“Whether it’s in the locker room, on the mat or elsewhere we’re going to be conscious about what we say to others and that’s going to allow us to be comfortable being ourselves and compete at a high level,” says Taylor.

Taylor also founded Athlete Ally, an organization that calls on athletes of all sexual orientations to take a stand and fight against homophobia in sports.

Jenkins and Taylor are not alone in their fight.

The North American Outgames brought thousands of people of all sexual orientations to Vancouver in the summer of 2011 to participate in a week-long event promoting inclusiveness in sport.

“[The games] are about breaking down barriers in professional sport,” says event chair John Boychuk.

It seems like a national movement towards inclusiveness is already being led by Canada’s national sport; hockey.

Hayley Wickenheiser, the captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team and Olympic gold medalist, says locker room talk is not about differences, but about what her and her teammates share; the dream of winning it all for their country.

“For us it’s a non-issue, we don’t talk about it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, yellow, green, gay or straight,” says Wickenheiser, “we’re all people, we all have a common goal and that is to win for Canada.”

Youth must pass this message of inclusiveness on to the next generation, says Boychuk.

“It’s the youth who are going to be a big part in the message of change that is a wave traveling not just around Canada or North America, but around the world.”

And for Boychuk, this wave will eventually flush away the discrimination and homophobia in sport, sooner rather than later.

“As more professional athletes start to come out in the next 10 or 20 years people will start realize that these are our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, our sisters, our aunts and uncles and cousins,” says Boychuk.

“People will see that this is a normal lifestyle and this is when barriers will begin to fall.” 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kony 2012 Should Only Be Beginning of the Beginning

If someone came into your house, dragged you outside onto the sidewalk, hit you over the head and burned your house to the ground it would only be natural for people to call for the criminal's arrest.

There would probably be reports on the nightly news and in the daily papers and maybe online petitions to the cops to take their search for the culprit to another level.

And when the police finally found the person who destroyed your house and physically and mentally hurt you, of course you would be happy, you would be joyful. Justice would have been served!

But in the end arresting that person didn't heal your wounds or build you a new house.

Now maybe this isn't the perfect analogy for the whole Kony 2012 thing that is filling up Facebook pages and campus conversations in the last 48 hours, but there are similarities.

Capturing Kony, a war criminal, murderer and rapist who forces children into committing horrible acts of cruelty, is definitely something everyone on this planet who has a heart should be concerned with. And for garnering support for this cause the Invisible Children project should be applauded and supported.

But the process that IC has started will really only be successful if it doesn't stop at educating people about Kony and securing his arrest and trial.

They say in the Kony 2012 movie Do Not Stop and they should live by those words. Once Kony is arrested there are others who are like him, others who will be like him. There are soldiers, many of them children, who need to be disarmed and reintegrated into society. There are homes and schools destroyed by fighting and whole villages and cities riddled by HIV/AIDS and other illnesses like malaria.

I've seen a lot of ragging on people for sharing the Kony 2012 video on Facebook, accusing them of "slacktivism" or a passive form of activism. Or some people are saying that even though they saw the video they still know nothing about the issue or the somewhat flawed organization that made the video.

These things are all true. Watching a video must be just the start, action must follow. Knowing a little should lead to knowing a lot. And looking at any media or claim with a critical eye is a must (as a journalist I believe strongly in looking deeper into everything).

HOWEVER, I would prefer to look at it this way. Forty-eight hours ago there were tens of thousands of people, mostly youth, who knew nothing about Joseph Kony, who had never really thought about Uganda and who were probably sitting around playing video games, watching talking dog videos on YouTube or complaining about homework (I've been guilty of all three lately). And now suddenly these people are talking about the issues that are really important, how to help change them and most importantly looking critically at what they had been told and finding out how to learn more.

A rose can have thorns or a thorn can have a rose, it's all about how you look at it, and I prefer to see the positive in this even, as in everything, there are flaws and obstacles.

But back to the main point. We must not stop at putting posters up one night, or posting a video or catching Kony. These are all important things, all important steps, all things we can all be included in and work together to achieve.

