Equality is more than passing laws

By Lorraine Rousseau

May marks the start of pride events in many cities around the country. We, at the union, proudly honour and celebrate LGBTQ2+ communities in the North, and across this land, Canada. This summer will be filled with Pride, in-person and virtual, events.

Statements, speeches and showing up at events are ways to send messages of solidarity— and this is great. However, communities in the North, and across the country need more than that. True solidarity must be translated to action. Everyone has the fundamental right to make decisions governing their bodies, lives and futures, yet too many marginalized people cannot take that right for granted. The date of May 17th was specifically chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. May 17 is around the corner, it’s the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. Let’s mark our calendars and pledge that each one of us takes at least one action on this day.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to raise awareness and truly reflect on how to work together to combat homophobia, biphobia and transphobia at work, schools, communities and everywhere. Injustice to one is injustice to all— we’re all responsible for combatting discrimination and hate.

There is no doubt that we witnessed victories over the recent months. Conversion therapy is, formally, banned— a bill that was finally passed last December. As defined by the bill conversion therapy is any practice, treatment or service designed to change or repress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Banning this unjust practice is a big step towards eliminating all forms of discrimination against LGBTQ2+ individuals and communities. Few weeks ago, Health Canada approved lifting blood donation ban on gay and bisexual men. Equality means more than passing laws. The strive towards equality is an everyday battle against discrimination— beyond laws.

June is National Pride Month, and I expect many statements of solidarity from organizations across Canada. I support that— and we want to see more messages of solidarity, diversity, care, and compassion. However, words are not enough. LGBTQ2+ communities are strong and resilient. We know that. It’s a fact. Statements, festivals, and events are important, but what’s more important is that we all stand together against all acts of discrimination and hate. Discrimination and hate appear in many forms: words and actions. Technology, through social media, made it easier for us to connect and share words of solidarity and compassion. This same social media serves as a platform for hate and discrimination that creep into our communities. Cyber bullying is real and causes grave harm. LGBTQ2+ youth are more likely to be victims of cyber bullying and at an alarming rate. According to a Canadian advocacy organization, Egale, 52 % of youths LGBTQ2+ youth between the ages of 11-22 reported having been targets of cyberbullying multiple times.

Let’s take a look at other numbers: 25- 40 % of homeless youth in Canada identify as LGBTQ2+. 49 % of trans students have reported experiencing sexual harassment. 52 % of LGBTQ2+ seniors fear being “forced back into the closet” in residential care. 30 % of Canadian employees report to experiencing discrimination in the workplace.

Overtly appalling numbers however: they’re individuals who’re facing discrimination and hate for no reason other than being themselves. The statement “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” appears in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the document as a “common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations” in 1948. Over 60 years ago, globally proclaimed, equality is one’s rights including dignity – these numbers are heartbreakingly shocking.

Let’s be loud and clear: This is not tolerated; we continue to form a united front against all acts of discrimination.

Every day should be a day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Don’t be a bystander when witnessing an act of discrimination— safely intervene and let the victim know they’re not alone. What are your plans for May 17? Taking action is more convenient than ever. Social media, the same tool that bullies are inclined to use, is our platform to care for one another and share messages of solidarity. Share facts, raise awareness and be an ally.

You can inspire others to follow on the path we create as we abolish discrimination and injustice.

Take Action this May 17th.

The column appeared in the Yellowknifer on May 11, 2022.