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Fighting for LGBT Rights Wins Gains and Inspires Hope! OFL Statement on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17, 2012

 

As the global community recognizes May 17 as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, the Ontario LGBT community is making gains in human rights and protections, one legislative step at a time. After its fourth introduction before the Ontario Legislature, Bill 33, the Right to be Free from Discrimination and Harassment Because of Gender Identity or Gender Expression Act, 2012, has finally been passed through Second Reading. The bill, commonly known as “Toby’s Act,” was debated and voted on for the first time ever in the Ontario Legislature, and has now been referred to the Standing Committee on Social Policy.

Introduced by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale – High Park) and sponsored by Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre) and PC MPP Christine Elliott (Whitby – Oshawa), the bill seeks to enshrine into the Ontario Human Rights Code protections for trans people that are equal to those currently afforded to Ontarians based on sex, religion, race, sexual orientation, and a number of other factors. Similar to the Bill C-279, which is currently before Federal Parliament, Toby’s Act would afford protections with respect to public services, housing, employment and access to government facilities. However, Bill C-279 goes a step further in seeking to extend hate crimes statutes in the Criminal Code to cover gender identity and expression.

“Legislative change is an important step, but it is only one of many steps to achieving true social and economic equality for the LGBT community,” said OFL President Sid Ryan. “With laws that reflect our inclusive values, the responsibility lies with each of us to create positive space and challenge homophobia and transphobia, and other forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism, ableism, and classism.”

Two other important Ontario bills have also recently passed Second Reading and are currently being considered by the Standing Committee on Social Policy: Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, was introduced by Liberal MPP and Minister of Education Hon. Laurel Broten (Etobicoke – Lakeshore) and Bill 14, the Anti-Bullying Act, was tabled by PC MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean – Carleton). Both acts seek to address the high rate of bullying and harassment targeting LGBT students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Bill 13 would guarantee the right of students to form Gay Straight Alliances in their schools and puts homophobic and transphobic bullying squarely on the agenda for teachers and school administrators. Bill 14 would introduce awareness and education about all forms of bullying into school activities, curricula and policies.

“If these bills don’t pass before the legislature rises in June, LGBT students will face another school year without full equality in the province’s schools,” said OFL Secretary-Treasurer Nancy Hutchison. “Homophobic and transphobic bullying go unaddressed for one day longer. All three parties must work together to guarantee rights and protections to the LGBT community before the end of the spring legislative session.”

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. It is day of action, awareness and affirmation of the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT) people. On this day, we continue the work for equality and celebrate the contributions made by LGBT people. May 17 commemorates the removal of homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 17, 1992. Prior to that, homosexuality was officially considered a mental illness.

“It is a fitting tribute to the day that four bills are currently before the Ontario Legislature and Canadian Parliament which could outlaw homophobic and transphobic bullying and finally give trans people clear protection in human rights and criminal law,” said OFL Solidarity and Pride Vice-President Stephen Seaborn. “LGBT people face overt harassment and discrimination throughout society and this situation is particularly acute for trans people. We need to combat the prejudicial attitudes that underpin every discriminatory policy or practice, but real change has to start with our youth.”

A survey of high school students published by the EGALE Human Rights Trust in 2009 showed that three-quarters of LGBT students feel unsafe in at least one place at school, such as change rooms, washrooms, and hallways. Transgender students are especially likely to see at least one of these places as unsafe (87%). These statistics provide a frightening back story to the alarming rates of depression and suicide within the LGBT community.

The Ontario Federation of Labour stands with pride in solidarity with the LGBT community’s struggle for equality. The Federation is proud of our contribution to the progress made over the past forty years on LGBT issues but there are many challenges ahead. Provincial and federal cuts to jobs and services will disproportionately impact vulnerable communities that rely most heavily on these lifeline programs. We need to work together to ensure that human rights and social justice are not put on the back burner with the economy in crisis.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario.

For further information:

Sid Ryan, OFL President: 416-209-0066 (mobile)

Joel Duff, OFL Communications Director: 416-707-0349 (mobile) *ENGLISH/FRENCH*

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