COMMENTARY || LGBTQ apology: what the government needs to do next
It has to back up its words with specific policies and funding.
By KRISTOPHER WELLS
Canada’s national LGBTQ apology is an important first step in righting the wrongs of the past. It will never undo a harmful legacy of state-sanctioned homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that has forever changed the lives of so many LGBTQ Canadians and their families, but it is a critical recognition that is necessary to begin the process of healing and reconciliation in a meaningful and substantive way.
With this apology, the government must commit to and actively work to remove all barriers to the full and equal treatment and participation of LGBTQ Canadians. This includes ending the discriminatory gay blood ban, stopping the undue criminalization of persons with HIV, supporting the development of a truly LGBTQ-inclusive health-care system, actively supporting LGBTQ youth in schools, and championing safe spaces for our LGBTQ seniors so they don’t have to go back into the closet to receive care.
An apology should not only be the end of a tragic chapter of our Canadian history, but also the beginning of a bold and inclusive future in which Canada can show the world that we are truly a nation that believes in human rights for all.
Currently, only New Zealand, Britain, Scotland, Australia (Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales) and Germany have issued apologies, pardons or expungements of criminal convictions. Only Canada and Germany will have offered direct compensation to surviving LGBTQ individuals who faced criminal prosecution. Canada appears to be unique in the world by extending the apology and offering compensation to those who were also targeted with anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the federal civil service, Armed Forces, RCMP and intelligence services.
In the spirit of meaningful reconciliation, one of the best things the federal government could do is to provide dedicated funding to LGBTQ community centres across Canada and to work with provinces to require LGBTQ-inclusive policies and curriculum in all schools across the nation.
An apology has to be more than just words on a page. It must include meaningful action that will lead to education and long-term systemic change. The two most important ways to do this are to ensure strong, visible and vibrant LGBTQ communities, and to make sure LGBTQ students see themselves in their history books.
For without a history, there can be no promise of an inclusive future for generations to come.
Kristopher Wells is director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education.