Pride Week human rights panel on religion includes York professor

The ability to worship in their chosen faith is something many queer people struggle with, since religious leaders often vilify their lifestyle, wrote the Toronto Star June 19. In an attempt to address that issue, in the true tradition of Pride Week, the subject will be discussed at a human rights panel June 23 at Ryerson University – featuring leaders from both the human rights movement and three of the largest faith groups in the world.

The panel will include Aviva Rae Goldberg, a lesbian and a humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts who has led an “unofficial congregation” for queer Jews for the past 13 years.

She says Canada’s Jewish community lags the US in welcoming gays and lesbians. “There are no out gay and lesbian rabbis that I know of in Toronto but, certainly, a lot has changed, even in five years. Many of the synagogues in Toronto were at the forefront of the AIDS support programs and have social action committees around this issue.”

  • Most health-care professionals are not well-trained in dealing with issues specific to the LGBT community, wrote the Toronto Star June 19 in a story quoting York Professor Nick Mule, a member of the Rainbow Health Network, an organization addressing this problem. Rainbow is Pride’s science, medicine and technology honouree this year. 
    Mule, a professor of social work in York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, says the network has about 300 members, “mostly self-identified queer health providers – physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, counsellors, naturopaths, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. 
    “A lot of people in our community have problems with addiction issues, substance abuse, gambling and sex addiction. There’s a high level of depression. Suicide rates are high. One study points to our cancer rates being higher due to stress levels from being stigmatized. The average health-care or social services provider may not be knowledgeable about these things,” said Mule.
  • Nina Levitt ’s enthusiasm is contagious, wrote the Toronto Star June 19. Spend five minutes with the Toronto artist and professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and you’ll be swept up in her passion for Toronto, pop culture and questions about representation.

Levitt is one of 12 local video artists creating original works for Pride Week. Her four-minute video begins with a spinning headline that comes to an abrupt stop just long enough for the viewer to read it – and notice the six pink letter ‘o’s in “Who’s Gay … Who’s Not, The Ultimate Hollywood Tell-all!”

“We’re surrounded by tabloids. You go to the checkout and go, ‘Oh, there’s another one.’ This piece is about me saying, ‘Well, wait a minute. These are really interesting,’ “says Levitt.

Over nearly three decades, much of her work has involved taking an aspect of pop culture and putting it in a different context. “We take in so much visual information that sometimes it’s hard to stop to appreciate things.” She has also watched Toronto’s queer community grow in visibility. “I look at the size of Pride and…it’s phenomenal. There’s been a huge change in the presence of gays and lesbians in Toronto culture. And that’s a change for the better.”

Fine Arts professor talks about confronting her deafness

Victoria’s Gwen Dobie plays the French horn, sometimes with classical ensembles. It seems unremarkable, except for the fact that she’s almost completely deaf, wrote the Victoria Times Colonist June 19, in a story about the theatre professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

The question is: How did she manage to create music, or experience it? And how can she play in tune? Even Dobie, 45, can’t explain it, other than to say there are ways of experiencing music other than through hearing.

“Deaf people ‘hear’ music,” she said. “They register it in their bodies. The brain is desperate for music. It will hear through vibration.” Her friend and partner, York lighting designer William Mackwood, finds it astounding. “She actually gets rid of her hearing aids when she plays,” he said.

Dobie’s story is remarkable. The daughter of a church minister, she was born with normal hearing. Then, as a baby, she was treated for an ear infection with antibiotics. The result was disastrous. The girl adapted remarkably. She got top grades in school, and went on to a university degree and post-graduate studies.

Dobie was so successful in adapting and compensating, she fooled many about the extent of her disability – including herself. “I was a deaf person in denial,” said Dobie, who – unlike many hearing impaired people – speaks with perfect enunciation. “I wasn’t part of the deaf culture. I [told myself] I was not deaf.”

And yet she was. It finally came to roost at age 25. Dobie (who teared up slightly upon relating this anecdote) was a student assisting a lighting designer on a theatre production for Toronto’s Canadian Stage Company. He instructed her to bring up a light dimmer, but was too far away for her to lip-read. A fellow student had to translate. Dobie suddenly realized if she wanted to work in the performing arts, she’d have to confront her disability head-on. “I think to make radical change we have to hit the wall,” she said.

For the first time, after more than two decades, she was tested and outfitted with hearing aids. It turned out that Dobie has a 75-per cent hearing loss. Life with hearing aids was difficult, especially at first. Experiencing processed sound after a lifetime of silence was overwhelming. It took weeks for her brain to adjust, filtering out ambient noise in a way most people take for granted. Now, Dobie says she has adapted so well, she’s “100 per cent lost” without her hearing aids.

