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Celebrating 10 years of Canadian marriage equality

LGBT rights have come far, but we still have a long way to go

Dr Hedy Fry addresses attendees at an Ottawa reception to celebrate 10 years of same sex marriage. Credit: Adrienne Ascah

A celebratory spirit — mixed with a resolve to continue the fight for LGBT rights — was in the air as politicians and community members marked 10 years of same-sex marriage at a Parliament Hill reception.

Hosted by the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) —formerly known as Jer’s Vision — attendees at the May 26 reception celebrated the hard work and perseverance that led to Canada’s same-sex marriage legislation. At the same time, with Bill C-279 languishing in the Senate, speakers acknowledged that trans Canadians still don’t have their rights protected by federal legislation.

“I’m really looking forward to the day when we have another celebration like this in 10 years for [trans rights],” said Lukayo Estrella, senior manager at CCGSD.

Randall Garrison, the NDP member of Parliament who introduced Bill C-279 in the House of Commons, told Daily Xtra that between the Senate’s stalling tactics, Senator Don Plett’s transphobic amendment and an impending fall election, he’s lost hope in the bill being passed.

“It’s dead. I have no doubt that it’s dead,” Garrison said. “There’s always maybe a miracle that could happen but we’ve only got basically three weeks left to go. The Senate has put a transphobic amendment on the bill, so if it comes back in that form I can’t even vote for my own bill.”

While he was glad to attend the reception and says it’s important to celebrate milestones, he stressed there’s a lot of work left to do.

“We still have a big part of our community who’s being left behind,” he said. “As I’ve said, I’ll get re-elected, I’ll re-introduce the bill, the House of Commons will pass it again and we’ll abolish the Senate.”

Liberal MP Hedy Fry, a longtime supporter of CCGSD, spoke about challenges faced by LGBT people today.

“I think starting in 1969 with Pierre Elliott Trudeau actually decriminalizing homosexuality . . . it took a long time after that to move forward, but I think everyone who has fought discrimination and tried to fight for human rights knows that the journey is a long one,” she said.

During her years of practicing medicine, Fry said she saw how LGBT patients had unequal access to medical and dental benefits. When Jean Chrétien first asked her to run for a seat in the House of Commons, she had a caveat.

“I said to Mr Chrétien [that] I’ll run if you agree you’ll amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination,” Fry said. “In our very first term we moved forward to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act.”

While working on same-sex marriage legislation, all parties collaborated on a non-partisan basis, with the exception of the Conservative party, which blocked it every step of the way, she said.

Lawyer Philip MacAdam talked about the vital role the court system plays in human rights.

“[After] practicing law for 30 years for mainly Ottawa’s gay, lesbian and transgender community, it’s been a pleasure and really inspiring to see how receptive the judiciary here in Ottawa, and elsewhere in Canada, has been to the entrenchment and the advancement of equality for lesbians and gays — whereas Parliament resisted any sort of initiative to recognize the lesbian, gay and transgender community,” MacAdam said.

As a lawyer instrumental in advancing LGBT rights, he said that although governments would appeal decisions, the judiciary was a source of hope and justice.

“The judiciary knew that nothing was going to be done except in the courts, so as a lawyer, it gives me a certain amount of pride to be able to say to all of you here, yes, we have our recourse through the ballot box, but very often you have a very effective recourse through the courts,” MacAdam said.

Jeremy Dias, founder and director of CCGSD, thanked his staff, volunteers and donors for their support, while speakers in turn thanked him for his work.

“I’m overwhelmed by the progress Jer’s Vision has made from international Day of Pink to celebrations that embrace a community that’s willing to stand up and be proud,” said Elizabeth May, leader of the federal Green Party. “It’s 10 years, but there’s more work to be done.”

Senator Mobina Jaffer also acknowledged the organization’s work and highlighted young people’s contributions.

“Fifteen years ago, it was young people like you who locked people like me in a room with Mr Chrétien and others and brought it to our attention that it was really important that we look at how we are denying people their rights,” Jaffer said. “When I see all of you here it gives me great hope that you are the ones who are going to make the change.”