TRAVEL :: Quebec City: Vive l’europe


Bienvenue au Quebec City! From the minute you walk through the gates of Old Quebec it feels like you’ve left Canada and entered Europe. With its narrow cobblestone streets, boutiques, outdoor café’s and restaurants, and the St. Lawrence River as the backdrop, you couldn’t ask for a better setting. It’s like visiting an old friend for the first time, comfortable yet exciting to explore unseen territory, forgetting where you are, getting lost in the beauty that is Old Quebec. Sometimes, getting lost in your curiosity is the best way to take it all in.

Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River. Image by S Travel.

Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River. Image by S Travel.

Where to Stay:

The magnificent pinnacle of Quebec City (QC) accommodation is the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. It’s like staring at a castle right out of a fairy tale book! This 4.5-star hotel offers everything a European destination would in the heart of Old Quebec City. This iconic structure offers spectacular views of the St Lawrence River and incredible architecture.

The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac has been graced by many powers including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Ronald Reagan, Lady Sarah Ferguson, and Alfred Hitchcock. In 1944, the hotel became the centre of the Quebec Conferences of World War II, which involved U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

The hotel’s 611 rooms and suites are beautifully furnished with deluxe city or river views. This castle looks incredibly beautiful from any angle, and when you step inside, you’ll feel the need to explore every inch of it. I highly recommend the guided tour of the hotel.

TIP: Fairmont President’s Club is an exclusive complimentary membership that allows you tons of perks like a separate VIP check in, special events and opportunities, free Wifi, and more!

As Canada celebrates its 150th Anniversary this year, next year, the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac will celebrate its 125th Anniversary and recognize its contribution to our great nation as one of the first hotels built along the Canadian Pacific Railway.


Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Image by

Where to Eat:

Breakfast: Café Bistro L’Omelette: About a five-minute walk from the hotel, this quaint restaurant has everything you’ll need for breakfast, including Caesars and mimosas! The service is friendly and the menu extensive, so your taste buds are covered whether you’re in the mood for traditional breakfast fare or something a little heavier before you take off to sight see.

Lunch: Restaurant Parmesan: Ciao from Quebec! Parmesan features traditional Italian dishes, in a rustic setting featuring Ferrari memorabilia and over 4,000 bottles (all shapes and sizes from all continents) placed around the restaurant. Awarded in Rome by the President the Emilio Romano Prize which is given to the 75 Top Authentic Italian Restaurants Around The World…and you won’t have to go that far to experience it!

The staff will take the best care of you, just like you were in a real Italian household being served everything from fresh pasta dishes, to veal parmesan, to seafood, and one of the first refrigerated and covered dessert trolleys (as published in National Geographic!).

Dinner: L’Atelier is a chic yet casual gastro pub that features five levels of drinking and dining. Their vast list of cocktails range from classic, to tributes to the father of mixology Professor Jerry Thomas; wines from around the globe, beer in barrel or bottle and even cocktails in a carafe for sharing!

Their drink menu pairs well with the dinner options from menu of the day, tapas, Tartar and Shooter of Oysters like the Vodkaler a Shot (vodka belvedere, Clamato, bitter celery, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, saucisson in deco)!

After Dinner Drinks: Les Voutes Napoleon. Located a few doors down from L’Atelier in a subterranean underground watering hole in a historic building is Napoleon. A relaxed atmosphere to hang out with friends offering live music (shout out to Frankie) and drinks that you can order by the glass or by the pot (e.g, pot of margarita).

After Drinks: Chez Ashton. A trip to Quebec City would not be complete without having poutine! Once you’re done your evening of dining and dancing, head over to Chez Ashton where you can enjoy traditional poutine or venture out and add hotdog and onions to your order. The choice is yours.

What to Do:

Dufferin Terrace: Take a beautiful walk along the Dufferin Terrace, which sits just above the St. Lawrence River and is one of the most popular areas for both visitors and public entertainers. It stretches from the foot of the Citadel to the base of the Chateau Frontenac.


Dufferin Terrace

The Citadel: Make sure to visit one of the most popular attractions in QC, Quebec’s Citadel. Built in Canada under British rule, the Citadel sits atop the historic site of Cap-aux-Diamants, and it offers a unique way to learn about the military history of Quebec City.

Plains of Abraham: This massive park has a lot to offer including museums, tours, walks, children’s activities, gardens and much more.

Montmorency Falls: Only ten minutes from downtown, this extraordinary waterfall is 83m high and is a marvel to look at or can be zip-lined across.

Boat Cruise: Take a cruise along the St. Lawrence River aboard the Louis Jolliet with Croisieres AML. The only boat that offers only onboard-prepared meals, a glassed dining room, panoramic views, a dance floor, and a boutique all on board as your cruise! It’s a spectacular way to make your way around the city hitting tons of landmarks like Montmorency Falls, Cap Diamant, and The Pierre Laporte Bridge, the longest main suspension bridge in Canada.

An extraordinary vision not to be missed is the Chapelle Musee de L’Amerique francophone, Its mission is for the development and promotion of French culture in North America. It’s a spectacular venue to visit and host any event like a banquet, wedding, gala, or even Christmas Eve.

Whether your interests are culture, history or just remarkable beauty in both the landscape and architecture, visiting Quebec City offers joie de vivre in getting away without leaving your own backyard.

For a complete Quebec City experience and to find out more click here.

By Sabrina Pirillo, Editor of S.Travel.

SOCIETY :: Toronto Pride, Toronto Police & Black Lives Matter



PRIDE TORONTO, TORONTO POLICE AND BLACK LIVES MATTER :: A supporter of activist group Black Lives Matter’s ballsy 2016 Toronto Pride sit-in (and not the biggest fan of Toronto police,) GGN publisher Shaun Proulx feels “our LGBT community and our Pride is better than this” in the wake of Tuesday evening’s AGM takeover that saw Black Lives Matter’s agenda moved to top spot – when it wasn’t even on the agenda – with all Black Lives Matter’s demands met, including the removal of Toronto Police from future participation in parades and booths. Proulx detailed what needs fixing in this messy script for 24 Hours and shared ideas last fall on how to make Pride one to be proud of again.

RELATED :: GGN contributor Joey Viola was front row when Black Lives Matter’s sit in shook the city, Toronto Police and Toronto Pride like never before. 

DIRTY DISCO :: Could This Be The Last Dance?



DIRTY DISCO ::  This very well may be the last dance for one of Pride Toronto’s most famous stages the Bud Light Dirty Disco South Stage. This stage is a Pride tradition to those who have followed it since it’s inception in 2002 which was originally held on the corner of Church and Wellesley Streets. Sixteen years later committed fans eagerly wait in anticipation for it to start. The Dirty Disco friends know what they’re in for once they pass the security gates, buy their drink tickets, and lock down a dancing spot to call their own. They are ready for one hell of a dance party where we become one.

For the followers of Dirty Disco it has a personal meaning, importance, tradition, value, joy, love, and peace. I can truly say no other stage during Pride can hold a candle to the Dirty Disco stage.

Dr. Trance a.k.a. Don Berns was the curator of this stage. We will continue to pay homage to his legacy as legendary promoter, radio personality, and performer. JELO, an original Dirty Disco DJ further explains the beginnings of the stage. “Don wanted to mix it up and he wanted people to party. Mark Smith was involved at the early stages of development of the stage, and of course Pride Toronto who have been green lighting it for over a decade”.

In 2007 the stage moved to the parking lot on the corner of Church and Carlton Streets. Robb G explains, “The move to the parking lot happened because, we the stage was too popular, it was causing safety issues. It was a wild street party!”

The Dirty Disco consists of regular players who have ever so slightly changed over the years. When the stage first started in 2002 it consisted of Don Berns, Deko-ze, JELO, and Chris Pettit. As time progressed Robb G was added then TK and Chiclet. By 2006 I was added as co-host with Don Berns, and then DJ Ticky Ty came on board. Come 2012 Adam K was added. Upon Don’s passing in 2015 MC Flipside was added to co-host with me. This year we will see Jerome Robins added onto the bill with a repeat opening set by Nigel Best.

The Dirty Disco stage has been rocked by special guests such as DJ Dan, Tom Stephan/Superchumbo and Dave Audé. You can watch my Pride interview with Tom Stephan/Superchumbo on The Miss Raquel Show.


I can’t begin to describe how thrilled I was when TK (Arts & Culture Program Manager 2010 – 2016) asked me to host Pride’s OLG Central Stage in 2005. Come 2006 he invited me to host both the OLG and the Dirty Disco stages which I did until 2008.  I am the only straight female to host Pride stages for seven consecutive years, and I am honoured to be part of a festival which means a lot to me! My mother first introduced me to the gay community and Pride through her seven years volunteering for ACT and Casey House. Read my Dreams Come True:: Mother’s Day on GGN.

We all miss Don and his courageousness, humour, and non-stop hard work to keep the Dirty Disco alive and dancing. I miss him and what he liked to call our “ceremonious passing of the mic” which we did together once my set ended and his set began. I am extremely proud to be a part of a collective I can call my musical family.

Robb G further explains the family history of this stage. “We’re a family. Some cast members have come and gone over the years, but the core group has been steady. Most of us involved in the stage came to age in Toronto’s gritty underground warehouse party and rave era. It was a scene of wild expression, immense diversity, and where people went to let loose without fear of judgement. We’ve managed to reproduce this atmosphere at Dirty Disco, that’s why the stage has such a dedicated following.”

Chiclet who has been part of the Dirty Disco since 2011 feels the stage is her home. She says, “Playing the Dirty Disco stage is special to me because there is no other stage like it. We celebrate diversity…I came of age dancing to Deko-ze, JELO, Jerome Robbins, and Robb G. Not to mention MC Flipside and you (Miss Raquel)! And the influence of the late, great Dr. Trance (Don Berns) will always be felt. All of us at the Dirty Disco stage share a common connection through Toronto’s illustrious underground dance scene – (it’s) a scene (that) helped shape who I am. P.L.U.R.!”

During World Pride 2014 we had a magical experience where a rainbow appeared above and across our stage. It was such a joyful and warming sight the crowd was enthusiastic and danced with delight under the rainbow. During 2015 we had torrential rain that lasted all day and into the night, but this didn’t stop Pride from happening nor did it stop the proud devoted Dirty Disco followers from attending. Nothing will stop Pride from happening. Nothing!

Sadly, the Church and Carlton parking lot, after nine years of Pride performances will turn into a condo. This means we will never experience a Dirty Disco again at this location, and marks the end of a gathering during Pride that means so much for so many. And more so with our thoughts and prayers for those who recently died at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This Pride, we at Dirty Disco we will gather, hold hands, be strong; be one, and breath in the same musical air, serve up positive energy, and be free to be who we are without judgment.


Dr. Trance a.k.a. with Miss Raquel Dirty Disco 2012 on the Miss Raquel Show

Will this be the last Dirty Disco? Let’s hope not. I can assure you the Dirty Disco Collective will try very hard to find a new location; only time will tell. One thing is for certain this will be the last Dirty Disco in the parking lot which for many has, including me, have called their “Best party at Pride”.

