Two-spirit Research, #Asexual Activism and the politics of #Pride Parades at the World Human Rights Conference #WPHRC14

The opening day’s sessions of the World Human Rights Conference were as engaging and thought provoking as I’d hoped they’d would be.

The first session I attended – on lessons learned in Two-Spirited research on HIV/AIDS wellness and longevity with Two-Spirited cohorts – was fascinating for a researcher from Europe where we almost totally ignore all approaches but the Western scientific model. Yet, what these scientist and community leaders were doing was combining both Western and indigenous approaches,  not without tensions as they freely admitted. I think it was that critical honesty on both sides that made this attempt to work together for the sake of HIV+ Two-Spirited people  so exciting – as one of the elders put it ” research that wasn’t just helicoptered it and one day might appear in a book you wouldn’t read. Research that grew from our own communities.” For anyone interested the project is 2-SHAWLS.

Obviously I’m biased (Asexual Activism is my doctoral subject) but I thought the session on Asexuality in Sexual Education was outstanding. Again, as with the first session on Two-Spirited research, what I liked was the honest critical reflection that CJ, Cole and Michael brought to their subject. What I think that they did especially well was mediate a balance between an Asexuality 101 (which clearly some attendees needed) while also touching on some of the broader, deeper issues Asexuality brings up both socially and specifically for the LGBTIQ+ Umbrella. It’s hard to give justice to how many topics that they raised in an hour and a half, but some of the subjects touched on were the relationship of Ace phobia to homo/bi/trans phobia, gender panic, expanding the definitions of desire and emotion (a really exciting section with a lot of potential for work with young people) to value non-sexual relationships, critically exploring the boundaries of consent, etc. All in all, a great session and I’m going to have to put a bit of work in for the Asexuality Conference to raise my game.

The third and final session that I attended for the day was on the politics of Pride Parades. I have mixed feelings about this session; less because of was said that what was unsaid. Although the moderator Shelley Craig is a chair of World Pride there was no critical discussion of World Pride. This lack of critique fits in with my overall impression of World Pride in Toronto – I like Canadians, but they’re incredibly smug and neo-colonial. The whole theme of World Pride Toronto seems to be ‘Look at all the bad things the AMERICAN religions do around the world, and, look how good we CANADIANS are at helping the poor victims of the AMERICANS (just don’t look too closely at what’s happening here in Toronto with changes to immigration laws and increased police presences in poor areas).’  That said, the three speakers on the politics of Pride Parades raised important issues about who, where, what and how Pride Parades operate in different socio-political spaces around the world.

Emily Craven showed a video of the I in 9 political action to reclaim Pride events from privileged whites areas of Johannesburg.  It was a interesting talk marred by Craven’s subtle misandry. There were almost constant dismissive references to ‘white boys in bikini shorts’ as emblematic of what had gone wrong, yet in the video shown the most offensive comments were articulated by white women and the organizer was apparently a woman. I’m actually growing increasing tired of LGBTIQ+ spaces where it’s acceptable for women to articulate misandric comments about gay, bi or queer men.

Sonal Giaani talk about Youth and the Mumbai March was inspiring. Queer Azaadi Mumbai are simply an exceptional group of spectrum youth. That they continue to do what they do and remain not only determined, but filled with humor, makes me happy about the world. Listening to Sonal reminded me why Pride matters so much – as indeed do so many of my own research participants.

Kevin Moss’s paper on Prides in Eastern Europe was a far more traditional academic paper. It was a complex argument, but Moss was arguing the dangers of helicoptering in a ‘global’ mode of Pride, that ignored local traditions and cultures and that might actually end up being utilized by far-right groups. In other words, on issues of sexual and gender tolerance, if Eastern Europe feels that Western Europe is simply telling that it is the stupid yokel cousin (think of the pictures of lip-sticked Putin) – that plays right into the hands of Putin and others.

As I said – a long, but productive first day. I was too tired to go to the plenary session (I know this sounds weird, but I’m getting tired of people clapping Edith Windsor).

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