Guest post by Dillon Black. Dillon Black (they/them) is an internationally recognized gender-non conforming feminist anti-violence & 2SLGBTQI+ rights activist, and this Grand Marshall of the 2019 Capital Pride parade.
Inspired by Canada’s first LGBTQ+ rights protest, Capital Pride’s 2019 Grand Marshall calls for renewed political action to support LGBTQ+ communities
It’s been a very gay week in Ottawa.
Our annual Pride festival is in full swing and celebrating 50 years since the Stonewall Uprising sparked a global movement for LGBTQ+ rights and since Canada decriminalized homosexuality. Ottawa’s mayor made national news with two words: “I’m gay.” And as is too often the case with important moments for queer and trans communities, an act of bigotry reminded us that our safety is never guaranteed, no matter how many rainbow flags fly across the city.
The tension between progress – including unprecedented visibility for LGBTQ+ issues and communities – and the reality of ongoing threats to our safety and freedom are top of mind as I step into my role as Grand Marshall of this year’s Capital Pride parade. Pride has become one of the biggest parties of the year. But at its core, Pride is a protest.
People are often surprised to learn that Capital Pride takes place in August in recognition of Pride’s protest roots.
On August 28, 1971, a hundred or so people staged Canada’s first major protest for LGBTQ+ rights on Parliament Hill in support of a brief submitted to the federal government, entitled “We Demand.” The brief laid bare the lack of progress made to end homophobic discrimination and violence since the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada two years earlier.
Today, our LGBTQ+ communities are still demanding justice. At a time of rising populism and violent extremism – and with staggering rates of violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ identified people – the 1971 “We Demand” protest is an example we would be wise to emulate.
Just last week, as Ottawa kicked off Pride celebrations, protesters interrupted a children’s story time event in Bells Corners hosted by a local drag performer. They filmed and derided attendees with homophobic and transphobic insults, turning a joyful Saturday afternoon into a frightening confrontation for children and their families.
These hateful acts are encouraged by dehumanizing debates on the use of pronouns like those stoked by University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson and his followers. And by political rhetoric, like that of former Ontario Conservative leadership candidate, Tanya Granic Allen, who has described gender identity as “Liberal ideology.”
The Ontario government’s recent backtracking on the modernization of sexual education curriculum comes as a relief to many. But the reactions of social conservatives who were relied upon to secure a Progressive Conservative win in the last election remain troubling. Groups like the Campaign Life Coalition and Granic Allen say the inclusion of topics like gender identity and same-sex relationships in the newly released curriculum is a betrayal.
Meanwhile, our LGBTQ+ communities continue to struggle with inadequate housing, employment opportunities, health and support services, and high rates of violence. These realities are especially harsh for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour within those communities.
Seventy percent of trans youth in Canada aged 19 to 25 have experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly based on their gender identity, according to the 2015 Trans Youth Health Survey.
Twenty percent of youth experiencing homelessness and precarious housing identify as LGBTQ+, according to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’ 2016 State of Homelessness in Canada paper.
And Statistics Canada’s hate crime data confirms that violence against the LGBTQ+ community is still the most severe of all forms of hate crime in our country.
We have made important progress on LGBTQ+ issues since the “We Demand” protest – from legal recognition of same-sex marriage to the inclusion of gender identity and expression in our human rights law. But like those protesters in 1971, we cannot afford to let milestones obscure the massive challenges facing LGBTQ+ communities today.
It’s a federal election year, which presents an important opportunity to make our voices heard. By voting for candidates who meaningfully and consistently support LGBTQ+ communities. By encouraging the people we know to register to vote and show up to the polls. And by using this year’s Pride celebrations as a platform to let politicians and candidates know we still demand better supports and protections for LGBTQ+ communities.
It’s also a crucial time to support grassroots organizations, like Kind Space, SAEFTY Ottawa, and the LGBTQ+ Refugee Program at Centretown Community Health Centre, working to strengthen and protect our LGBTQ+ communities.
The rights and freedoms we have fought so desperately for are not something we can take for granted. Let’s make this Pride party a catalyst for political action.
Let’s party like it’s 1971.
Dillon Black (they/them) is an unapologetically queer, gender-non conforming, feminist anti-violence and 2SLGBTQI+ rights activist. Dillon grew up here in Ottawa and became politicized after experiencing a hate-motivated sexual and physical assault at the age of 19. These issues are deeply personal & political for Dillon who has now spent two decades fighting for survivors of gender-based violence at the intersections of equity and liberation. Dillon holds a Masters of Social Work from Carleton University and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Ottawa working on issues of trans rights, gendered violence, and the rise of violent extremism. Internationally recognized, Dillon is a member of the Government of Canada’s Federal Strategy Against Gender-based Violence Advisory Council, Canada’s National Expert Committee on Countering Radicalization to Violence and was appointed to Prime Minister Trudeau’s Gender Equality Advisory Council for Canada’s recent G7 Presidency. At the Summit, Dillon addressed world leaders on issues of gender-based violence, gender equity & 2SLGBTQI+ rights. In 2018, Dillon was named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Global Policy on Gender Equality. In 2019, Dillon was awarded the CBC Trailblazer Award for their community work and anti-violence advocacy. Currently, Dillon is manager of the Improving Institutional Accountability Project with the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women and more recently co-founder of POLLEN, a grassroots queer and trans anti-violence organization working at the intersections of healing, community, & transformative justice.