Pride celebrations under way in communities across Canada this month are a wonderful explosion of dancing and singing, laughing, bright colours, and incredible outfits that never fail to bring big smiles to the faces of participants and observers alike.
I look forward to it every year. We have much to celebrate, of course, but also so much more work to do at home and abroad as members of the LGBTQ community are increasingly scapegoated and targeted.
In Canada, to give just two examples, the Alberta government of Jason Kenney wants to require that parents be told if their children join a gay-straight alliance at school, and Ontario’s Doug Ford slashed a modernized sex education program, leaving LGBTQ students vulnerable to bullying.
Around the world, at least 73 countries criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, including 13 jurisdictions with the death penalty on the books. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and parts of Nigeria and Somalia have all put people to death for consensual LGBTQ relationships.
For many people in such countries, the only option to find safety is to flee. For all the challenges we continue to face here in Canada, they know they will not face state-sanctioned criminalization or death once they arrive.
Canada has begun to open the door to more rainbow refugees, which is good and must be encouraged. Proving persecution based on their sexuality can sometimes be difficult for these people, because they often had to remain firmly closeted in their home countries just to be safe.
Rainbow refugees remind us that as much as Pride is a celebration, it is still a struggle born out of homophobia and hate - and that the stakes are high if we do not act now to push back against anyone who would turn the clock back on LGBTQ rights.
Helping such refugees gets to the heart of what Pride is all about for me – a celebration of the chance for LGBTQ people to live openly with the same rights as everyone else, while never forgetting or failing to act on the dangers the community continues to face.
This year marks the fiftieth year since the Stonewall riots in New York City that gave rise to the modern Pride movement and launched generations of activists standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ community.
It has also been 37 years since the bathhouse raids in Toronto that were a major catalyst for the movement in this country.
As progress was made to expand the rights of the LGBTQ community, gaining basic rights to live and love as they choose, Pride evolved into something of a celebration. Corporations scrambled to literally jump on the bandwagon at Pride parades across Canada.
But the underlying need for protest and to demand equal rights never went away, as current disputes over the involvement of police in uniform in the parades shows.
The recent attempts by right-wingers spreading their homophobic garbage at Pride events, as we saw this month in Hamilton, shows that even as our laws are updated, there remains much work to be done.
Unifor has worked hard over the years to advance the cause of LGBTQ rights. From our very founding, we made sure there were national, regional and local LGBTQ equity committees in place to push for greater rights and recognition both within our union and across our communities.
Unifor also works with the Rainbow Railroad through our Social Justice Fund. The group helps LGBTQ people in countries where they will be prosecuted for their sexuality to escape to someplace safe. They are saving lives every day, and we can and must offer them the support to do this important work.
At our national convention this summer, a resolution will be debated on expanding Unifor’s support for Rainbow Refugees, including putting more money behind the effort and encouraging more locals to take up a greater role in helping Rainbow Refugees.
They have shown incredible courage to come out as their true selves despite the danger in their home countries. The least we can do is offer them a safe space when they arrive.