Thursday, February 26, 2015

#NBpoli: Strategic Program Review Submission

A copy of my submission to New Brunswick's Strategic Program Review Secretariat. Submit yours here!

Question 1: What does a thriving New Brunswick look like to you 10 years from now?
Universal childcare.
Non-profit dental care.
Guaranteed basic income.
Province-wide commuter rail network.
Growth in agriculture, wine, beer, and spirits production and export.
An updated sex education curriculum parallel with Ontario's most recent revisions. (Please much sooner than a decade...)
Massive upgrades to public transit systems in Moncton, Fredericton, and Saint John.
Reductions in student tuition fees for post-secondary education.

Question 2: Thinking of all the things government spends money on to provide the residents of New Brunswick with services, what are three things that you think government could stop doing to save money? 

1. The government of New Brunswick can decriminalize marijuana by compelling police officers in the province of New Brunswick to stop enforcing marijuana prohibition laws. The province would reduce policing and judiciary costs and stimulate tourism.

2. Stop subsidizing the fishing industry. It's not a growth industry; if fisheries can't survive on their own, let them fail. The culture of making a living from small scale fishing hasn't been economically realistic for decades.

3. Re-purpose underused rural hospitals and schools. My support of this measure is contingent on two factors.
1)The centralization of these services must be accompanied by a regional transit plan so that rural citizens are equally capable of studying and accessing health services as New Brunswick's urban citizens.
2) Underused rural hospitals be re-purposed into community health centers staffed with nurse practitioners, nutritionists, social workers, and counselors to provide non-urgent public health services.

Question 3: With all of the financial challenges facing our province, what three things do you think government could do to raise money?

1. Establish a carbon tax. Carbon taxes are the smartest way to generate revenue and shape our industries for the future. Carbon revenue is largely responsible for getting BC back into surplus budgeting.

2. Toll highways. For better or worse, many people see New Brunswick as a "drive-thru" province en route to PEI or NS. We might as well make money off them. The dollar plunged meaning more US tourists can be expected to travel our roads. Further, the downward trend in gas prices, means that drivers have a few 'driving dollars' subconsciously budgeted that can be diverted to tolls without much notice.

3. Set the HST back to 15%. It's the a surest way to generate revenue and end the structural deficit. It's also easier day-to-day math on purchases. We phased out the penny, so prices just ring up better with a round 15% tax.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

RE: How Small Cities Botch Queer Pride

The goals of a small city queer pride festival can never match the goals of pride festivals in large cities. This expectation leads to insurmountable flaws in event planning and ultimately failure. Saint John Pride is the latest victim of such flawed pride festival planning. New Brunswick will never be Toronto, and organizers need to plan accordingly. If I lived in Saint John, I would volunteer to help revamp their pride festival, but some free advice will have to suffice as my contribution.


First things first; language needs to be on point. It's queer pride, not gay pride, not LGBT pride. The full queer acronym is 12 letters long and growing. The mouthful of letters is GLBTTTPIAGQQ: gay, lesbian, bi, transsexual, transgender, two-spirited, pansexual, intersexed, asexual, genderqueer, queer, and questioning. Some acronyms include a D for demisexual, an identity on the asexuality scale wherein sexual attraction only occurs under conditions of deep emotional/intellectual attraction. No one wants to omit a lesser considered gender or sexual identity category, so just stick to 'queer'.

On to small city organizing. Before any pride events are even imagined, accept that there will not be a critical mass of queer people in attendance, probably ever. This means specialized events for even more specific communities within the queer population just aren't going to fly. The key to successful queer pride festivals in small cities is..... straight people (shocker right?).

**I don't personally use the term "allies". I believe 'allyship' divorces people in positions of privilege from their complicity in the social systems that perpetuate those privileges. I articulate myself as a person in solidarity with struggles that are not my own experience, rather than as an ally to identity categories to which I do not belong.**

The model of 'queer parties for queer people' that works in Montreal and Toronto fails when transplanted to smaller communities. Small city pride events need to be organized with safety, education, and celebration of diversity, not queer exclusivity, as their principle goals. Basically, putting a queer spin on popular activities is how small city pride festivals can thrive.