In the wake of the attacks at Pulse nightclub in Orlando Deko-ze expresses, “For me, this is a lot more than just a party. The recent shooting(s) in Orlando reminds me that we still have a long way to go until people are educated and accepting of everyone regardless of who they are attracted to. Dirty Disco has achieved something special – a complete mix of gay and straight. This is (the) sort of unity that the outspoken generations before us have fought for.”

Stand up, be counted, and You Can Sit (Dance) With Us Sunday July 3 at the Dirty Disco South Stage.

Bud Light Dirty Disco South – Sunday July 3 – 2pm – 11pm 

Dirty Disco starts at 4pm

Church & Carlton Streets

FREE (Donations are suggested and greatly appreciated) l 19+ to drink ID required

DJs (set times TBA):



Robb G


Ticky Ty

Jerome Robins

Nigel Best


Miss Raquel Richards & MC Flipside

FB Official Invite:

Follow Miss Raquel on Twitter here!

GAY PARENTING :: (Insert Question Mark Here)



GAY PARENTING :: Being a gay dad is not as extraordinary as people may think. I have three children and having them is the extraordinary thing. They are intrinsically linked to my heart on every level imaginable and that is the “fabulous” part.

For anyone who has raised a small contingency like mine, the details of the day added up to a calendar of activity. Time was needed and, in true irony, there was never enough time available for their many wants and needs. I spent many waking hours in a daze, sleepwalking through a routine that pulled me slightly left of center. When I got it right, I shone in their eyes. When I messed it up, they saw the world was not fair, or always a fun place to be.

But beneath the mix of applause and disappointment, love always ruled and still does today.

How did three kids become a part of my life under the rainbow? My children were part of a ten-year marriage that came about after a turbulent time as a teen and young man. My youthful exploration of gay encounters led to too much to handle. I thought gay was a dead-end, and accepted counselling and advice from Christian folks that I knew. That led to a marriage that did not resolve any of my unresolved issues, so it lasted a decade. A divorce ended that relationship, with kids intact. They witnessed a dramatic shift in the home dynamic and I can honestly say, may be still working out the fallout from the big event.

I sometimes travel the timeline of their development, and make pit-stops to reflect on some humorous and happy situations. Every birthday, I made a cake and decorated it from scratch; Barbies in candy dresses, Superman in his flowing cape, or fantasy landscapes inspired by My Little Pony. Birthday celebrations were marked by these colorful masterpieces. I remember on one occasion, putting together a birthday theme party: a fashion shoot, where the guests mixed and matched wardrobe items – their glam poses photographed and printed to take home in their goody bags.

Then, there was the girls’ first concert to see their music idol Hilary Duff. My partner and I prepared them for the spectacle, working on their big hairdos.

My son, when starting his fascination with computers, typed in ‘dick’ and was abruptly stopped and directed to a better word search. (His favourite comic hero was Dick Tracy so why wouldn’t you Google him?)

There were also the repeat excursions that brought us all closer together. We made many trips to coffee shops, where board games were played and eyes danced behind large cups of hot chocolate. Other coffee shop patrons would enjoy the family dynamic and would often come over to our table to comment on my lovely children.

All of these memories, if you think about them with me, could add up to a gay parenting formula. You know the drill: mark celebrations with a creative cake, when you go out look fabulous, get the perfect photo, and be mindful of what you type into a search engine. A pretty standard skill set for any gay man.

Having come out for a second time after the divorce, my parenting modelled differently. I was partnered for seven years to a great guy. My youngest tells me now that she never even questioned the relationship and wondered what was gay about it. He was just there, and was part of her life. Her observation was a testament to how we just lived how we lived, and were who we were. It never came off “abnormal” in her eyes.

 Flash forward to a few months after my partner and I broke up. I became HIV positive and my kids witnessed the sudden change in my health. My partner returned home to help me during that difficult downfall, and the kids wanted to do anything to make me feel better. After he explained the importance of keeping surfaces clean, they went out and got the cleaners and gloves. I was immobilized in bed with exhaustion, nausea and severe coughing spells, and I turned to see them coming up the stairs, wiping down the banister and the bathroom at the end of the loft. It was a rallied effort and one of the most stand-out moments etched in my rolodex of family memories. They were looking out for their dad and I knew we were all going to be okay.

My advice to any parent, gay or otherwise, is simple. Roll with the punches, be honest with your kids, answer their questions openly and don’t judge them when they make the same mistakes you did as a kid. Make room for celebration and come together when crisis hits. Love them and express it in fabulous ways. That’s happy parenting!

- Don Short is a writer, artist and father of three. Don pivots life in the balance of making art and writing words. Follow him on Twitter  (also @don_penscaper) and on Instagram.

Image: David Stokes

CONCERT :: The Road (Trip) To Diana Ross



The legendary Diana Ross will be in concert Friday, July 21st, 2017 at Casino Rama Resort in Rama, Ontario. We’ve created this limited opportunity to get you to Rama and Diana Ross – without turning you upside down:


Package One: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” ($250 + HST) includes:

One centre first tier seat to Diana Ross Live In Concert
A private pre-concert cocktail and hors d’oeuvres
A $30 gift card redeemable at any Casino Rama Resort restaurant
$15 in free slot play **
Return luxury bus transport from downtown Toronto

You’ll also receive two free gifts with your purchase:

WALT DISNEY WORLD: One lucky Diana Ross fan who purchases this package by midnight May 15th will join us, and their guest, at Walt Disney World where we’re taking The Shaun Proulx Show again June 2-5  for One Magical Weekend.

PLUS: you’ll also receive a free one-year online subscription to The Shaun Proulx Show (SiriusXM Canada Talks Channel 167 )

Package Two: “Baby Love” ($200 + HST) includes:

One centre first tier seat to Diana Ross Live In Concert
A private pre-concert cocktail and hors d’oeuvres
$15 in free slot play **
Return luxury bus transport from downtown Toronto

* You must be 19 years of age or older to attend this event and not self-excluded from any gaming facility in Ontario to attend shows in the Casino Rama Entertainment Centre.

** Free slot play requires guests to have a Players Card or sign up for one (free).  Valid government issued photo ID is required.




POP CULTURE :: It was a quite Christmas Day in the evening and all my friends and family had left with their bellies full of turkey and cheer. I decided to go online and to my despair I read George Michael had died. Of course thinking this was another internet hoax I did my diligent research and to my dismay it was true. George Michael passed away at the age of 53 at his home in Goring, England. His publicist, Cindi Berger, said he had not been ill. Michael’s manager, Michael Lippman, says the cause of death was heart failure. His family issued a statement through Thames Valley Police saying he “passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period.”

My heart sunk. My joyful mood turned sullen. And my eyes welled up with tears as I remembered the impact George Michael had on my life. I grew up listening to Wham! and then to him as a solo artist.


Remember the neon t-shirts Wham! made popular with the words “CHOOSE LIFE” written on the front of them? Well, they were designed by Katharine Hamnett (Inspired by a Buddhist exhibit, it was a comment against war, death and destruction). Wham! Wore these t-shirts in their 1984 video “Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go”. Funny how 34-years later that statement holds just as much truth then as it does now.

Michael’s voice was soothing and intoxicating. He captured me through his soft, whispery vocal stories which enticed me to listen, sing-a-long, and think about what the song was about.


What I appreciated about George was that he wasn’t afraid to express sex within his music and videos, whether it be same sex, straight sex, touching on religious taboos, and peering into domination. He did this right from the start of his career. He knew what he wanted express and went for it.

Remember “I Want Your Sex”? Well this video generated controversy over its sexual themes. In 2002, MTV2’s countdown of “MTV’s Most Controversial Videos Ever to Air on MTV” included this video sitting at #3. Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” was #1


George loved fashion and helped many models during the 90s propel their careers through his videos. “Too Funky” (1992) was a colourful video where Moulin Rouge met Vegas. The video was made to raise money for AIDS research. The Harley-Davidson bustier seen in this video has been featured in Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce visuals.

RELATED :: Raquel Richards On The Death Of Debbie Reynolds 

RELATED :: Raquel Richards On The Death Of Carrie Fisher

As a solo artist, he developed into a more serious singer and songwriter, praised by critics for his tremendous vocal range. He earned numerous Grammy and American Music Awards, and recorded duets with such legends as: Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Luciano Pavarotti and Elton John.

He sold 100 million records throughout his career worldwide. His debut solo album, “Faith” (1987), sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. He had five studio albums, three compilation and live albums, two extended plays, 44 singles, three promotional singles, five video albums, and 35 music videos.


Just before his passing George was a 2017 nominee for the “Songwriters Hall of Fame”. This accolade should he win will recognize his work and contribution as a composer and lyricists who created music around the world. He’s has been nominated as a performer/songwriter for his extensive catalogue of song writing credits including, “Careless Whisper’” “Father Figure” and “Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go”.

During the end of 2016 George was putting his finishing touches onto his documentary “Freedom”. He discovered some incredible, unseen archive footage and shot additional interviews for the project, the film was to air March 2017. This documentary was to coincide with the 1990 reissue of the “Listen Without Prejudice” album. The film will reportedly focus on the late artist’s career, rather than his personal life, and features interviews with Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, James Corden, Ricky Gervais and more. It has been narrated by George himself.

When I was a teen I proudly wore my “CHOOSE LIFE” t-shirt and anything neon thanks to Wham! As I grew into a young adult so did Michael’s vocals and songs grow with me.

He was my pop musical father. He supported those with AIDS and mental illness such as depression. He will forever live in my musical memory and dancing heart as the singer who showed me through his songs it was OK for me to be free; to be the colourful person I am without having to make excuses for my fashion style, quirky personality, and the unique lifestyle I wanted to live and have since made for myself.

I love him.

I miss him.

George Michael’s #1 Hit of all Time: “Faith” (1987)

George Michael’s #2 Hit of all Time: “Carless Whisper” (1984)

Wham’s (George Michael’s) #3 Hit of all Time: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” (1984)

George Michael’s #4 Hit of All Time: One More Try (1987) 



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DEBBIE REYNOLDS :: Every Secret Gets Known By The World


Debbie Reynolds Rushed To Cedars Sinai Hospital - LA


POP CULTURE :: Debbie Reynolds was a classic movie star; the old school type, she was a timeless talent possessing class and true Hollywood glamour. She appeared in over 50 movies, had a chart-topping song (sandwiched between hits by Elvis Presley and Paul Anka), and was an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony award nominee.

She had a beyond interesting life: she grew up poor, lived her early adult years and first marriage in the pages of the tabloids, had two more bad marriages after that, and saw the demise of the Hollywood studio system that started her career. She starred in classic films in the golden age of Hollywood, holding her own against major league co-stars like Gene Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, and Frank Sinatra.

Born on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas, Debbie Reynolds went on to establish a film career as one of the most popular actresses of her time. Reynolds experienced a lot of professional and personal heartbreak during her life, such as when she was married to Eddie Fisher (against the advice of Frank Sinatra.) When Elizabeth Taylor was married to Mike Todd, who was killed in a plane crash, Reynolds and Fisher took care of Taylor. This is when Fisher began his affair with Taylor, eventually leaving Reynolds with young Carrie. Debbie married two more times in 1960 and in 1984.


