Remarks for Randy Boissonnault Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 Issues to the NGLCC Global 5th LGBT Summit of the Americas


Hosted by the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

InterContinental Toronto Yorkville
220 Bloor St. West
June 15, 2017 12:30-14:00

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Hi. I will begin by saying that I’m honoured to acknowledge we are on the unceded territory of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation. I bring greetings of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to this NGLCC Global 5th LGBT Summit of the Americas hosted by our very own Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

I want to thank Darrell Schuurman for inviting me to this impressive three-day conference. I see a great turnout, and you and your colleagues at the Chamber should burst with pride over the talent you’ve drawn here this week.

This is par for the course for Darrell, who has done a remarkable job encouraging entrepreneurship as co-founder and CEO of your Chamber.

Darrell, I was thrilled to learn that you’ve launched a mentorship program for LGBTQ2 youth. I would appreciate it if you would keep me up to date on this impressive initiative.

I am honoured to be with you here today at lunch in my role as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues. As the first openly gay Member of Parliament elected from Alberta and as an out and proud entrepreneur and social entrepreneur I feel like here today I have once again, found my tribe.

(In Spanish) It is a great honour to be here with you and to address the issues of the LGBTQ2 community in our hemisphere. I am the vice president of the interparliamentary association called ParlAmericas and, in my previous life, I spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires to learn more Spanish and to dance tango. So, I am very proud to be here with every person here.

My focus today is on economic issues. That said, But I should share with you that as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Special Advisor on LGBTQ2 Issues, I have been speaking regularly on human rights issues as I travel the country and meet with colleagues in other countries.

I suspect some Canadians, though probably not many in this room, would respond – “why are you even talking about rights?

“Didn’t we pull off some landmark achievements in the 1990s and 2000s, like legislated human rights protection and marriage equality?”

And I’d answer: YES

And they might say: “Isn’t Canadian society one of the most open and welcoming in the world?

Again, my answer is YES. Look at this conference. It’s bursting at the seams. Visitors from across the Americas feeling welcome here. It’s sponsored by the Who’s Who of the Corporate World.

And this event puts the spotlight on more than 140,000 LGBTQ2-owned businesses in Canada, and on our communities that have an annual buying power exceeding $90 billion.

But if those same people would ask, “Randy, why are you still talking about rights? Haven’t we already achieved equality?”

Then my answer is, a resounding NO.

Yes, we as a society have much to be proud of. Canada is viewed as one of the most LGBTQ2-friendly countries in the world in an era when there’s a violent backlash against our communities elsewhere in the world.

I went home to take part in Edmonton Pride this past weekend. And I can assure you it gets more popular every summer. This is especially gratifying for those of us who lived through more difficult times.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Discrimination and exclusion still exist. And it’s costly.

Today -- in 2017 – we still must deal with the impact of intolerance. Many of our youth fear going to school because of bullying and shaming. Some feel they must hold their bladder all day because they aren’t sure they’d be comfortable, or even safe, to go to the bathroom. Trans kids are subject to other kids forcibly pulling down their pants to reveal their genitals.

Let’s be clear – there’s not just a tragic human cost when a young person chooses to live on the street, quit school, leave a job…or worse.

There’s also an economic price to pay. We as a country have struggled for years to improve our economic productivity – the average amount of economic output each of us produces.

At a time when companies are desperate for skilled workers, Canada simply can’t afford to be losing potentially productive members of our society. We have to include everyone.

Égale, Canada’s national charity promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans communities, presented some troubling statistics in a recent appearance before a Senate committee.

It reported that 13 per cent of police-reported hate crimes in Canada are motivated by sexual orientation.

Égale also noted that 40 per cent of the victims of those are under age 25. Imagine how this impacts the self-esteem of a young person.

The Égale report also cited Statistics Canada data indicating that two-thirds of hate crimes based on sexual orientation were violent.

Another 2016 Statistics Canada study, this time on homelessness, also provides some insights.

It looked at the number of Canadians who reported that they had at one time in their life decided to temporarily move in to live with a family member, friends, in their car, or anywhere else because they had nowhere else to live.

It’s a situation referred to as ‘hidden’ or ‘concealed’ homelessness.

The study showed that 15 per cent of those who self-identified as homosexual or bisexual have experienced hidden homelessness. That’s almost double the rate for those who identify as heterosexual.

