Like other political-savvy queer millennials, I went on Twitter immediately when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal election outside Rideau Hall. My first thought: New election, same old othering of queer, gender-diverse, and racialized people. And like clockwork, immediately when the parties began campaigning, I was right. CPC leader Erin O'Toole quickly made sure to mention his party advocates for LGBTQ community members (remember your caucus members' votes on conversion therapy, Mr. O’Toole?) while criticizing Trudeau for his “broken promises” to the commitments to ending the blood donation ban. Meanwhile, JT re-committed to banning conversion therapy (for a third time) and called out a certain party who overwhelmingly voted against the bill.
By reducing marginalized communities to a single electoral issue or weaponizing these communities as electoral ammunition to score points with the moderate electorate — saying LGBTQ as many times as possible in a debate isn’t an effective platform point — the front-running political parties are once again failing to make the issues that matter to our communities a priority in this election.
If there was a time for Canadian political parties to show an actual commitment to marginalized communities, this was the election to do it. Have we forgotten what happened in this country over the last year and a half? Racialized working-class communities and seniors were highly and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19; 2SLGBTQ+ people and youth faced further inequities and threats to their rights; Black communities led the uprising against police brutality; and there was a widespread reckoning on the ongoing legacy of colonialism on the Indigenous lands we live on. I could go on. Ignoring the voices of these communities during such a pivotal election is a great way to let us know which people are valued and undervalued in this country. How can political leaders expect to win the votes of the communities I belong to when the issues we face continually get ignored during critical moments like this?
It’s not only during campaigning that these leaders overlook marginalized communities. By pressing “start over” on the government (especially in this case when an election was called early and unnecessarily), it can also negate any good work that’s in progress. Take the aforementioned conversion therapy bill. Advocates and survivors worked endlessly to get the bill to the third reading in June 2021. There are legitimate fears that a potential Conservative government could derail its passing in the Senate.
Elections almost always signify a reset on advancing 2SLGBTQ+ issues and I just wish political leaders understood what this means for some of the most marginalized people in this country. We’re growing tired of feeling ignored, of the empty platitudes, and unfulfilled promises. Ahead of the last federal election, my feelings were the same! We had a majority government emboldened in scandals, including two prominent women cabinet ministers leaving what was supposed to be a “feminist” caucus. There were unfulfilled promises made to queer and trans people. The stakes were incredibly high because the opposition was being led by a “family values” pro-life social Conservative from the prairies who looked poised to win. The fear was real back then and so it is now.
If any actual progress is to occur after this election, politicians need to realize the 2SLGBTQ+ community is not a monolith. When 2SLGBTQ+ are imagined in the minds of some political leaders, we’re often coded as white, cisgender gay men. This is problematic for several reasons, but mainly because it plays into the false narrative within the broader Canadian public about 2SLGBTQ+ communities: The gays are alright.
Our issues are as diverse as our identities and so are the challenges transphobia and homophobia put in front of us.
We aren't singular electoral group that can be used to score political points. Our issues are as diverse as our identities and so are the challenges transphobia and homophobia put in front of us. We need to hear, and see, a real commitment to improving our communities’ livelihoods and that means policy interventions that work to eliminate systemic discrimination against us in every aspect of Canadian society. They aren’t talking to us, they are talking about us. And until political leaders are actually engaging marginalized communities in discourse nothing will change no matter who gets elected.
Talking to us results from proper and meaningful consultation. It requires listening to the voices of 2SLGBTQ+ when political parties are determining their policy priorities and setting their agendas. A great place to start is with national and local 2SLGBTQ+ organizations. Yes, I am a little biased because I lead one, but the point is that our organizations serve an important purpose within our communities.
We are the spaces providing life-saving services such as peer-to-peer counselling, affirming healthcare, and shelter as they have been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We are the ones, often with unsustainable funding, engaging in research about our communities. Our organizations are also the ones creating questions related to 2SLGBTQ+ issues that could be asked at debates and by journalists to MP candidates and party leaders. We’re doing advocacy work to ensure that the important issues for 2SLGBTQ+ people, issues that are life or death for many of us, are heard and addressed through policy change.
We keep hearing political leaders talking about this election being about choice. For many marginalized people, like myself, that choice is often one of harm reduction. Marginalized communities deserve more than to fear our rights being threatened every time an election is announced. Our voices and our votes matter.
We want to feel heard. We DESERVE to feel heard.
All you have to do is listen to us.
Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah is an award-winning Black feminist advocate based in Ottawa, ON. She is the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, a national youth-focused 2SLGBTQ+ organization promoting gender and sexual diversity through education, research and advocacy.