Friday, October 30, 2009

Obama Approves More LGBT Legislations

Two days after signing the historic Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act--the first federal law to extend protections to GLBT Americans--President Barack Obama addressed two other issues seen by gay Americans as crucial to the cause of equality.

The president signed into law legislation that re-authorizes the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act. The law provides funds for another four years to programs that provide medicine and care for needy people living with HIV/AIDS. An estimated 500,000 individuals rely on the program to maintain their treatment regimens.

President Obama also announced the end of a long-standing ban on HIV-positive visitors to the United States. The ban had been in place since the 1980s, when the means of transmission of the virus was poorly understood; in 1993, however, long after it was known that HIV cannot be casually transmitted, Congress acted to reaffirm the ban. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed legislation to rescind the ban, but nonetheless, still-extant U.S. Department of Health & Human Services regulations prevented HIV-positive travelers from entering the country without first obtaining difficult-to-secure visas. As a result, sixty Canadian would-be participants in the North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Research Summit in Washington, D.C. last June were denied permission to enter the United States.

GLBT equality lobbying organization the Human Rights Campaign issued a press release praising Obama. Said Joe Solmonese, the head of the group, "We thank the President for taking these tremendous steps today on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS. Today’s actions signal both to Americans and to the world that the United States is a nation that will care for those most in need at home and will no longer close the door to HIV-positive people abroad. Today, President Obama has extended one of our nation’s proudest responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and finally erased on our of most shameful."

The office of Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-authored the bill singed by then-president Bush, also issued a statement.

Said Senator Kerry, "Today a discriminatory travel and immigration ban has gone the way of the dinosaur and we’re glad it’s finally extinct.... We’ve now removed one more hurdle in our fight against AIDS, and it’s long overdue for people living with HIV who battle against stigma and bigotry day in and day out."

The statement also quoted Immigration Equality executive director Rachel B. Tiven, who said, "People living with HIV will no longer be pointlessly barred from this country.... Every day, Immigration Equality hears from individuals and families who have been separated because of the ban, with no benefit to the public health. Now, those families can be reunited, and the United States can put its mouth where its money is: ending the stigma that perpetuates HIV transmission, supporting science, and welcoming those who seek to build a life in this country."

In 2008, the Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation Kerry co-authored with former Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) to lift the statutory travel and immigration ban as part of the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) reauthorization.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Obama Approves Transgendered Protection Laws

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) issued the following press release:

President Obama has just signed into law the very first protections for transgender people in U.S. history: the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

“This is a powerful day as the United States government, for the first time, stands up and declares that violence against transgender people is wrong and will not be tolerated in our country,” stated Mara Keisling, Executive Director of NCTE. “Every day transgender people live with the reality and the threat of personal violence, simply because of who they are. This must end and it must end now. The new law provides for some vital first steps in preventing these terrible crimes as well as addressing them when they occur. At NCTE, we are dedicating this day to all those who have been victims of hate-motivated violence as well as recommitting ourselves to ending the epidemic of hate that continues to damage our communities and our country.”

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which adds sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to existing law, will have a number of positive impacts for transgender people:

It will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it.
It will help provide federal expertise and resources when they are needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement.
It will help educate the public that violence against anyone, including transgender people, is unacceptable and illegal.

Most importantly, this law marks a turning point for the federal government, by including positive protections for transgender people and taking seriously the need to address the discrimination that we face.

NCTE invites you to light a candle tonight; we have held so many vigils for victims of violence. Tonight, let us light a candle as a sign of our commitment to ending violence and in honor of this new day in transgender history. Let us have a Vigil for Victory.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Percentage of Americans Are Willing Pay More For Green Travel?

U.S. travelers are more familiar with sustainable travel terminology than they were two years ago but remain unwilling to pay more for eco-friendly travel options according to the July travelhorizons ™, the quarterly consumer survey provided by the U.S. Travel Association and Ypartnership, the Orlando-based marketing and research firm headed up by Peter Yesawich. Items from the July report include the following.

• While he percentage of American travelers who consider themselves 'environmentally conscious' has not changed since 2007 (78 percent) there has been a large increase in the percentage who report familiarity with the term “carbon footprint” (from 12 percent in July 2007 to 54 percent in July 2009).
• Awareness of the term “green travel” also improved from 9 percent in July 2007 to 22 percent in July 2009.
• Despite these increases, only 9 percent of consumers say they are willing to pay more to use travel service suppliers that offer eco-friendly options for travelers, and only three percent have purchased a carbon offset when booking travel.
• While consumers believe travel service suppliers should be good stewards of their environment, over half (54 percent) also believe that individuals themselves have the greatest responsibility for preserving and protecting the environment.
• The majority (51 percent) of consumers will continue to patronize “green” travel service suppliers regardless of an economic downturn. In fact, nearly half (48 percent) of travelers say that continuing to support environmentally-responsible travel service suppliers is a necessity, even in an economic downturn.

Canada Replacing UK as Number One International Market for Orlando

The Orlando/Orange County CVB is suggesting that Canada is about to take the place of the UK as the area’s top international tourism market. The latest data released by the bureau indicates that visitation from the UK is expected to drop 16.4 percent this year, from 959,000 travelers in 2008 to 801,000 in 2009. Even though the number of visitors from Canada, which had been the Orlando region's second-largest international market, is expected to decline, it won’t be as much as the drop-off from the UK. The CVB projects that the number of Canadian tourists will slide 8.5 percent, from 940,000 to 860,000 in 2009. It also expects the difference between UK and Canadian visitors to grow in 2010, when it says that travel from the UK will fall another 2.9 percent while travel from Canada will increase 5.4 percent.