The same report notes that while the LGBTQ2 communities are believed to make up five to 10 per cent of Canada’s population, they represent between 25 and 40 per cent of homeless youth.

Is it any wonder that statistics show higher rates of depression, addiction, suicide, absenteeism, unemployment, homelessness, and suicide?

NONE of these things are good for our economy.

There isn’t a lot of data on the cost of exclusion, as this is a tough thing to measure. But you may be familiar with a study done for the World Bank in 2014. It estimated that the cost of intolerance in the Indian economy was $31 billion US a year.

A report earlier this year from a UNAIDS researcher gave a conservative estimate that homophobia and transphobia around the world costs at least $100 billion a year in lost economic output.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of evidence, including before my eyes right now, that Canada’s business community “gets it”.

The great work of Martine Roy and allies here in this room with Pride at Work now count 75 leading national firms among its members to help create inclusive workplaces.

Randstad, a Toronto-based corporate recruiting firm, issued a paper last summer on this very subject. It explained why Canada’s big banks, accounting noted major corporations like TD Bank, one of your sponsors, are lining up to sponsor events like Toronto Pride.

And why not? We know polls show that an overwhelming majority of our community members say they prefer to do business with companies that treat their LGBTQ2 employees with respect.

It is obvious to all that have watched or participated in Pride that there is a buzz of economic activity.

One study estimated that Toronto’s Pride festival brought $286 million into the city in 2013, creating almost 3,500 jobs and generating $61 million in tax revenue.

Randstad noted, and I quote, that “TD Bank and other organizations of similar stature know throwing their support behind Pride is not only the right thing to do. It’s also good for business.”

Randstad also cited a 2015 Nielsen online report saying that LGBTQ2 Canadians spent $3.8 billion in packaged goods annually. The report stated that, and I quote: “LGBTQ households often have fewer members. But with incomes generally higher than the average population at more than $100,000, their buying power is greater.”

A study in the Canadian Journal of Economics, meanwhile, said inclusive policies should be seen as prerequisites for companies searching for a comparative advantage.

South of the border, UCLA’s Williams Institute reported that, since the 2015 Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, the same-sex wedding industry has boosted the national economy by almost $1.6 billion US.

In the U.S. the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has done some exciting research on workplace inclusion.

The foundation’s 2017 Corporate Equality Index reported that a record-shattering 517 businesses earned the top score of 100, up from 407 the previous year.

That’s a single-year increase of more than 25 percent. It represents the largest jump in the 15-year history of this index, which happens to be the premiere benchmarking tool for LGBT workplace equality south of the border.

The foundation stated, and I quote, that “Leadership demonstrated by these businesses, including speaking out against discriminatory laws…reflect more than a decade of work inside these companies to expand LGBT, and particularly transgender, workplace equality.”

And recognizing the international scope of the problem, the foundation took a look at the practices of Fortune 500 companies that typically have many overseas employees.

The study found that 92 per cent of these 500 companies had non-discrimination policies that included gender identity as well as sexual orientation.

While I don’t know of comparable studies in Canada, I think it’s safe to assume our experience is at least as positive given so many major U.S. companies have operations in Canada.

But we also can’t rest on our laurels. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has also recently produced some sobering research on the U.S. corporate workplace.

In a major 2014 study, more than two-thirds of LGBT employees heard lesbian and gay jokes at work. And 40 per cent said they heard transgender jokes.

Catalyst, an American nonprofit that fights for inclusion, has pointed to the impact of this so-called joking. It noted that when LGBT employees hear jokes about sexual orientation or gender identity, they perceive them as signals of exclusion.

The 2014 foundation study also noted that a little more than half of employees surveyed, or 53 per cent, hide their sexual orientation or gender identity at work. A little over a third, 35 per cent, lie about their personal lives.

And 23 per cent of closeted employees, or almost one in four, “fear they might not be offered development or advancement opportunities” if their sexual orientation/gender identity was known.

The Trans community has it particularly tough. The Human Rights Foundation found in one of their studies that they face an unemployment rate three times higher than the average.

More than a quarter, or 27 per cent, “were not hired, were fired, or were not promoted in 2015 due to their gender identity or expression,” according to the U.S. Transgender Survey, the largest of its kind looking at the American Trans community.

