May 17th: International Day Against Homophobia

LogoAs Denise and Regina have recently pointed out, yesterday was International Day Against Homophobia. I think the first time I became aware of homophobia was when I was about 12 years old. All my friends were crazy about this particular movie star – the name escapes me now – but then he came out and confessed he was gay. Suddenly, my friends hated him. I asked them why and they said it was because he was gay. “But he’s still the same actor!” I said. I mean, as far as I understood homosexuality then unless you were the guy’s wife, why should you care if he’s gay or straight?

I confess I didn’t have many gay friends in Brazil. Not for any conscious decision on my part but because I really didnt know many people who were openly gay. Now I know that Brazil is not the sort of place where you’d dare to be openly gay.

I have many gay friends in Canada. One of Alan’s best friends is gay and has lived with the same partner for 30 years. They are highly successful people and some of the most engaged, thinking, caring people I know. We now live in Toronto’s gay village in an apartment building inhabited mostly by gay men. We feel very welcomed in the neighbourhood – despite being straight – and have made many friends there. Both Alan and I take very personally if anyone ever says anything against homosexuals. For the most part, it seems that the GLT movement has achieved a degree of equality in Canada -couples of the same sex can get married and adopt children, and pursue carreers of their choice. From tenured academic job to the top spots of the corporate world, I’ve met gays and lesbians at every level of society in Canada but one of the things that impressed me the most was to see so many straight families taking their small children to see the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto. Talking to one of them, they said they wanted their kids to be exposed to and accepting of difference. They also wanted them to have a positive image of gay people. I think that’s where tolerance begins…

But of course Canada is not perfect. Two gay men were recently murdered in Nova Scotia and while it’s still unclear whether the murders were motivated by homophobia, the police has issued warnings to gay men in the area and has started patrolling more intensely areas where they cruise.

The following passage comes from the Canadian site explaining International Day Against Homophobia:

In Canada, recognition, for lesbian and gay communities, has been first and foremost a judicial acceptance brought about by the adoption of the Charter of Human Rights. However, judicial advances will remain only that until a complete, unlimited social acceptance of homosexuality is achieved and homophobia wiped out. To achieve this goal, the Fondation Émergence proposed in 2003, along with partners, to hold each year a special day dedicated to the social recognition of homosexual experience.

Philosophy of the Event

Few minority groups have been as discriminated against as the gays and lesbians. But major breakthroughs have occurred, and homosexual people are stepping out of the shadows. From the outside, it could be construed that all problems have been solved. The media are sympathetic, public personalities come out, television shows feature lesbian and gay characters in scenes of everyday life. Nevertheless, the reality is quite different. Many individuals are unable to live their sexual orientation, encounter difficulties if they do, or end up role-playing to protect themselves.

Despite these dire situations, the implementation of the International Day Against Homophobia should not rest on a “victimization“ philosophy. In fact, the Day may be seen as a great opportunity to highlight positive aspects of homosexuality and celebrate the contribution of lesbians and gays to society.

Target Audience

Homophobia is an insidious process that channels its effects through subtle, usually transparent ways. No one is safe from hostile manifestations to homosexuality. Quite surprisingly, many homosexual individuals themselves adopt homophobic behaviour, hoping it would protect them against prejudice from their entourage. The International Day Against Homophobia aims to reach all groups of society, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Becoming Involved

An International Day Against Homophobia belongs to no one individual. It’s about all people hoping for a prejudice-free world that can provide a place at the table for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. Inspired by all world theme-days, the day set aside to fight homophobia needs to be appropriated by all of those actively involved in civil society: gay and lesbian community organisations, those organisations focusing on other types of sexual diversity, unions, employers, private businesses, governments, public administration, professional associations, and all individuals seeking equality.


Brazil not such a haven for immigrants

It was on the news: Brazilian students at the University of Brasilia set fire to the student residence where African students lived. The criminals emptied fire extinguishers, piled bricks against the exit doors, waited until the foreign students were asleep and poured gasoline on their doors. Luckily, a student from Guine-Bissau was able to extinguish the fire before it consumed the building and no one died.

I often hear from Brazilians abroad that it’s not fair that they are discriminated against in places like the US and Europe when they are so nice to the foreigners going to Brazil. Sure. If you are a white, blond foreigner, maybe… If you are African or Latin American it seems Brazilians can be just as xenophobic as anybody else…

For those who read Portuguese, check Denise’s very thorough post on the situation of immigrants in Brazil.

