By Olena Semenova and Brent Hawkes
Public attitudes in Canada toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people have evolved positively over the past few decades. Government actions, too, have increasingly supported LGBTI rights, including the introduction of equal marriage in 2005. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has championed LGBTI rights in Canada by acts both big and small, from supporting strong human-rights protections for transgender people in Canada to marching in Pride parades from coast to coast.
All eyes will be on Vancouver next week as Canada’s domestic support for LGBTI rights goes global when Canada hosts the Equal Rights Coalition’s biennial conference. The Equal Rights Coalition, currently cochaired by Canada and Chile, is the first intergovernmental body dedicated to the protection of the rights of LGBTI people around the world.
More than 70 countries still criminalize people based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and a handful still impose the death penalty. Political, religious, and other community leaders in far too many places foment hatred and violence against LGBTI people. In the past year, gay men were detained and tortured by authorities in Chechnya. People were arrested in Egypt for waving a Pride flag at a music concert. Transgender women in Indonesia were publicly tortured because of their gender identity. And Pride parades were banned in Ankara, Turkey.
Things aren’t perfect in Canada. LGBTI people continue to experience disproportionately high levels of discrimination and violence. But when LGBTI-rights activists—many of whom will be in Vancouver attending the ERC conference—say "the world needs more Canada" promoting LGBTI rights, they mean the Canada where same-sex couples can marry. They mean the Canada where attacking a transgender person because of who they are is a hate crime. And they mean the Canada where the prime minister marches in Pride.
To best ensure the rights of LGBTI people are protected around the world, what does "the world needs more Canada" look like? How can Canada be a partner with LGBTI communities, who in many countries are struggling for even basic human rights, safety, and dignity?
Continuing to offer strong words condemning homophobia and transphobia in all its forms by all countries is important and should continue. To truly be a global leader, Canada needs to go further and transform its words into action by supporting LGBTI human-rights defenders who, often at grave personal risk, publicly call on their governments to change homophobic laws and to stop persecuting LGBTI people. Supporting these people with funding and through Canadian diplomatic action can be lifesaving to peaceful activists working in dire conditions.
Global leadership means funding LGBTI organizations in Canada and around the world that are engaged in legal cases to overturn homophobic legislation, that are supporting peer-support groups for LGBTI people, that are offering sexual-health services for LGBTI people, and that are operating other programs on shoestring budgets to ensure that the rights of LGBTI people are respected and protected. Canada lags behind all the other major donor countries in its support of funding the human rights of LGBTI people, and it is time for this to change.
Global leadership means working with civil society, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and governments to strengthen international capacity to provide protection and resettlement for LGBTI refugees.
Why should Canada want to be a global leader in promoting LGBTI rights? Because respecting and protecting LGBTI people promotes inclusion and strengthens our society. Because LGBTI rights are human rights. Because we can’t pick and choose which rights we promote. And because none of us are free until all of us are free.
The world needs more of the Canada that walks the walk domestically and internationally in support of LGBTI rights. Let’s hope Canada responds to this need next week in Vancouver.