Is “Queer” a Bad Word?: A Conversation on the Queer Identity

Witch, nerd, redneck, bitch, slut: what do these words have in common? Did these words make your cringe or question the integrity of what you are about to read? Maybe; or maybe not. For many people, these past derogatory words are more than descriptors, they outline an identity. Reclaiming oppressive language has made an impact on how we describe ourselves, especially those in marginalized groups… But what about ‘queer’? Is queer a bad word?

Queer is making a comeback. Not for derogatory purposes, but to be reclaimed as a word to be used by members of the LGBTQA+ community as a definition for sexual or gender identity. Other reclaimed words have made their way into acceptable language, while others like queer still remain a taboo in the opinions of some.
Q. K. M., 30, is a scientist who identifies as bisexual and genderfluid, but lives as a cis-woman. Q. K. M. did not wish to be identified by her full name. When asked if queer is negative or positive word, Q. K. M. gave some context as to why she thinks it is usually positive.

“I like the idea of taking back a word that used to be used in a derogatory way, and it’s an easy way for me to explain that I’m part of the LGBTQA+ community without getting into specifics, which can get messy when it’s not something straightforward,” Q. K. M. said.

This reference to the unsavoury use of the word queer is easy to find through a quick search.

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 11.21.52 PM
Merriam-Webster Dictionary online screenshot from “queer” search. Feb. 22, 2018.

For other members of the LGBTQA+ community, queer is just not the word for them.

Midnight, 26, is a member of the LGBTQA+ community who identifies as female and a person that is not of binary gender identity or sexual attraction. Midnight sees the word queer as having duality, being derogatory and positive depending on context, but chooses not to use the word to describe herself.

“A lot of my friends use it to describe their sexuality and/or gender identity at different times. I don’t personally use it,” Midnight said. “It can be positive or negative depending on intent. It can be used as a homophobic and transphobic slur against people, or it can be used by queer individuals to classify their gender identity or sexuality.”

As Midnight mentions, queer can be an empowering word for some.

Morgan Ström, 23, is a student and self identified queer person who is pansexual and feminine non-binary. They choose to use the word queer to define their experience as an LGBTQA+ person, and embraces the idea that it is an umbrella term to avoid uncomfortable questions.

When asked, Ström made it clear that they embrace the use of queer as an identifier.

“Its a positive word! Now, anyway. Not long ago it wasn’t. But I use it all the time and know a lot of people who do. It’s simple and can sometimes be jarring for people to hear which is fun,” Ström said. “As long as it’s not in a demeaning or discriminating way, I don’t care who uses it.”

Many people have different interpretations of the word as either a reclaimed identifier or a derogatory term. As Ström explains, identifiers are not one size fits all in most cases.

“This is my personal opinion and not everyone is going to see it in a similar way, but for me, this is what works! It might not for others,” Ström said.

From a word used against marginalized people, to a word used as a self identifier, the word queer has changed over time and continues to change in social context… So, is queer a bad word? It depends who you ask.


The Buzz About Bees: What Canadians Need to Know About ‘Saving the Bees’

April 11, 2017

By Breanne Coulter and Tierney Angus

The buzz around the bee crisis is getting louder, but there is some confusion surrounding which bees are struggling and what people can do to help.

Canadians are concerned about the health of bee populations, especially due to highly-publicized honeybee colony collapses in the past decade. These issues are becoming less of a problem through better hive management practices.

Populations of wild pollinator bees face different threats than their managed cousins, but campaigns to ‘save the bees’ by environmentalist groups and cereal companies do not differentiate between species. Small-scale and hobbyist apiarists are joining the beekeeping community in large numbers, but in doing so Canada’s native and wild bee populations might be forgotten. ‘Saving the bees’ first requires a deeper understanding of the types of bees present in Canada and the issues that pose the greatest threats.

Honeybee apiarists across Canada saw an increased hive loss over the winter months in the early 2000s. Many different factors, including Varroa mites, disease and weather conditions contributed to this decline.

click on graph to open interactive view in new tab

Margaret and Robert Smith, 74 and 75, are beekeepers and owners of Marg’s Bees Inc. in St. Andrews, Manitoba. They have been managing hives for 40 years and mentor “newbees” to the industry. The couple started their business to provide a source of income for Margaret Smith when she left her teaching job to go back to University.

