PRIDE MARCH: Sat, June 17th at 9am at Waverley Park (marching down Red River Road)

Dear Friends and Allies,  

It has always been scary to be different.  When I was coming out in my early twenties in the 1980s, I knew almost no other lesbians or queer folk of any kind.  Later, when I started doing anti homophobia education work, I met more queer people and many feminist allies, but only a few were out publicly – queer people were not visible, not at work, usually not to their family and certainly not in the media.  It was lucky for me there was no such thing as social media in those days! This was at a time when there were no legal protections for LGBTQ2S people in any statute, not so many years ago. There was no Pride flag or march (at least not in my life) and very few supports of any kind were available.  It was lonely and the fear of reprisal was real – you could get beat up, you could lose your job or your housing, you could even be criminalized for certain activities.  So much has changed, and so much has not changed.  Now, every commercial seems to have a queer couple, and yet we are still fighting for our lives.  But we have made progress, trust me!  Like most social change, nothing is forever – we have to fight to make change AND to keep it.  If I had been more afraid of reprisal as a young person, I might not have become an activist, I might not have even come out.  And that is the whole point – if they make you afraid, you will be agreeing to your own oppression.   

As Audre Lorde said, “We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.” 

–Gwen O’Reilly

At the Women’s Centre, we are deeply concerned about the increasing amount of hatred, vitriol, and threats toward the 2SLGBTQ+ community here in Thunder Bay. Misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of bigotry are nothing new (nor is queer-led resistance!) but what’s happening right now is both infuriating and scary for adults and youth alike. Although gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation are all protected grounds in the Ontario Human Rights Code, our 2SLGBTQ+ community really needs visible, public support from all of us–especially allies.  

Allyship is a process of standing up for and with people who experience marginalization. An ally is someone who believes in the dignity and respect of all people and takes action by supporting and/or advocating with groups experiencing social injustice. […] Allyship is a never-ending process of education and continual learning about institutions that continue to isolate, stigmatize, and discriminate against racially diverse, Indigenous, queer, trans and gender diverse people. Only through education can allies gain the skills and language to recognize and help to disrupt the workings of a system which they themselves are not negatively impacted. Only through acting in allyship, including engaging in processes of educating oneself, listening to those who experience social injustice, and addressing issues of social injustice, can that person be able to help create a safer space.  

(Source: EGALE)

Every individual has the right to determine, define and express their gender identity however they choose. None of us get to make these decisions for another person, to tell them who they are, regardless of their age. Homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism is especially harmful for children and youth, who already represent a vulnerable population. As adults, we have a responsibility to keep young people safe and to create safe spaces for them to learn, grow, and thrive.

If it feels safe to do so, have honest conversations with your friends and family to practice allyship and help debunk common myths and stereotypes that are used to devalue, discriminate against, and harm people who don’t identify as heterosexual/straight and/or as the gender they were assigned at birth. Sometimes approaching these conversations with curiosity can be useful: How did you come to know that about [insert gender identity or sexual orientation here]? Can I share a bit about what I’ve learned? Below you’ll find links to plenty of helpful resources, and if you’re looking for something specific, get in touch and we’ll help you find it.

From the Ontario Human Rights Code

“Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) people are protected from discrimination and harassment because of gender identity and gender expression in employment, housing, facilities and services, contracts, and membership in unions, trade or professional associations. 

Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex. Gender identity is fundamentally different from a person’s sexual orientation. 

Gender expression is how a person publicly presents their gender. This can include behaviour and outward appearance such as dress, hair, make-up, body language and voice. A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways of expressing gender. 

Trans or transgender is an umbrella term referring to people with diverse gender identities and expressions that differ from stereotypical gender norms. It includes but is not limited to people who identify as transgender, trans woman (male-to-female), trans man (female-to-male), transsexual, cross-dresser, gender non-conforming, gender variant or gender queer.” 

“Sexual orientation” is not specifically defined in the Code. However, the OHRC recognizes that sexual orientation is more than simply a “status” that an individual possesses; it is an immutable personal characteristic that forms part of an individual’s core identity.

What protection does the Ontario Human Rights Code offer? 

The Code makes it against the law to discriminate against someone or to harass them because of their sexual orientation or their marital status. This includes same-sex relationships. 

This right to be free from discrimination and harassment applies to employment, services and facilities, accommodation and housing, contracts and membership in unions, trade or professional associations. 

A person cannot be treated unequally or harassed in these areas because he or she is gay, lesbian, heterosexual or bisexual. It is also illegal to discriminate because someone is in a same-sex relationship. 

Homophobic conduct and comment are prohibited as part of the Code’s protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, no matter what the target’s sexual orientation is, or is perceived to be. 

Additional Resources

  • NFB – 2SLGBTQI+: Featuring a wide range of stories about identity, family, community and everyday life, this selection of films explores the multitude of 2SLGBTQI+ realities and experiences in Canada and abroad 
  • Queer as Fact: Queer history podcast covering content from around the world and throughout time 
  • Rainbow Railroad: helps LGBTQI+ people escape state-sponsored violence around the world 
  • RiseUp!: A digital archive of feminist activism in Canada (1970s-1990s): LGBTQ+ Organizing 
  • The519: A registered charity and City of Toronto agency with an innovative model of Service, Space and Leadership (see, for example, the 519’s Media Reference Guide
  • Trans Lifeline provides peer support. Toll-free in Canada: (877) 330-6366 
  • What is Trans Justice? GUTS magazine interviewed Pierre Cloutier de Repentigny, a board member of JusticeTrans. JusticeTrans aims to provide Two Spirit, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming peoples tools to combat injustices. 

Local Services + Resources

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