Yesterday and Today: A response to Justin Trudeau’s Apology to LGBTQ2 Communities
On Tuesday, November 28, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized on behalf of the Government of Canada to LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and, two-spirit) communities across the country. He apologized for decades of discrimination, active and passive, a milestone for community members who have endured countless injustices from institutions meant to protect them. The Prime Minister’s apology recognized the intentional and systemic oppression many LGBTQ2 community members faced at the hands of the Canadian government, acknowledging that homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia have been built into the structures that this nation was formed on. Importantly, the Prime Minister noted that it was European standards of “good and bad”, “acceptable and unacceptable” that allowed current-day biphobia, homophobia and transphobia to persist so strongly. He noted that many Indigenous communities revered their two-spirit peoples and that it was through these colonial standards that such a shift was brought about. The apology recognized that laws were created that codified discrimination of LGBTQ2 people, and to this day LGBTQ2 communities continue to feel this strain and difficulty in relationships with law enforcement and other public institutions. These laws not only led to the criminalization of LGBTQ2 people and communities, but to their forced silence by bolstering those who wished to do them harm. These laws were not fully erased once “homosexuality” was considered legal; but instead, continue today in a multitude of ways, including the criminalization of people living with HIV/AIDS.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Canadian government carried out a direct attack on LGBTQ2 communities through a purge of LGBTQ2 federal employees. It was believed that LGBTQ2 people could be easily blackmailed by opposing states during the Cold War era, and therefore, would be a threat to national security. The purge proved only one thing: that it was the Canadian government who was blackmailing its own citizens through interrogations and other invasive practices into people’s private lives. This was an intensified moment of homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia enacted by the Canadian government. As the Prime Minister noted, LGBTQ2 individuals have had to fight their government for access to basic human rights, including the right to live free from criminalization, accessing partner benefits, and the right to marry.
Tuesday, November 29, 2017 marked a day in which these historical realities were recognized by the Government of Canada and messaged to the Canadian public by the Prime Minister himself. These historical moments continue to reverberate in our society and we see this acutely in rates of employment, access to stable housing, and healthcare. As the Prime Minister noted, the apology can be considered a turning point to make these histories known and acknowledge them as a part of our present and past.
Today we recognize these historic moments and commit to continuing change in our society. We commit to recognize and deem worthy the lives of LGBTQ2 people, and understand LGBTQ2 people as part of other communities; knowing that LGBTQ2 individuals are also people of colour, people with disabilities, and Indigenous people. Today we recognize that LGBTQ2 communities are still forced to make the impossible choice between being their authentic selves and their jobs. We recognize how much work still needs to be done, and that words mean nothing without action. Pride at Work Canada has and will continue to work towards a world where all LGBTQ2 community members will never have to make that decision; we will strive to create a nation where LGBTQ2 individuals can achieve their full potential at work.