Not all sunshine and rainbows

Supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ communities in an era of hostility

2SLGBTQIA+ communities across Canada and the US are rallying together after provincial and state legislatures in both countries have introduced a slew of anti-queer and anti-trans bills.

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On Aug. 29, the Canadian government issued a travel advisory for 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians entering the United States. The move comes in response to a slew of recent anti-2SLGBTQIA+ state legislation across the US. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, at least 496 anti- LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures in 2023 alone.

Texas is one of the hardest-hit states, with 54 discriminatory bills introduced this year.

“It’s been a rough few years for trans and LGBQIA+ people in Texas,” Johnathan Gooch says in an email to The Uniter. Gooch is the communications director for Equality Texas, an organization that “works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through political action, education, community organizing and collaboration.”

“Right now, it’s illegal for trans youth to access healthcare in this state, so it makes sense for people traveling to Texas to be fully aware of the risks,” Gooch says. He notes that despite the hateful agenda pursued by lawmakers, 75 per cent of Texans believe that the law should protect these communities.

While violence against 2SLGBTQIA+ people has risen alongside the number of hate groups in Texas, Gooch says “that does not reflect the whole state. We have the second-largest LGBTQIA+ population in the country. Queer people live in every corner of this state, and if you come here, you’re bound to meet us.”

“In the midst of all this rising anti-queer rhetoric, it can be very easy to feel alone,” Ashley Smith, director of advocacy at  Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre (RRC), says.

Many queer people and allies turn to each other amid challenges, and advocates stress the need for community. There are many ways to build and strengthen supportive communities. With the next Manitoba provincial election scheduled for Oct. 3, Smith encourages people to reach out to candidates with their concerns.

That includes “appealing to our political leadership to make serious decisions about standing for rights of this community” and codifying language in the provincial human-rights code that protects queer communities, Smith says. “Combating hate has to be a top priority for any incoming government.”

Premier Heather Stefanson’s incumbent Progressive Conservative government has already made this an issue in the election. Stefanson has pledged to expand “parental rights” in schools if re-elected. “Parental rights” has become a popular dog-whistle for anti- 2SLGBTQIA+ policies in Canada and the US, giving bigots leverage to erase queer-inclusive material and policies from classrooms.

Saskatchewan and New Brunswick both recently introduced anti-trans school policies under the guise of “parental rights.” These policies remove protections for students who wish to go by their chosen names and pronouns. They also force schools to inform the parents of any child wishing to be referred to by a different name or pronouns, potentially outing transgender students to unsafe families.

While exercising one’s right to vote in itself does not build community, the upcoming election does give reason for individuals to share relevant information as to whether candidates are allies to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

RRC offers a range of programs including those for youth, seniors and events like New Pride, which provides support for newcomers to Canada.

Gooch says it’s “painful” to hear of Canada’s travel advisory, “but I understand it. We wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but we’re also not leaving. Our state is worth every drop of sweat that we’ve shed staying up late at committee hearings, organizing the community and rallying together on the steps of the capitol. We’re going to keep fighting, because Texans deserve better. If you do find yourself travelling to Texas, I’d recommend reaching out to groups like the Transgender Education Network of Texas.

“In spite of our lawmakers, queer people in Texas are persevering.”

Published in Volume 78, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 7, 2023)

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