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Woman of the Week: Jazz Kamal

Jazz Kamal’s boxing name is Jazz the Inferno, and as a musician she is known is Nari, meaning fire in Arabic. Both names define this fiery Egyptian, a woman who has the ability to create, destroy, and rise from the ashes renewed.

Kamal destroys the boundaries of what it means to be a repressed woman, and instead lives a life of truth and integrity. Her story is reminiscent of the fiery phoenix renewed, rising from the ashes stronger and ready to help others find their own light in a time of darkness. Kamal is a boxing coach and helps create a space for women to embrace their power and strength at Newsgirls, a women-only boxing studio in Toronto. She is also a profound lyricist and musician, creating political word-spins worthy of the hip hop greats.

I first encountered Kamal as a boxing coach at Newsgirls, a women’s boxing studio that runs classes and a program called Shape your Life to help women who have experienced violence. It turns out that Kamal found her passion at the boxing club two years ago. “I started boxing at Toronto Newsgirls and I hadn’t boxed anywhere else. I’ve always been a fighter but for the last two years I had gloves on,” Kamal says. “Newsgirls is a place where you don’t understand what you are there for until you still step through the doors.”

Kamal fell in love with boxing right away and wanted to make it a permanent part of her career. She began coaching and now helps run the ‘Shape your Life’ program. Before she committed to Newsgirls full-time, she was a technician for a theatre company, a job she really disliked. “My soul was drained and I didn’t see a way out,” Kamal says. “Savoy, the owner of Newsgirls, showed me all the steps to become a boxing coach. I specifically enjoy her coaching style and I told her I wanted to quit my job. It was at the point where I was crying everyday coming home from work. I didn’t want to turn 30 and still be at my job.” In May of that year, Kamal took a leap, quit her job and moved to Newsgirls full-time.

Kamal is also a musician and is a lead emcee/rapper of the group, Phatback, a soul and hip hop group that discusses important political issues. “The idea of the band was born just before I started boxing,” Kamal says. “I’m the lead MC and the lead singer is also a queer woman of colour. We are dedicated to making music that uplifts and our stuff is pretty political.” Phatback is starting a monthly residency in February 2017 every last thursday of the month at The Burdock (1184 Bloor St. W.).

Along with being a lead emcee of a band, Kamal is also a spoken word artist and independent musician going by the name Nari. Her early music reflects a lot about her journey coming out in the LGBTQ community. “I was a late bloomer when I accepted myself as a queer person. Coming from a country where it is very rough for gays in Egypt, I am definitely in danger if the wrong people find out. People go to jail for that,” Kamal says. “Not that North America is the beacon for LGBTQ, I am still allowed to live with my wife in a house we own here.”

Kamal’s journey to accepting herself has not been easy and she has overcome great struggle in order to reach a happier place in her life. “I was going to commit suicide, and I tried twice. My sister walked in and I didn’t want her to see. That ignited something in me that said how are external factors in my brain telling me I have to commit suicide? The answer isn’t to just end it. I had a difficult 10 years ahead of me, but I am able to deal with them differently,” Kamal says. “It doesn’t feel like the end of the world anymore. I have more ammunition, and more energy. I’ve gone to a lot of schools and talked about it.  Without fail, a kid will reach out to me and say it is good to see a queer Egyptian woman being loud and proud about who she is.”

Kamal strongly believes in helping others and nurturing people through their own personal journeys. Her courage and confidence is incredibly moving. She also shared her story in the 2011 PFLAG campaign and speaks to kids at schools advocating for the LGBTQ community. Furthermore, Kamal speaks up about domestic abuse in same-sex partnerships and violence against women.  “Some people didn’t believe I could be in an abusive relationship with another woman. It was psychological warfare and it took me a year and seven months for me to say no,” Kamal says. “I have learned to separate aggression from violence. Aggression is being able to push forward when someone is trying to push you back. Violence can happen without someone even touching you, they can break you down psychologically. You always have a choice, get mad.”

Kamal brings so much passion to her boxing classes and helps many women lift themselves out of the damaging and debilitating world of abuse. Kamal teaches women how to get angry and embrace their strength as a form of empowerment. “My advice to any woman is if you are mad, get angry. Anger is temporary,” Kamal says. “It is much easier than to repress it for years and years. Otherwise, it will turn into violence against yourself.”

