19Jun2024
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Category: Awareness

March 18 Post 1 – Copy
Awareness

This post contains discussions of medical trauma, bigotry, denial of gender-affirming care, murder, suicide, depression, AIDS, and death.  Please take care of yourself and skip this post if you find any of these topics triggering. 

The week of March 18th marks the twenty-second occurrence of National LGBTQ Health Awareness Week—an occasion championed by the National Coalition for LGBTQ Health, which was founded in 2000.  This year’s theme is Vital Vibrant Voices, chosen to shine a light on the voices that advocate for and raise awareness about the many unique challenges that gender, sexuality, and relationship diverse (GSRD) people face when it comes to their personal and communal health. 

When discussing health of any sort, it is crucial to approach it from a holistic perspective.  Any complete picture of a person’s ‘health’ must consider the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of health, three interconnected areas that cannot be viewed in isolation.  All three of these areas affect GSRD people in unique ways that are often ‘brushed under the rug,’ so to speak.  There are countless issues that demand our attention, but this National LGBTQ Health Awareness Week, we’ll outline some of the most prevalent ones that the community has faced, or is still facing. 

Physical health in relation to GSRD people can immediately bring to mind any number of things.  The most ‘obvious’ might be the AIDS pandemic, which according to the World Health Organization has killed 40.4 million people across the world to date.  AIDS first came into prominence in the 1980s, surfacing primarily in Masculine GSRD communities.  Due to this, AIDS was quickly written off as a ‘gay’ disease.  Many people in power ignored the crisis at best, and outright called AIDS a ‘divine punishment’ at worst.  Either way, little to nothing was done to help as the pandemic spread, and GSRD people had to take helping into their own hands.  This explicit and institutionalised homophobia and transphobia was responsible for the deaths of countless GSRD people across decades—and others of all orientations.  Recently, with the development of PREP and strides in the creation of an HIV vaccine, things have improved immensely, but access is still an issue.  Those who cannot afford such lifesaving treatment or lack access to education on prevention are still suffering and dying—many of them part of marginalised groups and/or living in poor countries. 

Another physical health issue that has recently risen to prominence—especially in the United States and the United Kingdom—is the constant restriction of access to gender affirming care for trans, non-binary, and gender diverse people, especially minors.  Myths and conspiracies about this lifesaving treatment have spread like wildfire, and have resulted in an ever-growing slate of restrictions being passed into law.  To put it briefly; puberty blockers (one of the most common medical interventions for minors) are very safe and reversible, and are life-saving for trans, non-binary, and gender diverse kids.  Puberty blockers have been in use since the 1980s, and, although they have not yet been approved for the treatment of gender dysphoria, they were approved by the FDA in 1993 to treat instances of premature puberty.  There are, of course, side effects like almost any medication, but that should be a discussion between the patient and their doctor, like almost any other procedure.  Other procedures—like various surgeries—are almost exclusively performed on adults, and should be their own personal medical decision. 

In addition to these two prevalent challenges, GSRD people face issues in many other areas of physical health.  For instance, lack of access to affirming and inclusive sexual health education—proven to improve health across the board—is a massive challenge both in Canada and abroad.  In Canada, required teaching varies from province to province, and while guidelines tend to be reasonable and based in science, it’s impossible to be certain they are followed and taught in an empathetic, understanding way.  In addition, wait times for gender-affirming surgeries in Canada have skyrocketed thanks to both increased demand and COVID-19, and in 2022 the Ontario Medical Association reported wait times of 12 to 24 months for upper surgery, and up to 65 months for vaginoplasty.  Finally, it would be remiss to not mention the horror caused by targeted or random hate crimes, which can lead to trauma, injury or death.  These five specific areas of GSRD physical health barely scratch the surface of the inequalities at play, but in the broadest sense, considering them all provides an overview as to the current state of physical health care. 

Mental and emotional health—while often regarded as unimportant not just for GSRD people, but every person—are of equal importance of physical health, and are often intrinsically connected.  For example, a Canadian Medical Association Journal study in 2022 reported that trans and non-binary people have a risk of suicidal thoughts five times higher than the general population, and are seven point six times more likely to attempt suicide.  The Trevor Project—a wonderful organisation based in the US—reported in 2023 that 41% of GSRD youth seriously considered committing suicide in the past year, including roughly half of transgender and non-binary youth.  Bi+ folks and people of colour likewise report an increased likelihood of considering or attempting suicide.  Taking steps to lower this risk can be simple: for transgender and non-binary people, studies have indicated that puberty blockers, or even something as simple as being accepted and having loved ones use preferred names and pronouns, has a profound effect on reducing the risk of depression and suicide in youth.  An accepting home and/or circle of loved ones likewise shows incredible mental health benefits.  As draconian policies continue to be proposed and implemented—particularly in some American states—it’s likely that this massive crisis will only continue to worsen.   

Other mental health issues likewise show far more prevalence among GSRD people.  According to Rainbow Health Ontario, rates of depression, anxiety OCD, phobias, substance abuse, and self-harm are far higher than those of the general public, and GSRD people are additionally twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.  Stigma, discrimination and bigotry, high rates of homelessness, familial rejection, forcibly changing one’s presentation to reduce risk, sexual abuse, and hate crimes all contribute to these statistics.  The most important factor in improving mental and emotional health for GSRD people is having a supportive, loving community, as well as having low internalised homophobia—which is another factor that can lead to issues in mental health.  Having a healthy relationship with GSRD culture and having a supportive environment are both key factors in reducing internalised homophobia and thus poor mental health in GSRD youth. 

