International Day Against Homophobia

Today was the International Day Against Homophobia. One way we celebrate it here in Vancouver is with the IDAH breakfast, organised by Qmunity. This event brings together local VIPs, politicians, business owners, as well as ordinary folks who can afford the ticket for a couple hours of eating, schmoozing and inspirational talks. The theme this year was: Homophobia and transphobia in sports. It was my first IDAH breakfast, and I was there with several other members of the VGVA board.

All the talks were wonderful and inspiring. Anita Braha, of the Vancity board of directors, spoke about Vancity’s commitment to inclusion and a healthy sustainable communities. Apparently, it was only in the 70’s that husbandless women could sign for a mortgage in their own name (sorry i dont remember the exact date); Braha and her partner were the first lesbian couple to get a mortgage from Vancity.

Next up was Louise Cowin, Vice-president of Students at UBC. Among other things, she is responsible for student athletics. She spoke of the continuing stigma against queer, trans and gender-variant players, even in places of higher education where you would think the only thing that matters is achievement. And, she shared some anecdotes from her own adolescence in the 70’s, where she was forced to undergo a test to determine is she was really female. Such tests were only discontinued in 1999, and even today female athletes (whatever their sexual orientation) have to go out of their way to “prove” they really are properly female. We still have a long way to go.

But maybe not a very long way, as proved by the next speaker: Olympic gold medalist Ben Rutledge. He started out delivering what felt like nice cliches about when you’re training for the Olympics your teammates’ sexuality doesn’t matter, it’s what you can do together. But then (and I’m sorry I don’t remember in greater detail) he said something about not always making the best decisions about choosing your teammates, and then something about “being on the wrong side”… and choked up. Whoah. That was unexpected! I don’t know what mistakes he made in the past but clearly he still feels terrible about them. Someone handed him a kleenex and I think that was the end of his speech because the next thing I remember was a standing ovation.

And it just goes to show: people mess up. And that’s okay, as long as they learn from their mistakes and their hearts are in the right place. That’s what allies do.

The last speakers were Cory Oskam, a 16-year-old trans hockey player and his mother. She’s absolutely the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet, 100% supportive of Cory. She spoke of his early challenges, not really fitting in with girls or boys (until he proved his athletic talent, and then the boys totally accepted him!), refusing to wear any underwear except Superman boys’ briefs, and a few cutely embarrassing anecdotes which, as the mother of a teenager, she’s contractually required to share.

Cory is amazingly bright and articulate. I was stunned at his determination to make the world a better place for others, and his impressed by his decision to not choose a gender just yet. He said his gender is fluid, though he’s closer to the male end of the scale. But picking a gender is like picking a name, it’s something you have to put some thought into.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: my mind is blown by kids today, how much smarter and freer of prejudice they can be compared to my generation. There’s still a lot of work to do, yes. But the future belongs to young people like Cory.

It’s made me think about VGVA, and the context in which it exists. After 30+ years, it’s an established part of the Vancouver cityscape; but in its early days, it and other queer sports leagues must have been incredibly revolutionary. The idea that gays can play sports? Now that’s just crazy talk!

But to some people, yes, its still crazy. And queers shouldn’t have to choose between their sexual / gender identity and their love of sports, as many still do if they’re surrounded with homophobic players. So there’s still a special role for groups like VGVA, and I need to remember that.

And maybe the timing’s a coincidence, but just this Monday the Vancouver Park Board passed a motion to create a working group to make parks, community centres, etc… inclusive and friendly to trans and gender-variant people. It’s a historic first step, and it couldn’t have happened without (a) activists spearheading the effort and (b) the support of straight and cis allies. I was there at the meeting, and though the list of speakers seemed interminable (it adjourned past 1PM!) I was deeply moved at everyone who came out and suported the motion and shared their stories.

The motion passed unanimously. It wasn’t a happy ending, it was a happy beginning. And on a different note, the whole evening was an interesting look at local politics, which I’ve never paid much attention to. But hey, who knows? This is another way I could make a difference…