Kamal changes lives everyday with her confidence, her comedic skills in the middle of boxing session, and her absolute selflessness when it comes to helping others. Above all else though, I would say the most inspiring lesson that Kamal represents is how far you can go as woman and a passionate person if you refuse to back down. Through her journey in accepting herself as queer person, Kamal faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles and fought hard to live honestly by who she is inside. She didn’t stay in an abusive relationship, and she didn’t stay in a crappy job. She found her passion, and strived towards becoming a person who helps others. Furthermore, she finds peace and power in teaching others to do the same. Whether in the ring or out on the street, Jazz has taught me to have your arms ready and never back down, and to the fight for what you love in this crazy and beautiful life.

Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany wins Emmy for Orphan Black

There were a lot of good things that came from Sunday night’s Emmy’s — but for me, the most exciting was that Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany won an award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series.

Yes! I am a part of the Clone Club fan base and I’m not afraid to shout it from the rooftop. But, more specifically, I am a huge fan of Tatiana Maslany.

Maslany plays over 10 different characters in the hit sci-fi television show Orphan Black. Her characters are all clones, but they lead unique and separate lives. They have individual looks, accents, and personalities. Maslany’s ability to make the audience actually believe she is playing different people is what makes her deserving of this award — in fact, I find it hard to believe that it has taken this long.

Not only does Orphan Black create a realistic and frightening portrayal of a world in which evolution can be hand-picked and where sentient beings are considered intellectual property, but it also deals with a number of gender-specific issues that a lot of television shows steer away from. Maslany has played a hot-tempered, single mom from London, England; an American police detective with a drug addiction; a traditional (but scary) soccer mom; a lesbian nerd and geneticist; a tortured Ukrainian assassin; and even a transgendered male. And that is just a list of SOME of the clones within the series. It seems every few episodes a new character is introduced into the plot.

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These characters not only fight to gain their independence and freedom from their creators, but they also represent strong and capable women (and men). What I love about the show is they don’t shove these gender roles, or rather the lack thereof, in your face. LGBTQ characters like clone Cosima and adopted brother Felix are simply there, existing along with everyone else, fighting for the same cause.

That may seem like a strange statement — to say that these characters are “simply existing.” But, in many television shows, writers will use LGBTQ characters as a way to introduce gay-or-lesbian-specific problems or conflicts. They stand out, becoming the quintessential and/or token “gay” or “lesbian” personas.

That is not the case in Orphan Black. If a character is gay, it’s considered a fact. That’s it. Instead of making their gender or sexual orientation a part of the plot, the show focuses on the larger storyline — keeping your family safe and implications of genetic manipulation.

And that’s how it should be.

Even Maslany, who has been nominated twice for the award, acknowledged this powerful part of her role during her acceptance speech. “I feel so lucky to be part of a show that puts women at the center,” she said amid her thank you’s.

I am overjoyed that Maslany has finally received the recognition she deserves for her role in Orphan Black. Every episode I watch, I find that I’m admiring her talents more and more. I don’t know another actress who is able to play such a variety of characters with such intensity, passion, and ability — and all within 45 minutes of television.

So, without risking spoilers, let me just say this: Maslany, congratulations on your Emmy! It is well deserved.

Pride Parade through the eyes of a five-year-old

I decided to bring my daughter to the Pride Parade last Sunday to teach her the importance of inclusivity and LGBTQ rights in Toronto. We created a rainbow flag at home prior to leaving for the event and I explained to her the meaning behind each of the colours on the flag and we talked about what those words meant to us. Red represents life, orange is for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, indigo for serenity, violet for spirit, and hot pink for sexuality. We also discussed the term sexuality and how it meant that you were allowed to like anyone you want, boys or girls, or anywhere in between.

My daughter took all of this in easily and was excited to celebrate people who loved rainbows as much as her. When we discussed trans-people, she told me that two kids in her class dressed as boys and everyone in the class accepted their chosen identities with ease. I was thrilled to see how accepting and open my little lady was and thanked my lucky stars that I decided to raise her in Toronto, one of the most progressive cities in the country.

