May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia draws attention to the realities of violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ2+ people in Canada and around the world. It is an opportunity to advocate and organize for LGBTQ2+ inclusion—to emphasize our continued failure to do justice to LGBTQ2+ communities, and to rally for safer homes, schools and communities.
As a trans, bisexual and non-binary young person, I cannot overstate the the significance of May 17th. My life, and the lives of many of those closest to me, is fundamentally shaped by the realities of homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and other forms of oppression. My most basic safety—my ability to exist in public without fear of violence—is denied because of my gender identity and gender expression.
In my role as an LGBTQ2+ inclusion trainer who works with schools, health care organizations and social services to build capacity for LGBTQ2+ inclusion I see how, despite our best efforts, we are still failing to do justice to LGBTQ2+ youth and provide them with safe, supportive environments to be who they are.
As a result, we know LGBTQ2+ young people aren’t doing as well as they should. The statistics are sobering: anywhere from 25-40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ2+. Seventy percent of trans youth report experiencing sexual harassment. Two thirds report discrimination based on their gender identity. LGBTQ2+ youth face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their cisgender, heterosexual peers.
In their homes, schools and communities, LGBTQ2+ youth are struggling to survive. May 17th is a pressing reminder that we need to do more; that we need to do better.
In August 2018, the Government of Ontario announced the repeal of the sex education components of the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum, reverting to one created in 1998 while they engaged in further consultations with parents to develop a new curriculum. Unlike the 2015 curriculum, the 1998 curriculum fails to make any mention of LGBTQ2+ identities, consent and all sorts of other topics important to the health and well-being of students in a diverse, modern world.
In March, the government announced their new curriculum, which delayed teaching gender identity and gender expression education till grade 8, and formalized a process to help parents pull their kids out of sex-ed classrooms.
LGBTQ2+ students and students from LGBTQ2+ families are in our primary school classrooms. They deserve to feel safe, and to see themselves reflected in curricula, just like everyone else. We know that early education on LGBTQ2+ identities is a crucial protective factor for the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ2+ students—and improves the overall health and well-being of all students.
With a social and political climate increasingly hostile to LGBTQ2+—and particularly trans—children and youth, and changes to the sex-ed curriculum that will directly impact the health, wellbeing and safety of LGBTQ2+ children, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia is a pressing reminder that our hard-fought victories can be overturned, and that our fight for LGBTQ2+ communities is far from over.
In Alberta, there’s a growing effort to roll back protections on LGBTQ2+ students and Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). Nationally, the People’s Party of Canada has recruited an openly anti-trans candidate. In the United States, we’re seeing an administration all too willing to target trans and LGBTQ2+ communities, through the rollback of human rights protections, a ban on trans people in the military, and efforts to narrow the definition of gender. All of this contributes to a growing climate of hostility towards trans and LGBTQ2+ communities, the likes of which we haven’t witnessed in years.
These legislative and policy changes send a clear and devastating message to trans and LGBTQ2+ youth: that they are wrong and don’t deserve to be loved for who they are.
In the face of Ontario’s changes to sex ed curriculum, educators, parents, caregivers and students have organized, advocated and educated. Last September, Ontario students protested the changes to the sex-ed component of the Health and Physical Education curriculum, and in April led the biggest student walk-out in the history of the province. Thousands of parents took to social media, called their elected officials, attended consultations, went out to rallies and wrote articles defending comprehensive, inclusive and evidence-based sex education. Educators, both in schools and in communities, have gone above and beyond to support comprehensive sex education, emphasizing their support for LGBTQ2+ inclusion and their commitment to ensuring diverse students are affirmed and included in the classroom.
Despite troubling circumstances, the growing resistance to policies that are putting LGBTQ2+ students at risk is awe-inspiring. As a community, we are rallying to protect our young people. We are resolute, we are organized, we are working with our allies, and we refuse to allow homophobia and transphobia to fester in this province. These are trying times—but LGBTQ2+ people have always had to fight for our basic rights. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.
Fae Johnstone (they/she) is an LGBTQ2+ educator and organizer based on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin Territory (Ottawa, ON). Follow them on Twitter at @FaeJohnstone.