Across all these areas of health, bigotry pervades.  Finding an affirming counsellor, GP, or any sort of specialist can be very challenging—especially in rural areas, where access to services can already be limited.  Two previous studies in the US reported that 89% of Lesbian and Bi+ women received a negative response when they came out to their doctor.  It’s also important to recognize that those with intersectional identities such as First Nations or POC individuals already face significant medical barriers due to racial discrimination, which adds on and intertwines with discrimination on the basis of identity.  Economic status—for example, according to the CMHA Ontario, half of gender diverse people live on less than $15 000 a year—also plays a massive role.  We must approach the issue of GSRD health by considering all of these factors that play into the inequalities the community faces, and understanding that health is not, and has never, been one size fits all. 

If you’re struggling, you can reach out to the Canadian Suicide Crisis Helpline at 9-8-8, or you can contact the folks at the Trevor Project, either on the phone at 1-866-488-7386 or by text at 678-678.   

Feb 22 Post_Blog
Awareness

In September of 2007, at Central Kings Rural High School in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, a 9th grader wore a pink shirt to his first day of school.   

If you’ve been taught in Canada’s public education system in the years since, you likely know the basics of the story that followed.  The student was threatened and bullied for his colourful apparel—a cruelty that wasn’t anything particularly remarkable in the culture of the time.  This time, however, two bystanders decided to act. 

David Shepherd, Travis Price, and a few of their friends stood up for the student against his bullies, but they didn’t stop there.  Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Price met with staff at their school the same week and swiftly began to gather support from other students through MSN Messenger and a little site called Facebook.  They purchased dozens of pink t-shirts, and when they began to hand them out on a Friday morning, they ran out in minutes.   

When the student who had been bullied walked into school one day, over one hundred students were wearing pink in solidarity with him. Mr. Price would recall that “It looked like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.” 

The bullies saw it too, a concrete display of intolerance and disagreement with their actions.  The gesture changed the culture at Central Kings, showing students that they weren’t alone.  “Kids aren’t as intimidated to come to school,” said Mr. Price, who would fake being sick when he was younger to stay away from his own bullies. “We haven’t put a stop to it, but we put a dent in it. We said it’s okay to stand up.” 

The story might have ended there, with a heartwarming display of compassion that made a remarkable difference in a school’s culture.  Of course, things didn’t stay confined to the Annapolis Valley.  First, dozens of Halifax schools followed in Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Price’s footsteps.  Soon after, then-Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald wore a pink tie and wrote with a pink pen when he declared that the second Thursday of the school year would be thus known as Stand Up to Bullying Day.  The Globe and Mail then ran an article about the heartwarming events at Central Kings Rural High School, and things truly took off from there.   

Since 2007, Stand Up to Bullying Day has become nationally recognised as Pink Shirt Day, and has spread across the world.  It’s been recognised by the UN and is practiced in around 25 countries.  In 2022, donations poured in from 180 countries.  A particularly large movement takes place in New Zealand, where they commemorate the day on the third Friday of May and have done so since 2009. 

Despite the strides taken to raise awareness and make real change, bullying is still a massive issue across Canada, and society as a whole.  According to Public Safety Canada, 47% of parents have at least one child who has experienced bullying.  The RCMP further states that 31% of Canada’s youth have been cyberbullied—which is a form of bullying that can be extra pervasive and is a growing concern.  We must also never assume bullying is a problem only restricted to our youth: 40% of adults reported experiencing bullying at their places of work.  Pink Shirt Day has been around for close to two decades now, and it is still every bit as necessary as it was in 2007. 

Toxic masculinity still pervades through our culture today.  It’s important to note, though, that it wasn’t just the ideas on ‘manly’ colours that fuelled the initial incident at Central Kings Rural High School.  With the knowledge we have today, it might seem obvious that homophobic bigotry, and the idea of pink as a ‘gay’ colour, played a role, but even back in the distant times of the 2000s many people acknowledged this factor played a key role in what happened back then.  This includes the principal and faculty advisor for the Rainbow Club at Malvern Collegiate Institute in Toronto.  The University of Toronto likewise acknowledges that Pink Shirt Day “is an opportunity to address bullying motivated by homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia,” and has expanded into “a broader call for the elimination of all forms of bullying, discrimination, and harassment,” 

This Pink Shirt Day—and all that are to come—it’s important to recognize all the forms that bullying can take, including that which is at its core motivated by bigotry of any form. 

If you would like to support Pink Shirt Day, I’d encourage you to visit the websites of the WITS Program Foundation or the CKNW Kids Fund. Pink Shirt Day reminds us that one small act of kindness can quite literally change a person’s life, and even change the whole world.  It reminds us that together, we can create a future where no one has to feel alone, and we can all wear pink—or any other colour in the rainbow—proudly. 

Written by: Holly Mitchell

Feb20
Awareness

Every year since 2009, on February 20th, the United Nations and people across the world recognise the World Day of Social Justice. 

First approved in 2007, the World Day of Social Justice came about due to a need to acknowledge the importance of social justice as the world became more globalised and technology sectors grew, all the while crises of finance, famine, and poverty continued to affect people across the globe.   

