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Shopping for queer ideas

Egale mines the grassroots

FLUID POLITICS. Gilles Marchildon says Egale wants to fill in the gaps between other activist groups. Credit: Trevor Clayton

Egale Canada’s big national conference this month sounds like something of a shopping mall of queer ideas and politics.

Rainbow Visions is hosted by the national lobby group, but the programming, consisting of about 100 workshops, has been drawn from 170 mostly unaffiliated presenters who answered the call for submissions. Only the opening session and the closing session are “big” group sessions.

“People really liked the opportunity to create their own workshop,” says executive director Gilles Marchildon. “People have a lot to say and they want to hear what other people have to say.”

Topics ranging from “Hate-Free Education: Queer Art In Action” and “New Initatives In Queer Jewish Community Development” to “Politics Of Polyamory” and “Everbody’s Kinky” are expected to draw as many as 450 people to the Montreal conference. Egale didn’t put any categories on its call for submissions, though it did package the workshops in streams like legal/political, health/education and gender/trans/intersex.

“The concept of the conference is very grassroots,” says Marchildon. “You’re going to have a lot of divergences and I think that’s a good thing.”

Egale held its annual general meeting back in March. Though the group hopes to come up with a renewed vision of itself coming out of the conference, there are no sessions dedicated to such soul-searching. There will be observers at all the workshops who will present summaries to the board. The board will look at what went on and use it to make decisions about Egale’s role.

“There’s been a huge response showing a need in awareness in education,” says Marchildon. “The question is: Who’s going to do that? What’s Egale’s role? At this point, we want to work with [groups that focus on education]. We don’t want to act unilaterally.” For example, Marchildon says Egale has lobbied to get gender identity into the Human Rights Code, “in the absence of a national network of trans people.” But if there was such a group, Egale might want to work in a support, rather than a leadership role.

Susan Gapka, who is making a presentation called “Improving The Access And Equality Of Public Health Services For Transsexual And Transgendered Persons,” says she’s hoping for the best.

“It will be my first Egale conference and I want to see how trans inclusive it will be,” says Gapka. “Professionally it will be a good opportunity to see what people are doing and network. There are so few opportunities for people in the trans community across the country to come together.”

* The Rainbow Visions conference takes place Fri, May 16 to May 19 in Montreal. For registration information, visit or call 1-888-204-7777.