Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

May 17, 2013 06:00 ET

Hate Must Be Challenged Every Day and in Every Way: OFL Statement on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17, 2013

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 17, 2013) - For the second year in a row, Ontario's LGBTQ community and its allies are celebrating historic victories for the rights and protections of transgender people as part of May 17 events to recognize the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. On March 20, 2013, the Canadian House of Commons approved Bill C-279, an NDP private members bill that extends Canadian Human Rights Act protections to trans people and amends the Criminal Code of Canada to target crimes that are motivated by gender-based hatred. These gains come on the heels of Ontario's Toby's Act, a 2012 NDP private members bill that amended the Ontario Human Rights Code to afford protections for trans people with respect to public services, housing, employment and access to government facilities.

"The labour movement has proudly supported the NDP in championing laws affording LGBTQ rights at the provincial and national level, but a true testament to the success of these gains is the support they have received from politicians of every stripe," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "These laws will provide powerful tools in combating homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination, but we cannot simply challenge hate in the courtrooms of the nation - we must challenge it in our homes, workplaces and communities."

Around the world, May 17 is recognized as a day of action, awareness and affirmation of the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified and Queer-identified (LGBTQ) people. On this day, the labour movement joins the LGBTQ community and allies in fighting for equality and celebrating the contributions made by LGBTQ people to society and their families. The day commemorates the removal of homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 17, 1992. Prior to that, homosexuality was officially considered a mental illness.

"Despite important victories and advancements made in recent years, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and Queer members of our communities still face homophobia and transphobia in their daily lives," said OFL Secretary-Treasurer Nancy Hutchison. "LGBTQ people and their families experience harassment, intimidation and even violence on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. This oppression is compounded by other forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism, ableism, and classism."

The devastating effect of homophobia and transphobia continues to exact a heavy toll on a community whose youth face a suicide rate that is 14 times greater than their heterosexual peers. A survey of high school students published by the EGALE Human Rights Trust in 2009 showed that three-quarters of LGBTQ students feel unsafe in at least one place at school, such as change rooms, washrooms, and hallways. Transgender and transsexual students are among the most marginalized and are especially likely to see at least one of these places as unsafe (87 percent). These statistics provide a frightening back story to the alarming rates of depression and suicide within the LGBTQ community.

However, these prejudices do not stop at graduation and often follow LGBTQ workers throughout their lives. Recent studies indicate that a high percentage of LGBTQ workers opt to stay "in the closet" and do not "come out" to their colleagues or employer for fear of being ostracized, demoted or fired. While the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act explicitly prohibit harassment and discrimination, incidents too often go unreported, unacknowledged and unenforced.

"Now that governments are finally recognizing some of the most fundamental rights of the LGBTQ community, they must take action to challenge prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes in our workplaces," said OFL Solidarity and Pride Vice-President Stephen Seaborn. "Here in Ontario, we are calling on the Liberal government to launch a public awareness and educational campaign on workplace violence and harassment. Every worker must know their right to a violence and harassment-free workplace."

The Ontario Federation of Labour stands with pride in solidarity with the LGBTQ community's struggle for equality. This Federation is proud of its contribution to the legislative and social progress on LGBTQ issues that has been made over the past forty years.

"We have come a long way as a society, but we cannot stop striving for fairness and equality as long as individual or systemic discrimination continue to persist," said Ryan. "Teen suicide is unrelenting for the LGBTQ community, gender expression has yet to be recognized as a human right and, all around the world, trans people continue to be classified as mentally ill. These are egregious signs of malignant attitudes that must be challenged every day and in every way."

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow the OFL on Facebook and Twitter: @OFLabour.

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