The day was proposed as a means to two key goals.  The first is to re-invigorate and galvanise both governments and individuals to fulfil commitments to social justice and devise fresh approaches to tackle crises around the world.  The second is to remind both governments and individuals of the interconnectedness of peace, prosperity, and security with social justice and human rights, for the indisputable fact is that one cannot exist without the other. 

We recognize the World Day of Social Justice by reflecting upon and learning about the concept of social justice, and recognising the work that we have done, as well as the work that we must continue.  Social Justice is an ongoing fight, and one that we must commit wholeheartedly to in order to create a world that welcomes and supports all, no matter who we are or how we move through the world.  

For this year’s article, the CPHS would like to highlight two items which are inextricably linked with this occasion and social justice as a whole.  These are the basic frameworks for social justice, and the importance of intersectionality in matters of human rights.   

 

The Basic Frameworks for Social Justice 

The first definition of a ‘basic framework for social justice’ was proposed at the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen.  At its core, the framework declared that the fundamental values of all nations, and our society as a whole, are those of social justice, harmony, solidarity, equality, and equity.  The Copenhagen Summit also recognised ‘three pillars,’ designed to guide national and global policy:; social integration, poverty eradication, and full employment. 

The United Nations expanded upon this framework during a panel discussion held to commemorate the launch of the World Day of Social Justice, defining multiple categories as follows: 

Social integration, or the responsibility of society to be inclusive of all.  Social justice is interconnected with the need to create a world where people are able to live equally, without prejudice, exclusion, or fear.  Crucially, this means including as many perspectives as possible in the process of making decisions, and working tirelessly to improve equitable access to opportunities in life.  

Poverty eradication, which is focused on addressing the root causes as well as overt manifestations of poverty, crucially including systemic inequalities in all areas of society.  In pursuit of social justice, governments are obligated to ensure the basic needs of their citizens, from food, water, and shelter to education and employment.  

Decent work denotes the importance of worker’s rights.  This category is very large, but some of the key goals are ensuring safety, social protection, and fair pay for workers, tackling gender inequality, guaranteeing the ability to work for yourself, protecting the many people who work in ‘informal labour,’ and assuring equal access to employment.  Decent work also critically tackles the massive problem of modern-day slavery.  An excellent example of decent work is the ideals of the Fair Trade movement, ensuring that food and other goods do not come to the consumer at the expense of human suffering. 

Global Financial Architecture zeroes in on restructuring the global economy to allow marginalised peoples full access to economic and social systems both locally and internationally.  Policy making across the globe must also be directed to recognize essential human rights for all.  Supporting developing countries as they integrate into a more ‘fair and responsive’ international financial framework is also of deep importance.   

Participation and awareness raising, wherein movements across the spectrum of human rights might join forces to collectively progress towards their shared goals.  Civil organisations are crucial in creating change, and this must be supported and encouraged at all levels of government.  Raising awareness of the concept of social justice and the many crises it faces around the world is a key responsibility of any government, done according to the principles of equity, democracy, participation, transparency, accountability, and inclusion. 

Finally, legal recognition, which focuses primarily on preventing the exploitation of the people by those in positions of power.  This includes ensuring the rights to justice and access to a court, proof and recognition of legal identity, right to own property, protection for workers, and spreading awareness about the fundamental rights inalienable from every person.   

The Importance of Intersectionalism 

The World Day of Social Justice, and the basic framework, remind us of the importance of intersectionality in any struggle for human rights.  Intersectionality can be defined as the fact that no person, and no crisis, can be understood through a single lens.  In the struggle for gender, sexuality, and relationship diverse (GSRD) rights, for example, it is crucial that we understand that sexism, racism, ableism, and many other prejudices are inextricably entwined with the movement.  Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two of the foremost leaders of the Pride movement of the US in the 1960s, were both trans women of colour, and their experiences as people of colour cannot, and must not, be seen as separate from their identities. 

Intersectionality means embracing the perspectives of those with different lived experiences from you, acknowledging that even if you face discrimination, you may still be privileged in other areas, and showing up to fight for the rights of all—not just those you identify with.  It is recognising that no movement is an island, and that we must work together to secure a bright future for us all.   

World Day of Social Justice reminds us of this fact, and calls upon us to reflect on what we currently are, and could be, doing.  The fight for social justice for us all is a battle that has been waged for centuries, but we must never take that to mean it is a pointless struggle.  In the last few years alone, we have seen such massive positive impact from individuals and organisations across the world who took it upon themselves to be forces for change, and that makes it all the more necessary that we continue the momentum, and keep the hope for an equitable, bright future held closely in our hearts. 

Written by: Holly Mitchell

Aromantic_Flag
Awareness

Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week (ASAW) takes place this year from February 18th through February 24th. It typically occurs during the first full week following Valentine’s Day. ASAW started in 2014 and was started largely due to those in the aromantic community struggling to feel like their experiences were included in such a romanticized holiday. The week is an annual event that is celebrated throughout the world to raise visibility and increase acceptance of aromantic spectrum (arospec) identities and the issues facing this community. The observance of ASAW not only allows the community and its allies to celebrate aromantic identities, but it also creates an opportunity to inform the public about aromanticism. 

Aromanticism originally grew out of the asexual community. Although there is some overlap between the asexual community and the aromantic community, they are quite distinct: Aromanticism is a romantic orientation (as opposed to a sexual one) that describes people whose experience of romance is disconnected from normative societal expectations, which is often due to experiencing little to no romantic attraction or being uninterested in romantic relationships. Asexuality is a sexual orientation in which individuals do not typically experience sexual attraction to others, or very little sexual attraction to others and/or do not experience interest in sexual activity. Although aromantic people can be in relationships, these may be more platonic or sexual than romantic.  An aromantic person (aro) can have any sexual orientation or gender identity.  