“I like to say it’s a hobby that flew away with us,” Margaret Smith said.

The years of the honeybee population decline were difficult for the veteran apiarists, especially during the early 2000s. Robert Smith recalls the losses that their beekeeping operation faced.

“We lost close to 80% of our bees in 2002. It’s a brutal thing to lose some of your bees during the winter. In the summer, worker bees only live for around six weeks,” Robert Smith said. “In the wintertime, they can live for several months. But there is a natural cleansing of the hives that happens when the bees die.”

click on the bees for information about colony size and click on the strawberries to see pollinator farm information

Cold winters have a major impact on the health of bee populations as a whole. Rhéal Lafrenière, Manitoba’s Provincial Apiarist, emphasized the toll the harsh Canadian climate can have on honeybees.

“Weather conditions play a big part in our ability to maintain our populations from one fall to the next spring. There’s always going to be some mortality that happens through that time, it’s just when mortality exceeds the point where the sustainability of the overall population of bees has been crossed,” Lafrenière said. “We had a year in Manitoba where we lost 36% of our colonies, it would have been the winter of 2012, and weather was probably the biggest factor in that one.”

Lafrenière explains that the unpredictable weather in Canada has a large impact on the number of winter losses and the strength of the hives in the spring. This issue can also increase problems with parasites and disease because beekeepers have to work around the weather to provide treatment.

“The honeybee is not indigenous to our area so it had to be brought in and realistically, it needs to be managed in order to survive in our environment,” Lafrenière said. “We don’t have a wild honeybee population.”

The challenges honeybees face are also experienced by Canada’s wild pollinator species yet degrees vary. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, there are over 970 different bee species native to Canada alone.

Dr. Pierre Giovenazzo, Assistant Professor at Université Laval in Quebec and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) explains honeybees and wild pollinators in terms of agriculture.

“You have to be very clear when you say ‘the bees’,”  Dr. Giovenazzo said. “When we talk about wild pollinators we are talking about the environment. When we are talking about honeybees we are talking about a domesticated pollinator – not the same thing.”

Dr. Giovenazzo notes that honeybees must be managed by beekeepers, whereas the native bees are a wild species that survive without human intervention.

“Beekeepers take care of their bees,” he said.

A lack of awareness about the separate bee species leads many people to believe that the honeybees are the ones in danger. According to veteran beekeepers and professional apiarists alike, the honeybee population is at its highest in several years and winter losses have decreased substantially since the honeybee decline of the early 2000s. The last five years have shown the largest number of honeybee colonies since the early 1990s. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs reported 97,342 bee colonies in Ontario in 2016 – an increase of 20,642 colonies from ten years ago. Habitat loss, lack of diversity in food sources and pesticide use have all had a larger negative impact on the wild bees than on the honeybees.

click on graph to open interactive view in new tab

Robert Smith explains the issue of lack of food and food diversity through monoculture farming and the problems these practices create for wild pollinators.

“The bees depend upon feeding their larvae pollen as a source of protein and if there is a thousand acres of one crop, there is no diversity of the protein,” Robert Smith said. “For the pollinators that is not good, and particularly if they [farmers] mow their road allowances and any alternate source that the bees might have, all the ditch linings and road allowances and anything like that. People either spray it or mow it.”

Margaret and Robert Smith do not feel that pesticides are the overarching reason for bee loss in Canada and that there are a number of contributing factors. The Smiths insist that more research is needed beyond a laboratory setting to understand how chemicals are affecting wild and honeybee populations within and outside the hive. Margaret Smith suggests learning from bees in their natural habitat.

“You have to take a holistic approach to the whole problem from a scientific point of view,” she said.

Outside the beekeeping community, environmental groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation are petitioning to ban neonics, a pesticide used heavily in monoculture farming operations. General Mills is advertising a Cheerios wildflower seed campaign aimed at replenishing and diversifying food sources for bees by sending free seed packages to customers which may introduce non-native plant species into sensitive environments.

Dr. Shelley Hoover is an Apiculture Researcher for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and Secretary of CAPA. When asked about the General Mills campaign, Hoover said that the campaign’s cereal boxes use CAPA data for their statements about bee population decline.

Specifically, they cite the winter loss report from 2015,” Dr. Hoover said.

