2 min

Extending a hand

Egale tackles how to include queers of colour

Credit: Xtra files

Canada’s largest gay and lesbian lobby group – best known for fighting for gay marriage and hate crime legislation – wants to be more welcoming to queers of colour.

Egale Canada will be holding a two-day consultation this month in Toronto to explore ways in which the organization can become more diverse and address how racism affects gays and lesbians internationally and in local gay communities. As a basis, the meeting will use a report produced for Egale last year by Toronto lawyer Wayne van der Meide on the experiences of gay, lesbian, bi and trans people of colour and native (two spirited) peoples in Canada.

The consultation will also hear from delegates to September’s World Conference Against Racism.

“Egale recognized it had little exposure to the needs of people of colour in terms of oppression, particularly in terms of oppression,” says van der Meide. “Egale sees this as an ongoing process, an ongoing drive to make Egale more representative.”

He says that participants in the upcoming consultation have already identified issues they want to look at.

“Some issues are the demographic diversity of Egale’s board or rather the lack of diversity, and really listening to queer people of colour and spirit folk.”

Van der Meide’s report looked at the ways in which gay men and lesbians of colour have to deal with both homophobia and racism inside and outside the GLBT community. Van der Meide says he was taken aback by the extent of the discrimination he found.

“I was surprised that I was surprised. I was surprised at the consistency with which interviewees identified low self-esteem, particularly low self-esteem within the mainstream GLBT community, not being attractive physically and sexually within the community.”

Van der Meide says “intersectional oppression” is the reality for most members of the GLBT community, and organizations like Egale need to recognize the need to deal with issues beyond just homophobia.

“These issues affect the vast majority of queer people in Canada. There are very few queer people who experience purely anti-gay discrimination. Many queer people are women, many queer people are poor, many are people of colour, many queer people have disabilities. It’s only wealthy, able-bodied, white men who experience purely anti-gay discrimination.”

John Fisher, the executive director of Egale Canada, says the organization needs to build alliances with other groups on wider issues.

“Within our own membership, there are people who experience discrimination on multiple grounds. We have often worked in the past with other equality-seeking groups. We’re looking at how the whole Canadian human rights agenda can be strengthened.”

Fisher says Egale wants to start playing a more active role in international issues and in lobbying the Canadian government on problems abroad. But he agrees Egale also needs to address issues within their own ranks.

“We are also interested in looking inwards. I think the process is only going to work if Egale is open-minded. I think we’ll hear from consultation participants about things they wish we had done in the past or done differently.”

Fisher says that Egale has had to work to overcome a lack of diversity within the organization in the past.

“In the early ’90s, Egale was dominated by men. But our current policies require gender parity. Ten years ago, Egale was people exclusively in Ottawa. Now our policies require geographic diversity. We’ve done outreach to the transgendered community. Now there’s two members on the board.

“I think the process of building an organization towards diversity is something that’s ongoing. A lot of work remains to be done on it.”

* The conference takes place Sat, Feb 16 to 17, City Hall (Queen and Bay). The open Forum is from, 7pm to 9pm, Feb 16. For more information, check out or call (888) 204-7777.