Aromanticism is a spectrum that includes a variety of related identities. The plethora of identities that encompass this spectrum include grayromantic, demiromantic, quoiromantic, lithromantic, and others. Some choose to not fully identify with the aromantic label at all. Grayromantic individuals do not experience sexual attraction. People who identify as demiromantic need to establish an emotional bond with a person before they can develop romantic feelings towards that individual. Those who are quoiromantic are not able to distinguish romantic attraction from platonic attraction and are therefore unsure if they have experienced it. Lithromantic refers to people who feel a romantic love towards another person but do not want those feelings reciprocated.  

As understanding and acceptance of aromanticism continues to increase more celebrities and other notable high-profile people will help bring awareness to aromanticism. Currently celebrities like Michaela Coel and Alice Oseman identify as aromantic. Celebrating Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week brings visibility to those who identify within the aromantic spectrum and allows for a broader understanding regarding these orientations, so that they can continue to be embraced and celebrated.  

Sources:
https://www.aromanticism.org/en/faq 
https://www.arospecweek.org/about-aromanticism/ 
https://acesandaros.org/learn/the-aromantic-umbrella  
https://www.thepinknews.com/2023/10/27/asexual-and-aromantic-celebs/#page/4  

 

Written by: Laura H. 

Feb1
Awareness

Trey Anthony 
Trey Anthony identifies as an open and gay Black womyn. She is of Jamaican descent and was raised in Canada. She is an award-winning playwright, performer, and producer best known for her television series and play Da Kink in My Hair. She is the first Black woman in Canada to create and produce a tv program for a major network in prime time. 

Dr. OmiSoore Dryden 
Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, PhD is the fourth James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies and the first queer person to occupy the position. Dr. Dryden is a staunch advocate and the creator of the research project #GotBlood2Give, which aims to identify the challenges that Black homosexual, bisexual, and trans males face while trying to donate blood in the Canadian blood system. 

Nalo Hopkinson 
Canadian novelist Nalo Hopkinson, who was born in Jamaica, is well-known for her science fiction and fantasy works. Nalo is the first author to win the Sunburst Award twice. Her work frequently draws on Caribbean language, history, and tradition. Nalo has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Prix Aurora Award (Canada’s reader-voted award for science fiction and fantasy) and the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. 

Walter Borden 
Actor, poet, and writer – Walter Borden has performed on stages all around Canada. One of the first plays in the annals of Black Canadian literature to openly address issues of male homosexuality was the autobiographical piece Tightrope Time: Ain’t Nuthin’ More Than Some Itty Bitty Madness Between Twilight and Dawn, which he wrote and performed. 

Douglas Stewart 
Douglas is a gay rights activist who has dedicated his life to fighting for gay awareness and rights in the Black community. He was a founding member of Zami, Toronto’s first GSRD group for people of colour, in 1984. In the 1980s, Zami was established to address problems brought on by “queer establishments.” He also served as the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention’s first Executive Director. In his capacity, he campaigned in the 1980s to raise HIV/AIDS awareness within the black queer community. 

Courtnay McFarlane 
Most of his poetry, which has appeared in various African Canadian and Queer anthologies, is what makes him a famous gay visual artist and poet. He participates actively in volunteer work for groups serving the Black and GSRD communities, including Inside Out and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention. He shares Black GSRD tales via his craft in a profound yet sympathetic way. He is actively working to remove the obstacles that members of the underserved community must overcome in order to receive medical care. 

Cicely Belle Blain 
Blain is the CEO of Bakau Consulting Inc. and a non-binary writer. The business provides consultancy services on equity, inclusiveness, and anti-racism. They were also a founding member of Vancouver’s Black Lives Matter movement. They have been spreading awareness and promoting more inclusivity within Pride for the past few years. Their novel Burning Sugar is listed among the best GSRD books for Canadians to read. 

Jan 27 Post 1
Awareness

At 3 PM, on January 27th, 1945, the Red Army arrived at the gates of Auschwitz concentration camp. Inside they encountered horrors on an unprecedented scale: thousands of prisoners covered in human excrement, starving to death; children who had been victimised in nefarious medical experiments; and piles of prisoners’ stolen belongings, including 7.7 tons of human hair.  

Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust between 1939 and 1945, many of them in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other Nazi killing centres. In November 2005, to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz and the millions who died at the hands of the Nazis, the UN General Assembly officially recognised January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  

On Holocaust Remembrance Day we are reminded of the importance of learning about the Holocaust; to understand the extent of its atrocities and the prejudice, extremism, and hate that inspired them.  

We are also reminded, though, of the humanity, solidarity, and resistance of those who perished in the Holocaust and its aftermath. Here we share three of those stories.  
 
The Martyrdom of Saint Kolbe  

St. Maximilian KolbeSaint Maximilian Kolbe. 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/248688/80-years-ago-st-maximilian-kolbe-gave-his-life-in-auschwitz-to-save-a-father-of-a-family 

Saint Maximilian Kolbe was a Catholic priest living in Poland during WWII. A member of the Niepokalanów monastery, he was a devout critic of the Nazis and helped to hide, feed, and clothe 3000 Polish refugees, 1500 of whom were Jews. Following the monastery’s release of an anti-Nazi publication in February 1941, Kolbe was arrested and sent to the work camp at Auschwitz, where he was forced to carry heavy blocks of stone used to build the crematoria. Despite the daily horrors he endured, Kolbe continued his work as a priest among his fellow inmates, often sharing his food rations and providing spiritual counsel.  