We headed to the parade, rainbow flag and bubbles in tow, only to be overwhelmed by the thousands of people that crowded Yonge St. To say that the pride parade was a mildly popular affair would be an understatement. Luckily, we brought lots of water and snacks, and once we found a spot where we could see, the crowd bothered us less. I definitely recommend that parents bring hats, water guns, sunblock, and a lot of refreshing snacks. The parade is long and can be very hot due to the crowds and summer weather.

BlackLivesMatter at the Pride Parade 2016. By Kaeleigh Phillips.
BlackLivesMatter at the Pride Parade 2016. By Kaeleigh Phillips.

We were waiting for the parade to start for awhile until twitter alerted us that BlackLivesMatter was protesting and preventing the rest of the parade from continuing. They were conducting a sit-in protest and demanding the organizer of Pride, Mathieu Chantelois, sign a list of demands before they would let the parade continue. Chantelois signed the list and the parade resumed. The incident has incited a hot debate as to whether this delay caused BlackLivesMatter to alienate the LGBTQ community or incite positive activism in the parade. From my standpoint as a parent, it was difficult waiting in the extremely hot crowd with my five year old for the parade to start.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. By Kaeleigh Phillips.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. By Kaeleigh Phillips.

Once the parade started again, she was clapping and singing along with the music. She described the elaborate and beautiful outfits as “magical” and we bogeyed and cheered the day away. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked by, my daughter wanted to be picked up to see “the ruler of the land”, and cried when she only saw his back. The colourful signs of Pflag, an organization of parents, families, friends, and allies of Toronto’s LGBTQ community, cheered her up though. She loved the positive messages of love and family, and really took the best from the parade.

We went home exhausted, sunburnt and satisfied. My daughter will grow up being part of the LGBTQ community and seeing positive messages flow through loving events such as pride. As a young woman who grew up in a community that was often homophobic and close-minded — and was harmful to many people I loved — I am so deeply grateful to the people who fought for events that celebrate LGBTQ interests. It shows that society can progress in an inclusive manner, and it gives me hope for my daughter’s future.

Ontario approves gender neutrality on official documents

As Pride Month came to an end, the Ontario government released some extraordinary news — a person will no longer have to indicate their gender on health cards or drivers licences.

Identification is a contentious issue for the LGBTQ community. Imagine representing and identifying as a specific gender (or gender-neutral) and not having your official government document label you as such? And why should people care what gender you are anyway? Will it make it easier to see a doctor if you are a woman instead of a man? Will a man get a ticket for speeding any more than a woman? If the answer to any of these questions is a yes — well, Ontario has a much bigger problem, doesn’t it?

The provincial government has finally clued in. As of — well now — Ontario health cards will no longer display information about a person’s gender. This decision has been active since June 13.

“The purpose of health cards is to show that the card holder is eligible for public health care. A person’s sex is not relevant,” said Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long Term Care, in a statement. “Ensuring that all people in Ontario feel comfortable and safe is especially important in health care settings, and removing sex designation from health cards is a step towards achieving that.”

It will take a bit longer to integrate driver’s licences into the system. But, Ontario is determined that by 2017, drivers be given the option to display an ‘X’ on their cards if they choose not to be identified exclusively as male or female.

Now that ID cards have been taken care of, what about government forms? This summer, Ontario will be launching public and stakeholder consultations to develop policy on the collection and use of sex and gender information.

“Many Ontarians do not identify as female or male. As society’s understanding of gender evolves, government must adapt. Part of that is being more thoughtful about how and when we collect gender or sex information, and how we use it,” said Minister of Government and Consumer Services, Marie-France Lalonde.

These are small steps, but they are also indicative of a government’s willingness to be inclusive and provide choice. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the media that the federal government is now considering the same gender-neutrality in identification documents. Who knows? Maybe the Canadian passport is next?

People who want a health card without a gender identifier before its renewal date can call 1-866-532-3161 or visit a ServiceOntario centre. There is no fee.

Top 5 Pride events in the next two weeks

Pride has arrived and it is time to celebrate Toronto’s 1st annual pride month, beginning on June 1 and continuing until July 3. Events will be happening all across the city to celebrate the beginning of a amazing tradition! The problem? There are so many events it’s difficult to decide which ones to attend! Don’t worry though, Women’s Post has you covered.  Here are the best of the best for the first two weeks of Pride.

