2SLGBTQIA+ stigma is dangerous, and we need to do something about it

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      By Michael Kwag

      If you’ve been concerned about the uptick in anti-trans and anti-queer hate in Canada in recent years, you’re not alone.

      Maybe you’ve read about some of the coordinated social media hate campaigns targeting trans advocates; or the Saskatchewan and New Brunswick governments picking on vulnerable trans and gender-diverse kids through their new legislation on pronouns; or Statistics Canada’s report documenting a 64 per cent increase in police-reported hate crimes related to sexual orientation from 2020 to 2021. Or, perhaps you came upon a protest for a local drag event or as part of the national #MillionMarch4Children campaign in September (which thankfully generated even larger counter-protests in support of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities).

      Some might find solace in the fact that anti-trans and anti-queer hate is much worse in the United States than it is in Canada. While here we have yet to see the explicit assault on gender-affirming care or the criminalization of healthcare providers and parents of trans youth that we’re witnessing in the United States, it would be a mistake to think that we’re immune to such thinking or practice.

      These are just some of the sobering reminders that while momentum and progress continues to build towards greater health, safety, and inclusion for 2SLGBTQIA+ people, there are also active, powerful forces working to oppose any effort towards equality and equity—right here in Canada. While much of this anti-trans, anti-queer hate seems to be driven by an extreme, far-right minority, unreflective of the views of the vast majority of Canadians, it doesn’t mean that its impacts on 2SLGBTQIA+ communities are any less significant. Especially for trans and gender-diverse community members.

      Still, what often gets overlooked in coverage around anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate is how our communities are responding. Members of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities have been raising the alarm bell on rising transphobic hate for years; at the same time, we’ve also been working creatively and collaboratively through peer support, research, programs, and advocacy to build up our response, and to help keep our communities safe.   

      For those of us working directly to support 2SLGBTQIA+ people on health and social issues—researchers, health and social service providers, community organizations, and advocates—this kind of reactionary pushback against support for marginalized communities is actually nothing new. Although it’s painfully clear that trans people—many of whom already live at the margins of the queer community and Canadian society due to systemic transphobia—have been singled out in recent anti-2SLGBTQIA+ campaigns, we must also remember how many more in our communities were dehumanized during the AIDS crisis of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

      The uncomfortable yet familiar reality that comes into view is that stigma—reflected in hate, misinformation, and prejudice—is the fundamental barrier preventing greater equality and equity for not only 2SLGBTQIA+ people, but marginalized communities as a whole. Whether the work is around sexual and reproductive health and rights, reconciliation and decolonization, harm reduction and substance use, or mental health and wellbeing, we need to be working together to challenge stigma in all its forms. The stakes are too high.

      Michael Kwag is the executive director of the Community-Based Research Centre (CRBC), a Vancouver-based non-profit organization that promotes the health of people of diverse sexualities and genders through research and intervention development. To help build a space for greater collective action on rising anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate, and the broader health and social issues impacting queer, trans, and Two-Spirit people, the CRBC is holding the 2023 edition of its annual health conference, called the Summit. This year’s Summit takes place in Vancouver on November 16 and 17; while in-person registration is sold out, participation via livestream is still available.