Multiculturalism and hyphenated-Canadians

Last month we introduced Barcelona to some new-found Canadian friends. Ron and his son Jordan live in Toronto but Ron was doing some work in Dublin and Jordan came to visit during his spring break. Ron and I had some long conversations about the issue of immigration here (Europe) and we couldn’t help but compare it with what we see in Canada and what we hear about in the US.

First there’s the issue of how the government deals with the issue of immigration and how that reflects on people’s perceptions of it. In very general terms, in Europe it seems immigration is perceived as a recent problem that needs to be controlled or corrected somehow. It’s always on politicians’ agendas, along things like crime, accessible housing, and pensions. In Canada, it’s more of a solution to a problem. Canadians are fully aware that their country is underpopulated and with a low birthrate it seems it would shrink more and more. The solution? Allow hundreds of thousands of skilled immigrants in every year.

Now, here’s the key. Because the Canadian government sees it as good thing in the long run and an investment, it actively sells the idea of immigration as being positive for the country as a whole. The government and to a large extent Canadians as a whole fully embrace the idea of multiculturalism. They also make no difference between a Canadian born in Canada and a Canadian who became so after immigrating to the country. Immigrants are also not so clearly ghettoized as in the US. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act says:

Government of Canada recognizes the diversity of Canadians as regards race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and is committed to a policy of multiculturalism designed to preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians while working to achieve the equality of all Canadians in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada

furthermore the act determines that:

(1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to

(a) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage;

(b) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future;

(c) promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and assist them in the elimination of any barrier to that participation;

(d) recognize the existence of communities whose members share a common origin and their historic contribution to Canadian society, and enhance their development;

(e) ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity;

(f) encourage and assist the social, cultural, economic and political institutions of Canada to be both respectful and inclusive of Canada’s multicultural character;

(g) promote the understanding and creativity that arise from the interaction between individuals and communities of different origins;

(h) foster the recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures;

(i) preserve and enhance the use of languages other than English and French, while strengthening the status and use of the official languages of Canada; and

(j) advance multiculturalism throughout Canada in harmony with the national commitment to the official languages of Canada.

Federal institutions

(2) It is further declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada that all federal institutions shall

(a) ensure that Canadians of all origins have an equal opportunity to obtain employment and advancement in those institutions;

(b) promote policies, programs and practices that enhance the ability of individuals and communities of all origins to contribute to the continuing evolution of Canada;

(c) promote policies, programs and practices that enhance the understanding of and respect for the diversity of the members of Canadian society;

(d) collect statistical data in order to enable the development of policies, programs and practices that are sensitive and responsive to the multicultural reality of Canada;

(e) make use, as appropriate, of the language skills and cultural understanding of individuals of all origins; and

(f) generally, carry on their activities in a manner that is sensitive and responsive to the multicultural reality of Canada.

You can read the full text here.

I’ve witnessed many of this policies be put in practice. The city of Toronto, for example, spends a lot promoting festivals from other cultures such as Mexican Independence Day, Caribana (a Caribbean street festival), Black History month, Asian Heritage month, etc… Parents are encouraged to speak their native language with their children so the child can be bilingual or multilingual.

One of the things Ron mentioned that I never thought of was the difference between hyphenated Americans and hyphenated Canadians. In the US, there’s usually a negative connotation to terms like African-American, Native-American, Italian-American, Mexican-American. The ideal is to be just American. With no other word attached to it by a hyphen. In Canada, on the other hand, we are all hyphenated Canadians. Even the original white settlers are known as either English-Canadians or French-Canadians. So the hyphen might denote the country of origin – like Italian-Canadian or Iranian-Canadian – but it doesn’t really bring along any negative connotations (I don’t usually hear the hyphens associated with racial terms).

The way people and government have embraced multiculturalism is one of the things I love most about Canada. I think it’s only through initiatives like these and improved education about the positive outcome of interaction with other cultures that we might hope to end discrimination one day.

In the end, we are all canucks, we all complain about the weather and dream of retiring some place warm ;)


Today is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.


Disclaimer: this is not an indepth comparative essay of immigration policies in Canada, USA and Europe. I´m well aware that the immigration system in Canada is not fail-proof. There are anti-immigration groups, unscrupulous immigration lawyers, and the customs of recently arrived immigrants are not always respected. My point is that immigration is perceived as a positive thing and conceived as an intrinsical part of Canadian identity, which leads to a more harmonious process and increased tolerance.

Martin Luther King Day

I don’t think there’s anything I can say about Martin Luther King that hasn’t been said before. Instead, I’ll celebrate this day by posting a section of his famous “I have a dream” speech, delivered in the march on Washington of 28 August 1963, as well as a video of the entire speech.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”²

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

For a full text version click here