In July of that same year, several prisoners escaped from the camp; as punishment, the guards chose 10 prisoners to die by starvation in the camp’s notorious prison block, Block 11. One of the selected prisoners was Franciszek Gajowniczek, who, upon being selected, cried out, “My wife! My children!” Motivated by compassion, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.  

Kolbe, along with the 9 other men, spent the next two weeks without food or water in the underground prison cells of Block 11. It was reported that he led the men in prayer each day and regularly offered kind words of reassurance. By the end of the 2 weeks, only Kolbe and two others were alive; they were subsequently killed by lethal injection.  

The story of Kolbe spread throughout Auschwitz, and he became a symbol of courageous dignity amidst the cruelties of the camp. Miraculously, Franciszek Gajowniczek survived Auschwitz, and later attended Kolbe’s canonisation in 1982. 

Witold Pilecki and the Polish Resistance 

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Witold Pilecki.
 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witold_Pilecki#/media/File:Witold_Pilecki_in_b&w.jpg 

Witold Pilecki was a member of the Polish resistance during the German occupation of Poland in WWII. On September 18th, 1940, he embarked on a dangerous mission: to become the first voluntary inmate of Auschwitz.  

The aim of this mission was to report on the conditions of the concentration camp, and to build Polish resistance from within the camp in the hopes of sparking an uprising. Pilecki spent 2 and a half years at Auschwitz, facing starvation, lice and Typhus outbreaks, and forced labour. By 1942, Pilecki’s underground resistance group numbered almost 1000, networking to steal extra food and clothing for fellow inmates, sabotage Nazi plans, and smuggle messages from the camp to the outside world. Many of Pilecki’s messages reached London, providing the historical record for the evolution of Auschwitz into the mass killing centre it later became.  

Realising he would not receive help from the Allies for any uprising, Pilecki escaped Auschwitz with two of his friends in April 1943 and rejoined the Polish resistance. He subsequently published a 100-page report on the conditions at Auschwitz, and fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Unfortunately, once the War had ended, the Soviet Union occupied Poland and oppressed any civilian mobilisations for independence. Pilecki continued sending messages of Polish resistance to London, and was arrested on suspicion of being a spy by communist authorities in 1947. After being repeatedly tortured, he was executed as an enemy of the state the following year. In 1990, however, he was exonerated and is today recognised as a hero for his actions during WWII.   

Alberto Errera, Sonderkommando Photographer 

The Sonderkommandos, German for “special command units,” were groups of Jewish prisoners who were forced to perform duties in the gas chambers and crematoria of the Nazi killing centres. Among other tasks, they were responsible for herding victims into the gas chambers, cleaning the blood and excrement from the gas chambers, and burning the thousands of corpses either in the crematoria ovens. Since workers of the Sonderkommandos were direct witnesses to genocide, they were usually killed and replaced every few months.  

The Nazis’ engagement in genocide through gas was a closely guarded secret. Indeed, in the days leading up to their surrender, the Nazis were ordered to destroy the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz, and even forced camp survivors into mass evacuations (“death marches”) to keep them from falling into Allied hands.  

There remain, however, four pieces of evidence documenting the gassing process: a series of blurry photographs, taken secretly in 1944 by a member of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando, and the only ones known to exist of the events around the gas chambers.  

The Sonderkommando photographs were taken in a span of 15 to 30 minutes by a Sonderkommando worker who, at the time, was known only as a Greek Jew called Alex. In the decades after the Holocaust, several sources identified him as Alberto Errera, a former Greek naval officer and member of the anti-Nazi resitance. With the help of Errera and fellow Sonderkommando members, the Polish underground successfully smuggled the Errera’s photographs out of Auschwitz in a toothpaste tube.  

Errera had been arrested in German-occupied Greece as a leftist, and deported to Auschwitz in April 1944. In addition to taking the Sonderkommando photographs, Errera was an active participant in the preparations for the Sonderkommando Uprising. Sadly, in August of 1944 after a failed escape attempt, Alberto Errera was tortured and killed by the SS. His heroism lives on, however, as in the 1980s he was awarded by the Greek government for his contribution to the Greek resistance during WWII.  


Photo #280: Bodies waiting to be burned, taken from the gas chamber.
 
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/images/Holocaust/sonder280.jpg 


Photo #281: Bodies waiting to be burned in an outdoor fire pit.
 
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/images/Holocaust/sonder281.jpg 

Photo #282: Women being taken to the gas chamber. 
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/images/Holocaust/sonder282_cropped.jpg 


Photo #283: Trees near the gas chamber. 
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/images/Holocaust/sonder283.jpg 

Screenshot 2023-12-08 081944
Awareness

On this day in 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first ever document setting out a list of fundamental human rights to be universally protected.  

The UDHR was a milestone in international human rights law, as it marked an historic time in human history when countries from every region of the globe came together for a unified purpose. In 1950, the UN General Assembly designated December 10 as Human Rights Day to commemorate the legacy of the UDHR and to promote human rights for all peoples and nations. As 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, this year’s Human Rights Day theme is “Freedom, Equality and Justice for All.” 

