A National Apology and Other Victories

A look back at LGBTQ2S+ rights over the past 50 years

By: Jessica Ross, Pride Central Coordinator

It has been quite the emotional time in the LGBT community the past few weeks and we are all feeling many pulls on the heart strings. With the official apology from the Canadian government sandwiched between Transgender Day of Remembrance and World AIDS Day, it has been the heaviest two weeks since the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016. I know that I have personally been taking a pause to look back on where we are now and where we have come from.

It’s amazing to think that as little as 48 years ago, homosexuality was actually illegal in Canada. Not only could you be arrested and jailed, but also forced to register as a sex offender and live with  labels, such as “gross and indecent”, “pedophile”, and “dangerous.”  It makes me incredibly grateful to live in this time in Canada, where it is not only possible, but expected, for the Prime Minister to stand up and apologize for the government’s hand in the persecution and discrimination against the LGBTQ2S+ people of this country.

The apology from the Government of Canada coming a week after Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time where we come together to honour and pay tribute to our fallen Trans* community, and just before World AIDS Day, on which we remember and pay tribute to all those whose lives have been lost to the AIDS pandemic, has inspired me to take a look back at the timeline of LGBTQ2S+ victories over the past 50 years.

PC: Stacy Kelly

In 1982,the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms adds sexual orientation as prohibited grounds for discrimination. Ontario follows their lead in 1986, however, it will be a full 10 years before the Canadian Human Rights Act will adopt the same policy in 1996. These were major milestones, as they meant that people could no longer be fired or denied basics like housing, simply because of their sexual orientation. Of course, that did not stop the discrimination – people just got more creative about their oppression.

After 1996, not much happens on the federal level. There are some provincial wins, mostly around pension benefits for same sex couples within unions and provincial laws allowing same sex couples to adopt children. In 2000, Federal Bill C-23 is introduced, allowing equal rights for same sex couples in common law relationships. It is five years later that the federal Law on Civil Marriage, allowing same sex marriage, is passed in 2005, to the delight of same sex couples across the country.

The provinces began to become more gender diverse around 2012, adding the prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression to their respectful human rights codes.

In 2016, Ontario changes its health cards so that they no longer display a person’s sex information, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raises the Pride Flag on Parliament Hill for the first time ever.

This year, in 2017, from the floor of the House of Commons the Prime Minister spoke the following words and finally gave validation to hundreds of people who were persecuted, interrogated and ultimately dismissed or jailed simply for their sexual orientation:

“These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten. This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit… Mr. Speaker, today we acknowledge an often-overlooked part of Canada’s history. Today, we finally talk about Canada’s role in the systemic oppression, criminalization, and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities… And it is my hope that in talking about these injustices, vowing to never repeat them, and acting to right these wrongs, we can begin to heal… For state-sponsored, systemic oppression and rejection, we are sorry. For suppressing two-spirit Indigenous values and beliefs, we are sorry. For abusing the power of the law, and making criminals of citizens, we are sorry… To all the LGBTQ2 people across this country who we have harmed in countless ways, we are sorry. To those who were left broken by a prejudiced system; And to those who took their own lives—we failed you. For stripping you of your dignity; For robbing you of your potential; For treating you like you were dangerous, indecent, and flawed; We are sorry….It is our collective shame that you were so mistreated. And it is our collective shame that this apology took so long—many who suffered are no longer alive to hear these words. And for that, we are truly sorry… We want to be a partner and ally to LGBTQ2 Canadians in the years going forward. There are still real struggles facing these communities, including for those who are intersex, queer people of colour, and others who suffer from intersectional discrimination. Transgender Canadians are subjected to discrimination, violence, and aggression at alarming rates. In fact, trans people didn’t even have explicit protection under federal human rights legislation until this year… To the trailblazers who have lived and struggled, and to those who have fought so hard to get us to this place: thank you for your courage, and thank you for lending your voices. I hope you look back on all you have done with pride. It is because of your courage that we’re here today, together, and reminding ourselves that we can, and must, do better. For the oppression of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities, we apologize. On behalf of the government, Parliament, and the people of Canada: We were wrong. We are sorry. And we will never let this happen again.”

Those words, spoken by that person in their position, have meant more to me than any other words spoken by any other Prime Minister. And that, is pretty much all I have to say about that. To the many, many people who have fought with everything they have, who have lost everything they have, including lives, so that I could be here and listen to those words: thank you. I for one, will do my very best to honour those who sacrificed so much for me, so that I may live my truth without having to look over my shoulder. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.