Cross-dressing prof ‘makes a whole lot of lives easier’

Professor Michael Gilbert is a husband, a father, a grandfather and a well-respected philosophy professor in York’s Faculty of Arts with more than 30 years of service at York, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 12. He’s also a lifelong cross-dresser who for about a decade has come to campus at least once a semester en femme to teach the philosophy of gender and sexuality.

Judy Pelham, Chair of York’s Department of Philosophy, told the Star there’s been "zero" pushback or complaint from faculty about Gilbert cross-dressing on campus, noting philosophy is about engaging people in thought-provoking discussions that challenge their pre-suppositions. "What I’ve always found quite remarkable is that he commands the class just as well as Miqqi [his femme name] as he does as Michael," Pelham said. "You have to have a personal connection with the class to pull that off."

"It’s obviously a brave thing to do," said Joshua MacKay, 23, a third-year philosophy major. "We’re kind of lucky for him to be willing to be out there and be an example." Classmate Ekta Talwar, also 23, called Gilbert "a front-line spokesperson for political appropriateness and positive space for everyone on campus." But Talwar said some friends in other programs "would become very uncomfortable" in a class where he showed up as a woman. "He’d win them over if they gave him a chance," said the fourth-year philosophy and English major. "But they’d never be willing to give him a chance."

"It’s been a cakewalk, frankly," Gilbert said of his decade of cross-dressing on campus. "I’m not surprised because York is a very affirming institution." Many in the transgendered community say Gilbert deserves some of the credit. He also chairs a committee called SexGen York, which deals with issues affecting sexuality and gender on campus. It has advocated for gender-neutral washrooms and regularly holds "positive spaces" workshops to combat homophobia and eliminate gender stereotyping.

"He’s made a whole lot of lives easier," said Lynnette Dubois, 42, a transsexual, third-year English and political science major and external co-ordinator with the TBLGAY (Transgendered/Transsexual, Bisexual, Lesbians and Gays at York). "When they see somebody like Professor Gilbert out there, it makes them feel York is a more accepting environment."

Study says Pearson needs lower rent

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport needs a break in rent from Ottawa to compete against major US hubs, according to a study to be released today, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 12. If Canada’s largest airport were to receive an annual rent reduction of $58 million, the payoffs in "economic stimulus" would more than make up for the lower levies, says the 34-page report by Fred Lazar, business professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, who specializes in the airline industry.

Lazar estimates that Pearson, which handled 30.9 million passengers last year, would be able to attract another 214,000 travellers annually, if the rent were slashed. It isn’t just Toronto’s role as an aviation hub that is being hurt by the government’s rental charges, but airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax are part of the rental regime too, the report said. Lazar added that overseas airports are also benefiting from what he views as Canada’s onerous rental charges.

  • The report, commissioned by the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), is to be released today just as the Greater Toronto Airports Authority prepares to kick off a new campaign – dubbed "Let’s get a fair deal" – that aims to put pressure on Ottawa to reduce Pearson’s Crown rent obligations, wrote the National Post Feb. 12. It’s the third such study in as many months that calls on the federal government to cut rent payments at Pearson, which has the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most expensive airports to land planes.

"The federal government will have to choose between two courses of action," wrote Fred Lazar, the report’s author and an economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business. "Either it can develop an air transportation policy that will provide the framework for Canadian carriers to thrive globally…or it can continue to pursue the path of the past 25 years – one of confusion and lack of purpose."

For street signs, it’s in the letters

There are considerations to be made about road signs other than size, wrote Marian Regan, research associate at York’s Centre for Vision Research in the Faculty of Health, in the Toronto Star Feb. 12. In response to a letter of Feb. 10, Regan wrote, it has been known for more than 30 years that it is often easier to recognize a word that is printed in upper- and lower-case letters rather than all in upper case.

For example, "Wildthing" can be read from a greater distance than "WILDTHING." "Toronto" would not have that great an advantage over "TORONTO," but any word involving letters such as b, d, p and g will be easier to read. It also helps if there is a good contrast between the letters and the background, particularly for the elderly but also for a significant number of the younger drivers in our population. Of course, the major consideration is that the signs be placed so that they are visible and at an appropriate distance.

Polygamy warning issued on head tax

The Conservative government, which last year announced a Chinese head tax redress program, had earlier received internal warnings that the initiative might raise "huge" legal problems and possibly risk offending community members over the issue of polygamy, wrote The Vancouver Sun Feb. 12. The warning referred to concerns that the government could expose taxpayers to enormous costs if it provides retroactive compensation for rights violations before the Charter of Rights’ equality provision came into force in 1985. and also could expose the government to legal action from numerous ethnic minority groups seeking compensation for racial injustices.

Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said it’s not clear if other groups will be able to use the Chinese head tax package in court. "I’m inclined to think that ex-gratia payments do not give rise to a legal obligation in other cases," he said. "But the more such payments are made, I think the more difficult it is to resist claims of equal treatment. So I think there is some risk associated with that."

