Need a little motivation to stand up for what you believe in and fight the good fight? Meet law professor and head of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies Brenda Cossman. The self-professed “professional troublemaker” is an inspiration to many in her ongoing efforts to shine a light on human rights violations and social injustices. During World Pride 2014, Cossman and the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies will host the World Pride Human Rights Conference 2014 (WPHRC) from June 25th to 27th, 2014. A not-to-be-missed meeting of the minds (not to mention voices of change), the conference brings together activists, artists, educators, journalists, policymakers, students from around the world, and includes leading speakers on LGBT rights globally, including Edie Windsor (United States), Frank Mugisha (Uganda), Tamara Adrian (Venezuela), Justice Monica Mbaru (Kenya), Justice Harvey Brownstone (Canada), Masha Gessen (Russia), and the former Prime Minister of Iceland, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir along with her partner Jónína Leósdóttir. We caught up with Cossman to find out more…
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
I should have thicker skin, after spending decades on the unpopular side of public opinion when it comes to everything from censorship to LGBT rights to abortion to polygamy, to sex work to porn – always fun to tackle while raising two kids. I love what I do. In addition to being a law professor and head of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, I’ve always been a professional troublemaker – a lightning rod for controversy. Never trouble for trouble’s sake, but trouble that shines a light on violations of the rights of those forced by narrow-mindedness to hide in society’s dark corners.
In some people’s eyes I’ll always be a defender of freaks and perverts; I’m good with that. I prefer to think of it as a defender of the marginal and the unpopular. Along the way, I’ve made some pretty great friends and allies. In the end it’s exciting and gratifying to watch opinions shift and conversations that rarely saw the light of day being discussed in the pages of our national newspapers and the airwaves of our public broadcasters. We must be doing something right.
What can we expect at The Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies for WPHRC 2014?
Over 400 leading LGBTQ activists from over 50 countries are coming together to share their stories of resistance and hope, and to strategize on how to build global solidarities. The plenary sessions, which are free and open to the public, have some truly extraordinary speakers. At the opening plenary, we have Jóhanna Siguroardottir, the former prime minister of Iceland and first openly gay head of government, and her wife Jónína Leosdottir; followed by Edith Windsor, who brought down the Defense of Marriage Act in conversation with Justice Harvey Brownstone, the first openly gay judge (who also happened to have performed Edith’s marriage to her late partner Thea Spyer). And that is just the first day!
On Thursday, we have CBC’s Piya Chattopadhyay in conversation with Frank Mugisha – a leading Ugandan LGBT activist and Justice Monica Mbaru from Kenya. On Friday, we have the host of CBC’s Q, Jian Ghomeshi, in conversation with Russian journalist and LGBT activist Masha Gessen, and law professor and leading Venezuelan Trans activist Dr. Tamara Adrián. And my own personal favourite is a session on aging; particularly a presentation from Taiwan called Rainbow Bus on the Move: Empowering LGBT Through the Tour. I don’t know where it goes, but I so want to be on that bus.
What events are you most looking forward to at World Pride?
Well obviously, the World Pride Human Rights Conference. But I love the TTC bus. I love the trans march. I love that all of the cultural institutions are doing World Pride events, like Clay is (so) gay: Queer Baroque at the Gardiner Museum. For the next week, it’s not only Clay that is so gay, it’s Toronto as a whole.
What makes Toronto such a special city, specifically with regards to LGBTTIQQ2SA communities?
Diversity, pure and simple. The LGBT community is every bit as diverse as the city as a whole. Queer folks are everywhere and in everything: from Bay Street to Queen Street to Rosedale to Parkdale; from arts and media to finance and education; across cultural, religious, ethnic communities. We are everywhere.
What’s one Toronto restaurant you’d recommend World Pride visitors try and why?
Pho Huong – a little Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. Because I love it.
Best World Pride Dos and Don’ts?
I’m going to sound like a preachy mom if I answer this question – you know… sunscreen, sun hats, water – so I think I better stop.
What are three things you can’t live without?
A little black dress, chardonnay, and the ability to open my mouth when people’s rights are being violated.
Let’s get social for a moment. How do we stay up-to-date with you?
It’s pretty easy. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. And don’t forget to check out the Bonham Centre’s website, and follow us on Twitter too.