Many people around the world were shocked to learn of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, which would have imprisoned people for homosexual activity, executed repeat offenders, and jailed for up to three years anyone who failed to report within 24 hours the identities of anyone they know who is LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered).
The bill, promoted by the country’s evangelical church leaders with connections to American evangelical churches, was dropped from the order paper as the parliamentary session drew to a close in May.
There is a fear that the bill may be brought forward again when parliament resumes. In 2010, a newspaper in Uganda published the names of 100 Ugandans, calling for them to be hanged for homosexuality. In January of this year, leading gay rights activist David Kato was beaten to death in his home in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. He was one of the men listed in the newspaper.
In contrast, LGBT people have won significant rights in Canada. The same-sex marriage bill passed on July 20, 2005 — even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to push the concept of Union onto LGBT people, which would have classified their relationships as inherently different than a heterosexual union. This was rejected as discriminatory by the LGBT community.
The International Day Against Homophobia, May 17th, is a day when the LGBT community stand together against discrimination, and remember those who have been victims of harassment and assaults. The global day of action originated in Québec with Fondation Émergence organizing a national day against homophobia in 2003. The idea quickly spread to countries such as Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.
This year, a small group of people gathered at the New Brunswick Legislature in Fredericton to mark the global day of action and take a stand against homophobia in the workplace, at schools and in the wider community. Representatives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the NB NDP and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Canada spoke at the rally.
In Toronto, PFLAG Canada marked the day by launching an awareness campaign in public transit locations and in print media. The campaign focuses on raising awareness of the support it offers all Canadians facing challenges of sexual orientation and gender identity. It draws attention to the shocking truth that one third of suicides in Canada are committed by people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender — six times the rate of the heterosexual population, and most prevalent among youth.
PFLAG Canada reports that 26% of LGBT youth are told to leave home; LGBT youth are more likely to become homeless; 43% of trans-identified persons attempt suicide; and LGBT students hear anti-gay slurs 26 times a day.
PFLAG says their volunteers are contacted everyday by “frightened adolescents and by angry, fearful or ashamed parents.” Cherie MacLeod, Executive Director of PFLAG Canada, says that, “The campaign represents an opportunity to outreach to those in need, encourage acceptance, and build on our announcement last month to launch the first national 24/7 LGBTQ-A (LGBT, Queer and Allies) support line, website and community network later this year.”
“Education fosters understanding, which paves the road towards acceptance. Understanding feeds the vitality of society. Without it, respect for diversity is framed in tolerance and that is not the goal of PFLAG Canada,” added MacLeod. “Tolerance is the same as quiet contempt. PFLAG is focused on acceptance. Our goal is not to silence people, but rather to foster understanding.”
It does indeed get better. Canadian attitudes toward LGBT people have come a long way, and are far from what they are in Uganda, but also far from where they need to be in order for this to be a truly open and accepting society.
Najat Abdou-McFarland is a member of the NB Media Co-op.