But we must look into how to help improve the lives of the people affected by the war and the multitude of obstacles it has presented to those people. And this doesn't mean throwing money at the problems or going to solve the problems all in one day by yourself. It means working with others in your community and in the local community to create a society that can sustain itself and improve itself. Building up education is a great start. Working with locals to transfer skills, both ways, to create more teachers, lawyers, doctors, politicians, activists, jobs, etc. that can then pass the skills on to the next generation is crucial.

And you don't have to go half way around the world to make the change. You can look half way down the street to help people in your community by doing these things.

It may seem like a stretch, helping to raise awareness to capture Kony to helping rebuild a country, but it takes dedication, it takes small incremental steps and it takes compassion, something we all have in us and something those people the Kony 2012 video seem to have in heaps and heaps. You can love them or hate, but you can't deny that there is genuine passion for the cause shown in that video.

So my message? Same as the message from Invisible Children. Don't stop. Don't be satisfied with a post on your wall or a Wikipedia search of a country, a conflict or a company. Ask questions, learn about history, culture and context and take action. Look deeper and reach deeper for answers and for change.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Prohibition All Over Again?

Gangs of organized crime run around the streets selling an illicit drug that fly off their hands faster then they can produce it. Individuals look to cash in by producing the substance themselves, adding chemicals to enhance the drug or multiply the quantities. The government is trying to reassure the public, spending millions to crack down on this drug that they are sure is the root of many of society's problems.

Crack, Cocaine, heroine, marijuana; which drug is it? Well, the substance in question is actually alcohol.

Yep that Molson Canadian you enjoy so much after a long day at work or that glass of red wine that you have every night for the antioxidants was illegal during the hey day of prohibition about 90 years ago.

So the question begs to be asked, if at one time alcohol was seen as a societal evil, is there another illicit drug out there that isn't so bad.

How about marijuana?

The debate has raged for decades about the pros and cons of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana in Canada, but the way I look at it we already have a test scenario that played out all those decades ago in the form of prohibition.

Now I have never tried marijuana in my life, and probably never will since it doesn't really interest me much, but for me it makes sense socially and economically to decriminalize, or even legalize marijuana based on the result of prohibition.

Prohibition was a wreck from the beginning. Taking away alcohol was supposed to limit crime and abuse in the neighbourhoods and homes in Canada. Instead it helped fund organized crime and drained millions from the government coffers. All the while thirsty Canadians guzzled down the same amount of booze as before. And we aren't talking about nice regulated alcoholic beverages, we're looking at the moonshine variety that could strip paint off a fence.

In the end the government decided to abolish prohibition and regulate the sale of alcohol in stores such as the LCBO.

Now this scenario seems an awful lot like the one that surrounds marijuana today.

Supposed you want some weed. It must be hard to get right? Because its illegal. Well actually you know somebody, let's call him Joe, down the way who can get you some. So you score some marijuana from Joe even though you don't know what exactly is in it or how Joe came to get it. By next week Joe's been arressted or shot at by the gang he owes money to, and you're still recovering from an overdose of meth because Joe's dealer laced your marijuana with it. Boy, do you ever wish there was a safer way to get this stuff.

Marijuana is a recreational drug used by thousands around the nation. It is true that marijuana can have health affects, mostly when overused, but so can alcohol or tobacco and nicotine. But marijuana can be even worse when the buyers don't really know where they are getting it from or what's in it, like was the case with alcohol during prohibition.

So allow me to dream for a second. Imagine a future when, instead of organized crime, the governement supplies marijuana to those over, lets say 19 or 21, from government grow-ops and government stores. The marijuana is legal and reliable, the kids aren't getting the drug from the seedy characters in the back alley, thousands of jobs are being made and the government is laughing all the way to the bank with the billions they make from taxing the marijuana.

Now add in the fact that the prison and policing systems are spending less money and time accomadating and looking for people who have a bit of marijuana on them and you have more money which can be used to encourage responsible smoking and on health care and lowering tuition and the like.

And if you think that the money won't be enough consider that marijuana is British Columbia's 2nd largest industry, raking in $10 billion annually, ahead of the mighty foresting industry in the province. Imagine what the whole country could get eh?

