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Local and National news In brief

The Meningitis C vaccine is a single free injection.

MENINGITIS STILL A MENACE
Two new cases of Meningitis C have been reported among young gay men in the Lower Mainland over the past two months, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) says. Since December 2004, nine cases of Meningitis C among gay men have been reported, five of which have been fatal.

The BCCDC is again urging gay men to get vaccinated against Meningitis C. The vaccine is a single free injection with low incidence of side effects and can help save lives.

“We need people to understand that this is not connected with going out to bars necessarily and that you can be exposed to this simply by sharing a joint with your friends in the comfort of your own home,” says Dr Mark Gilbert.

The meningococcal C bacillus, which causes a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, is spread most easily through contact with saliva, including kissing, sharing joints or cigarettes and drinks.

To find out where you can get a free meningitis C vaccination, visit the Bute St Clinic or the BCCCD web site www.bccdc.org.

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LGV CASES CLIMB
The number of reported global cases of the STD Lyphogranuloma Venereum (LGV) continue to rise among men who have sex with men. Since Xtra West last reported on LGV in November, health officials in the UK have recorded another 34 cases, mostly from around London. Six more cases were also reported in the US-three in San Francisco, one in Atlanta and two in New York City. The BC Centre for Disease Control says one confirmed case of LGV was reported in Vancouver and another, unconfirmed but likely, case was reported in the BC interior. LGV is an uncommon form of chlamydia that first surfaced among gay men in the Netherlands in 2003. It can be tricky to diagnose because it requires specialized testing. Symptoms may include an itchy bum, constipation, rectal inflammation and bleeding, swollen lymph nodes and pain. LGV responds well to antibiotics and can easily be treated, but if left untreated can cause serious tissue damage.

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ANTI-HOMOPHOBIA CONSULTANT HIRED
Vancouver School Board trustees voted Apr 25 to hire a part-time anti-homophobia consultant to help schools in their district keep implementing their gay-friendly policies in a consistent manner. “I am extraordinarily proud,” says queer trustee Jane Bouey. “I don’t know of another board in the country which has a district staff person solely dedicated to anti-homophobia.” The new position is just the latest piece of the school board’s comprehensive anti-homophobia policy, passed last year. The policy also prohibits homophobic harassment and promises to deal “expeditiously” with any incidents; details its plans to re-train school staff and administrators through anti-homophobia workshops; and promises to add gay-positive content to the curriculum. The school board will put $30,000 towards the new position this fall.

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KEMPLING BACK IN COURT
In a somewhat ironic move, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) wants a BC court to maintain some limits on a teacher’s free speech.

The association recently urged the BC Court of Appeal to uphold a lower court finding that Quesnel teacher Chris Kempling’s rights were not violated when he was suspended in 2003 for writing anti-gay letters to his local paper. High school counsellors should limit public utterances so they don’t interfere with their job of maintaining a respectful and safe environment for queer pupils, the BCCLA says.

BC Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes ruled last year that teachers such as Kempling cannot use free speech as a defence when making discriminatory statements in their professional capacity. Holmes heard the case after Kempling challenged the BC College of Teachers’ 2003 decision to suspend him because his writings were “discriminatory and contrary to the core values of the educational system.” Kempling had also told his students that sexual orientation can be cured.

The BC Supreme Court sided with the teachers’ college. “Realistically, most homosexual students would be most reticent to challenge a teacher and counsellor who is held in high regard,” Holmes noted, upholding Kempling’s punishment. Kempling appealed again, this time to the BC Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has not yet released its decision.

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AS FOR BILL C-38…
Meanwhile, the federal government’s bill to legalize same-sex marriage across the country cleared another hurdle May 4, when it passed its second reading in the House of Commons. MPs voted 164 to 137 to pass the bill and send it on to the next step, the parliamentary review committee. The committee is now supposed to conduct public hearings and propose any amendments it sees fit before sending the bill back to the House for its third and final reading. Members of three parties sitting on the committee hinted that it may work long hours and limit witnesses in order to rush the bill back to the House for third reading. That would improve the bill’s flagging fortunes and make it possible to at least make it through Parliament-though perhaps not the Senate, which is also required-before an expected non-confidence vote forces a spring election. If Bill C-38 eventually reaches the Senate and gets the nod there, it will only need the Governor General’s royal assent-generally just a formality-to finally become law. Can all this be done before the next federal election that could happen as early as June? You do the math.

* With files from Rob Thomas

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ACCOLAIDS WINNERS
The BC Persons With AIDS Society (BCPWA) held their fourth annual AccolAIDS awards gala at the Pan Pacific Vancouver, Apr 24. Women’s Information and Safe House (WISH) was honoured for its work which includes operating the only drop-in centre for women involved in street-level sex trade. The PumpJack Pub was honoured for its community involvement and for helping to raise more than $30,000 for queer charities since it opened in 2000. James Johnstone was honoured for all his work in support of the BCPWA, including his long-time commitment to the AIDS Candlelight Vigil. Also honoured were InSite, Fire Pit, Brenda Loyie, Chainlink, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and Liz James for their various contributions to the struggle against HIV/AIDS in Vancouver. $80,000 in proceeds from the AccolAIDS event will go to support BCPWA programs and events.

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FEDS APPEAL CPP
Members of the Canada Pension Plan class-action suit still haven’t gotten any cheques from the federal government. Instead, they are waiting to see if the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the government’s latest appeal. The suit, estimated to be worth about $80 million to about 1,500 eligible queer widows and widowers, was first launched in 2001. The widows say the government’s 1999 decision to only extend spousal pension benefits to queers whose partners died after 1998 was unfair and arbitrary. They say the retroactive payments should date back to 1985, the year the Charter of Rights came into effect. Two courts, most recently the Ontario Court of Appeal last November, have agreed and ordered the feds to pay up. Douglas Elliot, the lead lawyer in the suit, called the Court of Appeal ruling a victory. “No one gave us a gay and lesbian discount when we were paying into the Canada Pension Plan, and so we shouldn’t have a gay and lesbian discount when we get paid out of the Canada Pension Plan,” he said. But the feds appealed the Court of Appeal’s verdict in January. Now it’s up to the Supreme Court of Canada to decide whether or not it will hear the appeal. If it does decide to hear it, it could take more than a year before the case gets its turn and a decision is rendered.