Reynolds second marriage was to shoe mogul Harry Karl, who funded his gambling habit with most of her money. Burdened with his debt, Reynolds filed for divorce in 1973. In 1985, she wed real estate developer Richard Hamlett, who allegedly was also the source of significant financial turmoil; they divorced in 1996.

After 1971 Reynolds did not act in films for an extended period of time, except for her voice-over work as the title character in the 1973 animated feature “Charlotte’s Web”. At this time she leaned toward stage work, spending the next few years performing in Las Vegas and on Broadway, where she received a Tony Award nomination for the 1973 revival of “Irene”. In 1976, she starred in the musical “Debbie”.

Reynolds worked well into her 80s; she guested on “The Golden Girls” and “Roseanne” and according to Variety “drawing an Emmy nomination in 2000 for her recurring role on “Will and Grace”. She also did a number of TV movies, including an almost unrecognizable turn as Liberace’s mother in Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra” for HBO in 2013. Younger audiences treasured her in the role of Aggie Cromwell in Disney Channel’s “Halloweentown” and its three sequels. She also frequently did voice work for “Kim Possible” and “The Family Guy.”

She landed lead roles and earned a contract with RKO where she starred in “Susan Slept Here,”, “The Catered Affair”, and “Bundle of Joy”. Reynolds had one of the principal roles in 1962’s all-star Cinerama epic “How the West Was Won.”


To industry people, she was known for her philanthropy, including more than 60 years of working with the organization the Thalians on mental-health care.

She bought thousands of pieces when MGM auctioned off its costumes and props, including Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress” from “The Seven Year Itch,” which she originally paid only $200 for in 1971 and later sold it for $4.6 million.

RELATED :: Raquel Richards On The Death Of George Michael

RELATED :: Raquel Richards On The Death Of Carrie Fisher

Come 1987 Reynolds private life was again in the spotlight when Carrie Fisher’s novel “Postcards from the Edge” debuted. The work centered on the stormy relationship between an actress and her showbiz star mother


Looking back it appear as if “Postcards From the Edge” was a forecast into the future with the character Rose who was the mother played by Shirley McClaine. In the end the women became old friends, more than mother and daughter. They found a relationship that was healthy and gave meaning.

In 1996 Reynolds made an attention-getting big-screen comeback when Albert Brooks cast her as his often-clueless yet admirably self-possessed widowed mother in “Mother.” This role earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

According to Variety in 2005 she won the President’s Award at the Costume Designers Guild Awards “for her collection and conservation of classic Hollywood costumes.” However, a deal for placement of the collection fell through, and Reynolds was forced to auction off most of the collection, which was valued at almost $11 million.

Reynolds published the autobiography “Debbie: My Life” (1988) along with “Unsinkable: A Memoir” (2013) and “Make ‘Em Laugh: Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends” (2015).

Reynolds experienced a devastating loss when her 60-year-old daughter Carrie Fisher passed away on December 27th, 2016 after suffering a massive heart attack. Poetically, she then too passed away due to a stroke at the age of 84 on December 28th, 2016 at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.Before her death Reynolds expressed gratitude to her daughter’s fans on Facebook. “Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter,” she wrote. “I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”

A private memorial was held for Carrie Fisher at her Beverly Hills home, which is located on a property she shared with Reynolds, on Friday January 5, 2017. A funeral for Debbie Reynolds was held Saturday January 6, 2017 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, where she was buried with some of Fisher’s ashes.

My favourite Debbie Reynolds story was this: she was as sacred as they came – a virgin when she married Eddie Fisher and has said according Biography (A&E) with regret, she “never had a particularly passionate sex life.” As for being like a Girl Scout, she actually was one, and she was proud of it!

Debbie Reynolds

Another one I love is this: When shooting began for “Singin’ in The Rain”, she was an amateur. The movie demanded she keep up with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. At 19, she was overwhelmed, and used to crawl under the piano to cry when things got tough. One day a pair of legs walked past, then stopped and a voice asked who was under there. The legs belonged to Fred Astaire. He peered under the piano to ask why she was hiding. She expressed to him her troubles in learning the routines. He broke his normally staunch rule, and let her watch him rehearse. He wanted to show her just how challenging it was for him, too, to get the right moves. He then sent her back to the set to learn her routines, without the tears and without giving up.


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POP CULTURE :: Carrie Fisher, the most notable of galaxy princesses Princess Leia in Star Wars and noteworthy screenwriter passed away on December 27, 2016 after her heart stopped on a United flight that was 15 minutes away from landing in Los Angeles. The situation was so desperate she did not have a pulse for several minutes before a passenger was able to revive her with CPR. Following four days in intensive care at UCLA Medical Center she passed away at 8:55 a.m. (PST) due to “not obvious” causes (at time of publishing). She was 60 years old.

Carrie Fisher will be remembered for the many roles she played: Star Wars Princess Leia, screenwriter for Oscar nominated “Postcards from the Edge” which was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1991: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Meryl Streep, and Best Musical, Original Song, Shel Silverstein – “I’m Checkin’ Out”.

She was a novelist where upon she wrote her true tales on addiction, recovery, mental illness, fraught family relationships and the grime and glamour of a sexist Hollywood. Her books include: “The Princess Diarist”, “Wishful Drinking”, “Shockaholic”, “The Best Awful: A Novel”, and “Surrender the Pink”.


I first saw Star Wars on video and my most memorable scene was the “Trash Compactor” scene where Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Handsolo, and Chewbaca were caught in the garbage compactor that slowly kept closing in on both sides while they tried to get out. This scene scared the crap out of me because of the unknown creature slithering under the dirty water. There was no telling when it was about to emerge and take one of them under it’s siege, or when the sides of the trash compactor where to squash them.

Thanks to R2D2 and Z3PO they were saved!

RELATED :: Raquel Richards On The Death Of George Michael

RELATED :: Raquel Richards On The Death Of Debbie Reynolds 

I always wanted to be Princess Leia, what girl didn’t? I had the Starship Enterprise ship, and the Stormtrooper, Princess Leia, Luke Starwalker and Hansolo action figures. Fast forward to current day my dog wears a Stormtrooper winter jacket. I am not quite what you call a “Star Wars nerd”, but I understand the appreciation. When I was young I tried to style my hair just like Princess Leia’s. Damn!


In the “Princess Diarist” Fisher wrote about her affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of Star Wars, she was 19, he was 33. They kept their romance under wraps because Ford liked to remain quite and Fisher quietly wrote about it in her diary which later appeared (with Ford’s knowledge and consent) in her latest book “The Princess Diarist”.

Fisher reprised her role as General Organa in the 2015 film Episode VII: The Force Awakens. She had already wrapped filming for the next Star Wars episode before she died. Some fans have taken to social media to urge Disney not to use CGI to resurrect her character.

However, when it comes to Disney a character’s life is forever theirs and in the case of Star Wars Disney, which owns the Star Wars franchise, purchased the US$50 million policy from Lloyd’s of London for the event that Fisher was unable to fulfill her three-film contract, according to The Insurance Insider. The claim will likely be triggered by her unexpected death.

After Star Wars Fisher’s life was riveting yet forever Princess Leia, I recently heard on a program hosted by Barb DiGiulio on NewsTalk1010 where she mentioned she heard Fisher saying that for her to get to a table at a well-known restaurant was easier when she said it was for “Princess Leia” rather than for Carrie Fisher. This is the world in which we live.


Fisher was a powerful voice for mental health advocacy over the past several decades helping to destigmatize mental health issues. Gary her dog was her therapy dog. She openly embraced her illnesses – bipolar disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction, and body dysmorphia in her intimate, hilarious, and sobering book “Wishful Drinking” where she recalls her life as she best remembers it. The child of Hollywood royalty — Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

This is far from a princess’s life but rather a Hollywood made princess’s life that was created, owned, and dispersed. Fisher may have been born from Hollywood royalty, but unlike who are served with the silver spoon she had talent.

Lest we remember the Princess of the Galaxy far, far, away, and whose heart was precious for those who laid under the Hollywood spell of greed, and for those who live daily with mental illness who are taking walking the path of life one step at a time with a deep breath for every step.


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POP CULTURE :: The Prince Who Was King



THE PRINCE WHO WAS KING :: Purple Rain was released in 1984, one of the most provocative movies of its time. I remember, as a pre-teen, a teacher put the film on for us to watch during a class.

I remember my parents taken aback by my teacher’s movie choice.

After watching that movie, I actually thought that was Prince’s life. Now, looking back at his actual musical life, his prolific career was so great this was a prince who could be king.

Prince knew how to write, produce, publish and license music on his own, and did just that on his own label, Paisley Park since 1985. Prince released 38 albums, 163 singles & EPs and 22 compilations during career which spanned from 1977 to 2015; Prince made music for 43 years. Out of his 57 years there was only 14 years that he didn’t create music.

He played various instruments, and performed on as many as 203 releases and wrote and arranged 1,219 songs which included such artists such as Cyndi Lauper (“When You Were Mine”), Chaha Khan (“I Feel for You”), Tina Turner (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married”), and Madonna. Prince co-wrote Madonna’s classics “Who’s That Girl”, “Papa Don’t Preach”, and “Live to Tell”. He produced 244 tracks such as “Batdance” for Batman (1989).

Prince knew how to make music, how to make money from making music, and how to move people with his music and prowess.


Prince was voted the 28th greatest rock & roll artist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and won 33 awards, 6 of which were Grammys.

All those numbers and accolades aside, I grew up with his musical cocktail of funk, pop, and rock, and to his slick style and en pointe dance moves. He was a talented, magnetic, energetic, and sexy music genius who will be sadly missed by the generations he touched with his talent. Rest in peace, Prince.

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MCQUEEN MUSTS :: There’s no end for our admiration for the late great queer fashion designer Alexander McQueen (last year’s biography on McQueen, Blood Beneath The Skin is a must-read for any fashion fan). Peter J. Read is one such fan – and aspiring fashion historian. He has curated this McQueen Must List:

MCQUEEN MUSTS :: There’s no end for our admiration for the late great queer fashion designer Alexander McQueen (last year’s biography on McQueen, Blood Beneath The Skin is a must-read for any fashion fan). Peter J. Read is one such fan – and aspiring fashion historian. He has curated this McQueen Must List:

1. McQueen was obsessed with Scotland and its history, basing two collections on it: “I know a lot about Scotland, my mother was a genealogist and  know my family tree, my dynasty”.

2. McQueen’s collections were autobiographical, not designed for the masses, but for himself: “My collections have a lot to do with my sexuality and coming to terms with the person I am and often releasing old ghosts through them”.

3.  McQueen looked at death as not only melancholic but also romantic: “Death is the end of a cycle. The cycle of life is positive as it makes way for new things”.

4.  Aside from McQueen’s dark character, there was a truly romantic person who dreamed about looking for love, and his ideas on the subject of love were above and beyond reality (often leaving him emotionally deflated): “Life is like a bit of a Grimm’s fairy tale”.

5.  McQueen was not at ease in most social situations, not knowing what was or was not appropriate. His fragility was very obvious despite his bravado and this sensitive side made life difficult for McQueen. A close friend said of him, ” Lee is like a closed up shop and there was only a few people he was willing to listen to and trust, often isolating himself. He hated is celebrity, the pressure of fame, and having to put himself on the line and having to expose the personal details of his life”.

