Today, the Liberal government formally apologized in the House of Commons to gay, lesbian and transgender Canadians for the discrimination they have suffered over the decades, often at the hands of federal agencies.

CUPE welcomes the apology, and honours the tremendous pressure generated by the LGBTTQI community to bring it into being. That pressure included a class action lawsuit brought by former members of the federal public service, the military and the RCMP, for the discrimination and life-shattering hatred they suffered. Thousands of people across Canada were harassed, threatened and fired from their jobs for their sexual orientation.

Gina McKay is President of CUPE 2348 and a member of CUPE’s National Pink Triangle Committee, as well as the Diversity Representative of the CUPE Manitoba executive board. She travelled from her hometown of Winnipeg to be in attendance at Parliament to witness the apology. She was invited by the government, recognized for her LGBTTQI, union and community activism.

She says the apology is a good step towards addressing the systemic discrimination and oppression that LGBTTQI people still face.

“Acknowledging people’s painful experience and confronting these truths are important steps towards creating change,” she says. “The apology sets a tone that encourages us to create more inclusive and diversity-positive spaces – in our workplaces, communities and unions.”

Gina hopes the apology will help build a stronger foundation for the work that labour activists do to advance human rights for our members.

“The apology highlights the continuing need for advancing diversity, inclusivity and equity-specific language in our collective agreements and in our union activities,” she says. “Beyond this acknowledgment is the commitment to create social and political change in the work that our elected officials, leaders and employers still need to do.”

The federal government can take further steps to ensure that Canadian workplaces and communities are safer spaces for all people. CUPE calls on the federal government to lead by example and strengthen workplace legislation, policies and practices to address the needs and experiences of LGBTTQI workers. At the community level, CUPE calls upon the federal government to work in partnership with the provinces and municipalities to improve funding for social and health programs, including funding for social agencies that address issues of vital importance to LGBTTQI youth.

CUPE has always been a leader for social and political justice in Canada, and the apology fuels this very work, Gina says.

“Unions lead the way towards putting these theories of equity, inclusivity and diversity into action. What better place to start but in the union, where we already have the tools we need to create change and advance equity for all workers in Canada?”