So what do people like in general? Lots of things, but I'm going to unpack cats, costumes, and booze. None of these things are inherently queer, but they can all be used as platforms to build strong queer inclusive communities.

Cat cafes are a great way to combine charitable initiatives, local entertainment, and good coffee. Pride festivals can borrow from the success of Asia's cat cafes with a charitable twist. Partnering with local SPCA's, small city pride festivals can book spaces and performers for a coffeehouse setting where adoptable cats can mingle with queer and queer-friendly attendees. Cat cafes reach out to cat lovers, musicians, and coffee lovers and provide an opportunity for donation collection on behalf of local SPCA's and pride committees.

Costume parties are an epic opportunity to celebrate diversity. Cosplayers are very dedicated to their art form and often have to travel to distant conventions to get their game faces on. Cosplay is the perfect confluence of art, identity, and diversity. Embracing anime enthusiasts, furries, fetishists, drag kings & queens, and horror film buffs who lament that Halloween only comes once a year can lead to an epic queer pride party! Look at the successes of AniMaritime and HalCon.

And let's not forget booze! Organizing a queer pride pub crawl or wine tour is a great way to get people excited for pride. New Brunswick is particularly well situated for a wine tour. This type of event networks local businesses with pride committees and queer people, and gets you buzzed!

Successful small city queer pride festivals won't be made up of queer exclusive events, they'll be made up of events where queers along the full spectra of gender and sexuality feel safe and proud expressing themselves. Small city queer pride events need to focus on creating a queer-inclusive culture that lasts all year round. Without a critical mass of queer people, there's probably a lot of misinformation about queer issues in a small city. Queer pride festivals should use their capacities to create judgement-free opportunities for straight folks to learn and ask questions. Guest lectures, panel discussions, and Reddit AMAs (ask me anything sessions) or Twitter town halls can achieve educational goals with relatively few costs associated.

Regarding accessibility, it's important that queer pride festivals acknowledge the socio-economic challenges our community members face. Free and pay-what-you-can events are integral to making sure everyone can participate in the celebration of queer diversity. In the same vein of thought, physically accessible spaces are important planning aspects for pride events.

I want to conclude responding to the suggestion that queer pride festivals in New Brunswick should rotate between our cities annually. This idea is terrible. To suggest a singular travelling pride celebration in New Brunswick is both presumptions and against economic wisdom.

A travelling pride festival only appeals to those who are physically and financially capable of traveling to the host city. Massive barriers to participation are antithetical to any celebration of diversity. In economic sense, queer visibility is an indicator of a city's success. Richard Florida's Cities and the Creative Class proved diversity and creativity have an economic advantage for cities transitioning to more sustainable creative class employment versus cities ignoring the globalization of industrial labour. Though an oversimplified construct, Florida's "gay index" was most positively correlated with creative class employment. Minimizing queer visibility in small cities would be bad policy both socially and economically.

The suggestion that one queer pride festival should travel between New Brunswick's cities annually is the result of uncritical thought and unchecked privilege. I hope that a strong team of creative and passionate community members agree and dedicate themselves to making Saint John Pride 2015 the most successful yet.

Best of luck,


Sunday, February 1, 2015

RE: Privilege and Post-HIV Activism

Today's blog post is a response to a recent Queerty article titled "5 Reasons His HIV Status Doesn't Matter Anymore". The 5 reasons (in a nutshell) were, 1) You can choose low risk activities, 2) You might be on PrEP, 3) Viral load may be undetectable, 4) You should be worried about STIs in addition to HIV, so you might as well use condoms, and 5) HIV is practically only a problem when it isn't managed properly.

I agree with a lot of what the author was trying to get across, but there are a few missteps in their approach. A more accurate title read might be something like: "5 Reasons His HIV Status Doesn't Matter Anymore if You're Wealthy, Educated, and North American", but that's not so catchy. I use this blog post to illustrate 4 problematic elements post-HIV activism: the presumption of scientific literacy and access to medications, geographic bias, and insufficient differentiation for what HIV means for dating vs hooking up.

