Canadian law students and young lawyers are reporting for JURIST on national and international developments in and affecting Canada. Mélanie Cantin is a JURIST Staff Correspondent in Ottawa, and a 1L at the University of Ottawa.
Canada’s LGBTQ+ population numbers upwards of one million people, and the country ranks as the safest in the world for LGBTQ+ travelers in 2022. As Pride Month 2022 drew to a close, however, many Canadians grappled with the realization that much work remains to be done, even in a country where LGBTQ+ rights are relatively developed.
Pride Month around the world felt particularly significant in 2022, and not just because it marked the return of many in-person events and celebrations after COVID-19 caused cancellations the previous two years. To many of us, it felt particularly significant because of a recent upsurge in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment (especially anti-trans rhetoric) in North America and Europe.
As a brief overview, in the United States, the number of discriminatory bills targeting LGBTQ+ folks proposed by state lawmakers reached an all-time high in 2022. In 2018, there were 41 such bills introduced in state legislatures. As of March 15, 2022 alone, that number stood at 238. Among the most notorious are the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bills in Florida and Alabama (among others), which became law in those states on March 28 and April 8 respectively despite nationwide condemnation. The Florida bill in particular has been criticized as vague and overly broad by critics, leading to potential limitations on freedom of speech.
As for Europe, Romania is currently considering a law against “gay propaganda” in schools and public life, which also has crucial freedom of speech implications for all beyond the extreme harm it would cause to the LGBTQ+ community. In Turkey, where pride marches had previously been permitted here and there, over 100 people were arrested on June 26 for holding one after Istanbul municipal authorities had banned the event. In the UK, trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) had already been gaining a large following for some time, and the movement has continued its online buzz during Pride month, doing its best to convince others that trans women do not belong in feminist spaces, as they are purportedly not “real women”.
Canada, on the other hand, has often made a point of setting a powerful example for other nations to look to, from key legislative advances like Bill C-16 (adding gender identity and expression to the list of identifiable groups in the Canada Human Rights Act in 2017) to important research initiatives, such as being the first country to collect and publish data on gender diversity in a national census last year. These are important milestones, and LGBTQ+ Canadians like myself are certainly privileged in many respects compared to our counterparts all around the world.
However, the past year has demonstrated that homophobia and transphobia remain active problems even in a country that has some of the best legal protections in the world for LGBTQ+ folks. Both online and in person, Canada saw various displays of blatant opposition to the LGBTQ+ community during the month of June. In a few cities in Ontario, pride signs were vandalized and torn down. Across the nation, family-friendly events such as “Drag Story Hour” events (where drag performers read books to kids about inclusion) were targeted by online hate campaigns, threats, and harassing phone calls. The all-too-familiar panics about “assisting pedophiles” and “promoting deviance” permeated these discussions. They thankfully did not mirror demonstrations occurring in the US too closely, which involved in-person protests by the far-right group Proud Boys.
To be clear, the aforementioned events are very far from the worst events to plague the LGBTQ+ community this year, but they are mentioned in an effort to demonstrate the fact that even in places where LGBTQ+ rights have progressed greatly, they remain in jeopardy in various ways, or at the very least, contested. Even in places like Canada, where LGBTQ+ individuals have strong legal protections, widespread social tolerance has yet to be achieved.
When looking back at this tumultuous month, it can be easy to focus only on the negatives and be left with a bitter taste in our mouths. The overturning of Roe v Wade in the US in particular has cast long shadows on the end of a month meant to celebrate human rights, personhood, and dignity.
Despite all of this, Pride Month 2022 was also marked by many positive moments for the LGBTQ+ community. Various small towns in Canada had their first-ever pride parades with great success. Abroad, Spain’s cabinet approved a bill expanding protections for trans youth. The pride march in Kyiv, Ukraine that many believed would be canceled due to the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War took place in Warsaw, Poland thanks to cross-nation collaboration among activists.