Intolerance should be history

Megan Walchuk

History textbooks are filled with civil rights demonstrations. Women rallying for the vote. Blacks marching in the streets. Rosa Parks refusing to surrender her seat. We admire these acts of defiance, because we know they were right. But defiance in pursuit of human rights isn’t all ancient history – at least not yet. Today’s activists dress in drag and wave rainbow flags.

Pride Week in our country looks and feels like a jubilant party. And it is – it’s a safe and welcoming place to be out and proud, and for a community to show support and acceptance for its LGBTQ2+ citizens. But strip away the loud music, flamboyant clothes and party atmosphere, and it becomes clear that Pride is no different from civil rights demonstrations of the past. And for good reason. Denying the vote based on gender now seems bizarre, and the thought of denying access based on skin colour is repugnant. Yet the victimization and discrimination of people based on sexual orientation and gender expression is still alive and well.

It’s true that protection is enshrined in law. Sexual orientation was added to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1996. Gender expression was added in 2017. Same-sex marriages have been celebrated since 2005.

Given all those advances, surely, the community must be satisfied.

It should be that way. In a perfect world, passing a law should provide instant equality. But for the families and friends, who watch helplessly as their loved ones continue to be bullied, beaten, driven to self harm and even suicide – despite decades of clear court victories – satisfaction must be hard to find.

LGBTQ2+ citizens continue to be verbally, physically, emotionally and professionally victimized. They have higher rates of substance abuse, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and attempts. It’s hard to believe that in Canada, where we pride ourselves on tolerance and diversity, hate crimes based on sexual orientation are on the rise, and those motivated by gender identity are among the most violent hate crimes in the country.

One day, Pride parades will join our history books, alongside Suffragette rallies and civil rights marches. One day, Pride WILL be just a fun party. But it won’t happen because those uncomfortable with equality and human rights are successful in sweeping it under the rug. It will happen when a gay couple can confidently walk down the street hand in hand, without enduring sideways glances, or a trans youth can express their identity without fear of violence.

Courts alone haven’t provided equality. That requires changing the hearts and minds of the nation, one parade and one rainbow flag at a time. When you fly yours this June, feel proud knowing your descendents will admire you in their history books, for standing up for what’s right.

Megan Walchuk