And some things have changed in that time. In fact, there has been huge progress that I never could have imagined years ago. Looking back it seems fast. In the middle of the struggle, it was way too slow.
As a leftie, comrades and I often have said, “Hasta la revolución!” We do it as a rallying cry, remembering our solidarity with movements in Central and South America but also expressing our hopes for a revolution that would bring economic and social justice to our country.
But now, I’m not so sure about the idea of revolution, particularly in our context in Canada. Perhaps that’s because I’ve become too comfortable and middle class. But it seems to me that with revolution you separate people into winners and losers, into sheep and goats. While winning can be great, losing is not so good. And with a revolution there is always the possibility of a counter revolution and with it perhaps the worst kind of setback.
That’s why I’m more interested these days in transformation. I want to see folks transformed in what they believe about human sexuality and gender, about how to do politics, and about their understanding of economics and a just community. I don’t want tolerance. I don’t want folks feeling they have to keep quiet about their concerns. I don’t want them policed into a position. I want them to come to new understandings and new appreciations that resonate deeply with who they are. I want them to experience a truth that includes them and me and my people. I want that kind of experience for myself when it comes to folks who are not like me or worldviews that don’t spring from my limited experience.
And I’ve been lucky to see that happen. I see it when people stand with a gay and lesbian couple at their wedding. I see it when a family headed by queer parents is accepted at the local school. I see it when students rally to defend someone bullied. These are stories of individual and societal transformation.
Personally, my understanding of gender has changed dramatically since I started working and standing with folks in the trans community. Getting to know transgender and transsexual people brought me to a new understanding of gender-and of my experience of gender. It wasn’t always an easy journey, but the change that I’ve seen in myself and in my family and community amazes me.
Yes, laws need to be changed. Those who suffer discrimination must be able to seek a remedy. Those who persecute must be stopped and brought to justice. Trans people and other minorities must see themselves explicitly in human rights legislation. Protection must be offered and realized. Health care must be truly universal and accessible. Schools must be safe places. Families must not reject their children because they don’t understand their sexuality or gender. That work is not finished and must continue.
So it’s a broad task.
But there is much to celebrate.
This year we celebrate ten years of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. Experiencing discrimination changed Jeremy Dias and his friends and supporters. They knew a new truth. They learned to talk about that truth in a new way and with new groups. And ten years ago they made decisions about broadening that work that brought others into the struggle and changed many people. They presented new opportunities for political leaders to work together.
I remember the founding event of Jer’s Vision at an Ottawa restaurant ten years ago. I was there with elected folks from all the parties represented in Parliament-NDP, Liberal, Conservative and the Bloc Québécois. Jack Layton, Libby Davies, and I represented the NDP. Hedy Fry and Marlene Catterall were there from the Liberals. Gilles Duceppe and Réal Ménard came from the Bloc. And John Baird from the Conservatives. I remember the excitement in the room. I remember the love and support shown to Jeremy by his family and friends and colleagues-and how he returned that love and support. I remember the challenge to us as politicians to work together, across party lines, for change. It was an auspicious beginning for a small group with a big idea-a big idea that has changed the lives of thousands of folks for the better.
We’re also marking 30 years of Capital Pride. I’d just moved to Ottawa 30 years ago and was about to start a job on Parliament Hill. Ottawa in those days was very different for folks in the gay community. In a government town where there was no explicit protection from job discrimination, the community tended to be closeted and cliquey. We were there, but not many of us were out. But the big idea of Pride started to change things. Ottawa in 2015 is nothing like Ottawa in 1985.
Ten years ago marriage equality happened. I remember emerging from the House of Commons after the final vote in the House, into a hot, muggy Ottawa summer evening. I was with Libby and Jack-we were exhausted yet exhilarated by the outcome. And arriving outside we were greeted by a crowd of folks who’d packed the gallery for the vote. A crowd who were effusive in their thanks to all the MPs who’d supported equality for our community. And the party began.
Emma Goldman was an American anarchist activist in the early 1900s-she spent time in Canada too. She supported progressive causes long before others. She was quoted as saying, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”. Goldman knew the importance of celebrating and the equality and solidarity that dancing together helps build. In the queer community, we know that too. We’ve always partied our way through the hard times and the victories. Jack Layton was also good at that. Jack (I’m sure he’d be fine with being mentioned in the same paragraph as Emma Goldman) often seemed to be the happiest guy at Pride. His excitement for the founding of Jer’s Vision was real-he didn’t want to be anywhere else but on stage with Jeremy and his team that founding night. And Jack’s “orange wave” knew how to dance!
The work of change is hard. Living through change sometimes means we don’t see what is different. And real change is almost always too slow. But things have changed.
And we have to work at ensuring we don’t lose ground-there can be no backtracking.
There is more to do. We’re not done yet!
I used to say “Hasta la revolución!” Now I say “Hasta la transformación!”
Bill Siksay is a queer activist and former Member of Parliament. He now works for the Anglican Bishop in Vancouver.