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In brief

Vancouver & national news

OUTLAWING BEGGARS. Gay MLA Lorne Mayencourt wants the BC legislature to make panhandling an offence. "The streets belong to the people that pay for them," he reportedly told Canadian Press. Credit: Robin Perelle

DYING FOR HELP



People living with HIV and AIDS in BC will be falling down dead in the streets May 14 as they try to embarrass the federal government into living up to its promise to double AIDS-related spending. The BC Persons with AIDS Society (BCPWA) will hold a protest and “die-in skit” at noon that day on the north side of the Vancouver Public Library. They’re furious at the recent federal budget that did not allocate the promised $100-million a year to implement a national AIDS strategy. The federal Liberals promised the money two years ago.



“It’s both a cry for help and a cry for attention,” says BCPWA chair Glen Bradford, noting that demonstrations will happen that day in major cities across Canada. In the past decade, funding for AIDS prevention, treatment and research has been frozen at $42.2 million a year, yet the number of Canadians living with HIV/AIDS has increased 60 percent. “We’re using the same money spread over more people,” says Bradford, noting there was no adjustment even for inflation over the past decade. The AIDS movement is returning to direct action and confrontation-successful tactics of the 1980s-out of sheer frustration, he says. And this protest is just the beginning, he predicts. Bradford adds that the gay community must pay more attention to AIDS. The assumption that AIDS groups are taking care of things is plain wrong, he says. “A small number of people can’t take care of this anymore,” he pleads. Call 604.893.2298 to get involved.



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TARGETING PANHANDLERS



After more than a year of tinkering with his proposed anti-panhandling legislation, gay MLA Lorne Mayencourt finally introduced two private member’s bills in the BC legislature last week. If passed, the Safe Streets Act will make it an offence for squeegee kids and panhandlers to approach people for money on the street, at bank machines, in cars, at pay phones and at bus stops. Meanwhile, the Trespass to Property Act will make it an offence for people to enter private premises or camp out on their thresholds without permission. “They have no right to go out there and aggressively frighten people, solicit money, scratch paint off cars,” Mayencourt reportedly told Canadian Press. “The streets belong to the people that pay for them.”



Canada’s Criminal Code already makes it a crime to threaten people, harass them and trespass on their property. But the Vancouver-Burrard MLA says he wants to give police the tools they need to deal with Vancouver’s panhandling problem. Though his bills don’t specify how offenders would be punished, they are modelled after similar legislation in Ontario which gives police the power to fine panhandlers-and then throw them in jail if they can’t pay the fine.



The proposed bills have been garnering criticism ever since Mayencourt began working on them last year. Both the president of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association and the Davie Village Community Policing Centre have spoken out against Mayencourt’s law-and-order approach to dealing with panhandlers. Last week, the BC Civil Liberties Association and Vancouver councillor Jim Green voiced concern as well. Mayencourt’s bills passed their first reading in the BC legislature May 6. The Vancouver Sun says the bills received support from Liberal backbenchers at their second reading on May 10, but faced some opposition from both BC’s attorney general, Geoff Plant, and its solicitor general, Rich Coleman. Coleman said there should be a public debate on the issue before any laws are passed.



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SENATE PASSES C-250



In the end, it wasn’t even close. Despite all their attempts to block Svend Robinson’s hate propaganda bill, the gay MP’s opponents were unable to derail Bill C-250. On Apr 28, the Senate voted 59-11 to pass Robinson’s private member’s bill, thereby adding gays and lesbians to the list of groups protected from hardcore hate mongering in this country. The bill then passed its final stage and received royal assent Apr 29. It is now law.



“As a gay man, I feel safer, protected from willful inciting of hatred towards me and other members of the community,” Egale’s executive director Gilles Marchildon wrote in his web log just hours after the bill became law.



Until now, sections 318 and 319 of Canada’s Criminal Code have made it illegal to advocate genocide or publicly incite hatred against people on the basis of their colour, race, religion or ethnic origin. Robinson’s act just added sexual orientation to that list. That means hate propagandists who write booklets saying things such as “kill all faggots” can now be prosecuted. It does not, however, mean that religious books or sermons opposing homosexuality are now illegal; they’re protected provided they’re based on the presenter’s genuine religious beliefs.