6. McQueen carried a lot of guilt over the death of his friend and mentor, Isabella Blow, “a cross between a Billingsgate fisherman’s wife and Lucretia Borgia” and dedicated his Spring/Summer 2008 collection to Blow calling it “Le Dame Bleu”.

7.  McQueen was fascinated with winged creatures, which stemmed back to his early youth and were often prominent in his collections. He said, “Birds in flight fascinate me. I admire eagles and falcons, I’m inspired by a feather, its colour, graphics and weightlessness. They’re so elaborate, in fact I transport the beauty of the bird to women”.

8.  He maintained the art of fashion design was similar to the process of plastic surgery saying, “With me metamorphosis is a bit like plastic surgery, but less drastic. I try to have the same effect with my clothes, but ultimately I try to transform mentalities more than I do the bodies, I try to modify fashion like a surgeon by offering what is relevant today and what will be tomorrow”.

9. Themes of beauty were central to his vision of fashion, which often reflected on the politics of appearance, both the prejudices and limitations of our aesthetic judgement. McQueen believed in the power of love to transform something ugly in to something beautiful; it was critical to his creative process. He went as so far as having the lovesick Helena’s soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream tattooed on his arm, which read, “Love looks not with the eyes but the mind”.

– Peter J. Read is a third year Fashion Communications student and aspiring fashion historian. He is a true blue fashionista who lives and breathes fashion and its many facets.
1. McQueen was obsessed with Scotland and its history, basing two collections on it: “I know a lot about Scotland, my mother was a genealogist and  know my family tree, my dynasty”.

2. McQueen’s collections were autobiographical, not designed for the masses, but for himself: “My collections have a lot to do with my sexuality and coming to terms with the person I am and often releasing old ghosts through them”.

3.  McQueen looked at death as not only melancholic but also romantic: “Death is the end of a cycle. The cycle of life is positive as it makes way for new things”.

4.  Aside from McQueen’s dark character, there was a truly romantic person who dreamed about looking for love, and his ideas on the subject of love were above and beyond reality (often leaving him emotionally deflated): “Life is like a bit of a Grimm’s fairy tale”.

5.  McQueen was not at ease in most social situations, not knowing what was or was not appropriate. His fragility was very obvious despite his bravado and this sensitive side made life difficult for McQueen. A close friend said of him, ” Lee is like a closed up shop and there was only a few people he was willing to listen to and trust, often isolating himself. He hated is celebrity, the pressure of fame, and having to put himself on the line and having to expose the personal details of his life”.

6. McQueen carried a lot of guilt over the death of his friend and mentor, Isabella Blow, “a cross between a Billingsgate fisherman’s wife and Lucretia Borgia” and dedicated his Spring/Summer 2008 collection to Blow calling it “Le Dame Bleu”.

7.  McQueen was fascinated with winged creatures, which stemmed back to his early youth and were often prominent in his collections. He said, “Birds in flight fascinate me. I admire eagles and falcons, I’m inspired by a feather, its colour, graphics and weightlessness. They’re so elaborate, in fact I transport the beauty of the bird to women”.

8.  He maintained the art of fashion design was similar to the process of plastic surgery saying, “With me metamorphosis is a bit like plastic surgery, but less drastic. I try to have the same effect with my clothes, but ultimately I try to transform mentalities more than I do the bodies, I try to modify fashion like a surgeon by offering what is relevant today and what will be tomorrow”.

9. Themes of beauty were central to his vision of fashion, which often reflected on the politics of appearance, both the prejudices and limitations of our aesthetic judgement. McQueen believed in the power of love to transform something ugly in to something beautiful; it was critical to his creative process. He went as so far as having the lovesick Helena’s soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream tattooed on his arm, which read, “Love looks not with the eyes but the mind”.

- Peter J. Read is a third year Fashion Communications student and aspiring fashion historian. He is a true blue fashionista who lives and breathes fashion and its many facets.

EMPOWERMENT :: Unfu*king Myself



FU*K THAT :: When I saw a post by GGN publisher Shaun Proulx on his #ThoughtRevolution Facebook page which read, “Unfu*ck Yourself. Be who you were before all that stuff happened that dimmed your fu*king shine,” it struck me:

I have been fu*king myself.

Around that same time, I read the words of a CEO who claims 95% of all things that happen in your life are because of you, your reactions and how you choose to handle them. The other 5% is from outside forces, which you simply have no control over.

I recently completed a contract as a marketing coordinator that I thought would be the best gig in town; everyone thought I was big time.

During this contract I experienced a corporate culture that was not the world I wanted to experience; I have before. Although I knew it wasn’t for me, I told myself I couldn’t pass up an awesome opportunity that held much prestige and made others envious.

I have never experienced so much pressure, stress, frustration and anger – which ultimately led to my anxiety disorder erupting at a high level, a severe warning sign for me.

But the contributing factors were of the 5% I could not control variety: egos; seasoned employees with cushy positions and little care for anything else; government and union politics; unrealistic expectations; and how terrible the Spadina-University subway operates during rush hour.

When I saw the “Unfu*k Yourself” post I realized I fu*ked myself up during this experience because I have a passion and a deep sense of care for what I do in my life professionally and personally, and so fought elements that were out of my control.

Since then I decided to own my crap. I am now moving forward because the experience taught me to let go. I mean I really let go of all I cannot control; the things that were fu*king me up.

I have unfu*ked myself. I now always want to be the person I know I am before all that stuff happened that dimmed my fu*king shine.

What about you?

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MYRTLE BEACH :: Southern Charm At Par



MYRTLE BEACH :: Sometimes being in the right place and the right time come together at the moment when you need it the most.

I had a voucher for a flight aboard Porter Airlines and could go anywhere I wanted to go. As I searched the website for destinations I had never visited, I stumbled upon Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as an interesting destination that caught my attention.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that I didn’t choose it, it chose me.

Talk about southern hospitality. From the cab drivers, to the restaurant staff, to the locals, smiles and how y’all doing’s flooded every inch of my adventure with TheGayGuideNetwork’s Shaun Proulx.

And the timing couldn’t be better! The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce will be helping Canadians “make up” the difference in light of the Canadian exchange rate disparity by offering at least 30 percent discounts – and in some cases up to 65 percent discounts – at select hotels and attractions January 1st through until April 30th, 2016 for travellers with a valid Canadian passport:

Although Myrtle Beach is known to house some of the best golfing courses in the world, it’s also home to 100 km of beach, sun, sand, surf, shopping (which is a treat when your dollar is being matched), fishing, and dining.

Here are some of S.Travel‘s Top Picks for the best of what Myrtle Beach has to offer:

SEE:: Myrtle Beach SkyWheel: Nothing like a late night stroll along the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk & Promenade after a delicious meal. Situated as the centrepiece of the 1.2 mile long oceanfront & promenade is The SkyWheel.

S.Travel Tip: A night-time ride offers a stunning view from above. Boardwalk lights behind you, crashing ocean waves in front of you and beside you an uncertain rider riding high:

Brookgreen Gardens: Located 45 minutes outside of Myrtle Beach in Murrell’s Inlet, Brookgreen Gardens is home to spectacular gardens, beautiful sculptures, zoo animals and loads of history. Admission is valid for 7 days as there is so much to explore and discover.

Over 5,000 acres of land once belonging to the Alston family and known as The Oaks Plantation, you can take a history boat tour and nature walk along the grounds, visiting the location of the plantation house, grounds of the slave village, and other archaeological sites.  You’ll stumble upon incredible garden beds that will have you gasping at every corner. I even found myself at Brookgreen Garden’s where I discovered a sculpture named Sabrina.


EAT:: Southern cooking goes hand in hand with South Carolina’s hospitality.

Thoroughbred Chophouse and Seafood Grille: Known as one of the local’s most-liked fine-dining restaurants in Myrtle Beach, Thoroughbred’s warm color pallet and staple fireplace offer a warm and cozy atmosphere. And there is no shortage of things to try on the menu. I think what impressed me the most was the recommended added touch for my filet mignon-getting it coffee encrusted, where the process includes dipping your selected meat in coffee grounds, sea salt and peppercorn resulting in a nutty flavour. Yum!


Croissants Bistro and Bakery: Croissants Bistro and Bakery blends culinary traditions of European cuisine and southern home cooking. Pastries and wedding cakes and cookies fill the entry way, while their extensive all day breakfast menu, sandwich specials and sampler dessert of 3 full sizes pieces of cake fill the dining room!

The best part? You can take Croissants home with you as owner Heidi Vukov’s cook book Bonjour Y’all, includes recipes you can find in her restaurant. I think I’ll try the recipe for coconut custard cake first.


The Chemist-Craft Cocktails & Modern Cuisine:  Located by the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, The Chemist is a hip new joint that opened in September 2015. It’s a chemist’s dream environment where waiters wear lab coats, drinks are served in beaker glasses, tables feature periodic elements as do the light up coasters. My personal favourite element had to be The Sixth Element, (strongest on the periodic table) which was served with Silver, Cointreau, fresh sour mix, orange juice, fresh jalapeno and cucumber slices, Validated with with a Grand Marnier floater. Their scampi (large prawn over capellini with citrus butter sauce foam) was heaven, and for the ultimate explosion, finish with the mango buttermilk panna cotta.

If only this was how they would have taught chemistry in high school.


 (The Absinthe Fountain. Photo provided by The Chemist.)

Art Burger ‘N Sushi: That’s exactly what you’ll find on the menu: art, burgers and sushi. Constant changing art instillations surround the restaurant as diners choose from delicious menu items such as appetizing firecracker shrimp with chilli thai sauce, the traditional Rockwell All-American burger, or for the more adventurous, the Monet (slow-roasted pork shoulder, BBQ sauce, fried onion, and kale slaw). Make sure to sit on the patio for the best view in the house while enjoying a refreshing cucumber martini.


(Photo Provided by Art Burger N’ Sushi)

Wicked Tuna: Located 45 minutes from Myrtle Beach on Murrells Inlet’s Marsh Walk, Wicked Tuna offers waterfront dining with the freshest fish, so fresh they call it a hook to plate concept. Their fish house lives right under the restaurant, and some days you can watch the boat pull into the inlet bringing in the week’s haul. My mouthwatering grouper was served to me less than 48 hours from the catch. Topped with lobster and crab on a bed of cauliflower puree, zucchini and peppers, it’s a seafood lovers paradise.

Wicked Tuna is also 1 of 500 places in the US that’s licensed for the catch of unlimited snapper and grouper. And fresh fish isn’t the only thing on the menu as there are 2 kitchens, one for fish and one for sushi.

The Dragon Egg (and no I’m not making a Game of Throne’s reference about Khaleesi, The Mother of Dragons) features a halved avocado stuffed with: cream cheese, smoke salmon, blue crab, king crab, spicy crab, served on a bed of stringy tempura sweet potato, served with spicy mayo, sweet glaze and so much goodness.


STAY: Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort & Spa at Grande Dunes:  Nestled within a 2,200-acre Grande Dunes residential community, Myrtle Beach Marriott offers superb service and amenities such as championship golf, tennis, a tropical beachfront pool, hammocks, a luxury spa, an indoor pool, and white sandy beaches.  Accommodations at this 4-star luxury and stylish hotel include deluxe bedding, The Body Shop amenities, high-speed Internet access, and my personal favourite, beautiful views of the resort, or of the Myrtle Beach oceanfront. Now that’s a view I can wake up to!


