Prairies delegates share their WorldPride 2014 experiences

PSAC sent members from across the country to participate in WorldPride 2014 events in Toronto and represent our union. Prairies members joined the PSAC delegation and participated in the WorldPride Human Rights Conference (June 25-27) and WorldPride Parade (June 29).

More than 250 PSAC activists, many from the Toronto area, marched in the trans and dyke marches, as well as the main parade – spreading the union message to millions of bystanders. At the WorldPride Human Rights Conference, PSAC staff facilitated a workshop on unions and LGBTQ rights and launched a new document tracing the history of our union’s involvement in queer and trans human rights issues.

Many of the PSAC members who participated in WorldPride described the experience as transformative. The two members chosen to represent the PSAC from the Prairie Region describe their experiences below.

Kate Hart (Edmonton, UNE Local 30095)

The WorldPride Human Rights Conference was held at the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. As I was to learn, there were representatives from over 60 countries that attended the conference. They covered the gamut of extremely progressive countries to the absolutely repressive countries throughout the world.

There were a wide variety of sessions available to all participants. On the opening morning of the conference I chose sessions regarding the role of labour in LGBT rights. My first session was “International LGBT Human Rights in the Workplace”. The session focused on the role of organized labour in the advancement of LGBT rights. Everything from the inclusion of rights or non-discrimination clauses in collective bargaining agreements to the on the ground support in protests and marches in support of LGBT rights. What became readily apparent is the amount of work, and the many advances that have been made worldwide through organized labour.

What also became readily apparent was how much further we have to go. While we have it fairly good here in Canada and we still have a long way to go, we are much further ahead than many countries in the world.

I continued on with a similar theme in the later sessions that day with “Domestic LGBT Human Rights Issues in the Workplace”. These were far more oriented to large and small business and global multinationals. While informative, there seemed to be a disconnect between what businesses were putting in as policies and what was happening on the ground with LGBT persons.

We were very fortunate to have the former Prime Minister of Iceland and her wife as the plenary speakers. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttirwas the first out lesbian Head of State and she was inspirational in her speech. She gave us an idea of what is what like to rise through the political system without compromising who she was.

The next day, I took the sessions “Media Representations” and “Critically Queer”. Both panels introduced the aspects of queer people in the media and the politics of queer. It was very interesting to take in the viewpoints of people from other countries as to how LGBT people are perceived and treated in the media, and as a part of “mainstream society”. As a transperson, it was fascinating to see the discussions of the politics of queer, where it was blindingly obvious that the trans community was thrown under the bus on a regular basis in order to secure something for the LG community.

That afternoon our plenary speakers discussed the issues in the Pan-African region, two speakers in particular from Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). The depth of fear and hatred that is prevalent in the Pan-African region is truly frightening. These people are under threat for their freedom and their lives on a daily basis.

On Friday, I attended “Trans* Activism” and “Anti-LGBT Violence and Conflict”. The plenary that day was very good with a look at the LGBT issues in Russia and the problems faced there.

Aside from the Human Rights Conference, regular Pride events were a success. The Trans March on the Friday was amazing. The number of transmen, transwomen and allies that marched proudly and without fear made me very proud. The feeling of empowerment engendered by the march was amazing. The Pride Parade on the Sunday was nothing short of spectacular. I was fortunate enough to ride on the PSAC float for the parade and it was an incredible rush. The level of acceptance and enjoyment from the City of Toronto was certainly something to see.

I think the way in which the labour movement embraced Pride celebrations and have supported the community’s fight for human rights is one of the things that impressed me the most. That is what perhaps has made me the most proud coming away from WorldPride.

Read Kate’s pre-pride profile on the PSAC National website.

Chris Little-Gagne (Winnipeg, UNE Local 50235)

During the Human Rights Conference, I attended many different workshops and presentations. On Wednesday, I attended “International LGBT Human Rights in the Workplace”, a panel discussion on the labour movment and LGBT equality that had people from Canada, Poland, USA and China. That discussion was followed by “Creating Inclusive Schools”, a panel discussion about LGBT in schools in Northern Ontario and Bullying. There was also a person from Greece discussing the lack of sexual education in Greece.

In the afternoon, I attended “The Politics of Pride Parades”, where people from South Africa, India and Eastern Europe discussed the reason and difficulties of having Pride in countries that have large groups actively attacking the LGBT community. This was followed by a plenary session with Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, former Prime Minister of Iceland and the first LGBT Head of State. This was an amazing presentation showing the changes in the 35 years Johanna and her wife have been together.

On Thursday, I attended “Competiting Interests”, a discussion on creating safe spaces and LGBT areas, as well as how this is perceived and if they are truly safe. This was followed by “Homophobia in the Media”, with a discussion on how media messaging and branding can be used for in both a positive way and a negative way. 

In the afternoon, I attended “Critically Queer”, where panelists discussed homonormativity (a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them), homonationalism (speaks to the ways Western powers––such as the U.S. and Canada––circulate ideas about other cultures––such as Arab and Islamic cultures––in order produce the West as culturally, morally, and politically advanced and superior), and pink washing (a term used to describe various forms of cause marketing).

On Friday, I attended “Unions and LGBTQ Rights”, a discussion by the Canadian Labour Congress about unions’ ability to move LGBT rights forward. This was followed by “State Advocacy”, a panel discussion by people from Israel, USA and Nigeria on how to build and grow best practices in hostile environments.

In the afternoon, I attended “International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)”, a panel discussion with representatives from Mexico, Japan, Botswana, Uganda, Switzerland and Canada on what the ILGA does and how they are trying to move LGBT rights and safety forward while working with larger institutions like the United Nations. This was followed by a plenary session where Jian Ghomeshi talked to Masha Gessen, an outspoken LBGT journalist from Russia, about her struggles and why her family had to escape Russia and move to the USA.

During the Pride Parade, I was included in the PSAC float. To be a part of such a great LGBT pride parade was fantastic and to see the amount of people along the long parade route was breathtaking. The celebration of equality and the ability to show the world that the LGBT community is a vibrant, peaceful and integrated part of any culture that should be celebrated and not persecuted is what my human rights focus is all about. 

Canada has come a long way in a short time. However, even in the WorldPride host city of Toronto, where the mayor is outspoken about his disdain for LGBT issues, we are remindeed that the fight here in Canada is not over.

The one thing I would say I really took from this week, would be a greater understanding and focus on the fight and need to add gender expression and gender in the human rights code. 

I would like to thank the PSAC for this opportunity and the future opportunities to fight and move LGBT rights forward in Canada and the World.

Visit the PSAC National website for a photo gallery from the WorldPride Parade.