A year ago Dobie decided to create a theatre piece about the way she experiences music and the world. The catalyst, she says, was reading a book, The Brain That Changes Itself, in which psychiatrist Norman Doidge examines how the brains of injured patients adapt to disabilities. In particular, the book deals with the concept of neuroplasticity or brain remapping, in which activity in the brain moves from one location to another.

Mackwood believes it is courageous of Dobie to create Sound in Silence, as it has forced her to confront “some of the demons” connected with her deafness. Dobie, meanwhile, admits she was hesitant to write a semi-autobiographical work exposing her vulnerability.

One of her fears in going public with her disability was that it might pigeonhole her in the eyes of the public. A former director for the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s opera studio, and now a professor, the last thing Dobie wants is to be viewed differently from others in the performing arts. “It’s that thing of, ‘Do we want to be celebrated as an artist, or do we want to be celebrated as a deaf artist?’”

  • It’s always good to go out in style and it seems Out of the Box Productions is doing just that with Sound in Silence, wrote BC’s Monday Magazine June 18. With both artistic directors now based at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts – Gwen Dobie as a professor in the theatre department and William Mackwood as the drama department’s new lighting designer – the company wanted to stretch its wings on its last show to be developed here in Victoria.

“I wanted to try creating a work in a different way,” says Dobie. “There’s a script to this piece, but I haven’t even wanted to call it a script; I’ve called it the spine that everything hangs off of. I’ve tried to keep just enough structure that we all don’t freak out.”

Sound in Silence documents the life of a deaf artist, from her beginnings as a normal baby who suffers from ear infections and loses her hearing after being prescribed auto-toxic antibiotics through her life and subsequent adoption of hearing aids at the age of 25.

“This story sort of follows my own personal story, but I haven’t wanted it to be a self-indulgent, this-is-my-story kind of thing,” says Dobie, who is mostly deaf herself. “That’s just the spine that keeps us on a track.”

York dean writes he is ‘humbled, haunted and hopeful’ after African journey

By any measure, this was slated to be the family journey of a lifetime, wrote Paul Axelrod, dean of York’s Faculty of Education, in a personal account of a trip to Africa written for The Canadian Educational Association’s Summer 2008 edition of Education Canada. For educational and recreational reasons, Axelrod wrote, we set out to explore a small part of rural Kenya, and for more than three weeks, my wife Susan, our 14-year-old daughter Kaitlyn and I were steeped in the physical beauty, the traditional cultures, and the turbulent politics of a fascinating society. Our experience left us humbled, haunted and hopeful.

In his article, Axelrod describes the volatile political situation in the country and the tragic violence that resulted from the first national elections in five years, as well as the importance of education to a society still emerging from its colonial and traditional past. The full text of the article, “African Journal: Schooling and Politics in Rural Kenya”, is available online as a PDF.

Not all sides are represented in debate on copyright bill

The long-awaited copyright bill is about much more than copying music onto iPods or throwing kids in jail (and, no, the bill doesn’t endorse this, contrary to sensationalized beliefs), wrote Giuseppina D’Agostino , professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in an opinion piece for the Toronto Star June 19. The bill is important and affects us all. Since Bill C-61, An Act to Amend the Copyright Act, was tabled on June 12, opponents and proponents have been loud in blasting or praising the government. It has sent the online and offline world into a frenzy.

Welcome to the copyright combat zone. When it comes to copyright reform, stakeholders and their advocates from all sides insult, condemn, lobby and oversimplify. While it is great that copyright is finally the talk at the water cooler, how unfortunate that the debate in Canada is distilled to positional and hostile battles. Not even all sides are represented: creators are often lost in the mix of what is now a contest between users and owners. Sadly, Canadians suffer because they are left with misinformation and sound bites.

The copyright reform process must continue, wrote D’Agostino. We need to think beyond our iPods and sound bites. Our current copyright framework is not working. We need to fix it. We must ensure that our copyright law is clear, balanced and has foresight and flexibility for the longer term for all Canadians.

Concept of motherhood is being redefined, loosened, says York prof

Teen pregnancy may be becoming more socially acceptable – which is a throwback to several generations ago – suggests Andrea O’Reilly, women’s studies professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and director of the Association for Research on Mothering, wrote the Hamilton Spectator June 19.

That’s partly because the concept of motherhood is being redefined and “loosened,” O’Reilly says. The notion of who can mother, when and under what circumstances have all changed.

Several generations ago, “moms were pregnant at 18…and nobody freaked out,” says O’Reilly. “What makes a difference today? I think it’s because she’s on her own and she’s breaking rules. She’s choosing to have a child in a way that society has told her she can’t. People get really uncomfortable with that.”