I am not devaluing the potential hazards associated with this plan, like the abuse of marijuana or underage smoking, but these problems are already prevalent in Canada, both with marijuana and alcohol. I think trying to control it rather then fighting it would be a lot more effective in being successful on these fronts.

So grab a beer, the one that prohibition almost took away from you, settle down and consider a world where the weed has been freed.

For some more info and opinions on this issue follow this link to a Maclean's article from 2001

Saturday, January 9, 2010

If You Can't Handle the Heat...Prorogue?

For Stephen Harper the times were pretty good a little while ago.

The economy seemed to be picking up, the Olympics were coming to Canada and Dalton McGuinty was ticking the liberal faithful off in Ontario with his talk of the dreaded Harmonized Sales Tax.

Ahh yes, everything looked good in Tory Town.

But boy, did Harper ever choke on that big fat chance for national support!

The bomb-shell allegations of a cover-up of the torturing of Afghan detainees by Richard Colvin really put the Conservatives in a hole. The way they tried to solve the problem by disgracefully trying to discredit Colvin dug them a very very deep hole, at least in my books. Canadians don't just shrug off human rights violations, even ones that aren't fully proven.

Harper, though, had a chance to regain some points with the Canadian voters, especially the green ones, at the climate summit in Copenhagen. He was mostly forgiven for accepting to go only when Obama was going, like the kid who quietly follows the cool kid around the playground to get some attention. As long as he was there he could establish Canada as a serious player in trying to make our world cleaner right? Wrong! He didn't factor much in the talks and instead of a global deal getting done, negotiations fell through.

And now the final straw that broke the voters' backs: proroguing parliment. This decisions, it seems, may turn the hole Harper has dug for himself, into his grave.

Now proroguing, shutting down parliament, is a Prime Minister's right and it is standard for it to be done every year or every other year. That much is true, and it has been a tradition throughout our political history. It's also part of our democracy.

However, proroguing in the past was usually done as a procedural type thing. More as something expected to give everyone a clean slate after a bit of time. You see when proroguing shuts down a session it wipes clean all bills going through parliament. This means every bill has to start from square one when a new session begins, even if it was about to be passed right before.

Harper though has found a new way to use proroguing though. He is using it as a tool to get out of tough questions from the opposition. He says it's to plan their next budget and decide their next move on the economy, but I look at it like this: The government is a business and, as one of my relatives put it, any good and successful business should be able to plan and operate at the same time. I mean imagine if Apple said "Sorry everyone, we arent producing any more Mac books or ipods or recieving any complaints right now cause we're working on our budget." I think we would have some people switching over to MP3s and that nerdy PC guy on the Apple commercial would get a little more sympathy.

Harper is pretty much doing this to escape the fall out from the Afghan detainee scandal. He says that Canadians don't really care about Afghanistan right now cause of the economy, but I find that a little insulting for one. I'm pretty sure Canadians, as my dad puts it, can chew their gum and walk at the same time. That is to say we can care about the economy AND Afghanistan at the same time. Although maybe Harper can't.

Harper really does have it pretty good though. I mean who else can say that they can stop their job just so they won't be fired for a while. That's power right there.

But it's power that's been corrupted and misused, and Canadians are not standing for it, as they shouldn't. Many are writing letters and emails to their MPs and to Harper himself and all I can say is that if Harper can't walk and chew simoultaneously I sure hope he can prorogue and listen at the same time. Although that may be asking too much eh?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Our Chemical Friends

Pesticides are awesome.

WAIT! Don't leave all you noble environmentalists, I'm going somewhere with this, and believe it or not, pesticides are good for the earth.

Pesticides have recieved a bad rap over the years and, hey, why not. Afterall they are chemicals and chemicals are harmful. I mean I would never, no matter how much money you gave me, chug a bottle of Windex or anything.

But then again who in their right mind would drink Windex. So people keep on spraying it on windows to provide that streak-free shine and everyone is happy.

I believe that pesticides are the same as Windex, if you use them correctly no one should be hurt, and they provide a lot of benefits.

