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While browsing the ever so funny Tumblr “Canadian Problems“, I came across one of the problems listed: “Being a very bored gay rights activist”. 

Cute eh? We certainly have it a lot better off up here than in most other countries. I’m hard pressed to think of a place other than say, Scandinavia or the Netherlands which is a safer and more inclusive country when it comes to the rights of its queer and trans citizens.

But let me tell you, as a Canadian gay rights activist who is currently engaged in on and off-campus pride activities, I am anything but bored. How could I be? With one of the nation’s biggest newspapers running a horrible full page ad which is not only grossly heterosexist but also dishonest and misleading (but gave birth to this great rebuttal) and a farmer’s market in Ontario calling trans people “family unfriendly” and mistaking them for “men dressed as women” (This is not a Monty Python skit, sir, they’re called trans women, or just women) and a bill for protecting the basic rights of trans people being reintroduced into an overly conservative Parliament, we are quite occupied.

The greatest difference I’ve seen in the fight for queer rights in the United States and Canada is that there is greater support to be found at the University staff in Canada than in the U.S. I was living in a semi-conservative part of the states, and the reception of university higher-ups to helping with projects related to queer and trans rights was lukewarm. They were superficially supportive, in the sense of sticking a few rainbow stickers on office doors and giving queer rights groups space and time to talk about what issues were affecting them on campus, but talk of real, solid change was met with a lot more strained anxiety and skepticism, and much lip service was paid to “bipartisanship” and “respecting all views”, which is, in my experience, a special secret code for “We are too scared to rock the boat and endorse your political campaign/activism, because we don’t have the resources or time to deal with the  inevitable aftermath of behaving like decent human beings”.

But the University here is wonderfully supportive. The Student Union Reps voted unanimously this week to endorse the Purple Letter Campaign, UVic Pride gets its own spacious office, and we are allotted more than enough money to support projects which are important for the health, safety and well-being of queer students and community members alike.

At the governmental/state level, the political environment ranged from being inclusive and openly supportive (People like Diane Sands and the Montana Human Rights Network, who are still awesome!) to contemptuous and cruel (One of the more tasteful MT state senators called the head of the Montana Human Rights Network “that little Tinkerbell”, and one of the hanchos of the Montana Tea Party made jokes about “hanging fruit” in reference to Mathew Shepard) I haven’t had any experience yet with the government of BC or Victoria, but I get the feeling that my skin was sufficiently thickened enough to never even cock an eyebrow at whatever a Tory can throw at me.

Probably the biggest difference though, isn’t in who we face in order to garner support and fight our battles, it’s the battles we choose. One of the biggest irritants I had when I was working with groups in Montana was the ongoing tunnel vision on one issue and one issue alone: Marriage marriage marriage. Occasionally there would be a bit of a side discussion on the repeal of DADT, but otherwise our focus was very singular, and, to my irritation, a good portion of the people who were chairing these events/groups were cisgendered and heterosexual* so there wasn’t a lot of diversity of thought or original thinking going on.

I’m not denying how important issues like DADT and marriage equality are, but when that is seen as the absolute sum of queer rights issues, there’s a problem. It diverts attention and resources away from important and sometimes life-saving projects, like AIDS testing, healthcare access, trans-friendly health services, human rights legislation, and inclusive education. Perhaps that’s why Canadians might be considered to be very bored gay rights advocates, because inclusion in the military and marriage equality haven’t had a need to be addressed for quite a long time now, save for the occasional heterosexist florist. I must say though, marriage equality and military inclusion are only scratching the surface. Don’t assume we’re bored, we’re just ready to pick up different tools and different goals on the road to full equality.
* Naturally I have no troubles with allies taking an active role in any project to serve the needs of queer activism, but when there’s a disturbing pattern of straight people being selected over qualified queer/trans candidates for leadership positions, I smell a rat.