A decade of Pride activism celebrated at Canadian Council

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A group of people under a rainbow balloon display.

Ten years of Pride doesn’t mean it was all rainbows.

At Canadian Council in Halifax this weekend, Unifor reflected on the past decade of progress of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, while acknowledging there is still much more work to do.

“I want our 2SLGBTQIA+ committees to know something: You will always have the support of this union to defend equality, to stand up for the most vulnerable in our society, to fight for safe spaces for everyone,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne in her speech on the first day of council.

"Our queer and trans members will need all of us to work with them to stop this blatant attempt to roll back the clock on human rights in our country. Show the whole world that we are a union for everyone and with everyone, and that everyone belongs here.”

Delegates at the council watched a video on members experience at the union’s Pride Conference held in April in Port Elgin, Ont., which put into focus the rise of hate and attacks in 2SLGBTQIA+ communities across Canada and the misconception that Drag Storytime events are grooming children and youth.

Cyril Cinder, a nine-year Drag performer whose father is a retired CAW and Unifor President from the Fairmont Château Laurier in Ottawa, provided an authentic experience for members to witness what happens at a Drag Storytime. Reading from children’s book, “From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea,” it was an opportunity for council attendees to learn more about growing homophobic and transphobic hate and misinformation while demystifying the story time event.

Drag king Cyril Cinder holds a book.

“I am more scared now as a Drag performer than I have ever been,” he said.

“I see laws in the United States, criminalizing what I am doing right now in this moment. Sitting on a stage, wearing clothes and a wig and two hours’ worth of makeup on my face is being listed as a federal offence. Something that if you get charged with – twice in the state of Tennessee – you will become a convicted felon and lose your ability to vote.”

Cinder said he has had his storytime events protested, declared a form of child abuse.

“I have had moments where I ask myself – ‘Is this still safe for me?’” he said. “I would have had to stop doing this a long time ago if it wasn’t for the solidarity of community members.”

A person at the microphone holds a sign that says, "Love is love."

Delegates then shared personal experiences, including a member who said he had two mothers and was seen by his peers as an outcast and another member who spoke about her daughter coming out as pansexual and explaining it simply as: “Hearts, not parts.”

The 2SLGBTQIA+ community has a long history of standing for equality and has faced adversity at every turn. There has always been significant pushback as the community has made incremental legal and social gains in our workplaces and communities.  

A performer holding a Unifor rainbow flag in a crowd.

2SLGBTQIA+ activists, past and present, have played a pivotal role in shaping the National President’s Recommendation on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues.

The recommendation, which unanimously passed on Friday, stemmed from renewed attacks on members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Despite a certain amount of progress, discrimination, mental health challenges, healthcare disparities, bullying, and homelessness persist for 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals.

Additionally, the efforts to Bargain for Healthcare Access Protection into collective agreements will protect 2SLGBTQIA+ members from any future government delisting of services.

“Pride is political, and it always has been,” said Payne, speaking as an ally of the queer and trans community.

“Through all the fights, the heartaches, the tears and the rain, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community showed up to celebrate with rainbows. The celebration of the community gives us the strength to take on the fights, recharge our bodies and reaffirm our commitment to getting the work done.”

Stephanie Johnstone,73, 2SLGBTQIA+ member-at-large on Unifor’s Retired Workers Council Executive, who has fought for a 2SLGBTQIA+ space in the union for decades, said “before the Pride parades in Toronto, we’d put a big pink ribbon around city hall.”

Stephanie Johnstone, a senior with short grey hair, speaks at the microphone.

Johnstone said in the ‘90s, the union asked her to start up caucuses, so she went to the gay bars, and asked people where they worked.

“They were afraid to come out,” she recalled. 

“A fellow at CAMI (General Motors) had metal parts thrown at him when he wrote a letter and his co-workers outed him. These were intense times for our community, but we were able to build strength in the union. Now, it terrifies me that I could end up in a nursing home and be forced back into the closet, and lose my community. Where do we go from there?”

Two men under a balloon rainbow fixture.

As a call to action for members to support 2SLGBTQIA+ workers and communities, Unifor delegates were invited to participate in a Pride Celebration street festival Friday afternoon at Rogers Square, outside the Halifax Convention Centre, featuring music, food and entertainment.

The Pride Celebration acknowledges the 10th anniversary of Unifor’s commitment to the union’s 2SLGBTQIA+ members while remaining focused on the work ahead. The space also invited community partners such as Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) to provide resources and education to members during the event.

See more pictures of Pride at Canadian Council.