S.Travel Tip: For the ultimate in relaxation, plan to visit the Hibiscus Spa  located on the lower level of the Marriott hotel. Might I suggest the Tranquility package which begins with a light dry brush exfoliation of your skin followed by a mineral rich clay applied to you entire body to nourish and detoxify your skin. After a refreshing splash of the Vichy shower, the treatment leaves your skin deeply cleansed and detoxified while the benefits of all the ingredients nourish the skin, soothing away tension and stress. Your package ends with a full Sweetish Massage resulting in relaxation, rest and tranquility.


- Sabrina Pirillo is the Editor of S.Travel.

–  S.Travel Approved*

S.Travel is our coveted publishing stamp of approval on travel destinations, accommodations, bars, restaurants, adventures and experiences. Look to S.Travel for the very best LGBT travel the world has to offer. Join us on Twitter, Facebook  and Instagram for the latest in travel ideas, tips and fun, and sign up to receive our free S.Travel Newsletter.

EMPOWERMENT :: Judy Dlugacz – Building An Empire From Nothing



EMPOWERMENT :: Judy Dlugacz is living proof that success – tycoon size – can be created from scratch. By creating her own lane, listening to her inner-genius, and daring to go for it, the president and co-founder of Olivia Travel took a pass on going to law school to found Olivia Records, which went on to sell hundreds of thousands of records. GGN publisher Shaun Proulx recently spoke to Judy for more intel and inspiration:

SP:  I once saw an interview you did, and you think of yourself, I believe, as an activist first, and then an entrepreneur.

JD: We started Olivia when I was 20, and it was a group of radical, lesbian feminists, and we wanted to change the world. And I was about to go to law school, but instead someone said, “No, let’s start a women’s record company!” And I went, “I like that idea!” So I didn’t go to law school – much to my parent’s chagrin – and started this record company with a group of women, who were just brilliant and fun, and we just didn’t know what the heck we were doing, nor did we have any money to do it, but we knew that music would change people’s sense of their own reality through their hearts, because it hits your heart first, and then your head. This was in 1973.

SP: You say that you were born to bring awareness to LGBT causes and create opportunities that enable lesbians throughout the world to live in freedom.  I was talking to someone over the weekend, and I said to him: “There’s nothing more important to me than freedom. More than money, more than anything else. Freedom, having choice, to be able to “do you” is top thing for me, so when I read that what you wanted to do was allow lesbians to live in freedom… I sort of fell a little bit in love with you. 

JD: I love you too, sweetheart! Really, already! The reality, honestly, I was coming out as a lesbian, so that became my focus. But LGBT is my core, these are my people, so I don’t want it to seem like I just focus on lesbians. There weren’t any women “out”, hardly, at that moment in time. So we helped women really become aware of their own sexuality, and I say something a little controversial, which is I believe women can choose to be lesbians. It’s a very positive choice for women in a sexist world, to be strong and independent. It’s a little different for women than men, and they have a little more fluidity in sexuality, since women really don’t know much about their own sexuality anyway, given this has been hidden from us in so many ways. So to create something like this, to bring women to the place of being able to say: “Hey, it’s not only ok to be a lesbian but it’s great to be a lesbian!” was a big part of what I was doing, and have been doing.

SP: Let’s just paint the picture of that time and place you did all this. A great example  I’ve heard about, is that Olivia Records was the first music company to allow Bonnie Raitt to play back-up guitar? BONNIE RAITT?

JD: Yes.

SP: Because a woman could not even play back-up guitar then.

JD: We had this idea that we would create something so that women would have this opportunity to do all the musicianship, which never happened in the industry at that point. Women would be the producers, the engineers, we would create concerts. So we did all of it. We created and we sold hundreds and hundreds and thousands of records. Our second album sold a quarter of a million records.

SP: Wow. Do you look back at those days as halcyon days?

JD: Yes, absolutely! This is what I want to project to people: We didn’t know what we were doing, but had a brilliant idea. We knew that if we had a single focus on making it happen, because we knew that it would change the world for women, and we did, for literally millions of women. 



SP: What I love about this idea beyond what it became, it birthed the bigger idea: Olivia Travel. It all started because you wanted a concert – on water. This is how you make something out of nothing!

JD:  I did a series of concerts, and someone said, “It would be great to have a concert on the water!” And I went, “Oh my God! I can do that! I can create a cruise vacation for women!”

SP: Was it as clear as that?

JD: Yes! Instantaneous! Somebody just said, “Hey, concert on the water!” That was it. Oh my God, that’s my next thing! So I wrote a letter. I used the “Base” of Olivia, and again, didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have the money, but had single focus that this was going to work, because I knew that if I wanted to go, and be free to be myself on vacation, so would everyone’s wife.

SP: Oh yes!

JD: So I wrote a letter, and I said, “Hey you guys, I just chartered a ship. It’s four nights in the Bahamas next year, you can’t cancel, you’ve got to sign up right away. I can’t refund your deposit and I need 600 signed up immediately!”

SP: Of course they want to do that, because they want to travel and be themselves.

JD: And we get to be the majority for seven days, where we get to take who we are for granted. That doesn’t happen anywhere for week. It’s an insanely spiritual experience to do that. 

SP: We all get genius ideas all day every day, but most of us put aside and don’t pursue them, but you heard “concert on water” equals “cruise for lesbians” and you did it.

JD: You have to be an entrepreneur and a visionary, to hear an idea and go: “Oh my God!” But we are all that. It’s the courage to go, “Oh my God! I’m going to do this, no matter what, because I believe in it so strongly.” You gotta believe in it. You can have a great idea, but if you don’t believe that you can do it, no matter what, then it’s not going to happen. And I have to tell you I’ve created so many things out of nothing.

SP: You went for it.

JD: Tunnel vision! But you’ve got to have the heart to say, “I will do this!”

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SP: I want to echo what you just said. I write a spirituality column here in the city, and in last week’s I said you have to have a Plan A only, no Plan B. Because Plan B indicates some kind of disbelief in your Plan A. Oh Judy, you make me want to become a lesbian.

JD: We do the most fun things. We charter the whole ship or we take over the entire resort. So when we do a resort, we’re going to do Punta Cana at Breathless. We’re taking over the entire resort for 1500 people.

SP: Wow!

JD: We bring all of the talent. We’ve had Heart, we’ve had Patti LaBelle on our last trip. We keep upping the ante in terms of always bringing amazing talent that’s mainstream, but also the most amazing lesbian talent with incredible music, incredible comedians – we’re now doing a family trip as well for all LGBT folks.

SP: This was a pleasure; it always goes by so fast! Judy, thank you so much for being such an inspiration.

- Shaun Proulx is the publisher of GGN. Join his #ThoughtRevolution on FacebookTwitter  and Instagram  and hear him every weekend on SiriusXMCanadaTalks 167 or online here. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, read his weekly column, Spirit & The City in 24 Hours each Thursday.

- This interview was condensed and edited.

SELF CARE :: I Have a Mental Illness



MENTAL ILLNESS :: I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder a.k.a. GAD, chronic anxiety and most recently depression.

Depression? Me? I thought only those who couldn’t get out of bed and slept all day had depression.

Apparently not.

I have met with numerous counsellors, attended group therapy sessions, and have long talks with my GP. Through these sessions and my willingness to understand, accept, and work with my mental illness, I have gotten better over the past year. I was prescribed daily anxiety meds, but I didn’t take the prescribed dosage because I didn’t like how it made me feel when I first started taking them. Plus, I am not down with taking a drug for the rest of my life when I know I have the power within me to face my illness and deal with it without western medicine.

Have you ever taken anti-anxiety or antidepressant? The first three months are hell. If you have ever taken ecstasy a.k.a. “E” then you may be able to relate to how I felt. It was like I was “peaking” (intensely high) for three months! WTF? And I was dizzy and sometimes couldn’t walk in a straight line. Let me tell you that looked great when I was at work, teetering here, swaying to and fro. Who the hell wants that? If I want my serotonin levels to rise I will go for jog, do a yoga class, take my puppy out for a walk. All these actions will increase my serotonin levels and make me feel better. Even talking to someone who will take the time to listen will help.

I am still not fully comfortable letting the world know I have a mental illness due to the stigma, but here I am writing this. Many people who do not understand mental illness are simply ignorant or chose to ignore it and /or not educate themselves on it. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mood and anxiety disorders impact an estimated 22% of the Canadian population. And this number will rise.

I have missed work due to my mental illness which of course causes me more anxiety but I simply have no choice. I can’t show up at work shaking, crying, breathing heavy and feeling embarrassed and ashamed someone will notice. I have to shut down my day. I cancel my plans and concentrate on me by doing something good for myself such as going for a walk, watching happy movies or TV, cooking, or taking a nap to reboot. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada on any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work because of mental illness.

Listen below to Miss Raquel Richards talk about this post on The Shaun Proulx Show


Over the past year I have started to pay attention to what my triggers are and have practiced working with them, avoiding them, or eliminating them completely. For example, I discovered I need to work in a social environment where there is open conversation, sharing of ideas, and freedom of expression. If I am not in this type of environment I instantly feel my anxiety rise and my depression starts to cover up my happy soul.

Due to this being a serious trigger I have eliminated this type of work setting. Don’t get me wrong I know there is no perfect working environment but I do know a stale, corporate cubicle environment, non-creative work place with a lack of communication both professionally and socially is no place for my cheerful self.

I don’t call my friends when I am in need of help because I don’t want to bother them. I feel embarrassed to call them; to have them experience this side of me. My mother, although she cares in her way, isn’t capable of helping me. Although I feel she is trying and I have to say is getting better at it, so I will still call her when I really need help. The one person who has always been there for me is my ex-boyfriend. He has been my anxiety rock since I was diagnosed with it about nine years ago. Sadly, he’s not always around when I need him, so I have to go it alone and this is frightening. But it’s also good for me to learn to cope and get through my attacks or bad days.

According to the Canadian Medical Association only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. With that stat it’s no wonder I don’t tell many people about my illness.

To help me work with my mental illness I have taken control and taken care of myself. I got a puppy, which is great because I have to care for him and he’s now part of my daily schedule. About three years ago I discovered hot yoga and this helps me more than anything! I trade at a yoga studio and I find solace in volunteering my time. I put in four hours a week cleaning the studio in exchange for unlimited yoga. Funny, how cleaning toilets and showers in a calm, serene environment really keeps me at peace.


I recently took over a co-worker’s gym membership at a monthly rate I could not pass up. I felt it was the universe; the law of attraction working for me. Exercise wakes up that happy chemical, serotonin.

I schedule a task to do every day such as running an errand, job hunting, and working out, etc… And you know what? It helps! I feel I am accomplishing something, being productive, and when I am busy I have no time to over think even the tiniest of tiny issues because I am too busy to worry about issues that are of no real concern in a healthy mental state.

