It's undeniable that Pride month is in full effect across Canada. Rainbow flags hang in storefront windows, companies cater their advertising to incorporate queer messaging and many major cities and small towns are planning events to commemorate the LGBTQ+ community. While Pride month is a time to celebrate a feeling of belonging and reflect on how much progress has been made, it also highlights how much more headway is needed.
Jaime Sadgrove with the The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) says it feels like we’re at an inflection point where there's a lot of change happening on both fronts.
On the one hand, we’re living in a time where the stories and identities of the LGBTQ+ community are more accessible and visible than they ever have been before. There are more leaders who identify as part of these communities, including Green Party interim leader Amita Kuttner who's the first Canadian leader of a political party who identifies as non-binary.
“Change is coming legislatively,” Sadgrove tells Yahoo Canada News. “Conversion therapy ban was a big win. There are changes to restrictions on who can donate blood. We know that the government is working on an LGBTQ action plan.”
However, the backlash towards queer and trans rights and acceptance is at a point Sadgrove says they’ve never experienced before.
“Talking to elders in the community, this level of transphobia and homophobia is something we haven’t seen in decades,” they say.
Last week, café owners in Victoria, B.C. who had planned a family-friendly drag show were forced to cancel the event after being flooded with homophobic and transphobic phone calls and threats of violence.
That week also saw Pride flags across Minto, Ont. torn down and shredded, in what police are calling hate-motivated crimes.
Earlier this month, a 17-year-old teen in Mississauga, Ont. was arrested and charged after threatening to shoot up a Pride event in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Using transphobia, homophobia as a "wedge issue"
David Brennan, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto, says that although human rights are recognized in Canada and the LGBTQ+ community has the backing and support of lots of institutions, there are still a lot of people who feel very uncomfortable around queer and trans people — and that is where the danger lies.
“The more these brazen acts occur, the more it emboldens others to do similar kinds of things,” Brennan says. “There’s no room for people to sit with or think through whatever personal challenges they have with LGBTQ+ people because they’re not really having a thoughtful, engaging conversation about it. It’s just hate and anger and bullying, and it’s deeply concerning.”
Sadgrove points to the far right in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada as using transphobia and transmisogyny as a wedge issue they can use to gain ground.
“We have politicians who are using those dog whistles around trans people in a more extreme part of the spectrum,” Sadgrove says. “But more moderate politicians have been hesitant to call that out.”
When the CCGSD sent out a survey to all political parties on ways to get queer issues on the ballot, the only party that didn't response were the Progressive Conservatives.
"There's still this tension to not want to say anything too extreme to alienate moderates but also not wanting to embrace LGBTQ+ communities too much for fear of alienating that social conservative part of their base," says Sadgrove.
Social media dangers
While social media can be a useful tool for closeted queer and trans youth to find their peers, it’s also dangerous because it strips away context.
"Misinformation spreads faster than anything else," says Sadgrove. "The big danger of social media is that it makes it easy to pull together an angry mob and point at something without context and say 'Look at this bad thing happening.'"
Sadgrove uses an example of a TikTok account that targets the behaviour of “libs," the derogatory term for people who are Liberals. They say the account shares videos found on personal accounts, like that of a gay teacher explaining to his students that he has a husband, not a wife. The account then accuses the teacher of grooming his students to be gay.
“This kind of rhetoric that we’re seeing more on social media, and is being fuelled by these accounts that act as lightning rods, the logical end point for it is a call for violence against queer and trans people,” says Sadgrove. “With Pride celebrations starting I think that’s something that’s top of mind for people going to Pride parades ... am I putting myself at risk?”
The dangers of microaggressions
Although hatred and discrimination against the LBGTQ+ community is often blatant and obvious, Michael Woodford, a professor of social work at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., points out that it can also be nuanced through microaggressions.
“When we think about phrases like, ‘You don’t look like you’re trans’ or, ‘You talk about being trans too much' or, ‘Your sexuality is only part of your identity,' all those kinds of things are erasing people’s experiences,” he says. “We’ve got that spectrum. I’m trying to think through my comments through that spectrum.”
Woodford says sometimes people who have accepting views towards queer and trans people perpetuate microaggressions because they’re so perversive in society.
“The nature of a microaggression can be seen as a backhanded compliment,” he says.
However, when it comes to the progress that’s being made, University of Toronto professor David Brennan says it is undeniable.
These days, most youth who are wondering about their sexuality know there are others who are wondering that too, thanks in part to social media, queer and trans organizations as well as Pride month.
“It’s not about having a parade and a party,” Brennan says. “It’s about making sure that people see they’re not alone, there’s a community and a whole wide range of people and there's room for them at the table.”