LGBTTIQA2S Lives: Our Struggles, Our Victories, Our Challenges

Speech

Remarks for Randy Boissonnault
Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 Issues
to  
LGBTTIQA2S Lives: Our Struggles, Our Victories, Our Challenges

Montreal
August 15, 2017

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.

Good afternoon! It’s a great pleasure for me to be with you here tonight!

On behalf of the Government of Canada and Prime Minister Trudeau, I offer greetings to this impressive gathering of some of the top academic minds, most dedicated activists, and leading cultural partners of our communities.

Thank you for this invitation, and congratulations to the organizers of Montreal Pride for putting this conference together while also being the host city for this year’s Canada Pride celebration.

This conference and the work you are doing this week will add to our understanding of our history, our successes, and the challenges our communities face in the ongoing struggle for equality.

Montreal is a fabulous city. And it’s one that I hold dear, as it happens to be where I decided to come out!

And we all know that Montreal has played a particularly crucial role in advancing LGBTQ2 equality. But, for me one incident stands out.

In 1977 police raids on the Truxx Bar and le Mystique led to the arrests of 146 people. The mass protests over this injustice would prompt legislators later that year to amend Quebec’s Human Rights Charter to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination.

Quebec was Canada’s first province to take this step. This was four years before the Toronto bathhouse raids galvanized the gay and lesbian rights movement in English-speaking Canada.

And it was close to two decades after those Montreal raids and the resulting legislative action that our federal government took that step.

Montreal maintains its vital role this week as we gather here to explore ways to advance the rights of all Canadians, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Your conference agenda brings much-needed focus to the challenges facing members of our communities.

Some workshops, for instance, look at specific issues facing youths and seniors.  Others deal with the multiple challenges faced by members of our communities who come from racial or religious minority groups.

These are the challenges confronting Canadian governments -- and our society. So as you listen to the speakers and participate in the workshops, I want you to also keep in mind some of the same questions that we are asking ourselves:

What more can we do to help transgender youth who fear going to school because of bullying and shaming?

What about seniors who, upon entering care facilities, feel the need to put themselves back in the closet because they know they won’t be welcome if they are true to who they are?

And, in an increasingly diverse society, what can we do to help reduce the challenges faced by those whose LGBTQ2 identities also intersect with their disability status, their religion, or their cultural norms?

Or any number of the other questions that we can think of that ultimately ask: how can we all show leadership, individually and collectively, to help shift mindsets and create a society that is truly inclusive for all of us.

The good news is that more and more people are asking these types of questions and Canada, every year, becomes more diverse, more tolerant -- and stronger because of it.

Last November, when Prime Minister Trudeau appointed me as his Special Advisor on LGBTQ2 Issues, he gave me a clear mandate.

He wants me to work with advocacy organizations -- and with individuals like you -- to promote equality, protect the rights of members of our communities, and – this is a quote -- “address discrimination – both historical and current.”

And we have already made great strides.

In June, I was honoured to be joined by Minister Goodale and Minister Wilson-Raybould as well as the Prime Minister as we stood on Parliament Hill and raised the Pride flag for the second year in a row, and for the first time ever, to raise the Transgender flag on the lawn of Parliament Hill.

On that day we pledged to formally apologize in an inclusive and meaningful way for the injustices experienced by LGBTQ2 individuals, their families, partners, and communities under federal policies legislation, policies, and programs.

This is an important part of our work.  An apology will be a foundational measure. But, to be clear, our work does not end with the apology.  There are many other areas that we would like to address to help create equality and tolerance.

One area we have already made progress on and we are so very proud of is the passage of Bill C-16. This legislation, which became law in June, amended the Canadian Human Rights Act and our Criminal Code to protect transgender Canadians from discrimination and hate crimes.

Also, we have begun to take the steps necessary to finally eliminate Section 159 of the Criminal Code so that all forms of sexual activity between adults will be treated the same. We also intend to introduce legislation so that we can begin the process to expunge the criminal records of those found guilty under historical unjust laws for same-sex sexual activity.

And our government will clarify the approach that we take when we ask members of the public for gender or sex information. We want to help transgender and non-binary individuals live according to their gender identity, by giving them a greater choice to denote their identity on government documents.

Our government is also paying close attention to what’s happening outside our borders.

The horrific terror attack in Orlando, Florida, is but one sobering example of backlash our communities can face.  More troubling is the extent of government-sanctioned actions in many parts of the world.

This has included legislation to criminalize or re-criminalize homosexuality; to ban Pride parades; to limit the freedoms of transgender people; and to encourage, or turn a blind eye to, arrests, and violence.

We stand resolutely against this chilling trend. Our government believes in the equality and dignity of all, regardless of whom they love or how they express who they are.

So we are working closely with international bodies and civil society organizations to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ2 persons.  Canada joins them in calling for an end to laws, violence and discrimination around the world that target persons on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

One way we are doing this is to join Chile as one of the two co-chairs of the Equal Rights Coalition to help promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people internationally.

Canada has also played an important role in ensuring that the Commonwealth of Nations recently approved the accreditation of The Commonwealth Equality Network. It is the first time The Commonwealth has accredited an organization whose mandate is to fight for LGBTI rights.

Our work overseas doesn’t just involve lobbying other governments to be more open. Canada also funds violence-prevention programs, awareness-raising campaigns, and advocacy efforts.

We aren’t taking these measures in Canada and abroad just because it’s a moral requirement – as it certainly is.

It’s also an economic imperative.

I’m delighted to note that several of your workshops focus on how companies can create more inclusive workplaces.

Creating a progressive workplace is crucial not just in advancing social justice – but also in generating economic growth.  We have seen time and time again that diverse inclusive workforces are more productive and more innovative.  It makes sense when you stop and think about it - innovation is hard achieve when the workforce is homogenous.  It is the diversity of voices, perspectives, and experiences coming together that helps to generate creativity and stimulate innovation.

A number of indicators tell us that many major corporations in Canada and elsewhere are embracing this reality. They recognize that respect for LGBTQ2 employees, is good for everyone.

I want to close by sharing an anecdote that reflects how personal my work is to 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. And every Thursday evening there was a group from the campus community who met to support each other.  And every Thursday evening I made sure I was as far away from that campus as I possibly could be.

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.

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 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. Encouraging individuals, families, communities, interest groups, and governments 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.”

Thank you for this opportunity, and thank you for the fine work you do.


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