Simon Fraser University’s Wosk Centre was the venue for a dialogue held by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) in partnership with the Vancouver Branch of the Canadian International Council (CIC) and the Vancouver Pride Society. The August 7th discussion on LGBT+ human rights included representation from the UN, the Government of Canada, Musqueam First Nations, and featured LGBT+ activists from within Canada and around the world. The event was chaired by Rainbow Refugee Society’s Sharalyn Jordan, professor at SFU.
The event came on the heels of the Equal Rights Coalition’s (ERC) Global Conference on LGBT+ Human Rights and Inclusive Development. Musqueam First Nations former Chief Gail Sparrow delivered a deeply inspiring welcome to the Indigenous territories where all had gathered. She offered an encouraging message to everyone in the room that “two-spirited” members of Indigenous communities are traditionally held in regard and without prejudice. Randy Boissonnault, MP and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 Issues gave an address along with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. A panel of young activitists addressed violence and persecution faced by LGBT+ communities worldwide, which allowed for reflection on the advancement rights of the global LGBT+ community.
LGBT+ Rights and Canada
Boisonnault noted that Canadians did not have rights until the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enshrined in our modern Constitution; however, the Charter itself did not legally recognize the rights of homosexuals until 1995 or transgender Canadians until just last year (2017). As the first openly gay Albertan legislator, he recounted Aaron Webster’s murder nearly 20 years ago in Vancouver—Canada’s first ever publicized gay-bashing—and went on to state,
“We must not lose one more life to hate, not here in Canada or anywhere in the world. This is why we persist.”
– Hon. Randy Boissonault
The GAC Fund for Local Initiatives announced a path forward to improve Canada’s LBGT+ rights policy parameters. The Government of Canada will host another meeting in Ottawa with civil society groups, chaired by Boissonault himself along with GAC. He also announced funding of $1M for the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOP) to take action to prevent and respond to conflict while advancing the rights of LGBT+ individuals.
LGBT+ Rights and the United Nations
It has been seventy years since United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, but there are still too many nations leaving others behind. Victor Madrigal-Borloz is Secretary General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and a UN independent expert on international human rights concerns. He is tasked with a particular element to recognize and protect human rights of LGBT+ persons around the world. Since the first precedents, this objective has been present in the UN, but there has not been traction to embrace it until now.
In very many fractions and perspectives of the world, LGBT+ persons are considered deficient or mentally ill; their very existence deemed to be criminal. This is reality in much of the world today and Madrigal-Borloz noted that UN resolutions have been fought ferociously by a group of nations insistent that LGBT+ rights are invalid because such individuals either don’t exist or simply represent a construct of a “western trend”.
The issue remains sharply divided in the UN. Opposing nations put forward a counter report to the resolution that was so violent and cruel, it was shocking to their own UN representatives. A separate group of nations have put forward another resolution against such intense cruelty and violence, but 72 nations as a group are dedicated to erasing this work from the UN agenda. Madrigal-Borloz represents the “custodian of the work generated by the work of civil society” and is carrying it forward with the intent to produce a body of evidence to make apparent the persistent degree of violence and discrimination.
It is impossible to sustain that LGBT+ identities are a construct of some northern or western agenda. In 10 countries, the crime for holding such an identity is the death penalty while it is a jail sentence in 62 countries. The world is divided in two; one part is concerned and wishing to take reparative measures while the other is in denial of its existence. The stigma is fueled daily by bombardment of images, sound bites, and messages to associate LGBT+ with certain behaviours shown to be culturally criminal. Sadly, the process of decriminalization is not a one-way trend. Recent examples of this include Uganda and Indonesia, which have reintroduced criminalization.
Issues of Concern
Madrigal-Borloz’ mandate is a tall order that is being embraced, but there is disconnect between the reality of the pain and suffering and the social narratives being created. The pain is made invisible by design, such that conformity remains upheld as the status quo. Reports are cold and their narratives are not enough to capture the trauma. We must ensure that we can express the pain and suffering we are really trying to address.
“An optimist is a badly informed pessimist.“
– Oscar Wilde
We need to find the middle ground between the suffering and the awareness to know we can do something about it. This is middle ground between the optimist and the pessimist. Madrigal-Borloz wants to ensure the knowledge is there and the awareness of the suffering is apparent in the understanding of what we can and must do about advancing LGBT+ rights globally, such that no one remains left behind.