I am strong, motivated, driven, and a high achiever. Many who have these characteristics have anxiety issues or depression because it’s the intense pressure we put on ourselves to achieve and to be the best. It’s a lot of work I tell you, and so tiring! If my upbringing had love and encouragement rather than the hostile abuse I received, I believe, through my therapy sessions, I wouldn’t have a mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t just happen; it stems from a deep seated emotional trauma – or could be hereditary.

According to the Canadian Institute of Health Research 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life. I never thought I’d be one of them, but I am and I have to accept it and deal with it in order to live a productive life. I believe I will eventually get along with my mental illness, or better yet get over it because I am practicing every day to make my life better.

The struggle is hard but I am wrapping my head around it. I know I will be in good health because I am a survivor and I have come this far and I am still standing.


- Be sure to LIKE Miss Raquel on Facebook. Follow Miss Raquel on Twitter (This is where the dirt is dished!)

EMPOWERMENT :: Thank Goodness For Optimism



THE POWER OF OPTIMISM :: One year ago I was in the emergency room sitting quietly beside death. It was hard to tell who was who as the only real difference was he carrying a scythe and I was clutching a mask. We were both cloaked in black, bald, creepy and no one wanted to be near us.

When he invited me to join him on short trip towards the light – I politely leaned in and said, “Sorry I don’t date men – move along.”

It obviously worked, as here I am – yet back in the doctor’s office – this time not fighting for my life as much as fighting a common cold – which, after having been ravaged by cancer treatments for a year or so, is more like fighting the plague. Who knew these colours existed?

But, surprisingly I am thrilled to have a cold. It seems so normal and I would trade the smell of vapour rub over dose dense chemo any and every day of the week.


But I would not trade in the lessons I learned from having had – and maybe still having – cancer. It may be the best worst thing that has ever happened to me, my relationships, and my outlook on life.

It did however take time and effort to find the light in this very dark time. The glow began when I decided to to do a 30-day gratitude challenge on Twitter. My goal was to just take one negative though daily and turn into something positive.

“All my hair fell out. Yay. No more hair care products means more money to buy wine!”

Day by day I started finding more and more of my experiences hilarious. Ironic. Inspiring. I actually started looking forward to turning my negative thoughts around. It was fun. And I love having fun.

RELATED :: The Funny Side of Cancer

I have always been blessed with the gift of humour. I see it in everyone and everything. So eventually I was able to find my cancer funny and the cancer experience in general funny. Last December 23rd, when I was first in the clinic and last out, the nurses and I made a chemo bag tree with a tongue depressor star on top and I wheeled it around singing loudly and badly for all to hear:


“Star of wonder star of fright – star of royal cancer fight – westward bleeding still tube feeding guide me to the nearest Sprite!” (PS: it is always ginger ale – and no matter how many times I ask for the ale without ginger I never get it.)

I really wanted to organize a flash sob – paediatrics first – then the geriatrics – but none of us could agree on a song, and each time we did the lead dancer always seemed to die. Thank goodness I cannot dance…

And thank goodness for optimism. It helps. I cannot always be positive but I can always try. And if I cannot I will ask for help. If I start crying my partner reassures me for a moment, then tells me to get a grip, then Googles childish vegetable jokes.

The carrot blushed because it saw the salad dressing.

I am thankful for her. I am thankful for so many people who have come in and out of my life these past months. As the light around me continues to grow more and more people are standing in it. What an amazing feeling. I find it very hard to let people love me. I find it very hard to let go of people who do not love me, and even harder to watch people I have come to love depart. But I am always grateful for the conversations shared, the laughter and the tears.

Listen below as Kelly Dear discusses this post on The Shaun Proulx Show:

I am also grateful for the little things. Warm running water to rinse the sweat off my brow. Ice cubes to stuff in my shirt when I have a hot flash. Soft toilet paper. I hope you NEVER need to know the joy of that.

But I do hope you come to find the joy and the light in yourself and in all the challenges and experiences you face this coming year. Take a minute to look in the rear view mirror, happiness is closer than you think.

Happy new year.

- Kelly Dear is an award-winning (former) educator, lecturer and comedian who is now focused on being an inner child desperately seeking her outer adult. Read the rest of her story at and follow her on Twitter.

EMPOWERMENT :: Throw Yourself Into The Universe



THROW YOURSELF INTO THE UNIVERSE :: It’s been a week since I’ve been home in Toronto. I rise to the city’s winter chill streaming through the cracked window, swirling at my feet at the end of my bed.

I wipe the sleep from my eyes and realize I’m not in the Mayan Riviera any longer; life is but a dream.

For the past week I’ve been surrounded by paradise: crystal blue sea, snow-white sand, open bars and all you can eat buffets.

But what rings most rewarding on my trip with my partner Monty to the south of Mexico are the intelligent, eclectic, exciting and motivational people we got to meet.

There are so many things we take for granted on a daily basis: our health, our stealth, our wealth, for example. Some of these blessings come in different forms. Some may seem lingering or halted, or seemingly absent, but I have come to understand it is our state of mind as we experience life that provide these rewards.

You are your own vessel.

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I didn’t know what to expect when travelling with twenty-five other people as I boarded The Shaun Proulx Paradise Plane (one of the annual experiences Shaun Proulx Media creates for their audience). I hadn’t met most of my fellow travellers before, but when the plane landed in Cancun and we cracked the first cerveza on the bus ride en route to the resort in Playa Del Carmen, I had that feeling you get when you reach the top of the hill on a roller coaster and you throw your hands up to the wind!

Needless to say, none of us stayed seated for this week-long ride! Every twist and turn of our adventure together spilled into another wonderful experience and it feels like our week in the sun flew by.

Listen below to Joey Viola talk about this post on  The Shaun Proulx Show


On the last night, our group of beautiful people gathered on the beach, a blooming full moon’s light cascading across the water like a twinkling runway. The Shaun Proulx Paradise gang, the “Group Especial”, were invited by Shaun to find something, a seashell, a flower, a peso, whatever spoke to us, to set an intention for 2016 and let it free into the sea.

We all rubbed our dreams and aspirations into our chosen object’s being with our fingertips. Dressed for a fabulous last dinner together, we simply put our feet in the water and absorbed the energy surrounding us.

In that very moment, life stood still. The breeze whispered and we threw our items into the Caribbean Sea, but in actuality, we were throwing our best selves into the universe. (More after the jump.)


Since I will turn 30 this May, (ironically on Cinco De Mayo – tequila!) I’m looking forward to sharing more of myself with the world at this milestone time in my life, to truly taking it all in, never allowing myself to forget to appreciate the fortitude of life.

We should throw our dreams and aspirations into the ocean everyday, at least metaphorically. Life is too short for less.

As the wisdom goes: “Make the REST of your life, the BEST of your life.”

- Joey Viola is one half of MoJo Toronto  along with his partner of eight years, Monty T. Together they’ve redefined an already bustling nightlife in Toronto’s gay village; catering to all members of the LGBTQ community and co-ordinating countless events including the popular weeklies FML MONDAYS inside Flash Nightclub and SULTRY SATURDAYS with DJ/Producer Cajjmere Wray at Byzantium Martini Bar/Supper Club.

Image: Joey Viola

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S. TRAVEL :: Majestic Alaska


Pick an adjective: magnificent, grand, awe-inspiring, breath-taking, spectacular, unbelievable, majestic. That’s Alaska. Where words cannot express its beauty and photographs will never do this magical place justice.

Alaska is all about taking your surroundings in (spoiler alert) like in the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, when Ben Stiller finds Sean Penn on top of the Himalayan Mountains. He’s been waiting there to capture the perfect photograph of a snow leopard. When it appears, Penn just stares at it outside of the camera lens and Stiller asks him when he’s going to take it, and Penn replies, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, I mean me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it”.


Scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Sometimes we’re so busy trying to capture the moment in our camera that we forget to live in the moment. Your eyes can’t help but weep in awe of being in the presence of sheer beauty, impossible to hold back as you take in this once in a lifetime experience. To see this with your eyes instead of through a lens, which we are all guilty of doing. Trying to capture these moments to last us a lifetime instead of letting it etch into our souls in gratitude of being able to experience this moment.  Even of no one ever sees it, no one ever understands what we saw, it is the only one that matters. We saw it. That is the moment we remember, THAT is the one that lasts forever.

Summer time in Alaska is just about anyone’s dream, getting about 18 hours of daylight but the catch is in winter, when it’s reversed. There’s something about Alaska that allows you to let go and not stress and sweat the small stuff. One morning I couldn’t connect to WiFi to check my e-mails and I couldn’t find where the steward put my room service book (I didn’t want to eat at the buffet as I was feeling sea sick and resorted to eating green apples and crackers, and stayed away from alcohol which seemed to help). I was so frustrated at these stupid, mundane little things that I just went on my balcony to cool down and happened to look at the ocean to see a dolphin jump out! I gasped from the unexpectedness of it. Then two more popped up and swam in tandem. Suddenly, the WiFi and my queasy stomach didn’t matter anymore – I was staring at something beautiful, something nature delivered that not a lot of people get to experience.

In that moment, gratitude and joy melted away all the unnecessary crap I was focusing on. This is the gift that Alaska gave me. This is the gift that I will forever be grateful for and one that will bring a shine to my eyes whenever someone asks me about it. The gratitude also ties into not only my first cruise ever, but my first experience with Olivia Travel (read about my experiences with this travel company here).


The Holland America Oosterdam embarked from sunny and warm Seattle, and I began my adventure at sea. We were on board for almost two days before we approached in Alaska’s capital of Juneau.

In the late 19th century, a mining engineer by the name of George Pilz, offered a reward to anyone who could lead him to gold. His first chief’s attempt was unsuccessful but his second, which included Richard Harris and Joe Juneau, struck gold! That discovery not only changed the course of history but that of Alaska as well. On October 4, 1880, Harris and Juneau laid claim to the land which they named Gold Creek, and in 1881, gold miners voted to rename it Juneau.

The state capitol is nestled between Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts and filled with glaciers and mountains as far as the eye can see; the wildlife is endless – keep your eyes open for bald Eagles, mountain goats, beavers, and black bears (oh my!).

The only way into Juneau is by plane or boat, and Juneau’s only fast food restaurant is McDonalds which was built in 1982, sold 17,000 hamburgers on opening day, and then closed for three days until more supplies could be brought in.

Mendenhall Glacier, bordered between Mount McGinnis and Bullard Mountain, is Alaska’s most popular glacier that has been retreating since 1929. This breath-taking glacier is around Mendenhall Lake from Nugget Falls and its cascading waterfalls, discovered in 1974.

majestic alaska

Red Dog Saloon, founded in the mid-20th century with real sawdust on the floor. You’ll feel like you’re sitting in an old country and western bar, where you can order the Duck Fart (Bailey’s, Kahlua, and Crown Royal poured over a Mendocino cherry).

Other great landmarks and excursions in Juneau include a ride up Mount Roberts Tramway to get a scenic view of the area, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, take a helicopter to the top of the glacier, and even go dog-sledding when you get to the top!

Hubbard Glacier: The amazing, rare blue ice of Hubbard Glacier is formed from the compression of pure snow which then develops into glacial ice. The magnitude of this magnificent beauty is awe-inspiring at 1,350 square miles. It rumbles with thunder when ice breaks off of the glacier (called “calving”) and splashes heavily into the cold Alaskan waters.