Dr. Hoover mentions that the CAPA report cited does not say anything about the wild bee populations that are truly struggling and instead focuses on the decrease in winter loss of 34.4% from the previous season.

The report that General Mills is citing contradicts the message they are trying to send by  attempting to provide a solution to a problem that no longer exists – and to the wrong species of bee. Dr. Hoover offers a clarification.

“I think it is laudable to bring attention to bee health, but is an oversimplification of a complex situation,” she said. “Having said that, more flowers is a good thing for native and wild bees.”

Dr. Hoover cautions that some seed mixes can contain noxious weed species and seeds that will not grow in the area they are planted. She says that regional seed mixes are preferable.

Managing honeybees and supporting wild pollinators can be a tough job, and beekeepers are dedicated to taking care of their colonies. People who love the fuzzy creatures work hard to move past obstacles and keep their bees healthy. Experienced beekeepers have shown that they’re up to the challenge. Margaret and Robert Smith like having the bees close by, buzzing around their porch and in their gardens. They were heading outside on an early spring evening to move some of their 644 hives from winter storage to a warm place in the sun.

After 40 years of beekeeping a few stings don’t bother them, but Margaret Smith has a slight advantage over her husband.

“Rob is technically, by blood sample, allergic to bees,” she laughed.

Cosplay: The Costume Community

Halloween is one of the most anticipated times of the year in the eyes of a child. Nothing is so exciting as carving pumpkins, collecting candy and above all, dressing up. Many people may think back to a favourite costume of theirs; maybe one that their mother bought them or something that they made especially for the day. Though some may miss the thrill of becoming their favourite superhero or princess for a night, others refuse let the magic of their memories end.

Rather than dress as a princess or superhero to collect treats, cosplay goes beyond simple costuming and invites people to become their favourite characters and readopt the excitement of stepping into a new persona. For cosplayers, costumes are so much more than a holiday or hobby – they offer a safe place for expression and community, especially to people like Meagan Kelly.

Kelly, 23, is half of a cosplaying duo from Montreal known as “ME Cosplay”. Kelly began cosplaying about two years ago and works full time as an Emergency Room nurse. She cosplays as a hobby alongside her friend Emily Racette. Kelly remembers convincing Racette to join the community with her after meeting two cosplayers at her work.

“We’re both two astronomical geeks and have an artistic side to us, but we had never really found a common project we both really cared about like this. It sort of emerged that this was our thing now. It just made sense.” Kelly said. “We mostly do it because it gives us a way to impersonate characters we love, gives us an outlet for the pent-up artistic creativity and also it gives us a common project and a very good excuse to hang out together.”

Kelly and Racette see cosplay as an opportunity to exercise their artistic side by making their own costumes. Kelley responded with passion when asked what she enjoys about cosplay.

“Two major things: the feedback we get from hours spent crafting, and the community. In a way they’re one and the same. We literally spend hours on end making one piece of the cosplay so it’s great to see the final result of the work you put in and that people love it. And the community is just so great you feel on a small cloud when at a con.”

In contrast when asked about struggles found in cosplay, Kelly explained that with increased media attention on cosplay there is more room for judgement. She also outlined the stigma surrounding cosplay.

“Try explaining to your coworkers you can’t have a drink with them after work because you have to cut and mould foam mats and make wings all evening long.” Kelly joked.

Hannah-Marie Waters, 24, is another invested member of the cosplay community who offers costume commissions out of Colorado under the name “Kitchen Cosplay, Commissions & Couture”. Waters started making costumes for her American Girl Dolls at age 11 and was introduced to making her own cosplay costumes based off of characters from the webcomic “Homestuck”. Waters recalls when she first began cosplaying at 16.

“When I started cosplaying my parents said I would grow out of it but now that I’m married, older and creating a business out of it, they understand that it’s a lucrative and life changing job.” Waters said. “I took my 73 year old father to PAX Prime a few years ago and it blew his mind. He had no idea other people cosplayed! He told me he thought it was just me.”

Waters earns money by making costumes for other cosplayers on top of her full time job as a social worker for people with developmental disabilities. She currently uses the extra money she gains from commissions to support herself and her husband who recently lost his job just before Christmas and is currently in college. She responded with pride when asked about how the cosplay community has made a positive impact on her life.