Since the UDHR was so influential to our current international human rights system, we’ve chosen to celebrate this Human Rights Day by writing a brief coverage of international human rights law, and how it’s worked – and not worked – for us as a global community.

What is international human rights law? 

International law is the set of rules that govern relations among States. International human rights law (IHRL) is a specific branch of international law that uses international treaties and customary law to confer obligations onto States to respect, protect, and fulfil its people’s human rights. States are required to show their cooperation by ratifying those treaties and incorporating IHRL into their national legislation.  

The UN is the official mechanism that monitors relations between States and promotes respect for human rights through international cooperation. It was created in 1945 after the dissolution of the League of Nations, and in direct response to States’ proposals for a global human rights monitoring body following the horrors of WWII. The UDHR – together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – forms the International Bill of Rights that the UN rely on to strengthen IHRL. Currently there are 192 member States to the UN that each get a vote in its parliament.  

Does the human rights framework work? 

The establishment of the UN – and the drafting of the UDHR – represented a huge shift in the international law system. Before 1945, nobody had the right to look within a state’s borders and judge its actions. But within the human rights framework of today, the global community agrees that we can, and should, regulate what happens within nations.  

Moreover, the human rights framework has helped us establish conventions, governing bodies, and mechanisms to hold states accountable for their human rights failures. For instance, in 1945 the UN established the International Court of Justice (A.K.A., the World Court) to settle legal disputes submitted by States and UN, often involving concerns related to human rights.  

The human rights framework has also been monumental for transitional justice, particularly by creating mechanisms (e.g., international tribunals) that allow victims of mass human rights violations to punish states’ actions via prosecution and reparation. These mechanisms have also inspired many states to include the language of IHRL into their own institutions which, before 1945, was almost unheard of.  

Ultimately, the human rights framework is evidence of a major shift in how the international community thinks about the world. We no longer see states as separate entities living inside a vacuum. Rather, we see them as part of an international community, where rights are afforded to all people, across borders, by simple virtue of being human. 

Of course, the human rights framework is not without its problems. One of the biggest problems of IHRL is that it’s oftentimes unenforceable. When a state commits a human rights violation, we can’t put them in handcuffs. We can’t put them in jail, and we also (generally) can’t strongarm them into compliance with the law like we would an individual. The UDHR itself, although part of customary law, is not even binding in itself.  

Instead, international law runs on a system of state consent and reciprocal obligation, where we say that states must ratify treaties and fulfill human rights – but, really, they only “need” to do so if they want to. Take the United States, for example: Despite signing and ratifying the Convention Against Torture decades ago, there are countless instances where the US has been found to use torture against civilians. Often, the US will even just opt out of ratifying treaties or submitting its compulsory human rights reviews to the UN.  

This leads into another problem with the human rights framework: It has frequently been called out for being highly political. That is, states that have a lot of political power, like the US, tend to “get away” with a lot more than less powerful states. Some critics – like those who support TWAIL – even go so far as to say that the international law framework is illegitimate, as it is less a system to regulate behaviour between equal states, and more a colonial tool used by the politically powerful to punish and control the non-powerful.  

When states are not outright violating human rights law, they are finding legal loopholes. Consider the issue of refugees: Article 41 of the UDHR guarantees a fundamental human right to seek asylum. According to IHRL, one of the most important obligations on states regarding asylum is the principle of non-return (non-refoulement) – a state cannot, under any circumstances, return someone to a place where their life or freedom is threatened. And yet, states find loopholes that allow them to violate this principle regularly. For instance, the right to asylum attaches to an individual as soon as they leave their home country; but the receiving state’s obligations to provide asylum do not attach until the asylum-seeker has entered that state’s territory. What we tend to see is that states who do not want refugees (e.g., Australia) will prevent asylum-seekers from reaching their territory altogether. The wording of some of the conventions offers wiggle room. 

The Role of NGOs  

The problems inherent to IHRL leave large gaps in human rights monitoring and enforcement; fortunately, non-governmental organisations fill these gaps.  

NGOs played a key role in determining what human rights look like today. Due to their independent nature, they are not bound to the same political pressures as the UN, and are therefore greatly reliable in highlighting state failures to abide by their human rights obligations. In a similar vein, they do not have the same need to “save face” by treading lightly on human rights matters; in fact, a large part of NGOs’ effectiveness is their ability to enforce states’ human rights compliance by “naming and shaming” their failures. Beyond this, NGOs regularly lobby with other states to exert multilateral pressure on the offending state.  

Importantly, NGOs methods rely on their ability to credibly demonstrate that abuses are occurring in a given state – so a big part of their mandate is to produce human rights reports. These reports require experts, journalists, on-the-ground volunteers, and many other resources to bring them to fruition. This is why donating to these organisations is so important; they protect your rights by holding your state internationally accountable.  

The human rights framework we have today is as young as it is complicated. Yet, despite its setbacks, we have seen more advancement in human rights in less than a century than was ever seen across the millennia prior. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is proof that we are able to envision a better world; and our efforts to achieve that vision grow more fruitful every December 10th.  

Written by: Serena Celeste Romanelli

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Awareness

According to the United Nations, approximately 1 in 3 women globally has been subjected to violence at least once in their lifetime. Despite the fact that violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world, only 5% of government aid is devoted to tackling it, and less than 0.2% is directed to its prevention.  

In an effort to improve these statistics, the 25th of November is annually recognised as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This day marks the start of the yearly UNiTE campaign, a 16-day initiative of activism that concludes on December 10th in commemoration of International Human Rights Day.   