Setting the stage for a judicial battleground

The Canadian judicial system is one of the most respected in the world, admired for its professionalism, impartiality and freedom from partisan political influence, which is why its judgments are cited regularly by the American, British, South African, Israeli, Australian and other high courts, wrote John Ibbotson in The Globe and Mail Feb. 12 in a column about the politicization of the court. "It’s an indication of the very high regard in which our courts are held around the world," Patrick Monahan, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, observed in an interview. "We have a very strong court."

Gutsy Chicks

Three years after an off-the-cuff remark about the war in Iraq alienated their main audience of country music lovers, the Dixie Chicks have shown that a public relations blunder can be overcome, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 11. All it takes is a good product and strong brand management. Rather than apologize, the Chicks spent the next three years working on a new album, aimed at a new audience. Ashwin Joshi, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, says what’s remarkable about the Chicks is they have tackled two major business problems at once: creating a new brand and finding a new customer base.

"Their (original) product is country music and the core audience for this type of music would typically be characterized as cultural conservatives clustered in the American Midwest," Joshi says. The Bush controversy, however, created brand awareness among other segments of the listening audience and the new brand attempts to capitalize on that. "Their current actions are designed to communicate with these new audiences (young, urban, progressive politics types)."

Foot-dragging an ‘act of bad faith’

Rights advocates across the country have reacted with outrage to the news that Ottawa says it won’t sign a landmark United Nations treaty on protecting the rights of people with disabilities until it has input from the provinces, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 10. "For the federal government to hide behind the smokescreen of federal-provincial agreements, on a Convention that is precisely in line with Canadian values and with Constitutional guarantees, is very simply to act in bad faith," says Marcia Rioux, head of York University’s postgraduate program in disability studies.

Bridezilla feeds monster cynicism

Videos such as "Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out" and those posted by Lonelygirl15 on You Tube may help sell products or kick-start a budding actor’s career, reported the National Post Feb. 10 in a story about the latest You Tube video sensation. But they also have a more pernicious effect on our tendency to trust what seems genuine. "This is part of the overall trend toward stealth marketing," says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, who says the trend is driven in part by concerns that traditional forms of marketing are losing their allure among certain target groups. He says that even though stealth marketing is still in its infancy, it has already made everything online suspect: "How can you tell anything from any source isn’t a shill?"

Unclear that Ottawa mayor violated election act

If Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien had promised Terry Kilrea a job in exchange for dropping out of last year’s mayoral race, he would have violated the election act, reported the Ottawa Citizen Feb. 11. The newspaper made this point in a story about Kilrea accusing O’Brien of offering to cover his election campaign expenses if he dropped out of the race. Upon reading the Citizen’s article detailing Kilrea’s accusations, York University political science Professor Robert MacDermid, an expert on municipal campaign financing, said it was unclear whether O’Brien had offered an inducement to Kilrea. "I couldn’t say whether this happened," said MacDermid. "What occurred would be difficult to establish given the circumstances of the meeting between the two."

It’s about resiliency, not smarts

So what makes an entrepreneur? the National Post’s Gary Schwartz asked Leonard Brody (LLB ’97)in an interview for Schwartz’s Feb. 12 Silver Bullet column. "Resiliency," Brody says and sets out to explain. "When I graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1997, I began articling at a large firm in Toronto. While working a 14-hour day with the firm, I started a small sports agency called Prodigy. With Prodigy we pioneered the business of representing North American soccer talent into the European market." One spring morning, a partner at the law firm took Brody aside and asked him to make a decision. The moonlight project now had seven affiliate offices across Europe and Africa. "I think the firm was noticing," he says. "Of course, it is a difficult decision: high stakes poker. Many of my law school peers are making partner at the firm this year." Brody chose to walk away.

Lights, camera and, finally, some action

Last April, an elite gathering of filmmakers and producers came out to a Telefilm press conference at Toronto’s members-only Spoke Club to meet York/Osgoode alumnus Michael Jenkinson (LLB ’85), a Toronto-bred, LA-based studio exec whom Clarkson had just hired as the go-to man for Anglophone filmmakers seeking government cash, reported The Globe and Mail Feb. 10 in a feature about young Canadian filmmakers. The hire was a disaster, with Jenkinson bailing on the position (due to "business complications in California") the day he was slated to start. Clarkson was left red-faced. The industry – used to mayhem and missteps at Telefilm – was wryly amused.

Aaron Woodley (BFA ’95), who directed 2003’s charmingly askew Rhinoceros Eyes, got fed up with trying to scrounge money through Canadian sources for the film, and eventually turned to American financiers. His second feature, Tennessee (currently in production, and starring Mariah Carey as a waitress who dreams of becoming a country-music star) has also been financed by Americans.

"You take what you can get," says the 35-year-old York film grad and nephew of David Cronenberg. Woodley believes the Canadian English-language film industry is on the cusp of a significant mend. "I feel a huge groundswell," he says. "I had to go to the States to get my movies made, but as soon as I can start making films in Canada, I will. I refuse to get sucked into the [American studio] system."

York grad directs Forever Plaid

At the Herongate Barn Theatre in Pickering, the spring season features Forever Plaid, a musical about four guys who’ve just got their first professional gig when they’re killed in a car accident, reported the Oshawa-Whitby-Clarington This Week Feb. 9. The Plaids perform classic 1950s hits in the work, directed by York University theatre graduate Jacqueline Mitchell (BA ’00).