Anti-LGBTQ sentiments have become increasingly toxic and more prevalent around the world. From the United States to Europe and East Africa, right-wing state and federal governments are introducing legislation and social policies targeting LGBTQ people.
The backlash against LGBTQ communities and human rights is global in scale and appears to be gaining momentum. There are 64 countries in the world where being LGBTQ is considered a crime, including six countries where it is punishable by death.
Canada is not immune to the rise in anti-LGBTQ sentiment in other parts of the world. In the coming years, we will need to be even more vigilant in protecting and advancing LGBTQ rights in our own country.
Rights under attack
Far-right governments and populist movements are becoming more emboldened across the world. There is a direct correlation between the erosion of human rights and increasing hate crimes and violence targeting the LGBTQ community.
Read more: Trans rights and political backlash: five key moments in history
In the U.S., there are now more than 650 anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced in state legislatures designed to roll back the human and civil rights of LGBTQ communities.
In Florida, at least 10 anti-LGBTQ bills are under consideration. Many of these backwards measures seek to block children from accessing life-saving gender-affirming care, criminalize parents for supporting their transgender and non-binary children, censor LGBTQ-inclusive books and prohibit teaching about sexual and gender diversity.
Other bills have sought to protect conscience rights, which allow discrimination against LGBTQ people seeking services. Several U.S. states have also introduced laws prohibiting transgender athletes from participating in female sports. A new slate of bills are now targeting public drag performances as a form of child endangerment in more than a dozen states.
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is often couched within tropes of protecting children, promoting parental rights, and defending religious freedoms as the basis for attacking minority rights and liberal values.
Recently, with losses mounting in the Ukraine war, Russian President Vladimir Putin intensified his attacks on LGBTQ people by approving new legislation making it illegal to spread so-called propaganda concerning “non-traditional sexual relations.” This essentially outlaws any public events, performances or communication about LGBTQ identities or communities.
The Ugandan parliament has introduced some of the most regressive anti-LGBTQ legislation in the world. It proposes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and a life sentence for promoting and funding of same-sex activities.
Read more: Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill wants to 'rehabilitate' LGBTIQ+ people – African psychologists warn of its dangers
Other African nations such as Kenya and Ghana are now drafting similar laws. This offensive against African LGBTQ communities has largely been fuelled by American evangelicals who have spent years radicalizing local citizens to reject Western influences and protect so-called family values.
This growing anti-LGBTQ backlash has also been witnessed in Brazil, Poland and Romania. Recently, Italy’s new right-wing government moved to restrict adoption rights for same-sex parents, citing the need to protect “natural families.”
Backlash in Canada
Given this rising tide of global hate, we should not be complacent in believing anti-LGBTQ backlash will not happen in Canada. On the contrary, it has already started. Police-reported hate crimes targeting people based on sexual orientation have grown significantly over the past three years, increasing by nearly 60 per cent between 2019-2021.
Attacks against drag queen storytime events have swept across the country, with protests in more than a dozen cities. Some community organizers have cancelled events based on fears for the safety of parents and the already-vulnerable LGBTQ children these events are trying to support.
With rising LGBTQ visibility comes increased hate. Social media has become a toxic breeding ground for discrimination with old and tired stereotypes now being recycled to new and eager audiences.
The odious term “groomer” is now utilized as a shorthand linking LGBTQ communities to pedophilia; gay-straight alliances are labelled as ideological sex clubs in schools; transgender athletes are viewed as the ruin of competitive sports; teaching about sexual and gender diversity is positioned as a form of indoctrination; and drag queen storytime is equated with sexualizing vulnerable children.
We get the communities we are willing to build. Now is the time for community, corporate and political leaders to speak out and denounce anti-LGBTQ actions and rhetoric.
Ask your elected officials to enact legislation that protects the safety, health and well-being of LGBTQ communities. Calgary’s new Safe & Inclusive Access Bylaw provides an excellent example of how to balance freedom of speech and the right of assembly with community safety and civic participation.
Similarly, Ontario MPPs have introduced a new private members’ bill to prohibit acts of intimidation within 100 meters of identified 2SLGBTQI+ community safety zones. The bill also calls for the creation of a provincial 2SLGBTQI+ Safety Advisory Committee to help improve community safety and prevent hate crimes.
Religious leaders also need to speak out and demonstrate how faith can be welcoming, affirming and supportive of LGBTQ identities. Religion should not be allowed to become weaponized by far-right extremists as a conduit for hate and bigotry.
Collectively, all of us need to unite and prevent vulnerable communities from being silenced and intimidated by hate. We must loudly communicate that hate can have no place on our streets and in our communities.
If there are protests against drag queen storytime in your community, host more drag queen storytime events by partnering with your public library, affirming congregations and local LGBTQ community groups.
As community members, we also need to question and ask where our elected representatives stand on the issue of defending LGBTQ human rights. Do not accept silence as an answer. Get your elected leaders on the public record and hold them accountable for their words and actions.
Another crucial step is for each of us to speak out, become more actively involved and get out and vote. If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, consider running in the next election for your local school board, municipal, provincial or federal government.
We must become part of the democratic process if we are to change it. It is harder to discriminate against the LGBTQ community when you are sitting across from us at the decision-making table.
Visibility and representation matter. Hate flourishes in the vacuum of silence. If we are to truly build an inclusive democracy, we can’t be afraid to actively protect and defend it.