This year’s UNiTE campaign is “Invest to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls,” and calls on governments across the globe to show how they are investing in programmes, services, and policies to end VAWG. The 2023 campaign’s #NoExcuse slogan also calls upon us regular citizens to do our part in the fight against VAWG.  

Defining VAWG 

The UN’S 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines VAWG as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women.” This includes intimate partner violence (e.g., battering), sexual violence (e.g., rape, street harassment), human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and child marriage

Although nearly 30% of all women and girls experience VAWG, those who have disabilities or are living through humanitarian crises, as well as those who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender, migrants, and ethnic minorities, are more vulnerable to violence. The effects of such violence on women and girls remain present at all stages of life, from experiencing educational disadvantages in childhood, to losing their homes and jobs, or facing mental health issues and substance abuse later in life. 

The Start of the UNiTe Campaign 

On November 25th of 1960, three sisters from the Dominican Republic – known as the Mirabal sisters – were violently assassinated by the Rafaelo Trujillo dictatorship for their role in the country’s resistance movement. Their deaths were commemorated in July of 1981, when a group of Latin American and Caribbean feminist activists united at the Feminist Encuentro conference in Bogota, Colombia, and chose November 25th as the day for no violence against women. Their proposal was taken to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and subsequently adopted by the UN in 1999.  

In 2008, the UN Secretary-General extended the day into a 16-day campaign – the first UNiTE initiative – in the hopes of bringing the UN, women’s organisations, media, and international citizens together to end VAWG. During this time in Canada we also observe the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, to remember the women who were murdered at the Polytechnique Montréal mass shooting on December 6th, 1989.  

Explicit and Implicit VAWG 

VAWG is a direct result of the social inequality, sexism, and misogyny that pervade all levels of society. That is, the attitudes and beliefs we have about women, their roles, and their position in the social hierarchy directly influence people’s infliction of violence on women and girls. For instance, a 2020 research brief by UN Women shows that among women in Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, women who were in relationships with men who held sexist attitudes and behaviours were more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence. Ultimately, when people hold sexist beliefs of women’s inferiority, they often feel licensed to maintain and exert power over them in often violent ways.  

It is, however, important to keep in mind that social inequality and sexism do not only contribute to explicit acts of VAWG – they also contribute to more implicit acts that we see every day and have, sadly, normalised. An explicit act of VAWG would be rape, online stalking, or the use of misogynistic slurs. An implicit act, however, could be as subtle as promoting double-standards (e.g., saying that men are “allowed” to be promiscuous whilst women are not), endorsing catch-22s (e.g., shaming women for wearing revealing clothing, but also shaming them for dressing like “prudes”), and engaging in covert sexual objectification (e.g., dressing a female toddler in “sexy” clothing). Although these implicit instances of VAWG are often viewed as more “mundane,” they are underscored by the same sexism that inspires explicit, extreme acts of VAWG. Thus, to end VAWG we must address both forms equally.  

Intersectional Violence: Trans Women and VAWG 

In addition to raising awareness on VAWG, November is also Transgender Awareness Month in Canada. Throughout the month, Canadians are invited to help foster understanding and tolerance of gender non-conforming individuals, as well as raise awareness of the specific human rights issues they face.  

One such issue is directly related to the UN’s goal for the elimination of VAWG. Trans women – including those trans and gender non-conforming folks who present or identify as feminine – face a particular type of oppression called transmisogyny. As Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) describes it, “transmisogyny is all about the hatred of the feminine”; it is essentially the overlapping of transphobia and sexism, a dangerous combination that puts trans women at significantly higher risk of violence than both cis-gender women and other GSRD groups. For example, BWSS reports that the majority of anti-GSRD homicides were perpetrated against trans women, due both to their being trans and their being women. In light of such findings, it is crucial that our efforts to end VAWG also include trans women. 

What We Can Do 

There are many important players in the global fight against VAWG. Some of the most important are government bodies, which this year’s UNiTE campaign has called upon to improve anti-VAWG policies, as well as increase investments in institutions aimed at protecting women and girls.  

Another important set of players are women’s organisations, who conduct research on VAWG and provide services to victims, like offering counselling, legal aid, and shelter. The impact of these services is monumental; in fact, the 2021-2022 Human Development Report has shown that countries with a higher presence of women’s organisations demonstrate stronger support for gender equality and have more comprehensive policies against VAWG.  

In terms of what we, as citizens, can do for the campaign against VAWG, the options are many. One of the simplest options is to donate to women’s organisations so they can continue improving the lives of women and girls everywhere. There are also countless opportunities to volunteer at women’s shelters and women’s help lines.  

But truly one of the best ways to reduce VAWG is to call it out. Although it can sometimes feel uncomfortable to do so (as going against the status quo often does), calling out sexist attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls helps to alter the social norms that give way to various forms of VAWG. And this can have a huge impact on reducing the violence we see around us.  

If we want to win the fight against VAWG, everyone must do their part. This November 25th, how will you do yours? 

CTA Spirit Day
Awareness

Brittany McMillan was just a young Canadian high school student when she founded Spirit Day back in 2010.  