**Language note: I use 'HIV patients' to describe people with 'positive', 'undetectable', and 'detectable' HIV statuses because each term represents a medically created subjectivity indicating the necessity of ongoing medical care for the successful management of HIV.**

Post-HIV activism is a problematic practice because it relies on assumptions, foremost scientific literacy. I got an A- in a second year microbiology class and went on to do an Master's degree in gender studies; of course I know what undetectable viral loadPrEP, and PEP mean for risk mitigation, but I'm not the baseline in this analysis (Pre and Post Exposure Prophylaxis are medications taken prior to and following exposure to HIV respectively in effort to reduce the possibility transmission). When HIV patients present themselves as undetectable rather than HIV positive, they speak medicalized language that excludes people based on access to education, cognitive (dis)ability, mother tongue, and place of origin. I don't attempt to assign moral judgement to how HIV status is communicated, but I do think it's important to recognize that when creating the separate identity category of undetectable, it must be accepted that this subjectivity will not be universally intelligible across social and cultural difference. If millions of people don't understand the much simpler science justifying climate change, then assuming basic HIV virology is common knowledge is a very privileged perspective.

The second problematic element of post-HIV activism is the financial barriers people face acquiring the drugs that minimize risk, none of which, in any combination, can eliminate the risk of HIV transmission. Regardless of HIV status, there is no such thing as a zero risk sexual encounter (or zero risk in general). ART (anti-retroviral therapies), PrEP, and PEP are not free of charge (though programs administering PEP free of charge are available in some locations). Unless these drugs were universally available (read: free), their existence does not justify the rhetorical birth of a post-HIV era.

The case of PrEP drugs, currently only available as brand name Truvada, is particularly problematic because it's an extraneous and unnecessary prescription for those practicing safer sex. Truvada bears significant potential side effects, notably for the kidneys. It's particularly inappropriate to use PrEP drugs as a justification for post-HIV activism because not everyone can or should take these prescriptions. By contrast, PEP and ART are prescribed only under circumstances of medical necessity, after contact with and diagnosis of HIV respectively.

Truvada itself has a geographic bias designed into its chemical structure. Truvada was only designed to stave off one of two known strains of HIV, HIV-1. Truvada was not designed to help the body resist HIV-2 infections, which are only common in Western Africa.

Returning to a social focus, I ardently assert my belief that sero-discordance shouldn't be a barrier in the formation of social and romantic relationships (sexually active or not). There is, however, inherent transience and risk embedded in hookup culture that complicates sero-discordance.

Partner selection is by definition a discriminatory process, with everyone being discriminated against based on a litany of arbitrary preferences. The complication of sero-discordance within hookup culture is that the arbitrarity of HIV status depends on how the virus is managed (or not) in individual bodies.

People have every right to discriminate against a sexual partner for their HIV status, or any other arbitrary factor that negates their consent. Common examples of arbitrary sexual discrimination include body hair, marital or parental status, religion, and political orientation. Only consent is consent, and for a myriad of reasons, consent is withheld millions of times per day. (I don't sleep with conservatives...)

By law, people in Canada (not just Canadians) have a positive duty to disclose HIV infection ...ish. Supreme court rulings have enacted a practice wherein undetectable HIV patients who use condoms won't be held criminally responsible for HIV non-disclosure because of negligible risk (based on heterosexual vaginal sex, but that's a rant for another day). If an HIV patient transmits the infection after a non-disclosure event, they may be imprisoned for a minimum of 5 years. Disclosure of HIV status is the best way for HIV patients to legally protect themselves should the odds fleet their favour during an otherwise consensual fluid exchange.

Back to hooking up. Let's imagine an HIV- person has a casual sex prospect who discloses their HIV infection. Are they effectively managing their infection? How do you know? And what is your threshold of proof? It's not like they'd call the HIV patient's doctor and obliterate medical privacy, so hookup culture is left with two options: trust or discrimination. Both of these options are equally (un)acceptable ways to approach hooking up with HIV patients. The moral quandary of discriminating and the risk of trusting complete strangers in sexual situations can only be balanced by personal perspective on a case-by-case basis.

So after this lengthy blog post, I have two take away points:

1)There is no shame in establishing your own conditions for consent, and anyone who tells you differently is spewing rape culture.                          

2) If you think projects of health and equality rights have entered a post-HIV era, check your privilege.