From left to right: Andrew Scheer, Maxime Bernier, Jason Kenney Credit: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press/ Patrick Doyle, The Canadian Press Images/Matthew Usherwood; Francesca Roh/Xtra
Opinion
5 min

Five political stories LGBTQ2 Canadians should keep an eye on in 2019

From the federal election to major anniversaries, it’s going to be a busy year

It wasn’t just you: 2018 was one long, exhausting — and, every once in a while, rewarding — year in the world of politics and activism. It brought us continued battles over Pride, the continued rise of anti-LGBTQ2 activities on the right, fights for LGBTQ2 equality in the classroom, wins and losses on the world stage, and more.

And as 2019 gets underway, there’s even more to keep an eye on. From the forthcoming federal election to the celebration of major historical moments, we, along with some resident experts, take note of the biggest trends, events and issues unfolding this year.

1. Not-so-sunny ways ahead in Canadian politics

Buckle up: We’re expecting plenty of turbulence (yet again!) on the political front this year. Federal campaigns are ramping up ahead of the September election — and things could get ugly.

Up against Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — who are losing openly gay MP Scott Brison from their roster — is the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), led by Andrew Scheer. While Scheer has vowed not to bring his personal views (including his lack of support for same-sex marriage) to Parliament, he hasn’t had the greatest track record with LGBTQ2 communities. And if elected, Scheer says he will not march in Pride, living up to the title of Harper 2.0.

Meanwhile, former CPC MP Maxime Bernier has launched campaigns for the fringe People’s Party of Canada, and his party is expected to put up candidates in all 338 federal ridings. Among those candidates thus far: a transphobic anti-abortionist in BC’s Burnaby-South riding.

Things don’t look much rosier in provincial politics, either. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has yet to quash a Progressive Conservative (PC) party resolution on the merits of gender identity tabled by former PC candidate Tanya Granic Allen last year, despite promises last November to do so.

In Alberta, meanwhile, Jason Kenney — known best as the villainous leader of the United Conservative Party which wanted to snitch on LGBTQ2 students joining GSAs — leads the polls heading into the race this spring for Alberta’s premiership.

Montreal-based queer activist Ian Capstick says it’s crucial to be open and honest — and critical, when necessary — about our political leaders and their relationship to queer and trans communities this year. “We’re often too polite, when we all know we don’t want a homophobic prime minister,” he says. “Queer people need to continue to remind others [for example] that Scheer holds some of the most anti-gay views of his entire caucus. No more nice queers.”

2. The year of anniversaries

LGBTQ2 Canadians will have plenty to reflect on this year. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Canada’s partial decriminalization of homosexuality between two consenting adults — in large thanks to the senior Trudeau. As justice minister, Pierre Trudeau famously proposed amendments to the country’s Criminal Code in 1967, stating, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Those amendments passed two years later, in 1969.

Activists in New York are also marking the 50th anniversary of the raid at the Stonewall Inn — with a celebration. WorldPride hits the city throughout the month of June, recognizing the start of one of the world’s largest movements for equality.

And while 2019 will be a huge year for history, it’s worth evaluating what these anniversaries mean for Canadians today. As Valerie Korinek, a history professor at the University of Saskatchewan, notes, they give us an opportunity to reflect on exactly why we celebrate — and what still needs to change. “The legal gains we’ve made are not matched by our country’s social gains,” she says, pointing to myriad issues from violence against trans folks, to LGBTQ2 youth suicidality. “We need to ask: Why haven’t social gains followed?”

3. The battle for sex education continues

The sex-ed debacle in Ontario shows no sign of slowing in 2019 — and depending on how the province responds, even more legal challenges could be imminent throughout the year. The Ford government is currently fighting the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario in a court challenge over the rights of, and potential discrimination against, LGBTQ2 students through Ontario’s repeal of the updated 2015 sex-ed curriculum. Six parents have also filed motions with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario over the curriculum rollback.

It’s uncertain how matters will proceed: If court challenges against the province are successful, there’s no telling whether or not Premier Ford will invoke the notwithstanding clause (again), setting a legal precedent. And if invoked, activist groups and parents could challenge the clause in court, much like Toronto City Council did last year. Meanwhile, consultations with Ontario’s parents largely showed support for the repealed 2015 curriculum, much to the chagrin of Ford.

Rebecca Bromwich, a professor in the department of law and legal studies at Carleton University who’s kept a close eye on the debate, says the current landscape in Ontario could also be an indicator of what’s to come elsewhere. “This type of regressive legal move [from the Ford government] could signal cultural change,” she says. If Ontario emerges successful in the sex-ed fight, she suggests, it could embolden socially conservative leaders across the country to try switching up sex ed in their own provinces.

One thing is for sure: The battle is far from over.

4. Time to tackle LGBTQ2 youth homelessness

For years, studies have confirmed a jarring truth about the precarity of housing for LGBTQ2 youth: a stunning number in Canadian urban centres are homeless, and few have access to resources to get them off the streets. While some cities and even provinces have taken up the cause, opening transitional housing to provide shelter for LGBTQ2 youth and implementing homelessness strategies for queer and trans folks, it often hasn’t been enough.

According to last year’s point-in-time count on homelessness in Toronto, for instance, the percentage of LGBTQ2 youth self-identifying as homeless is up to 24 percent, from 21 percent in 2013.

This year, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Alex Abramovich — best known as the researcher and activist who lobbied for an LGBTQ2 homeless shelter in Toronto for more than a decade — heads to Ontario’s York Region, where resources for queer and trans homeless youth are scarce.

There, he’ll study how LGBTQ2 youth in municipalities a distance away from urban centres are able to navigate housing, providing insight into the specific challenges the population faces that need to be addressed. It’s data that can be used, he says, to better understand LGBTQ2 youth homelessness across the country.

Meanwhile, Canada’s national housing strategy still fails to prioritize LGBTQ2 youth, a demographic with needs often very different from others who are homeless. “There’s a big focus on ending homelessness,” Abramovich says. “But we can’t do that unless we prioritize certain populations.”

5. The next year in #MeToo

Last year saw a number of survivors coming forward with their stories of sexual violence — and, without doubt, 2019 will see the #MeToo movement forging ahead. For LGBTQ2 survivors, creating space in the movement for their own stories and experiences will be a priority.

Farrah Khan, manager of Consent Comes First at Ryerson University’s office of sexual violence support and education, says much of the #MeToo conversation has been dominated by straight, white, cisgender women. But in several cases — from the violence against and murders of gay men in Toronto’s gay village to the sexual assault of young men at Toronto’s St Michael’s College — a dialogue about sexual violence and how it affects queer and trans folks, is desperately needed, Khan says. “We have to ask: Are we talking about sexual violence in our communities? Do we feel safe enough to speak candidly about these issues?”

Khan also points to the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, noting that it concerns issues around consent that have yet to be publicly and openly discussed as much as they should be.

But Khan tries to be optimistic: 2019 could be the year in shifting dialogues. To better understanding healthy relationships among LGBTQ2 people, to viewing relationships between queer and trans folks not as deviant or predatory but as equal and loving.