According to a recently released Statistics Canada Report, more than 1 million people in Canada identify as 2SLGBTQQIA+ (Two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and beyond). To put this into perspective, the population of queer communities rivals the entire city of Calgary. Yet, 2SLGBTQQIA+ rights rarely become major election issues.
There may be an assumption that when same-sex marriage became legal in 2005, so too ended queer discrimination in Canada. However, queer activists continue to push for an end to legislative discrimination, meaningful 2SLGBTQQIA+-specific services, and action on desperately needed safety and security.
In 2019, police reported 263 hate crimes against 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, “a 41 percent increase over the previous year and the highest total since 2009.” In addition, queer people are more likely to live in poverty, experience mental health concerns, and nearly a third of trans and gender non-conforming people report seriously considering suicide. Queer communities are fighting multiple crises, and Canada’s political leadership continues to lack the will necessary to combat these crises.
While this election may focus on the blood ban and continued practice of conversion “therapy,” we must examine issues that are directly tied to poverty, access to public services, mental health and the security of trans people – issues that often remain invisible in electoral campaigns.
Ending the Blood Ban
A long-standing battle for queer communities is around the ongoing blood donation ban by Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec. While regularly complaining about a lack of blood donors, these two organizations prohibit anyone assigned male at birth (AMAB) who has sex with other AMAB folks from donating blood unless they have been abstinent for three months.
Trudeau has promised to eliminate the ban since 2015 and has given numerous excuses around policy and court challenges. Now, it would seem that the party has lost confidence in its ability to ever fulfill its original 2015 commitment. Notably, for the first time, they have excluded eliminating the blood ban from their recently released party platform. They are the only one of the three major parties to do this.
The most frustrating aspect about this now nearly decade-long blood ban campaign is that clearly, there is a lack of nuanced education and practice around HIV and AIDS as a health issue in Canada. This lack of education extends to policy areas beyond the blood ban, like criminalization of HIV status non-disclosure, and shows we still have no adequate means of intervention to deal with the legacy of homophobic discrimination that still follows the epidemic of the 80s.
Conversion “Therapy” Persists
Conversion “therapy” (also sometimes known as “reparative therapy,” “reintegrative therapy,” or “aversion therapy”) remains legal in Canada despite its prohibition in some provinces. According to recent data, as many as 10% of 2SLGBTQQIA+ people in Canada have experienced conversion practices. All three major parties have committed to ending these practices this election.
While most parties claim opposition to conversion practices, the Conservative Party of Canada’s (CPC) language merits closer examination. The O’Toole platform assures voters they “have been clear in [their] opposition to conversion therapy,” but they stop their opposition at “attempts to forcibly change a person’s sexual orientation,” notably excluding gender identity and expression. This has been read by many queer folks as a direct and deliberate exclusion of conversion practices aimed at trans and gender non-conforming people.
By excluding trans folks, the Conservatives continue to pay lip service to the social acceptance of queer communities while at the same time signalling solidarity with their socially conservative base, which continues to create moral panic around trans issues. There is a justified concern that despite promises, a CPC government would never actually ban conversion practices. Nearly half of the CPC caucus voted against banning conversion therapy when it was first introduced in Parliament.
The Liberals introduced legislation to ban conversion practices on minors once already, but it did not pass before they called this snap election. Now they promise to “re-introduce legislation within the first 100 days in office.”
A ban is only the first step in justice and healing for 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities. Survivors of this abuse need financial reparations and easily accessible services. An effective ban will also require mechanisms to identify and eliminate conversion practices; otherwise, we know they will continue to operate even under a ban. A National Strategy to eliminate conversion practices will need to follow any legislative change. None of the parties seem to be able to grasp this—and that lack of understanding around the full scope reveals the limitation of all parties to appropriately fight queer discrimination.
Acceptance of Queer Refugees
In terms of queer refugees, the NDP has commited to creating a clear and permanent pathway for status for 2SLGBTQQIA+ refugees applying for residence in Canada. If implemented appropriately, this could be very impactful.
The Conservatives, too, makes a point about refugees, but only to say that they will “advocate for persecuted sexual minorities” (again, not trans or gender diverse people) and “will make the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Project a permanent government program.” Rainbow Refugees does incredible work, but the lack of commitments to trans and gender diverse people, as well as the minimalist gestures peppering the entire section, make the CPC’s promises to 2SLGBTQQIA+ refugees weak overall. Even as a permanent program, Rainbow Refugees can only sponsor 50 persons per year based on their current government funding.
Despite this, the feeble commitments from the CPC are still more impactful than the Liberals, who commit nothing explicit for queer refugees outside of those identified as 2SLGBTQQIA+ human rights defenders or activists. It is unclear how this designation is made.
77 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships and seven of them find these relationships punishable by the death penalty. Expansive refugee reform to offer asylum for queer refugees must be a priority.
Right to Health for 2SLGBTQQIA+ Communities
The NDP’s commitment to 2SLGBTQQIA+ health remains the strongest among the parties. They promise to work with the provinces and territories to make trans and gender-affirming healthcare free and accessible, eliminate systemic barriers, and “provide funding to support the creation and expansion of shelters for trans youth.” Activists have long been organizing around these services. The NDP also commits to “adding sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the Employment Equity Act” to help mitigate the discrimination queer people often face in finding work.
This election, the Liberals have also added financially supporting queer couples trying to have children through expensive medical procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). This is a new, and positive commitment, certainly, but the Liberals continue to offer too narrow a scope of policies for queer people.
2SLGBTQQIA+ communities demand a broader scope of change. For example, parties should commit to a federal ban on medically abusive, invasive, and unnecessary procedures that continue to be performed on intersex people, particularly children. In addition, organizations such as Wisdom to Action and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA) have released documents detailing further essential actions the federal government should be taking, including decriminalizing sex work and universal 2SLGBTQQIA+ mental health care.
We also need to be paying attention to implications for 2SLGBTQQIA+ people in other health policy areas. The CPC, for example, has made upholding “conscience rights’ for health care workers a commitment in their platform. Conscience rights entail allowing health care providers, like doctors and nurses, to refuse to perform certain health care services on religious or moral grounds. 2SLGBTQQIA+ advocates immediately flagged this point and the potential harm it implies for queer people, especially trans and gender diverse people, seeking medical services. While conscience rights don’t allow medical professionals to refuse treatment just for being queer, they can refuse gender-affirming care, making already difficult-to-access medical care even more inaccessible.
Beyond the Vote
Already we see glimpses of the critical issues that will frame the 2021 federal election—affordable housing, COVID-recovery, and pharmacare. As always, there will be a whole host of crucial policy points that take a back seat in election discussions and coverage, so many that parties will feel they can avoid accountability on some issues altogether. The demands by 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities need to be prioritized and not treated as insignificant. The current Liberal party is invested in an image that they are global leaders in the fight for 2SLGBTQQIA+ rights. We must challenge this image with the limitation of their current policies and hold them to task leading up to and after September 20th.
Don’t be fooled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marching at the Pride parade: the Liberals have left queer communities stranded at the ballot box. As you evaluate each party’s mandate and policies around queer rights and liberation, hold them to account and uphold the voices of 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities who engage in meaningful political action looks like and continue to demand more from our political leaders.