We've got a long way to go to get to an LGBT-friendly society
I told myself that I wasn't going to write an article in response to the shooting in Orlando. I told myself that as a member of the LGBT community in Canada, I'm far enough away that what happened there wasn't about my community. What happened did happen to my tribe - a tribalism that transcends race, language, and physical borders - but it didn't happen here.
After all, Canada has always been progressive when it comes to LGBT rights. Whether it was the first LGBT publication in North America (Montreal, 1918), the decriminalization of homosexuality by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1968), first openly gay protest called We Demand (Ottawa, 1971), first same-sex marriage ceremony (Manitoba, 1974 by a Unitarian minister), one of the first countries to fully legalize same-sex marriage (Ontario, 2003 - Canada-wide, 2005). This is the country where the law trumps religious rights, such as when the courts ruled that a Catholic school could not prevent a male student from bringing another male to prom (Durham, 2002).
This is also a place that saw a lot of turmoil over the years. Whether it was all the times gay clubs were raided by police over the years, or whether it was a gay man killed in Stanley Park (Vancouver, 2002) or the multitude of hate crimes that still take place today. I was shocked to learn that not only one, but two of my acquaintances in my direct group of friends have been bashed. But somehow still, I felt like we are better than this. Somehow, we must be better than this. This is the year 2016, right?
When I saw this recent video posted by the Toronto Star where they read aloud some of the hate mail they received in response to the Pride parade, I was shocked to say the least.
Toronto is a city much like my well-loved Montreal - it's a city that's considered very friendly to LGBT people. It was the city in which they filmed the progressive Queer as Folk (2000 - 2005). Whenever I visit Toronto, I make a stop over to Church & Wellesley to visit Woody's. Toronto has one of the biggest Pride parades - which is even being attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this weekend.
It's hard to believe that this is the same city where violence against transgender women in particular is still very high. Trans people often still face uncomfortable situations when they need to go to the hospital.
Every year there are steps in the right direction, though. Ottawa this year has put forth legislation to make hate speech against transgender individuals a crime. Contrary to what's happening in the United States, in Toronto the schools are moving to create all-gender washrooms in addition to legislation that lets all individuals use the bathroom of their choice. This year the pride flag was raised on Parliament Hill for the first time. Also the ceremonial kiss on the returning officers from the Navy was shared between two men.
It does make me wonder, though - where does the hate come from? Although young people are by far the most accepting of LGBT, a study conducted between 2007-2009 found that homophobic behaviour is still rampant in schools. In particular the trans community is the one that is treated the worst - 74% of trans students reported being verbally harassed compared to 26% of non-LGBT students.
The cynical part of me is not surprised that people who grew up in a different generation, who lived through times that were horribly homophobic, may be slower to adopt open views to the LGBT community. But it really disheartens me when I hear about this kind of behaviour in youth and particularly in schools - because I know that this is something that can be stopped. I remember once getting into a fierce debate - back when I lived in California and was in University - with a guy about why I hated the expression "That's so gay." I explained to him that to me, that equated being gay with being stupid, because what you're really trying to say is "That's so stupid." I argued with him back and forth about this, over the course of several weeks, in which he tried to convince me that because he didn't intend for me to get offended, that I shouldn't get offended. In turn, I responded by saying to him, you may not have intended to offend me - but I've now let you know in no uncertain terms that I do find that offensive and I've explained why. So, if you continue to say "That's so gay," you are now doing so while knowingly offending someone. I met this guy again last year, and sure enough he still stuck to his guns about the fact that I should not have been offended.
I may not have changed his mind, but I sure did change the minds of all the people around us that were listening to our heated debates. A lot of the rest of the guys stopped saying it, sometimes catching themselves while it was halfway out of their mouths - I could see them stop, think, then make a choice not to say it. Respect.
If we take further steps to stop bullying in schools, and set a good example by not only teachers but by peers, then this is a problem that can be addressed. Currently, on average 500 youth ages 10-24 die by suicide each year in Canada. 33% of LGB youth have attempted suicide, as compared to 7% of youth in general. LGBT youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. Surprisingly, both people that receive bullying and those that do the bullying are at higher risk for suicide.
I think a lot of bullying happens because people are seeking acceptance, and that they think the only way to be in one group is to force other people out, into a separate "other." We see this all over the world, whether it's in regards to homophobia, or islamaphobia, racism, whether it's about rich entitlement or a fear of refugees. We all want to think that there's an in and an out. We all want to feel as though we're special somehow - but no matter the colour of our skin, who we love, or what we do with our time, we are all human beings with the same basic needs and desires.
As a society if we spent more time thinking about the ways that we're the same, instead of the ways that we're different, we'd be much better off.