“I’ve made a majority of my friends through the community. I met my husband through it, too.” Waters said. “I’ve always struggled with finding people who get me, since I’m an extrovert and outwardly eccentric and loud without meaning to be. The cosplay community has always been there; judgement free.”

Robin S. Rosenberg is an American author and clinical psychologist who is the co-author of “Expressions of Fandom: Findings from a Psychological Survey of Cosplay and Costume Wear”. Rosenberg explains that cosplay weaves together a variety of elements that can be gratifying to the cosplayer including creativity and community.

“This includes the design and fabrication of a the costume and acting the role.” Rosenberg said. “The online and in real life cosplay community who offer advice about design and fabrication, as well as the sense of belonging to a community leading up to the cosplay event and the day of the event.”

Rosenberg also explains that based on their survey, most cosplayers choose to coordinate their costumes in some way with others, adding to the sense of community.

People like Kelly and Waters who are creating and adding their own passion to the cosplay community, are the reason that it has proved to be a gratifying place for people to turn. The rewards found in cosplay may not be comparable to the candy received on Halloween, although the enthusiasm and love goes into every aspect of the costumed community is something much sweeter than any princess or superhero with a pillowcase could ever unwrap.

Changing Career Paths: A Gamble in Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary students are gambling. They are not feeding quarters into slot machines or playing rounds poker, instead, students are gambling with their futures; or at least this is how students like Emilie Denington feel.

Changing a career path was about more than money to Denington. She saw a chance to create a future where she would not feel stuck or unhappy with what waited for her after graduation. She would rather risk taking the chance and start again, than stay in a program that she felt was limiting to her goals.

While attending postsecondary education, some students are choosing to change their career paths. They are taking the chance to explore their options to establish a more fulfilling future. Students in this situation are factoring their feelings and goals above the cost of starting fresh.

Denington, 21, attended Wilfrid Laurier University for a Bachelor of Film Studies for two years. She now attends Humber College for Acting for Film and Television. She recalls recognizing how she felt before deciding to change directions.

“Near the end of first term and around the beginning of second term, is when I realized that the program that I was in and the place that I was, mentally, emotionally, geologically, just wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be in terms of where I was seeing myself.” Denington said.

Denington was somber when asked about how realizing this affected her.

“I had strong feelings in a very negative sense.” Denington explained. “I guess the realization that being there was such a waste of my time and that it had no opportunity, was really weighing down on me.”

Good2Talk is an over the phone counselling option that is specifically offered to postsecondary students in Ontario to provide help for these kinds of feelings.

Good2Talk claims that amount of Ontario post-secondary students reaching out to mental health professionals has doubled in the past 10 years and they are receiving over 22,000 calls a year. Students are commonly calling to find help with anxiety and depression, which can both factor greatly when deciding to change paths.

Nel Keath is a counsellor, business consultant and mental health professional based in Toronto. When asked why students are changing their career paths Keath offered a few common examples.

“Often students change their career path because their original path was guided by the goals or advice of others, or they did not know what the original path entailed until they got into the stream, or they failed to make be successful in the original path for various reasons.” Keath said.

Keath believes that students should not be limited in their choices.

“I am of the mind that learning is lifelong and that the first diploma or degree is just one step in career development” Keath said. “Those who continuously learn are more successful and more healthy both physically and mentally. Students, we as human beings, need support and the freedom to explore and extend ourselves.”

Love Trumps Hate: Toronto’s Rally Against Trump

Breanne Coulter

Toronto protesters gathered to join in a peaceful Rally Against American President-Elect Donald Trump in Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday, Nov. 19.

The Rally Against Trump began as a Facebook event which invited the people of Toronto to a peaceful protest. The rally began at Nathan Phillips Square at 1 p.m., and marched protesters to the Trump International Hotel and Tower on Bay St., ending at 4 p.m. 7,300 people were listed as interested in the event, and 3,100 were listed at going on the Rally Against Trump Facebook page.

About 1,000 people attended the rally to voice dissatisfaction with the American election results on the rainy Saturday afternoon.

The Rally Against Trump Facebook page was very clear in promoting a peaceful assembly. The goal of the event was to show love and support to contrast any hate created by Trump and the election results.

The admin offered a description for what was expected of the rally in the page’s details. “TOGETHER, united against hate, and show the world that Canada stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters to the south who oppose the sexist, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic rhetoric set loose by Donald Trump, AND that this rhetoric has no place in Canadian politics and culture.”