Sitka, the original capital of Alaska, has a 14-mile-long highway and the McDonald’s is located directly across from the Emergency Room. Sitka is a quaint city, with more wildlife than you can shake a stick at.

This year marks a special anniversary for Sitka. As Canada celebrates our 150th, Sitka celebrates the 150th anniversary of the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. This anniversary year is also a time that Sitka celebrates the rich Native culture, in place long before the Russians arrived, which is still alive and well as part of the community.

Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest has been an award-winning cruise for several years and I can understand why. Sea otters frolic in the water and swim on their backs, paired together holding hands. A bald eagle* sits atop a tree guarding its nest, strong and powerful. Sea lions, harbor lions, otters, bald eagles, and with a little luck, a family of humpback whales will show up and say hello.

Humpback whales jump out of the air by pumping their tails.  During the cruise, an enormous whale pumped its tail three times and in all its glory, made an extraordinary leap into the air and then crashed back into the water. I was awe-struck; this was something that my eyes could never un-see.

A hundred yards from the boat, the whale pod approached and I looked directly into the mouth of a humpback as it opened his giant muscle for air.  The whales dove back into the water, backs arched, then waved their tails to us, leaving us with jaw-dropping memories.

*Fact: Eagles are monogamous and mate for life, and return year-after-year to the same nest.

whale tail

Sea lions

Other major visitor sites in Sitka include Castle Hill with stunning views of Sitka, St. Michael’s Cathedral, Sitka National Historical Park and Fortress of the Bear.


Ketchikan was established in 1887 when a salmon cannery was built at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek. Today, fisherman and loggers still contribute to the cafes and bars surrounding the waterfront. Ketchikan is filled with wildlife and has the largest national rainforest in the United States, the Tongass National Forest, gateway to Misty Fjords National Monument, a spectacular wilderness area sculpted by glaciers.

While you’re there, be sure to take a stroll through Creek St Historic District, which once housed Alaska’s most notorious red-light district from 1902-1954; catch the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, find a local shop to purchase genuine stones crafted by authentic Alaskan jewellers, or grab some fresh fish tacos and Alaskan beers by the harbor. My best advice: just walk around and admire this beautiful city.


Victoria, BC

A special treat was being back on home soil when Canada celebrated its 150th Birthday this past July, and the elegant and vibrant city of Victoria was just the place to do it! The celebrations were incredible with a free concert in front of the Parliament building and fireworks ending the special evening; The Fairmont Empress Hotel (famous for its traditional high tea) stood tall and overlooked the harbor that was covered in Canadian flags. It was good to be home.

Victoria 2

This unique B.C. port offers visitors lots to explore including Chinatown (home to Canada’s smallest road, ‘Fan Tan Alley’), painter Emily Carr’s House, and the stunning Butchart Gardens that houses over 700 varieties of flowers, illuminated with thousands of lights at night!

Victoria 1

Victoria 3

Words can barely express why this unbelievable state should be at the top of your bucket list; photos and videos don’t do the incredible voyage justice but here is a video showing just the tip of this incredible iceberg.


~Sabrina Pirillo is the Editor of S.Travel

Majestic Alaska :: Straight Girl, Lesbian Cruising

When I go, I go big. I went on my very first cruise this year, and I went all the way to Alaska!

Coming on board for this Majestic Alaska cruise was beyond extraordinary. The views were stunning, magnificent, incredible, and utterly breath-taking. The mountains disappear into the clouds, snow covered peaks disintegrate into mountain and forest. The tour of Alaska’s Inside Passage, the three cities of Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan, is amazing, and Alaskans generally are laid-back and appreciate the beauty that surrounds them.


Your first cruise can be very overwhelming. So many activities and parts of the ship to explore, mandatory safety meetings, and wondering if you should leave breadcrumbs to figure out how to get back to your room.

Not only was this my first cruise, it was my first cruise with Oliva Travel, the lesbian travel company who will be celebrating their 45th Anniversary next year! Their tagline is We bring women together… on vacation!

Whether you want to enjoy the relaxed vibe of an all-inclusive resort, sail the seven seas on a cruise with hundreds of lesbians, or immerse yourself in the culture of a new destination, Olivia has a vacation that’s sure to fit your style. The Olivia Experience is about women having fun together, making friends – and maybe even finding that special someone. With our world-class, just-for-you, entertainment; fabulous singles activities; incredible touring excursions; or even a touching commitment ceremony, you can be sure you’ll have a vacation experience you’ll never forget.

And that’s exactly what they delivered.

Being the straight girl on board, I was asked several times if I felt uncomfortable being on a cruise with almost 2000 lesbians. No, I couldn’t care less. I’m not used to being around that much female energy but I was excited! As a travel writer, Alaska has been on my bucket list for as far back as I could remember, so when the opportunity came up to explore this incredible place (that you forget is the 49th state of the United States), it didn’t matter who I was sharing a cruise ship with.

I’ve been involved in the LGBT community for a decade now and this was one trip I wasn’t going to miss out on. Yes, I was hit on a few times, I was flattered (who wouldn’t be?), but not once did I feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. I met some incredible ladies that I still keep in touch with.

I engaged in everything from intellectual, meaningful, and even LOL conversations (most of those came with Happy Hour), and had a hoot at the evening shows right up to the White Party dance party. I met some of the most amazing, strong, beautiful women on the cruise who were on the ship so they could be themselves and share this experience with the love of their life, or to look for that special connection. I listened to their stories, their triumphs, to their heartbreaks, and losses of loved ones. I watched them smile and support each other and love and exude strength and humility, and even after finding out I was straight (we had some affectionate fun at my expense, but I always felt accepted). Humility and love and kindness are a universal language.


Helpful Cruise Points

Seeing as though it was my first cruise, I was lucky enough to have my dear friend, Richard Ryder, who has cruised before, give me some helpful tips:

  • A good time to explore the ship is while most people are off doing excursions;
  • Pay attention to the carpet in the elevators, they will remind you what day it is – two days in, you’ll have no clue what day, time or time zone you’re in;
  • Attend the jewelry sale on board where you’ll not only get beautiful pieces at great prices, but pay no tax;
  • Hang your clothes up to save space;
  • Use a hair clip to keep the curtains closed in your room;
  • Beverage packages are important;
  • Bring an empty water bottle so you can refill it all week-long without a cost.

Pay attention to key events with on-board perks – e.g. attending a jewelry sale where they offer complimentary sparkling wine or attend a mixology martini sampling for $4. Find out when Happy Hour is where you can purchase your second drink for only $2. If you aren’t buying a beverage package but enjoy a glass of wine (or two) with dinner, purchase a bottle instead of individual glasses.


Hello, diet, exercise? We’re going to have to break up for about a week. It’s not you it’s me, but I think we need a break.


Eating eventually becomes glutinous, well beyond survival purposes. I blame the endless and delicious options from the buffet: giant bowls of salad and pasta; meats, sandwiches, tacos, and burgers; and main dinner delights of fresh fish, venison, escargot, and German schnitzel!


Cruising Life

Every morning the captain greeted us with “Good morning Ladies of Olivia!” The very helpful and accommodating women and volunteers of Olivia spent the week ensuring we are taken care of, along with the folks of Holland America’s Oosterdam (Holland America (HA) originates in Amsterdam, and the ships are named after streets of that city, so Oosterdam means east dam).

There are so many activities planned that there’s something for everyone. People can do as few or as many as they like: play bingo in the morning, take dance lessons in the afternoon, watch a movie in the theatre, play some Wet & Wacky pool games, attend a workshop, meet your fellow passengers at a mixer, and the list (that they leave in your mailbox every evening) goes on!

Coming on board on your own? Well, they’ve created a SOLO schedule specifically for ladies who may come on board single, but not necessarily docking with the same status. Olivia created meet-and-greets, special SOLO breakfasts, activities, and even an area for dining.

A new addition on board was the Literary Adventures at Sea, which featured programming by Sapphire Books Publishing and Curve Magazine; tea and poetry readings by literary legends Dorothy Allison, Jennifer Fulton, Karin Kallmaker, and Lee Lynch. Erika Feinman was the recipient of Olivia’s 2017 Scholartrip program, designed by Olivia to inspire, motivate, and empower the next generation of LBGTQ leaders.

The extraordinary women entertainers featured the likes of comedians Karen Williams and Suzanne Westenhoefer, SUEDE, the smooth singer and one-time opener for Joan Rivers, and the talented Broadway veteran, Natalie Toro. Plus, we danced the nights away with sly DJ’s Wildfire and Lisa Pittman, whose music really saw the ladies let loose – and let me tell you these ladies know how to bust a move!

White Party

White Party video dance aboard the Oosterdam.

Choose to Cruise with Olivia

Alaskan cruises happen every other year so make sure to book your spot in 2019. In the mean time, NEXT YEAR IS Olivia’s 45th Anniversary and you can celebrate with their Caribbean trip happening April 2-9, 2018, plus choose from so many other trips including Mystical Norwegian Fjords, 45th Anniversary Hard Rock Vallarta and New LGBT Club Med Sandpiper.

The best part about Olivia is that you can set up a more comfortable payment plan for your trip, so you don’t have to pay in one lump sum.  This is a personal travel company that works with you to bring memories of a lifetime on your schedule. And if you book while on board, the savings are greater!

The reason that Ladies of Olivia Travel together is because though they could spend money on a resort to holiday with families and silent strangers, with Olivia, they know who they’re travelling with. Ladies of Olivia can be themselves, enjoy time with family and old and new friends, and know that their money is well spent.

I heard about why these ladies were here, some veterans who have been travelling with Olivia for over 20 years, and some newbies soon to become veterans. It’s like being part of a family, an extended family, who you travel and make memories with. Olivia is its own community and takes the travel industry to a whole new level.


There was so much love and support aboard the Oosterdam.  My fantastic shipmates exuded the definition of be who you are and have, in a way, rubbed off on me to allow myself to accept who I am; my beauty both inside and out. We’re all so hard on ourselves sometimes but these extraordinary, strong, beautiful women are who they are and accept not only the women around them, but themselves. I think sometimes in life we struggle with that. Trying to fit in and hide our true identity for fear of being teased or bullied.

The gratitude from this trip not only comes from the beauty of Alaska that my eyes witnessed, but what my heart got to experience both on and off the ship.  Thank you ladies of Olivia, for giving me the gift of appreciating myself just a little bit more than I did before I left the shore.




By Sabrina Pirillo, editor of S. Travel

A Response to Trump’s Refusal to Officially Count LGBT Americans


It has recently become public knowledge that the 2020 U.S. census will not include questions about sexual orientation. While this might not immediately strike some as a high-profile decision, the gravity of the American government’s choice not to take an interest in quantifying LGBTI+ representation has caused a stir in the LGBTI+ community, and rightfully so.

While Trump’s administration has taken the stance that such questions are inappropriate and overly personal, LGBTI+ rights advocates see things differently. To those members of a community still fighting to be heard and respected, the government’s unwillingness to recognize their growing numbers and role in America is truly alarming.

A Shift in Regime

The news about 2020 census questions comes less than a year into President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had his supporters and critics like any president, but among those who endorse Obama’s works, the advancement of progressive causes is held up as one of his greatest achievements.