Senators Angus, Plamondon, Cochrane, Sibbeston, Cools, St. Germain, Forrestall, Stratton, Lawson, Tkachuk and Merchant voted against Robinson’s bill.



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ROBINSON’S RIDING



The federal NDP party has announced it will hold a nomination meeting May 31 to select its new candidate for Svend Robinson’s former riding. Robinson, Canada’s first openly gay MP, has represented the people of Burnaby-Douglas for the last 25 years. He withdrew from the upcoming federal election race last month after admitting he stole an expensive ring. One of Robinson’s longtime assistants, Bill Siksay, put his name in the running May 4. A 20-year veteran of the NDP, Siksay ran unsuccessfully against MP Hedy Fry for the Vancouver Centre spot in the 1997 federal election. Siksay lives with his partner, Rev Brian Burke. Nominations for the Burnaby riding are still open.



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MASTURBATION MONTH



May is National Masturbation Month and the women at Good Vibrations, San Francisco’s legendary women-owned and run sex shop, are urging everyone to get involved. “Feel the love-your own, that is-and don’t miss the festivities honoring the gratifying yet under-appreciated activity of solo pleasure,” they write in a recent press release.



That love will come to a head May 15, as participants in this year’s 7th annual Masturbate-a-Thon gear up for a record-breaking night. Prizes include Longest Time, Largest Group Wank, Most Orgasms and Most Money Raised. Money raised will go to non-profit organizations which support sexual health or sex education.



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QUICK HIV TEST



A new HIV test approved last month in the US produces results in just 20 minutes. The test is called OraQuick HIV and it uses saliva rather than blood to test for the virus. Like the traditional blood tests, it too looks for antibodies to see if the body is fighting the virus. While some HIV specialists are hailing the faster results as a potential incentive for more people to get tested, some are also concerned with the test’s accuracy. Other fast HIV tests have been recalled in recent years after they failed to detect HIV. In 2002, the BC Centre for Disease Control issued a public warning after quick HIV tests used in three Vancouver clinics seemed to yield false negative results. OraQuick is not available in Canada.



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DRUG-RESISTANT STDS



San Francisco researchers recently detected a drug-resistant strain of syphilis in gay men. Health officials there say they documented eight cases of syphilis in gay men that were resistant to azithromycin, one of three drugs commonly used to treat the disease. The men were later successfully treated with doxycycline or penicillin. But in light of the study’s findings, at least one San Francisco clinic has now dropped azithromycin from its treatment options in most cases of primary and secondary syphilis. Five of the eight men documented were also HIV-positive.



In related news, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced Apr 29 that it thinks clinics should stop using fluoroquinolones as the primary treatment for gonorrhea among gay and bisexual men, because the disease is becoming increasingly resistant to that type of antibiotic. According to a recent CDC study conducted in 23 US cities, the percentage of resistant gonorrhea cases among gay and bisexual men nearly tripled between 2002 and 2003. Cipro (cirprofloxacin) and Levaquin (levofloxacin) are both fluoroquinolones. The CDC recommends that clinics switch to ceftriaxone and spectinomycin to treat gay and bisexual men with gonorrhea.



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CIRQUE PAYS OUT



Cirque du Soleil will reportedly pay a record $600,000 to settle Matthew Cusick’s HIV discrimination complaint. Cusick filed the complaint last year, after Cirque executives fired him for being HIV-positive on the eve of his Las Vegas debut. “This is a huge victory for working people with HIV because it tells employers that there’s a steep price to pay for HIV discrimination,” said Hayley Gorenberg, one of the lawyers who sued the Cirque on Cusick’s behalf. Cusick, who has been training as a gymnast since Kindergarten, says getting fired by the Cirque was one of the worst days of his life. “This kind of discrimination tears people’s dreams and careers apart,” he said, adding that he hopes the settlement provides a powerful tool to others facing HIV discrimination. Under the settlement agreement, Cirque du Soleil will host annual anti-discrimination training workshops for all of its employees worldwide and will adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination based on HIV and other disabilities.