Without pesticides our world would probably be a lot different and I'm betting a lot worse off. That apple you ate today or thoes bananas and strawberries you used in your smoothie probably werent mushy or bruised or worm infested rigtht? That's the work of pesticides. That also goes for the food that goes to food banks and to people in other nations that can't afford fruit and vegetables regularly. Pesticides help yield more of those crops so more people can eat.

Now I'll be the first to admit that pesticides can be very dangerous and cause tremendous health problems. BUT thats only if they are used irresponsibly and incorrectly. Eating too much salt can also have adverse effects on the body, as Supersize proved, and so can a lot of other things, chemical or not. So pesticides aren't the big bad bullies on the playground, they are just like any other kid.

Well how about those organic alternatives, they seem pretty good and healthy? And sometimes its true, some farmers actually grow their stuff without anything except good ol' fertilizer, water and sun, but many others use so-called "organic substances" to get that nice crisp look on that lettuce. The problem with these substances is that they aren't tested anywhere near as rigourously as the chemical ones and may even be a lot more dangerous.

Let me give you a snapshot of how carefully chemical pesticides are tested. After 10 years and around $200 million of testing its decided whether the product is safe for the market. The level of chemical in the pesticide is 1000 times less then the highest safe amount for humans. That is like figuring that the fastest speed limit that is safe on the highway is 100 km/hr and then reducing the speed limit to 0.1 km/hr. that would make it a heck of a lot harder to get in an accident eh?

And pesticides can also reduce global warming. Yep that's right help REDUCE global warming. Strong healthy grass and foliage (made so by pesticides) can suck in a lot more of that nasty carbon floating around out there then unhealthy foliage, or none at all.

And if not for pesticides then where would industries like golf be. In the drink, thats where. Billions of dollars of GDP would be lost, jobs gone in a blink of an eye and we would have no Tiger Woods to gossip about. What would we ever do then to occupy our time?

So pesticides aren't all that bad. I think the negative stereotypes come from misinformation. From the very begginging we are taught that chemicals are bad and therefore pesticides are too. A lot of us don't even bother to question that. But we're all guilty of accepting things as they are sometimes. But maybe we should question things more. That doesn't mean that there's a conspiracy or scandal behind everything, it simply means know the facts, do some research.

So get to know pesticides a little more. And who knows, you might even end up liking them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Behind the Name

Everybody has a view. It can be conservative, liberal, socialist or environmental. It can be biased or balanced. It can be about something big or small. It can be profession or passionate or both. It can be researched or spontaneous. It can be a view from the air or from the ground (if your short, which i am). Animals have views too, from the aforementioned ground and air to inside a cage or in the wilds of the forest or mountains. Birds and bees even have very developed views on sex apparently, but I never knew how that came to be. No matter where you're from, what nationality, race, religious system, sexual orientation or gender your part of everyone has views on something.

The point is, again, everyone has views. That includes, short students from Toronto such as myself. I don't consider my views or opinions to be anywhere near expert, but as a journalism student the belief that issues should be studied from all angles and researched intensely, which I have had faith in since I was a wee lad, has been drilled into me even more in the past year and a half. A lot of the time my opinions on issues are just developing. I have travelled tons and met all kinds of interesting and important people, but really, I have next to no experience in the world.

In one episode of the animated kids show Recess, the character T.J lives as a kindergarten-er for a day and finger paints. He describes how with fingerpainting you can feel the paint and the colours. And its true. there's nothing between you and the paint. Its all connected. It's kind of freeing. However finger painting is often seen as a the least civilized form of painting. I mean most times it's done by kids hopped up on grape juice who can barely string together a few nouns in a row, although I occasionaly like a good finger painting session. Finger painting may be a little crude, at least in grown-ups' eyes, but it is also so natural, so fundamental. I bet Picasso and Van Gogh finger painted. It may not have been Starry Night, but it was the start.

My thoughts are sorta like finger painting. They are not the most developed, but they are passionate, something I like, something that makes sense to me (and sometimes only to me) and the groundworks for something more, something I may be able to build on to help myself and others.

So as I set out on this blogging journey (my first) I hope to smear some paint on the canvas and hope that the picture that is hanged on the kitchen fridge turns into the Mona Lisa somewhere along the way.