CAW Statement on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

May 14, 2010, 3:00 PM EST

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Watch the commemorative video here.

May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  Around the world lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans activists, along with community allies and politicians, will stop and acknowledge the high human and societal cost of discrimination, violence and harassment - and then we will continue in our push toward equality, acceptance, and freedom.  

The CAW will participate in ceremonies at town councils and city halls in many communities across Canada.  We know that LGBT activists and trade unionists from Mexico to Brazil, from France to Thailand, from Australia to Albania will be doing the same, as a growing number of cities, regions, provinces and countries (including the European Parliament) now also recognize this day.

To many people, it may seem that sexual orientation and gender identity are becoming less and less of an issue in Canada.  It's true that we have made tremendous gains on social and legal rights.  The trade union movement is proud of our contribution to the progress we have made over the past forty years on LGBT issues in Canada.   After decades of political and legal battles, gays and lesbians have won important protection against discrimination in human rights law and legal recognition of same-sex couples and equal marriage.

Despite these important victories, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans members of our communities still face the reality of homophobia and transphobia in their daily lives. Gay and trans bashing is still a frequent occurrence.  LGBT workers and their families continue to experience oppression and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as well as on the grounds of their race, ethnicity, sex, linguistic background, ability, class, age, or economic circumstances.

Today in Parliament, politicians are debating whether or not to give trans people clear protection in human rights law. Trans people face overt discrimination in the workplace and society. Their right to access necessary medical procedures is precarious at best.  Many trans people live with daily fear of violence and harassment.  As trade unionists we stand in solidarity with their demand for dignity, security and clear human rights protection.

In more that 80 countries in the world, same sex relationships are criminalised and in seven of them, the death penalty can be enforced.  Pressure from activists, allies and governments from around the world has been brought to bear on Uganda, who appears now to be backing away from instituting the most repressive anti-gay legislation in history.  We will continue to call on our governments to provide safe passage for LGBT refugee claimants from around the world.  In Malawi, two gay men are currently in prison awaiting trial for the 'crime' of formalising their love through marriage.  The United States is still a patchwork of legal discrimination.  Canada has been a leader on LGBT issues and we must continue to be so, understanding that none of us are free, until all of us are free.

We recognize, however, the limitations of legal rights.  Alone, they do not ensure the full dignity and equality that all of us, in all our diversity, deserve.  Social rights, freedom from violence and harassment, and the right to live and work wherever we want, with dignity, safety, and security, have yet to be won for all.

But change is possible.  We know it's possible because we know people who never thought they'd have the courage to come out of the closet have done so.  Parents who never wanted a gay son, or for their daughter to become a trans man, have found it in their hearts to honour their children and love them, not in spite of, but because of, who they are.  Religious organizations of all kinds have struggled and, in many cases, found ways to understand and welcome their gay, lesbian, and bisexual and trans members.  Unions have learned to become true supporters of LGBT issues - our leaders speaking out with the power of many to voice the needs of the minority.  Students and teachers have shown remarkable courage in confronting the toxic, even life-threatening, homophobia and transphobia faced by so many young people.   People who once thought it was okay to gay-bash, have become some of our strongest allies.  Some have even become part of the LGBT community.

But there's more to be done.  We can all be part of keeping this change going.  We can support our co-workers who are facing homophobia or transphobia on the job.  We can challenge bullies and bigots.  We can stand up for school curriculum that reflects the diversity of our sexuality, gender, and family lives.  We can demand that our governments pass clear human rights protection for trans people into law.  We can attend pride parades and anti-violence rallies and show the community we will not let hate divide us.  We can demand that the rights we have won in Canada be extended to other countries and call on our governments to voice their opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuality when they meet with leaders of other countries.  We can speak out against sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic stereotyping and harassment.  We can support the ongoing work of youth groups, teachers' unions and EGALE in their commitment and action to end bullying in schools. We can ask ourselves tough questions about the work we need to do to confront our own homophobia and transphobia.  We can celebrate difference as valuable and essential to human experience.  We can learn that we stand strong when we stand together. 

A right to live and work free of oppression and discrimination is a fundamental human right. The CAW is proud to participate in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia - a day of action, awareness and affirmation of the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT) people and their families.

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