Ontario fearful of wider powers for ombudsperson, says Drummond

As pressure increases to expand the ombudsperson’s role, the Ontario provincial government will be forced to prove its oversights are actually effective, said Robert Drummond, a political science professor and dean of York’s Faculty of Arts, in a story in the Hamilton Spectator June 19.

“How well are they working?” he asked. He noted other provinces have clearly seen the need to expand the ombudsman’s role.

“Why not Ontario?” Drummond said he suspects many of the institutions Ontario Ombudsman André Marin wants to be able to investigate will fear giving up their independence. Likewise, he said, the province may not want to be forced to step into their operations.

No vaccines to fight flu pandemic

Your story “Prepare for coming pandemic, study warns” (June 17), accurately captures the importance of pandemic planning for businesses, wrote Amin Mawani, professor in the Health Management Policy Program in York’s Schulich School of Business, in a letter to The Gazette (Montreal) June 19 about his latest research study. However, it is inaccurate in calling on companies to stockpile vaccines since there are currently no vaccines for an influenza pandemic.

My study calls for businesses to consider stockpiling antiviral drugs, not vaccines. Vaccine production requires first that the strain of the pandemic be identified (which cannot happen until the strain emerges), and then it takes three to six months to produce the vaccine.

Antiviral drugs, however, are a class of medication recommended for stockpiling by the World Health Organization because they can fill the gap, and treat and prevent influenza pandemic until a vaccine becomes available.

Police hate us: cabbies

Racial bigotry drives some Toronto Police officers to treat cab drivers badly, claims a report to today’s police services board meeting, wrote The Toronto Sun June 19 in a story about a report co-written by Dale Whitmore, a student in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

In the “first systemic attempt” to study the industry in 10 years, the three authors seek to reverse attitudes that almost 10,000 cabbies are unqualified, poor and non-English-speakers with dirty cabs.

Whitmore, with Sara Abraham, a professor at the University of Toronto, and Aparna Sundar, a professor at Ryerson University, surveyed drivers over 11 months, ending in November. Most reported “over-zealous or insensitive traffic enforcement,” plus Toronto cops not caring about their victimization except in severe cases. The top objection was being treated “as garbage.” More immigrants have replaced Canadian-born drivers, leading to “the preponderance of racialized workers…as in other low-income sectors,” the report says.

Kenora scholarship winner heads for York

If Kenora had a junior lifeguard for the arts, she would be Brooklyn Doran, wrote the Kenora Daily Miner & News June 18. The Beaver Brae Secondary School student, who will attend York University in the fall, has received $4,000 towards a potential $16,000 as recipient of the 2008 Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation Excellence Award for her efforts to save local arts projects from drowning.

“Theatre and music are really important to me,” explains the musician, who organized several fundraising campaigns for local arts organizations and events that were threatened with cancellation . “The Kenora community is pretty much all based on tourism, so the arts is really what’s keeping the community afloat. If you’re visiting your cabin, the performance and entertainment is what keeps people coming into town; it’s what’s getting people to come here.”

Building on her own prosperity, Doran is off to York to study theatre with a focus on education and a minor in French.

‘EcoSchool’ gets gold star

Beatrice Strong Public School is getting an A+ for its effort to become eco-friendly, wrote the Port Hope Evening Guide June 19. Both Beatrice Strong in Port Hope and East Northumberland Secondary School in Brighton volunteered last November for the Ontario EcoSchools program, facilitated by York University. They are the only two schools in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board to participate. Beatrice Strong will receive its award on June 26.

Future York student’s time on ‘Canadian Idol’ is over

Bridgenorth’s Taylor Abrahamse didn’t make it to the Top-22 round on "Canadian Idol", but he’s OK with that, wrote the Peterborough Examiner June 19. The 17-year-old student from Peterborough Collegiate & Vocational School made the top 100 in the audition countdown last month, televised on CTV. But Tuesday night wasn’t his night. “I’m concentrating on my school work,” said Abrahamse, who has been accepted to attend York University’s fine arts & film course.

Funny guys from Brantford

Boredom just may help York student Calwyn Shurgold make his mark in the world of comedy, wrote the Brantford Expositor June 19.

Now 20 and living in Toronto, the Brantford native started making funny videos a couple of years ago and posting them on YouTube. The latest – a takeoff on in-your-face jewellery salesman Russell Oliver – has attracted more than 6,000 hits. All told, he has posted 28 videos on his YouTube channel.

Shurgold studies visual arts at York University; outside class, he acts and does standup comedy. He’s thrilled to be the opening act this Friday, when Brantford-born comic Darren Frost hosts a DVD release party at the Polish Hall on Pearl Street. “I’m pretty excited,” says Shurgold, who has done standup elsewhere but not in his hometown. “I want to get all my high-school friends and family here to see the show.”