Pride 2014: NDP press federal and provincial governments for LGBT rights
At the rainbow crosswalks at Davie and Bute streets in Vancouver's West End, the NDP gathered on August 1 to reiterate their "Gay Agenda".
The NDP had previously held a press conference in Ottawa on June 18 just prior to WorldPride Toronto.
With Vancouver's Pride Week under way and the annual Pride parade on Sunday (August 3), Randall Garrison, MP for Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca and LGBTQ Critic, put the celebrations into a broader perspective.
"At Pride, it's a great time to recognize how far we've come in Canada but it's also a good time to recognize that there's still work left to do to make sure that the LGBT community is fully protected and has full equality in Canada," he said.
He explained that there are six bills that they want to draw attention to.
"This is a package that could be passed tomorrow," he said. "The legislation is there, it's ready to go, and we'll see if we can get the Conservatives to respond."
The package includes Bill C-279, which guarantees equal rights for transgender and gender variant Canadians.
"It's been there now for a year and a half since it passed the House of Commons twice," Garrison said, "and we know there are lots of people in the faith communities and in the transgender communities that are going to be putting a lot of pressure on the Senate this fall to make sure that that gap in our human rights legislation gets filled."
The package also includes:
• M-516: ending discriminatory policies on blood and organ donations from gay men
• Bill C-600: suspending criminal records for gay offences which are no longer illegal
• Bill C-448: repealing the unconstitutional unequal age of consent for anal sex
• M-517: revising service records for those discharged from the Canadian Forces on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity
• M-521: securing an apology for civil servants fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity
Vancouver-East MP Libby Davies said she is the sponsor of M-521.
"The motion that I put forward has to do with there were many civil servants, going back to the '60s, the '70s, and earlier who were fired, who faced terrible discrimination, some people who took their own life because of what they faced. There has never been an official apology and we think there needs to be recognition for what people faced in that era and it calls upon the Canadian government to issue an official apology."
She also talked about her experience of recently attending the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, and how it reminded her of the state of global LGBT affairs.
"I attended a number of sessions that were really quite shocking where activists from…Uganda, Russia, and…the Caribbean…spoke about the really horrific situation that gays face in those countries in terms of discrimination, violence, homophobia, legislation. And I think it makes us really aware as Canadians that the victories that we have here in this country, we can't just stand by and say 'Okay, we've done our work here.' This is about a global situation. It's about human rights for all people. As we celebrate Pride in Vancouver, let's keep that in mind."
Meanwhile, two NDP MLAs talked about what needs to be done at the provincial level.
Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert noted that although the recent updates by the Vancouver School Board to their sexual orientation and gender identity policy were celebrated, the majority of the province's schools are still lacking such policies.
"You might be shocked to learn that two-thirds of our school districts in B.C. do not yet have specific policy to protect trans, gay, lesbian, and bi students in the schools even though they face much higher rates of violence, discrimination, name-calling, drop-out rates, suicide. Christy Clark, despite promising to take direct action to support gay and lesbian students, has...refused and unfortunately that leads to a continued state of violence and exclusion for many students."
At the Pride Week ceremony at Vancouver City Hall on July 28, Vancouver Kensington MLA Mable Elmore (who also attended the NDP press conference) told the Georgia Straight that she, too, was concerned about what the provincial government still needs to do.
"At the provincial level, we need to take a look at [issues with] an LGBTQ lens in particular is talking to some lawyers about access to legal aid.…And I…have a concern of safety for children in schools and there's a need for a province-wide policy against discrimination, against homophobia and folks who are transgender."
Also at City Hall, Chandra Herbert told the Straight that although it's great that it's Pride Week, there are still many unaddressed LGBT issues, including concerns such as "huge amount to do for transgender folks in particular" and "huge cuts to health care for refugees and making it more difficult for refugees to access services in Canada".
Although the city is swathed in rainbow flags at the moment, Chandra Herbert's office and his assistant were attacked on February 24 by man who was outraged by the sight of rainbow flags.
Michael Melvin Williams, a 53-year-old Vancouver resident, was charged with assault and mischief for the incident.
In spite of the assault, Chandra Herbert said it remains important to fly the flag.
"It's a symbol of equality….Now it's not the only thing. We shouldn't think just because you float a rainbow flag that you solve everything. But it speaks to a vision. It speaks to a principle. And I think it needs to be embraced more widely."