Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Cirque du Soliel offers to reinstate HIV-positive gymnast

In response to an email I sent to Cirque du Soliel, expressing my shock and disappointment regarding the unethical treatment of Matthew Cusick, this is what Renée-Claude Ménard sent back to me. I am sure I was not the only who emailed, mailed or called them, and am unsure if this was some mass email copy, but I must say that I am pleased with the EEOC's ruling and CDS's response thus far. This is a great sign for PLWA(HIV), and the respect and understanding that they deserve. Please read on.

Hello Alex;

I have received your request for information. I would like to begin by apologizing for not responding to your request sooner but we wanted to be able to inform you of any significant developments in this very important matter as they happened.
We wish to inform you that we will offer Matthew the opportunity to rejoin Cirque as an artist. Over the last few months, we have met with associations and experts in the field in order to confirm whether our initial decision was well-founded. Following our discussions with them, we came to the conclusion that we could reintegrate Matthew into his functions as a performer.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has invited us to go to mediation. The mediation process will begin shortly. Cirque du Soleil promises its complete cooperation and will offer to fully reinstate Matthew as a performer.
Thank you for your patience. I am enclosing an article recently published by the Associated Press that confirms our position.

Renée-Claude Ménard
Relations Publiques/Public Relations
Siège Social International/International Headquarters
Cirque du Soleil
(514) 723-7646 (7366)
En cas d'urgence/in case of emergency : Hélène Pintus (514) 723-7646 (8019)

Cirque du Soleil offers to reinstate HIV-positive gymnast
Associated Press Writer


Cirque du Soleil offered Friday to reinstate an HIV-positive gymnast after federal labor investigators found "reasonable cause" to believe the Montreal-based circus engaged in job discrimination when it fired the performer because of his condition.
The offer came hours after the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission upheld the merits of a complaint brought by the fired gymnast, Matthew Cusick. A Cirque du Soleil spokeswoman said the circus was placing "no restrictions" on the kind of acts in which Cusick could appear.
"We are ready to welcome him back," Cirque du Soleil spokeswoman Renee-Claude Menard said. "Our job now is to make sure it's done quickly and efficiently."
The sudden turnaround in Cirque du Soleil's position was hailed by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented Cusick.
"For the last eight months, we have tried to get Cirque du Soleil to understand the seriousness of firing someone simply because he has HIV," said Hayley Gorenberg, director of Lambda Legal's AIDS Project. "We are very encouraged that the federal government's findings will force Cirque to finally take this seriously."
Cirque du Soleil, which is known for its daring aerial acts, never denied that Cusick was fired as a "catcher" in the Russian High Bar act and as an acrobat in the Chinese tall pole act days before he was to join the "Mystere" show in Las Vegas because of his HIV status.
Cusick, 32, voluntarily disclosed his health condition and had spent four months training with the group when he was informed his contact had been terminated because he posed a health risk to fellow performers. He filed his complaint under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which includes protections for people with HIV.
Menard downplayed the role the EEOC determination had in persuading Cirque du Soleil to change its position. Rather, she insisted the circus was convinced after consulting medical experts who said "the risks are minimal" that an acrobat infected with HIV would pass the virus on to another performer.
"We have had a sufficient amount of time to go in depth with the research on this and be thorough in getting a better understanding of the risks of HIV," she said.
Cusick said in an interview Friday that it was too soon to say whether he will accept Cirque du Soleil's offer because he had only learned of it through a news release the circus issued and that he had not been contacted directly. But he said he was pleased by the EEOC's ruling.
"It is very exciting to know they are standing behind me for this," he said.
Details of a settlement, including possible monetary damages, still would have to be negotiated, Gorenberg said, adding that Cusick wants to make sure Cirque du Soleil changes its hiring and training policies "so no one would have to go through what he had to go through."
Menard said Cirque would consider hiring other HIV-positive performers if they met all physical and talent requirements.
"For quality we are not going to go the other way now. We are not going to have a special HIV show," she said.
Cusick's case attracted support from well-known athletes and Hollywood celebrities after Lambda Legal organized protests outside venues where the circus was performing in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Menard said she hoped such public relations problems would end now that the two sides were moving toward a settlement.
"We would rather people think of a Cirque that is close to our shows and not close to this incident," she said.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Radical People and their radical thoughts

I was recently reading someone’s personal blog about the State of Israel and the plight of her people. I was reading through the many different articles, and associated comments but was perturbed by the radical tone of the author. Now, I am all for free speech and commentaries and all that jazz, but when they are so polarised they often scare me. The author was describing the movie “The Passion of Christ” which was directed by Mel Gibson and discusses the death of Christ. The movie has not hit the screens as yet, but it certainly has generated enough media publicity with its contentious topic. The gist of the story is that Christ died at the hands of Jews – simple as that – that was the Coles Notes version, so bear with – Anyhow, the author continues by saying that Christians are,

“…Playing on the favorite Christian game of conspiring to incite hatred against the Jewish People, Gibson's latest release goes out of its way to demonise Jews.”

