Saturday, May 17, 2014

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Ten years ago, on May 17th homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization (WHO). This victory was a historic step towards recognizing freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as a fundamental basic human right. Today the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) stands in solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) community in the struggle to end homophobia and transphobia.

Over the past ten years the movement to end homophobia and transphobia has gained strength.  Most recently, the struggle for protection from discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression has built momentum.  Many provinces and territories are either working on or have included gender identity and gender expressions in their human rights codes.  Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and the Northwest Territories already include gender identity and gender expression as forbidden grounds for discrimination under their Human Rights Codes.  Bill C-279, which would amend the Human Rights Act to include gender identity is now awaiting a vote in the Senate.

We still have many challenges.

Despite the work that has been done to eliminate homophobia and transphobia, crimes and hatred against the LGBTQ community still exist at home and abroad. Over 76 countries around the world have deemed same-sex relationships illegal, and in some areas being a member of the LGBTQ community is still punishable by death (capital punishment). In Uganda, draconian anti-homophobic legislation has resulted in increased violence and murders of gay activists, individuals and allies. Russia’s law banning “homosexual propaganda”  has sparked an increase in homophobic violence.  The law even imposes fines for anyone providing information on homosexuality to minors and puts the children of same-sex families at risk. 

Even in Canada there are challenges to overcome. Despite the many gains in legislation and recognition for same-sex relationships and families, there is an increased backlash which puts these gains at risk.

Trinity Western University, a private Christian university in British Columbia is trying to establish a law degree program that would purposely exclude any student openly LGBTQ from graduating. The school has also asked its students to avoid homosexual sexual activities. Despite these clearly discriminatory policies, the new program has received preliminary approval from B.C.’s Ministry of Advanced Education, and from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.

The Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association (OECTA) has faced considerable backlash for its decisions to support  Gay-Straight Alliances in schools and participate in Toronto’s World Pride parade. 

Teachers understand that LGBTQ students still face extreme cases of bullying which lead to dropping out of school, social isolation and, tragically, death and suicide.  According to OECTA’s President, James Ryan, “OECTA believes that taking the public stand of marching in the WorldPride Parade 2014 will provide comfort and support to our students and teachers who frequently struggle in a hostile environment that does not offer them the support and protection they are owed as citizens of Ontario and Canada”. The Canadian Labour Congress commends the dedicated teachers and students who fight these injustices everyday by forming Gay Straight Alliances, safe spaces, who teach anti-bullying and promote acceptance of all gender identities in the school.

Canada's labour movement will continue to fight for fairness and equality for our LGBTQ members and their loved ones―in the workplace and in the broader community. We are committed to continuing the fight for workplace legislation against violence and bullying, as well as federal legislation and stronger collective agreement language for LGBTQ people. The CLC will continue to work with our allies to mobilize the Senate to pass Bill C-279 for trans people to have full rights under Canada’s Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Together, we will end homophobic and transphobic discrimination in our workplaces and communities.