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May 3, 2014
Posted in: Update
Freedom of Speech

Access to information and freedom of speech are gifts we sometimes take for granted in Toronto while others around the world are denied these privileges.

 Facebook, Twitter, the Internet and on-line news – this is how we tend to access and distribute information today.  We post Tweets for Toronto PFLAG, our Facebook page keeps our supporters up-to-date on interesting articles and events, and via social media we are able to find and share information with friends and community partners including PFLAGs and families in other countries.

 In many countries around the world our access to information and freedom of speech are idealistic goals instead of realities.

 IDAHT – Friday, May 16th, 2014  This year’s IDAHT theme is Freedom of Expression / Freedom of Speech.

 2014 is the tenth anniversary of recognizing the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and once again Toronto PFLAG invites all our supporters to join us at Toronto City Hall on Friday, May 16th, at 12:30 p.m.  At the Courtesy Flag Pole, outdoors on the upper level, we will hold a short 30-minute ceremony at which our invited guest speakers will join Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly at the podium where he will read the Proclamation and signal the raising of the Rainbow Pride flag.

 Freedom of Speech:  What we permit, we promote.

I saw this video, made by the British human rights organization Stonewall, which works tirelessly to advocate for LGBT rights, and it reminded me that with words as well as actions, ‘what we permit, we promote’.

 Watch the video and remember that it is up to every one of us to speak up and stop the use of hateful words every time they are used within our hearing.

 Words: Used to Spread Hate

I had a lovely lunch recently with Maurice Tomlinson, Jamaican attorney-at-law, human rights activist and lecturer in Canadian human rights law at UOIT.  This article by him expands on some of the issues we discussed and one in particular about Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham was the disturbing situation of Canadians spreading hate against LGBTQ communities outside of Canada.

 That Canadians would go out of their way to convince other governments to enact laws that deny rights that are part of Canada’s charter really disturbs me. I don’t think I’ll ever understand bigotry or the need to perpetrate its harmful effects on others.  In his own words, Maurice tells us what Janet did.

 “Canadians were also instrumental in ensuring that Jamaica’s 2011 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms was deliberately framed to exclude rights for homosexuals. In 2006, Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham, director of law and public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, traveled to Jamaica and made a presentation to the Jamaican Parliament as well as held meetings with conservative lawyers. During these sessions she highlighted the Canadian experience with human rights recognition of LGBT people and said she was “concerned” about Jamaica’s proposed Charter becoming as inclusive and tolerant as Canada’s.”

 The Homeless Have no Voice

Another of Maurice Tomlinson’s passions is helping LGBTQ homeless youth in Jamaica via Dwayne’s House, which helps youth as young as 12 who have been thrown out of their homes based on their sexual orientation.

 The plight of LGBTQ homeless youth is also of concern here in Toronto, and a recent article by Andrea Houston shed some light on the problem, particularly with regard to lack of education of staff involved with homeless youth.  Progress is being made, but more can and must be done to ensure safety for all in our shelters.

 I took a call this week from a TDSB high school counsellor looking for resources for a student who has been given the ultimatum: “If you are gay, get out!”

 I know ours is not the only PFLAG family that has in the past opened our home to a youth estranged from family.  I hope there is a family that will help this youngster in the immediate future until safe housing is arranged.

But for the large number of LGBTQ homeless youth in the G.T.A. more needs to be done, and Egale Canada’s newly formed OUTreach division is helping with that. Phone: 416-964-7887 ext. 9 for information on how to find safe shelter for an LGBTQ youth. Allies can help change the situation for LGBTQ homeless youth, both at home and abroad.  Do what you can.

 Freedom of Expression

I am thankful every month for the opportunities afforded me by dint of being a Toronto PFLAG mum!  Every month doors open and I am invited to meet wonderful people and learn from their life experiences.  On all occasions whether I am in my PFLAG t-shirt, wearing a business suit or in casual clothes, I will always be sporting a rainbow or two on my lapel, round my neck or on my wrist.  How lucky I am that I can wear my heart on my sleeve – literally and figuratively!! I show my rainbows free from fear of incurring unwanted negative attention.  How lucky I am that I am free to express my love and support for all my children, gay and straight.  How lucky we are indeed, when families like ours live in fear around the world.

 Join us and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly at City Hall on May 16th as we express our pride on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.         

 Yours in Pride,

 Irene Miller             

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