Saturday, March 06, 2010

Olympic Pride of a Different Sort

I’m part of a group that likes to observe Freedom to Read Week. Each year, we gather at some public venue and read from works that have been banned

This year saw several of us take our cue from the Olympics. One of the writers whose work was read was Brad Cran, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate. Cran decided not to take part in the games’ official cultural events because he didn’t agree with the conditions VANOC imposed on artists. Some of their restrictions meant that artists couldn’t be critical of the Olympics, nor of any of the corporate sponsors. That certainly sounds like censorship to me.

Cran did write two poems to coincide with the Vancouver Games, one a tribute to the women ski-jumpers (the ones who weren’t allowed to compete, even when they based their challenge on Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms – apparently the IOC is a power higher than our country’s strongest guarantor of rights). The poem read at our event was his “2010 Handbook for Entering Canada”.

I took a more roundabout route in making my selections. I decided that because these Olympics were the first with a Pride House, the first games to recognize gay participants, it was important to read from books that had been challenged in the past for their gay content. Jane Rule’s The Young in One Another’s Arms was one of many books detained at the Canadian border for its lesbian content. Like so many of those ‘detained’ titles, it was destined for Little Sisters Bookstore. And that ‘detainment’ was just one of many instances that led that bravest of bookstores to challenge Canada Customs and its practices.

My other selection was Elspeth Cameron’s memoir, No Previous Experience.

Both books are wonderfully written and in no way prurient or lurid. It’s difficult to understand what the fuss might have been about.

But then, I remind myself that when Mark Tewksbury won a gold medal in Barcelona in 1992, he still had to be ‘in the closet’ about his sexuality. I’m grateful that this time out, U.S. skater Johnny Weir can not only be open, but can speak out against the commentators who made homophobic remarks about him.

And I’m glad as well that Tewksbury is still continuing to speak out. Lately he’s commented on the Conservative government’s decision to censor the newly-written guidelines for immigrants to Canada. Steve and the gang don’t want information about same-sex rights included in the guide. Considering that some countries still punish (and even execute) gays, you’d think the government might realize our freedoms are something to be proud about. Something maybe even to celebrate.

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