Pride Flag Raising Ceremony

The Pride Flag Raising Ceremony marks the official start of Pride Month. It will take place on Wednesday, June 1 from 9 to 11 a.m at Queen’s Park. Premier, Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory will be present with other honourable guests to help hoist the pride flag. The event is free and not one to miss!

Pride Month Launch Party: At the AGO

The AGO is hosting a launch party for Pride on June 2 from 7 to 11:30 p.m to celebrate the beginning of Pride. Toronto artist Bruce LaBruce, known for his acting, and film-making of underground gay pornography, has invited four of his favourite queer performers that includes performance artist Ron Athey, artist Narcissister, musician No Bra and queer musician and artist Gio Black Peter. The party also includes art-making activities, pop-up exhibitions, and thematic food from Night Market. Advance tickets are $13 and jump to $16 at the door. Get your tickets quickly, they are set to sell out before the event.

1st Annual Family Pride Day at Centreville

Centreville Theme Park is hosting its 1st annual Family Pride Day at Toronto’s Centre Island on June 5 from 10:30 a.m to 8 p.m. The venue is a popular destination for families and is set to be a fun-filled day for families looking to celebrate Pride. The amusement park and farm admission will be free, but ride tickets are an extra cost. Buy ahead of time using the promo code “Pride2016” and receive a discount on ride tickets as well.  This all ages event is a way to celebrate pride in a family friendly way and teaches kids how fun Pride month is.

Human Rights Panel: Bathhouse Raids

Join Margaret Atwood and other panelists on June 7 at 519 (519 Church St. ) from 7 to 9 p.m to discuss the Bathhouse Raids that occurred on Feb. 5 1981 in Toronto. Atwood was very vocal against the raids at the time and will speak about the community impact surrounding the event. Other panelists include Metropolitan Community Church Pastor, Brent Hawkes who went on a hunger strike in order to obtain an official enquiry into the raids and Susan Cole, a journalist and member of BroadsideFeminist Collective.  

Second City Show Tunes Karaoke

Second City has paired up with Acting Up Stage Company and Theatre 20 to provide Show Tunes Karaoke for Pride Month in Toronto on June 15 from 10:30 p.m until midnight at The Second City Mainstage (51 Mercer Street). The event includes drinks, singing your favourite show tunes ranging from broadway tunes to classical songs.

Party your heart out and learn about the history and triumphs of the LGTBQ at the same time at these events in the city. Stay tuned for part two in Pride Month, there is more spectacular celebrations to attend in the second half of June too!

 Which pride event are you looking forward to? Share in the comments below!

PM Justin Trudeau to attend 2016 Toronto Pride Month

Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, will be the first leader in Canada’s history to attend the Toronto pride parade on July 3, 2016.

The Prime Minister has previously attended pride parades in both Vancouver and Toronto, but this is his first pride event as the leader of Canada. He tweeted in response to Pride Toronto announcing Trudeau’s involvement, “Very looking to being there again, this time as PM.”

Trudeau will attend alongside Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory. Since 1995, Barbara Hall established the tradition for the head of city council to march in the parade. This was only broken once in the past 21 years by previous Mayor Rob Ford.

Toronto Pride has a somber history. The first registered LGBTQ pride gathering occurred on Feb. 5, 1981, after the bathhouse raids or “operation soap”, a massive police raid of bathhouses on Church and Wellesley meant to silence the LGBTQ community under the bawdy-house law. The raids were followed by a great show of support and protests throughout the streets of Toronto.

In 1984, Pride was celebrated for the first time on Canada Day and became a fixed tradition. Mayor David Crombie, the mayor at the time, wouldn’t officially recognize the event. It wasn’t until 1991 that Toronto Pride Day was approved by the city. In 1998, Pride Week became official.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s attendance will be a welcome addition to the festivities as thousands of people will gather this coming June to celebrate Toronto’s first pride month. This month-long celebration will feature specialized events and programs around the city, finishing with the 10-day Pride Toronto festival between June 24 and July 3.

Having all three levels of government attend the event is amazing —and surprising. To quote the Prime Minister himself, “It’s 2016”. Why hasn’t a Prime Minister attended Toronto’s pride parade before now? That’s a question worth answering.