The LGBTI+ community in particular made great strides under Obama, most notably earning the federal right to marriage. In 2016, at the end of Obama’s administration, more than 75 Congress members wrote to the Census Bureau to request that questions about sexual orientation be added to the American Community Survey. It is exactly that request that has been denied under Trump.

Has History Repeated Itself?

From a rhetorical perspective, the obvious issue with this decision is that it signifies the government’s withdrawal of support for the progressivist movement.

A first-class citizen doesn’t expect to entertain any more government involvement in their life than another first-class citizen, because they enjoy all the benefits that come along with that status. Hence, government involvement in the lives of these citizens is seen as a nuisance. However, the same cannot be said for minority populations like African-Americans and the LGBTI+ community.

For a minority citizen to advance beyond their oppressed status requires attention. Take, for example, the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the advancement of African-American civil rights.

Many scenes from the civil rights movement are turbulent and even tinged with violence, but without drawing attention to itself and pushing the boundaries, the movement would never have made advances. Civil rights remain a pertinent topic of conversation today, thanks in part to the endorsement of the U.S. government, and there is still much work to be done.

In the famous 1954 court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the government moved to strike down the “separate but equal” doctrine established a half century earlier in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. Some LGBTI+ activists hold that this current census committee choice smacks of the old separate-but-equal doctrine.

Are LGBTQI+ People Getting Separate but Equal Treatment?

Much like Plessy v. Ferguson, a historic court case in 1996 seems to have set the tone of rights relations for LGBTI+ people. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court established that separate protection under the law was unconstitutional, but in the defining case in the gay rights conversation, Lawrence v. Texas, it seems justices left some wiggle room that is still being taken advantage of.

Lawrence v. Texas expanded on the outcome of the 1996 case of Romer v. Evans, in which the court upheld that certain types of discrimination against gays, for example in employment and housing matters, were unconstitutional. When John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner challenged the charges of sodomy brought against them, the court provided protection under the statue of their right to privacy, not equal protection under the law.

Trump’s Empty Promise

In the years since Lawrence v. Texas, the LGBTI+ community has advanced its cause a great deal and earned acceptance in many places where it was once shunned. The Obama administration showed commitment to continuing this progress, but now with Trump’s people choosing to turn a blind eye, there is fear that government assistance is going away.

LGBTI+ Americans can’t fight for their rights, or even make use of the ones they have, if the government doesn’t infer that they exist. If the government keeps going in the direction it is, we could see confusion and lack of resources when it comes to the processes of same-sex marriage, consumerism rights and even divorce.

In choosing not to include information about gays, lesbians, transgender people and other members of this substantial community in the census survey, the message Trump’s administration sends is not one of respect for privacy. It is the message that you are no longer considered important.

In situations like this, if the government cannot uphold what is right from a moral perspective, enemies of the movement will seize the chance to spread hate and misunderstanding. That is the real loss here, that even while claiming to be a champion of “free speech,” Trump would rather turn a blind eye than risk insulting the bigots who got him elected.

By Kate Harveston, journalist and political blogger

FINANCIALLY FIT :: This Year Is Your Year



#FinanciallyFit :: Each month on publisher Shaun Proulx’s SiriusXM Canada talk show, Shaun is joined for #ThoughtRevolution radio by TD Bank’s Al Ramsay  and his team of financial experts for a conversation about money that’s anything but dry.

Al Ramsay, National Manager, LGBTA Business Development, TD Bank, shares personal anecdotes, take questions from listeners, and offers wealth wisdom every month. Do you believe in the power of change, in your power to become more financially fit? If you do, these #FinanciallyFit conversations are for you. Join us on this page each month for new ideas to help you make this year the year you are more financially fit than ever before.


Conversation#5:  Interest rates are rising (barometer’s getting low…) and that means an awful lot if you are debt. TD Financial Advisor Orlando Lopez offers tips on how to manage this changing rate environment, while Al Ramsay shares is #365Pride tour adventures, heading into Vancouver Pride. TD Vancouver’s Grant Minish joins as special guest, to give us a sneak peek at what’s ahead as Vancouver gets set to be prouder than ever.


Conversation#4: Pride Month 2017 brings us a very special #FinanciallyFit segment to the show, listen to what Al Ramsay and  Zachary Daas have to share about TD Bank initiative that has helped save many lives in the LGBTA community outside of Canada.

Conversation#3: Did you know there is an app to keep your finances in good shape? Wealth Advisor Nishaa Awargal is back bringing us the newest tools that will help you stay on track with your budget, and Jeremy Dias joins Al Ramsay in conversation about community and how we can all help each other to be more #FinanciallyFit 

Conversation#2: It is spring cleaning and that includes cleaning your finances, and no one better that TD’s wealth advisor, Nishaa Agarwal, to give you the best tools to stay on a budget, and Al Ramsay, who is now the National Manager, LGBTA Business Development in Canada, shares his experiences with his new tittle travelling all over the country making honour to TD’s #Pride365  

Cyyonversation#1: On the first #FinanciallyFit podcast of 2018, Al Ramsay and Orlando Lopez explained the importance of your RRSP’s contributions.




Conversation#12: On our last #FinanciallyFit podcast of 2017,  Al Ramsay and Nishaa Agrawal talk about the importance of  having a plan/budget this Holiday season to not end the year with Holiday debt. Wishing you all Happy and debt free Holidays!

Conversation#11: Al Ramsay and Orlando Lopez talk about how TD Bank pays homage and helps raise funds towards HIV research this year on December 1st for Worlds AIDS Day   

Conversation#10: Al Ramsay, Adam Leroux and  Grant Minish talk about TD’s ‘Official Partner of Big Dream Campaign,’ where TD promotes a select group of Small Businesses in their TD Ads in mainstream media to celebrate Small Business month.

Conversation#9: Al Ramsay and Adam Leroux share the TD Bank initiatives that will inspire you to use your work to help others like they do

Conversation#8: Al Ramsay and Carlos Godoy from TD Bank with  Jean-Sebastien Boudreault, VP Montreal Pride, come together as we celebrate Fierte Montreal / Montreal Pride

Conversation # 7: Al Ramsay is joined by Javon Findlator (Product Manager, TD Cards) this month, to share how you can help save lives this season of Pride in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, following the remarkable success of TD Bank’s Beyond The Miles Campaign last year. Plus, learn how societal change was created when TD became the first major bank in Canada ever to sponsor Pride, and why in this post-Orlando environment, such support is now more needed than ever. 

Conversation # 6: Orlando Lopez, a TD Wealth Advisor, joins Al Ramsay to share why we should all re-think what insurance is all about in this month’s #FinanciallyFit podcast.

Conversation # 5: Nishaa  Agarwal, a TD Wealth Advisor, shares how buying your first home can be stress free.

Conversation # 4: Nishaa & Al answer heart-felt listener questions about debt – and Nishaa shares where her own financial hurdle currently lies.

Conversation # 3: What an RSP is, why it is important to start one at any age and how a wealth advisor can help.

Conversation # 2: Step on the financial scale. What do you owe vs. own?

Conversation 1: Why you’re worth financial planning. #FinanciallyFit


RELATED :: Meet Al Ramsay, Regional Manager, LGBTA Business Development, TD Bank

RELATED :: Year-End Financial Wisdom

For more helpful advice and tools, learn how TD can help you achieve your financial goals at

- GGN Staff

POP CULTURE :: Your Pride Playlist


Never underestimate the power of a well-written or timely song. We’ve always been able to count on the artistic community to draw attention to important events or drum up support for pro-social movements, but the humble three-minute ditty remains one of most surprisingly excellent tools for real grassroots change, if only because of its viral earworm capabilities.

If a melody can crawl under your skin and stay there all day, can’t an idea do the same thing? Of course it can! Don’t believe me? Check out some of the venerable artists below who helped shape the LGBTQ rights movement — actually, make that the equal rights movement — throughout the last few decades. Summer is Pride time – so round out your library of activist-inspired, revolution-minded tunes!

Queen & David Bowie: “Under Pressure”

Artwork by

Artwork by

The late Freddie Mercury and David Bowie both identified as bisexual — a fact that tends to startle the uninitiated, but likely comes as no surprise to folks who’ve listened closely to their lyrics.

Consider the 1981 song “Under Pressure,” in which the two deliver an exceptionally poppy and now-canonical message about thinking differently about love: “Because love’s such an old-fashioned word / And love dares you to care for / The people on the edge of the night / And love dares you to change our way of / Caring about ourselves.”

Melissa Etheridge: “Come to My Window”

Photo by CNN

Photo by CNN

This 1993 song won a well-deserved Grammy, but its real legacy is as one of Etheridge’s biggest hits after coming out publicly as a lesbian.

For anybody listening casually, the lyrics sound like another radio-ready song about missed chances at love, but in the context of a newly “out” musician singing candidly about a sort of love historically condemned by mainstream society, the song becomes something more, easily approaching anthem status.

Erasure: “A Little Respect”

Photo by Mute Records

Photo by Mute Records

Erasure’s 1988 hit “A Little Respect” was a direct response to the British government deciding to ban just about any type of written or televised materials “promoting” gay family relationships and homosexual behavior in general.

Thanks in part to attention brought by Erasure and their contemporaries, this unpopular edict, which sat on Britain’s law books as “Section 28” for 15 years, was finally repealed officially in 2003.

Sam Cooke: “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Photo by Show & Prove Cultural Database

Photo by Show & Prove Cultural Database

“A Change Is Gonna Come” was released in 1963, shortly after Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which inspired it, and at the height of racial strife in America. While the song is very obviously written from the perspective of a black man experiencing American-style racism and inequality, the lyrics are universal enough that they can still be applied to any of our in-progress slow marches toward equality for all human beings:

“I go to the movie and I go downtown / Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around / It’s been a long, a long time coming / But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.”

Pansy Division: “I Really Wanted You”

Pansy Division

Punk rock has always been unafraid to bluntly speak truth to power, but it wasn’t until Pansy Division broke onto the scene that the music world received something brand-new: an openly gay punk band. They were the very first group and possibly the last one since, to identify in such a way.

Their 1996 album “Wish I’d Taken Pictures” is a pretty clear indication that the group wished to live without pretense or apology. Songs like “I Really Wanted You” depict the nuanced continuum of human sexuality as the speaker thinks back to a lover he lost to an unlikely romantic rival.

Janet Jackson: “Free Xone”

Janet Jackson

“He was on an airplane / Sittin’ next to this guy / Said he wasn’t too shy / And he seemed real nice / Until he found out he was gay / That’s so not mellow.”

Janet Jackson’s 1996 song “Free Xone” is a catchy, free-wheeling glimpse into the no-rules world of love and sex practiced responsibly and without expectation or condemnation. The “scene” on the plane is the song allowing itself a moment of solemn contemplation about subtle bigotries before becoming a groovy, eminently memorable song about how much more pleasant the world could be if we loved each other the way we love ourselves.

Get Listening!

These are just six tunes to get you started — the truth is, there are lots of songs out there to choose from if you like your music fun but with a fiercely pro-social streak. For more, check out Pride Month playlists from the likes of Toronto’s Panic! At the Disco, plus Billboard’s roundup of another 50 LGBT anthems spanning the last few decades.

By Kate Harveston, political journalist and blogger