(From left to right) Charlie, Chastity, Izzy, Erica, and Kaspian.

Protesters met under walkways in Nathan Phillips Square to stay out of the rain before speeches began. Charlie, Chastity, Erica, Izzy, and Kaspian, a group of students attending the rally, stood together with signs. When asked about why this rally was important, their answers were different, but all voiced worry.

Erica attended the rally for a friend from the United States who she says, is not in a safe position to protest for themselves where they are.

Izzy held a sign that read “Dear Trump Supporters, leave my TRANS GAY HISPANIC ASS alone.”

From this, the students were asked if they had felt safe since the election on Nov. 8. Chastity explained that she is of Native descent and that she shares a neighbourhood with many Trump supporters.

“I want to say that I feel safe, but I am prepared for the worst.” said Chastity

Safety brought up the topic of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and his approval of trans conversion therapy. Charlie responded to this passionately from the perspective of a trans person.

“If you are endangering the lives of other people, you are not exercising freedom of speech.” Charlie said.

When asked what this election means to the millennial generation, Erica responded quickly.

“We need to take politics more seriously.” Erica said. “We have to grow up fast.”

The Canadian Socialist group, Fightback maintained a large presence throughout the rally. Members handed out magazines during the event to invite people to take part in their cause, described as “marxist voice of labour and youth” on the front page of their magazine.

Fightback Magazine offered at Toronto Rally Against Trump.

Nasha, a member of Fightback and a teacher, was at the rally with magazines offered in exchange for $2 donations. When asked about the purpose of the rally and the concerns that come along with the election of Donald Trump, she was very passionate.

The extreme right was “definitely emboldened” by these results, said Nasha. “It’s not Trump that creates it, Trump gives a voice to it… He speaks to that anger, but he’s not going to do anything to address it.”

When asked about the relevance that this has to Canada, Nasha had a similar answer as the speakers.

“We are not immune to the economic processes.” Nasha said.

Activist speakers took their turns on top of a milk crate each offering their own take on what the Rally stood for. Speakers included Cheri DiNovo (NDP  Parkdale – High Park MPP and minister), Sid Ryan (former president of the Ontario Federation of Labour), Kim Fry (elementary teacher and activist), Ricardo Rodriguez (teacher, LGBTQA+ activist and storyteller), as well as organizers of the rally. Each speaker offered a different perspective on the issues that concern Canadians with the new President-Elect. Each speech called Canadians to action, socialism being the main focus.

Rally participants making their way to the speeches.

DiNovo, challenged Canada’s political leaders to “stand up and have a backbone” in her speech, and stated that “this was not a democratic election” in referencing the American election on Nov. 8.

“We have work to do. We must stand with courage. We must be the resistance.” DiNovo said.

Kim Fry stood up on the milk crates for her speech with her 2 and a half month old son in her arms, not compromising any passion. Fry referenced the poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller titled “First They Came…” written about Hitler’s regime during WWII in Germany.

“Not this time!” Fry declared, referencing the poem in context to the fear that many have, for the future Trump government.

” First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. ”
-Pastor Martin Niemöller (1946)

Kim Fry with 2 and a half month old son.

The protesters listened and responded to the speakers passionately to their calls to action. The question as to how this rally was relevant in Canada was also answered by the speakers. Sid Ryan recalled a conversation that he had with his granddaughter to give context.

“I’ve got a 5 year old racialized granddaughter, and she said to me just the other day ‘granddad? Is Donald Trump a bad man?’ and I thought ‘my god, how can it be that a five year old would even know about Donald Trump?’” said Ryan.

The rally began walking to the Trump Tower escorted by security after the speeches concluded and protesters filled the street. At Trump Tower, barricades separated the rally from the building, heavy security from the Tower standing in a row across the entrance.

Security outside Trump International Hotel and Tower.

Rally Against Trump protesters held up signs and chanted along with participants who brought megaphones once arriving at the Tower. Chants consistently changed going from “No one is illegal!”, to “Your hands are small, you cannot build a wall!”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

During this time, many hashtags were used on Twitter although the most popular was #RallyAgainstTrumpTO.

The Rally Against Trump was just one way in which Canadians have been able to voice their dissatisfaction. To these activists, societal issues do not have borders.