On Sunday, the federal government launched Canada’s first ever 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan. The plan includes many important commitments for Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex communities. Unfortunately, however, it lacks the necessary investments and initiatives to effectively combat transphobia and homophobia at work.
Let’s start with the good. The Action Plan includes $100 million in new funding over five years. Three quarters of the funding will go directly to 2SLGBTQI+ community organizations, with priority given to groups serving queer people who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, people with disabilities, seniors, youth, official language minorities and those living in rural areas. This is a needed step given the unique barriers that marginalized 2SLGBTQI+ communities face.
It also promises consultations on some key criminal justice issues. Specifically, the Plan commits to looking at criminalizing purely cosmetic surgeries on intersex children, which are almost always performed before a child can consent. The plan also commits to looking at modernizing indecency-based offences, which are often homophobic in nature, and limiting prosecutions for HIV non-disclosure.
Other Action Plan highlights include the creation of a dedicated Two-Spirit Senior Advisor within the 2SLGBTQI+ Secretariat, new research funding, an awareness campaign designed to combat stigma, a study on 2SLGBTQI+ seniors, and expanded eligibility for 2SLGBTQI+ people to have historically unjust convictions expunged.
While all of this represents significant progress, there are many areas where the Plan falls short. First off, the Plan lets workers down. 2SLGBTQI+ workers in Canada frequently face homophobia and transphobia at work. In a 2015 study, almost 30 % of 2SLGBTQI+ respondents reported that they experienced discrimination in the workplace, compared to only 2.9 %of the general population. More recently, in a national survey conducted by Trans Pulse Canada, 34 %of trans women respondents, 28 %of trans men respondents, 26 %of non-binary respondents and 41 %of Two-Spirit respondents said that they had been fired, dismissed or turned down from a job they interviewed for because of who they are.
In April 2022, CUPE strongly recommended to the Federal Employment Equity Act Task Force that 2SLGBTQI+ people be included in the Act. This is a long overdue provision, and we are waiting for the federal government’s action on it. The government should also improve reporting and resolution processes to address workplace transphobic and homophobic harassment, and invest in 2SLGBTQI+ workplace education in federally regulated industries outside of the federal public service.
Instead, the Plan’s commitments on work are mostly recycled from previous announcements. For example, the government promises to “continue to implement the LGBT Purge Class Action Settlement Agreement” – an action they were already forced to take as a result of a lawsuit. Similarly, the Plan’s commitments to fostering diversity and inclusion within the armed forces were announced in the government’s response to last year’s Emerging From the Purge Report. Finally, the promise to support “employee-led Pride initiatives” through the Public Service Pride Network and Positive Space Initiative has been ongoing and does little to combat workplace homophobia and transphobia outside of the public service.
The funding promises are also not all they are cracked up to be. The funding for community organizations described above is mostly short-term, project-based grant funding. Most 2SLGBTQI+ groups need long-term investments to deliver services and advocate effectively. Even more disappointing, none of the funding is allotted to expanding health care. Far too many Two-Spirit, trans and non-binary people in Canada are denied gender-affirming care because, depending on the procedure, it is either too expensive to pay for out of pocket or they can’t afford to travel to receive it. The federal government has missed the opportunity to address this lack of access through dedicated transfers to the provinces for gender-affirming care.
CUPE bargaining committees can push employers to help close these gaps by negotiating extended health benefits that include gender-affirming care. CUPE’s new guide can help.
Finally, while criminal justice reform is sorely needed for 2SLGBTQI+ communities, the Plan only commits to consultations. There is a risk that these consultations don’t lead to actual reform, or that this government is defeated before implementing any of the suggested changes on cosmetic surgeries on intersex children, HIV disclosure, and indecency laws.
Canada’s 2SLGBTQI+ communities desperately need action to combat hate and breakdown barriers. This “Action” Plan lacks real action.