I don’t disagree with the author that SOME Christian fundamentalists (or any religious fundamentalists for that matter) may have an agenda, but to say they are playing some favourite game is simply biased and completely unfair. Now, as a pretext, remember that I am a proud Gay-Canadian-Asian-male (the order doesn’t really matter), who was raised as a Roman Catholic (no longer following), who lived and breathed in a Jewish community in Toronto for over 10 years (quite the experience). As you can see, my cultural experience and interaction is not limited to "one-world" or to "one culture". So, it is with no wonder that I found the depth of stereotyping and prejudice in the authors’ voice about Christians and other groups of people, all that more interesting.

The authors’ comment was also curious in that, if the New Testament (Bible) was pitting Christians against Jews for their beliefs, then one has to question any other parable or biblical story that seems somewhat contradictory. For example, the Old Testament (Torah) is notorious for stories about a wrathful and jealous god, one who will not allow images of other gods be produced, lest they be “smote”. Does this mean that Hindus who are polytheistic are going to Hell? If this author is saying that the New Testament is a fabrication and a lie, who is to say that the Old Testament, the Torah, Koran are not fabrications? The author continues by saying,

“The New Testament, written by a Roman Agent, Paul, is essentially a fabric of lies, written from the standpoint of a Roman lackey who is angry at the Jews for not accepting his fibs. This is why Paul eliminates almost all mention of the Romans and their brutal occupation of Judea and Jerusalem, and tries to frame the Jews (the ones being occupied and brutalised!!) for the murder of one of their own people- who was trying to get rid of the Romans….Logical? No.”

Well, not to rain on your parade, but “no” that is not logical. For this author to claim that another person’s belief system is false and full of lies is like the pot calling the kettle black. If this argument is to hold water, then one could argue that the whole bible is simply a story. As an example, to the orthodox Christian or Jew, the Genesis is the foundation point of all life. It is the beginning and the validation that God is life giving. But who truly believes that the world was created in 7 days? Does this then put into question the validity or truthfulness of the Genesis? Who am I to say that you should or should not believe in it? Sure we can commentary and analyse, but who are we to judge?

Honestly, I am not a big fan of fanatical religions for this very reason and am in no way saying Christians are right in this commentary. If I were to believe this mode of thought, I would likely be some militant fag painting the town pink with slogans to bring down the establishment of all Religious and government institutions that go against me as a gay man. Note earlier that the author says Christians are “conspiring to incite hatred” Those few words alone were enough to indicate that this argument was bereft of any fairness or any semblance to truth, but was simply an outpouring of radical thoughts. It’s like saying all Muslims are terrorists, that all fags have lisps, or that all Chinese drive poorly. It’s ludicrous, irrational and downright offensive, except for the Chinese driving poorly. I can say that because I’m Chinese.

Mind you, this was a blog (a personal take on things, much like mine) and not an article, but I think every author or writer has a duty to the truth and to proper research.

Let me try to explain –
We are all in our own ways, formed of opinions which are based on our cultural, religious and social experiences. A Jew will have thousands of years of history fueling their need to find "right" and "justice" in a world that persecuted their people. I as a gay Asian male will be doing the same – the 2 are obviously different and I’m not trying to lessen their validity, but the 2 are fundamentally the same. So, when I read or hear about commentaries that are based on emotional and judgmental views, I have to question how we perceive and twist things so that they represent our own views. It all comes down to the context it has been warped into. One person may see something one way, and another person, will see it from a different angle. It is about a person’s responsibility to be fair and to be educated in the topic they wish to argue.

People are too quick to judge when they should not. Uninformed opinions make a dangerous environment that fuel fear, hatred, and secularism. It is also true that people take things out of context within the environment and historical period they live in. And as a person intimately familiar with racism and homophobia and many other forms of "isms" I question every ones point of view, including my own. A healthy dose of introspection and curiosity for the truth is instrumental in learning how another person feels – like stepping into their shoes.
I worry that a world of radical thoughts will bring about laws and conditions that will favour and harbour these beliefs, because secularism is not a healthy choice.
Distancing ourselves from other cultures is not a healthy choice; it’s a form of racism in its own right.