The beginnings of Spirit Day were humble, consisting initially of a Tumblr post by Brittany asking fellow students to wear purple in response to the recent bullying-related suicides of several young GSRD individuals. Her post quickly picked up traction, though, and captured the attention of the non-profit GSRD advocacy group, GLAAD 

Together Brittany and GLAAD hosted the first Spirit Day on October 20th, 2010. Since then, Spirit Day has been officially recognised as a GSRD holiday, and is celebrated on the third Thursday of October every year. Participants wear the colour purple – one of the colours of the Pride flag – to signify their stance against bullying and their support of GSRD youth. 

Spirit Day reflects McMillan’s initial hope for GSRD youth to “find the spirit” to persevere through tough times. This year’s Spirit Day on October 19th, millions of people across the globe will echo that hope by “going purple.” 

How You Can “Go Purple” 

The easiest way to celebrate Spirit Day is to wear something purple. Whether at work, at school, or at home, get your purple on and showcase your support for GSRD youth by wearing a purple item – or even an entire purple outfit!  

Going one step above this, you can Go Purple by using the power of social media. The advancement of technology has allowed bullying to take on new forms, including through the internet. According to a 2019 study by Statistics Canada, 25% of youth had reported being cyberbullied the previous year. Crucially, the rate of cyberbullying victimisation was found to be increased among GSRD youths, with 52% of non-binary youths, and 33% of same-gender attracted youths, experiencing cyberbullying. This Spirit Day, you can help flip cyberbullying on its head by flooding social media with pictures of you in a snazzy purple number. Just check out how much fun “Mean Girls” star and gay icon Daniel Franzese had with it!  

If you don’t own anything purple, fret not. GLAAD has an app that allows you to turn your Facebook or Twitter profile picture purple instead. And if you want to do even more, go over to GLAAD’s website and Take the Pledge against bullying by adding your signature to their pledge list. 

Whatever you end up doing this Spirit Day, we hope you find the spirit to persevere today and every day after it.  

Screenshot 2023-10-09 193650
Awareness

Just this morning alone, hundreds of millions of people across the globe will struggle to get out of bed.  

Millions more will experience severe headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems that make it difficult – or even impossible – to function normally. And still millions of others will experience a misery so unimaginable that they will commit suicide.  

The millions mentioned above are part of the 1 in 8 people globally who suffer from mental health issues. Whether it is depression or anxiety, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia, or one of the other 200 mental disorders that exist, mental health issues affect more people worldwide than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.  

Due to the significant global impact of mental health issues – exacerbated by the mental health crisis following COVID-19, where the prevalence of anxiety and depression alone skyrocketed by a whopping 25% – massive campaigns for increased mental health services have become more important than ever. One such campaign that has existed since 1992 is World Mental Health Day, created by the World Federation for Mental Health and celebrated every year on October 10th to promote mental health advocacy and to educate the public.  

Since 1994, World Mental Health Day has been celebrated with a theme. This year’s theme is “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right.” 

How is mental health a human right? 

In 1948, member-states of the United Nations signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), an international document outlining a list of rights agreed to be inherent to all human beings. Included in this list is Article 25, stating that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.” This includes adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, security, and social services. Under international human rights law, all 192 signatories to the UDHR are obligated to respect these fundamental human rights, and to impose remedies when they are violated.  

Unfortunately, we continue to find that people with mental health issues do not enjoy the same protection of their human rights as people without mental health issues. Specifically in the context of the right to health and well-being, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner reports that people with mental health issues experience disproportionately poorer physical health and reduced life expectancy. They lack proper access to social services, are more likely to be homeless, and are at higher risk of being victims of violent crime – all of which can be largely explained by stigma.  

Simply put, people with mental health issues are often stereotyped as scary, crazy, or dangerous. As a result, others may not want to interact with them or take their needs seriously; they may be shunned or rejected from public spaces, thus receiving inadequate care. People suffering from mental health issues can also be mischaracterised as weak or cowardly, and may therefore feel dissuaded from seeking out help even when it is there, for fear of being mislabelled or mocked. 

In a nutshell, the stigma associated to mental health issues can enable mechanisms that directly violate people’s human right to health and well-being. This is why mental health itself – and establishing mandated services to protect it – falls within the human rights framework.  

What can you do this year to celebrate World Mental Health Day? 

For this year’s World Mental Health Day, you can support the human rights of those suffering from mental health issues in a number of ways: 

Share a post on awareness. To spread the message of World Mental Health Day, you can download a mental health awareness poster and share it online with your family and friends. Who knows – it may reach someone who needs it!  

Donate. Mental health organisations and NGOs are often non-profit and require additional donations to pay their workers and maintain the integrity of their services. Consider offering a one-time donation, or even monthly donations, to organisations offering mental health services like Place2Be. 

Sign a petition. Visit sites like Change.org or Amnesty International and have a look at what mental health-related petitions you can sign your name on. Here’s one about improving mental health services in Canada: https://www.change.org/p/premier-doug-ford-improve-the-canadian-mental-health-system 

Volunteer. There are several mental health organisations that benefit greatly from potential volunteers like you. You can volunteer for a national crisis line, like Trans Lifeline or Kids Help Phone, or even an international emotional support service like 7 Cups. 

Be kind to yourself. Sometimes, the person that can benefit most from our kindness is ourselves. If you are suffering from a mental health issue, you can practise self-compassion by taking a mental health day, having a long bath, or writing in a journal. Also consider talking to a trusted friend or family member, or even a mental health professional if you have access to one. Your mental health is a human right, and you deserve to exercise that right in whatever way is meaningful to you.  

 

Written by: Serena Celeste Romanelli

 

 

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