A small group of protesters gathered outside the Ritz-Carlton Sept 27 as Premier Kathleen Wynne accepted the LGBT Leadership Award at Egale’s annual gala.
Egale’s executive director, Helen Kennedy, who has recently been criticized for announcing publicly that she’d joined the Liberal Party, said Wynne was chosen for her courage in being an out politician.
“I think that’s a demonstration to other people, especially younger people, who may want a career in politics or who may be afraid to be out in the corporate world, that you can take that chance and stand by your principles,” she said.
But some activists have argued that Wynne’s record on LGBT rights does not warrant an award.
“What action has Wynne taken on Russia? What has she done on harm reduction? And what about the fact that LGBT people are homeless and that in the regular shelter system they are discriminated against?” asked organizer Zach NoCameco Ruiter.
The protesters, a group that included Idle No More supporters, also condemned Wynne’s record on poverty and social assistance and held signs demanding that welfare and disability rates be raised.
“It’s completely disingenuous for Egale to give Wynne an award at the Ritz-Carlton for $300 a plate when Wynne won’t even raise the minimum wage,” Ruiter said.
But Kennedy defended the gala as an essential fundraiser for Egale.
“We can’t keep operating without people who can afford to pay for these tickets and who do so, but I want to acknowledge those people who aren’t in the room,” she said.
Wynne opened her acceptance speech by acknowledging that the event was taking place on traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. Later, she responded briefly to the protest.
“There are protesters out there tonight because there is more to be done . . . When people bring a point of view and they’re saying that there’s something else that needs to be done, I get that,” she said.
Wynne mentioned her work as minister of education, noting that she helped create policies requiring that gay-straight alliances be permitted in schools, but she also admitted that efforts are still needed to make this a reality across the province.
Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who was among the evening’s guests, met briefly with the demonstrators, saying he’d pass along their concerns to fellow NDP members in attendance.
CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn also stepped outside to meet with the group and agreed that Wynne needs to do much more for LGBT people.
“There are lots of queer people on social assistance. She could raise social assistance rates. She could actually look after queer people with AIDS and HIV who are on ODSP. She could be creating jobs for young queer people because youth unemployment is insane,” Hahn said in footage captured by Ruiter.
Hahn also expressed concerns about Kennedy’s Liberal Party membership and what that means for CUPE’s continued funding of Egale.
“They do good work for the LGBT community, but they have to remain non-partisan,” he said.
Earlier on Sept 27, Egale launched 20 recommendations for the prevention of suicide by LGBT youth, the culmination of a summit co-hosted by Egale last year.
Its recommendations include appointing provincial and territorial suicide-prevention officers; creating supports for trans youth who are transitioning in schools, including access to gender-neutral washrooms; and providing increased training on sexual orientation and gender identity for medical professionals.