And an astounding 80 per cent of transgender people employed in 2015 “experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, or took steps to avoid it.”

In Canada, data from the Trans PULSE Project indicates extensive employment barriers and discrimination against Trans Persons.

Its latest survey found nearly universal incidence among Trans Ontarians of “everyday transphobia.” For example, 96% in Ontario heard that trans people aren’t normal, while 73 per cent said they’d been teased or tormented for being who they are.

As the report noted: “These daily indignities take their toll: 77% worried about going old as a trans person, and 67% feared they’d die young.”

Things were also troubling in the Ontario workplace for Trans Canadians. Of those surveyed, 13% said they were fired for being trans. Another 15% felt this may have been the reason for their dismissal. And 18% said they were turned down for a job for being trans, while another 32% suspected this was the reason they weren’t successful.

And here’s a particularly alarming statistic – 20%, or one in five, said they’d been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans.

These statistics represent a sobering reminder that we’re still far short of full equality. Even if companies adopt human resources policies to ensure inclusion, hateful notions of the past can still creep up and bite us.

That’s why our government is taking steps in a number of areas in the fight for equality. We want to make sure our diversity is recognized as a national asset – and a comparative advantage over our competitors.

Our government is moving forward on many fronts. We introduced and quickly passed legislation to protect transgender persons in the House of Commons last year.

That bill, C-16, is now before the Senate and, once passed, hopefully as soon as today, will make important amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

Our goal with this bill is to protect transgender Canadians from discrimination and to shield people from hate propaganda because of their gender identity and their gender expression.

We have also taken steps to finally eliminate Section 159 of the Criminal Code, to remove the bias against same-sex acts in our criminal law.

We are making strides on supply chain diversity and working on name neutral hiring practices in the federal public service. We are also working to clarify the approach that we take as a federal government when asking for gender and sex information.

And, just yesterday I was pleased to stand with Prime Minister Trudeau on Parliament Hill as we raised the Pride and the Transgender flags. At that ceremony we announced that our Government will be moving forward with a process for the expungement of criminal records for members of LGBTQ2 communities – those who were unjustly convicted of a crime, simply for who they were, or who they loved. We’ll be introducing legislation on this in the House of Commons this fall.

Our government will also, before the end of this year, apologize for the role its legislation, programs and policies had in the discrimination and injustices faced by our community in the past. We will apologize in an inclusive and meaningful manner before the end of 2017.

Let’s be clear. Our government recognizes the role played by our laws, our programs, and our discriminatory policies in causing these injustices against the LGBTQ2 communities. We will apologize to Canadians.

Globally, Canada is funding and implementing overseas projects that support violence-prevention programs, awareness-raising campaigns, and advocacy efforts.

Our Government is proud to seek the co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition. This is a new inter-governmental network of 33 nations dedicating to promoting and protecting the human rights of lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people internationally.

We also played an important role in ensuring that the Commonwealth of Nations approved The Commonwealth Equality Network, which passed June 1st.

I want to close by sharing an anecdote that reflects how personal this is for me.

When I was 19 I entered a world far, far removed from rural, small-town Alberta. I attended Corpus Christi College, part of Oxford University in the United Kingdom. At the time I was not out.

Every Thursday evening there was a group from the campus community who met privately to support each other.

And every Thursday evening I made sure I was as far away from that campus as I possibly could be. I didn’t want to have anything to do with that group.

Fast-forward a number of years. I went back to Oxford during Pride season. When I drove by the campus I saw Pride flags flapping in the wind. I saw them hanging out of dorm windows. I felt overwhelmed and liberated.

But to me the most striking part of the trip was when I had lunch with one of my former classmates. She was by now married with a young son.

Over lunch I learned that her little boy, who was at the table attacking a plate of fish & chips, had spotted the Pride flags a few days earlier. He asked his mother what they were for. She told him.Then my friend turned to her young son. “Sevvy,” she said. “Tell Uncle Randy what that flag means.” And without hesitation he responded: “All the peoples.”

That’s what this is about -- Equality, acceptance, and respect. We must encourage individuals, families, communities, interest groups, and governments to lock arms, to confront discrimination wherever and whenever they see it. To embrace our diversity. To help members of our communities say: “I’m free to be me.”

Then we can all profit – both financially as well as socially – from our liberation from hate and intolerance.

Thanks for the opportunity to share my views with you.

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