The growing momentum in the U.S. to strike down recent LGBTQ victories for human rights has some in Calgary’s LGBTQ community feeling pressure from down south. Tristan Gilenas, feels LGBTQ identities are being directly attacked.

“After the election I saw and felt a definite change in attitudes online, and in the types of crimes that were happening in Calgary,” says Gilenas a local Calgarian.

“I was just very shocked, people were making a mockery of trans identities … I would say many people online were agreeing with the transphobic sentiment.”

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States, media watchdog Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has recorded over 60 policy changes, including two executive orders and a bill voted into law, aimed at the community. All of these policy changes have removed previous government initiatives to better the lives of LGBTQ people, from health care coverage changes to threatening the livelihood of serving military personnel.

GLAAD funds a yearly poll on how LGBTQ people are perceived and accepted in the U.S. The poll covers multiple areas where Americans interact and how comfortable the general population is with the LGBTQ community in roles such as their doctors or co-workers. This year’s poll marked the first drop in acceptance  since the report’s inception in 2014.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) which tracks violent crime against LGBTQ people in the U.S. saw double the number of anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2017.

“Thank god that’s not going on here,” says Johnathan Kuipers before pausing, “Though, it is in a different way.”

Larson Kuipers copyJohnathan Kuipers is Coordinator for Calgary Outlink, a support centre for gender and sexuality diversity. Photo by Curtis Larson.

Kuipers is the coordinator of development and programming for Calgary Outlink, a community based not-for-profit charity providing support, education, outreach, and referrals for the LGBTQ and allied community in Calgary.

Kuipers says that Calgary Outlink has seen an uptick in tolerance issues in Calgary since Trump took office. But the majority of issues haven’t been with larger organizations or the government; the bulk have been interpersonal issues.

“For gender variant folks the struggle is real. We see blatant discrimination in housing and employment for transgender folk,” says Kuipers.

While there has been more acceptance of the LGBTQ community, Kuipers believes the transgender community is still “widely misunderstood and very stigmatized.”

Are we too quick to blame Trump for anti-gay sentiment? 

Some aren’t ready to lay the ongoing struggle of the LGBTQ community at the feet of the Trump administration.

Pam Krause, president and CEO of Calgary Sexual Health Centre points out that many of the ills facing the community are not newly minted by the presidency.

“I just think we’re paying more attention to what’s going on in the States,” says Krause.

“Before Trump, 47 states did not have protection for gay people in employment. So that’s not a Trump thing, that’s an American thing … We can’t say that a switch was turned, I think more and more stuff is becoming more difficult for young people — all LGBTQ people.”

“We now have people who are 13 years old who have never lived in a country without gay marriage — that is hugely significant”

Krause adds Canada is still well out front when it comes to LGBTQ rights, the first in North America to enshrine the rights of transgender people into a federal human rights code and also among the first to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005.

“We now have people who are 13 years old who have never lived in a country without gay marriage — that is hugely significant,” says Krause.

“People see way more gay people in Canada as families now.”

Canada’s LGBTQ struggle for protection – the Vriend case

April 2, 2018 marks 20 years since one of the most potent changes in LGBTQ rights in Canada, as the anniversary of the “Vriend v. Alberta” decision was handed down by the highest court in the country.

Delwin Vriend was dismissed from his job at King’s College in Edmonton — now King’s University — when a powerful member of the board of governors discovered his sexual orientation. He would spend the better half of a decade fighting for protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which had not been tested against orientation-based issues until then.

Two decades later, Canada continues to strive for true LGBTQ rights.

In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood before the House of Commons to issue a national apology to Canada’s LGBTQ people, while four weeks earlier President Trump stood before The Heritage Foundation to deliver a keynote address almost exclusively talking about tax cuts.

Trudeau’s appeal to LGBTQ Canadians for forgiveness and a call for national acceptance drew praise from the leaders of all parties.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative party and official opposition echoed Trudeau’s sentiments on Twitter.

“Today’s apology to LGBT Canadians should be an opportunity to rededicate the government to the defence of basic human rights, not just at home but around the globe.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s address resulted in a rash of protests.

Despite Trudeau’s declaration that LGBTQ oppression will no longer be tolerated, critics point out that many anti-LGBTQ policies are still enshrined in Canadian law, such as section 159 of the Criminal Code — which specifically targets anal intercourse, introduced into Canadian law in 1859.

Kuipers believes the path to overcoming lasting trauma and defending against the influence of a chaotic U.S. comes down to dialogue.

“Show up to the table to have conversations, difficult conversations with people and really try to to listen.” 

Editor: Jennie Price |

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