How Can Canada’s Next Federal Government Support LGBTQ2S + Youth?
With the federal election days away, LGBTQ2S + organizations across the country are calling on parties to focus on issues relevant to the communities they serve. One of these organizations is the Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), which focuses on the needs of LGBTQ2S + youth. Extra spoke with its Executive Director, Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, via video call from her home in Ottawa, about her work advocating for LGBTQ2S + youth and what she hopes to see in the next government.
Tell me about the work your organization does for LGBTQ2S + youth.
The Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) was founded in 2005. It is a youth organization focused on the mission of creating a world free from discrimination. We defend gender and sexual diversity through our education, advocacy and research mandate.
Education is the tool by which we try to make the world a better place for queer and trans people. We run workshops and educational programs all over the country and we work mainly in schools. We also work a lot with educators and students, and we strive to transform the spaces that young people spend a lot of time, like schools, to make sure they are better and safe, not only for them, but us ” let’s also transform the curriculum to be affirmative for all LGBTQ2S + people.
What was it like serving LGBTQ2S + youth during the pandemic?
Here in Ontario, it has been a challenge trying to meet the needs of educators and students who are blended learning during the pandemic. Queer and trans youth who were at home, and we saw their mental health took a huge hit during COVID-19 with the quarantines and the lockdown. We really had to think about not only how our work gets to them, but also how the teachers see the importance of it.
Young people may have had access to relationships at school that they did not have at home. Many young people were at home with parents who were not assertive. We have seen difficulties accessing groups such as gay or heterosexual alliances or gender and sexuality alliances, rights-focused clubs, and gay and trans rights advocacy. This made it difficult for these young people that they might not be able to pronounce their pronouns out loud, because a parent might be nearby.
How has the Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity worked with the federal government in the past?
This summer we published a report based on the CCDSG’s written submission to the federal government LGBTQ2 action plan. We asked our supporters in the general public what they thought our submission should include. We designed it as an opportunity for their voices to be heard directly by decision makers, and we were just the messenger.
We have identified four areas to focus on when it comes to LGBTQ2S + youth: increased mental health support, particularly in schools, that meets the needs of LGBTQ2S + youth; justice and legal reform aimed at repealing the ban on blood, entrenching the rights and protection of sex workers, centering the rights of intersex people, and banning conversion therapy; LGBTQ2S + housing and homelessness; and a comprehensive LGBTQ2S + sex education and affirmation program.
Currently, a key part of the LGBTQ2 Secretariat in government is consultation with organizations. It’s almost as if they can’t function without consulting us, which allows those who run these organizations to have a seat at the table.
How important is the next federal election to your organization?
Young people are often the ones who have to say to themselves “Hey, don’t forget us! This particular election, a significant portion of the electoral bloc represents 40 percent of the electorate – millennials and Gen Z. We are very important when it comes to influencing things right now. It’s a very interesting time.
What would you like to see from a new federal government?
If a new government were to sit, I hope it will ensure that the role of the LGBTQ2 Secretariat is sustainable. Make it permanent, allow this thing to exist, even if governments change, even if it’s a different party. Because once that is removed you lose all the momentum that we have gained over the past few years, where our organizations and communities really feel like we are not at least being heard, but the phone calls us. has literally been physically given.
In terms of funding, don’t give us crumbs; give us substantial long-term funding that is annual. The LGBTQ2S + sector has been historically underfunded, reflecting the ongoing homophobia and transphobia within our federal government.
Our community also has a level of mistrust of national decision makers. The state itself is a mechanism of oppression. I don’t think it would be fair to have this conversation without mentioning it. You’re not going to have a representative from the Public Health Agency of Canada speaking directly to the homeless or the homeless saying, “Hello, I’m here, what do you need? ” It does not work. Our organizations serve as a mechanism, because we are led by people who come from the community, who have lived experiences, who have even done the job of getting life changing data to give to the federal government.
I also want political parties to actively mention that they are not only going to fund us substantially, but that they are going to ensure that there is a level of collaboration when it comes to implementing certain policies that they are looking to implement location.
Very recently, the Liberal government announced its LGBTQ2 Capacity Fund, which was considered historic. This funding ends in March 2022. What will happen in March 2022?
In what concrete way can the next federal government support the work of the CCDSG?
I would like the government to actively send communications to queer and trans organizations because they have this information, they know where to find us, they know exactly who to contact. I think without that it’s another signal to our communities that we are just a group that just doesn’t matter to policy makers.
I think the message that this election is really going to serve is that we not only matter, but that we are very careful, and we are going to make decisions.
I think the elections are a great opportunity for people to really understand how power works in this country. Power loves comfort, and when you disturb that comfort, power is compelled to pay attention. This particular election, for LGBTQ2S + youth, is an election to send us a message: keep your promises, consult us, finance us.
Otherwise, we’ll look elsewhere.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.