Monday, October 26, 2009

True Love Lies

I caught the new Brad Fraser production this past weekend at the Factory Theatre (Toronto), and must say it's another to chalk up to great writing. The two-hour production (including intermission) is a look into the complicated world of relationships, straight/gay/asexual, marital, work, and intergenerational - all within the context of a loving family environment. The question surrounding all this is, how is love defined?

Fraser is known for his often cynical interpretations of life, including his past successes Angels in America, Poor Super Man, and Unidentified Human Remains. In this current work he takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotional highs and lows. He shows the complications that exist in all relationships, whether with your life or business partner, your sister or father, your boss or your therapist. The storyline continuously goes from one-liner hilarity to thought provoking seriousness within minutes.

The fast paced acting is carried out by five characters with a minimalist stage setting. Rapid costume changes shift the focus from one location to another, simple yet effective. Fraser also directs this somewhat autobiographical romp through relationship reflections. There's bound to be one character or situation that each and every audience member can either relate to, or see in someone they know. I'd suggest another two hours to debrief and discuss your reflections with whomever you attend, even if that's just yourself!

After a succesful run in the UK, the Canadian premiere is the opening show for the Factory Theatre's 40th anniversary 2009/2010 season. Catch it before it ends on November 1st.

Debbie Does Hedwig

This past weekend I went to check out the double bill of Debbie Does Dallas & Hedwig and the Angry Inch, at The Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street (Toronto). This may not seem like anything exciting to those who have seen either of these classic films, but catching them as live theatre productions puts a completely different perspective on them. This is the inaugural production from Ghost Light Projects, founded by theatre veterans Randie Parliament and T.J. Tasker.

For those that aren't aware or these works, DDD is an infamous 1970's soft-core porn film that starred Bambi Woods, about a small town girl with big time ass-pirations to be a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. The plot focuses on the sexual shenanigans of a group of good teenaged girlfriends who find that the easiest way to make money is to make their bodies available to horny men. I was sort of surprised to see so many men in the audience that appeared to be there solo or with a few buddies, but not really. The sexual innuendos and simulated copulation kept them gawking for the full 90 minutes.

If you stay for the double bill, you have to leave the theatre and cum back for Hedwig about 20 minutes later. This is a perfect opportunity to grab a drink at the bar, or some snacks at the cafe out front. As well, if you check out one of the performances before November 1st, you'll have an opportunity to view the photographic works of Hamish Kippen on display in the lobby area. It's an excellent post perspective on an aspiring individual.

Back for Hedwig, a slightly different crowd was in attendance that I wasn't quite able to categorize. There were the Hedwig fans, the theatre crowd, and the inquisitive. This is basically a one person performance, acted meticulously by Seth Drabinsky. His performance of transsexual vixen Hedwig is an exhausting role to play, but he seemed to carry it off in perfect stride. The backing 'cast' included L.A. Lopes as the sidekick of Hedwig, along with Angry Inch - the backing band of Hedwig - represented by local music outfit the Vicious Guns ( The John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus) story quickly became a cult classic, telling the tale of a boy from Berlin that led a tortured existence of entrapment. He was finally able to come out to the world in a big way, and this is her story.

Congrats to Ghost Light Projects on a great entrance. Both shows are done back to back Tuesday to Saturday nights until November 7th, Debbie at 7pm and Hedwig at 9pm. Tickets can be purchased individually or as a double bill. Go to for more information. Keep your eyes and ears open for more fun stuff happening at The Great Hall, which seems to have finally opened its doors to an eclectic array of programming. It's an amazing multi-level venue perfect for showcasing the artistic side of Toronto.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rock and Roll

The Canadian Stage Company are known for their eclectic programming with their productions, combining both contemporary and thought provoking performances throughout the season. I recently caught Tom Stoppard's Rock and Roll, a three hour performance of political-isms and musical memories. Based on the internal struggles and beliefs of individuals living two different lives - location, generations, beliefs, views and understandings.

Beginning in Czechoslovakia and Cambridge (England) in 1968, the story develops as a professor/student relationship fosters into a friendship of respect and differences. Max has his set views on Communism, Marxism and Fascism, from a scholar point of view, but Jan provides a first hand perspective as a youth who lived within these walls of isms. The Plastic People of the Universe are the middle ground between the two, and the background to this developing dissection of cultures - a Czech band with political stances that were not highly regarded within the former Soviet regime.

What I found compelling was the extent to which both music and politics played vital roles in this production, both receiving equal share of the content, yet overlapping in perfect harmony. Rock and Roll has always been perceived as counter-culture, and one line in the play states, "In alternative culture, success is always failure". True enough.

This play has a personal aspect to Stoppard, as like Jan, he was born in Czechoslovakia to Jewish parents in the 1930's, yet he chose not to return home, unlike Jan. Perhaps this is a chance to view life from a different perspective, as is "what if". Stoppard has won five previous Genie Awards, and Rock and Roll debuts here in Toronto after successful runs in London and New York.

The play is three hours long with one intermission. Tickets are available from $20, and the play runs until October 24th.