How oppressive is it to hear mainstream media debating about what rights you deserve to have? This was the opening question posed in a video by a trans* activist in Dublin, in a video shown during the introduction of a workshop on inclusive practices for the LGBTQ+ community, held by Rainbow Health Ontario.
The two day workshop took place on March 12 and 13. The first was hosted by Rainbow Health Ontario on March 12 at the Ramada Hotel and was titled ‘Introduction to LGBTQ Health: Inclusive Practices and Language (http://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/). The second workshop was hosted by the LGBTQ Parenting Network (http://lgbtqpn.ca/) the following day and was called “Queering the Family Tree: Building LGBTQ-Inclusive Programs and Services.”
There is really no better depiction of who has privilege in a context then when a certain group is debating what human rights another group should have. It’s never really as cut and dry as this, especially within an intersectional analysis. But this is a constant challenge the LGBTQ+ community challenge face, an experience well rooted in centuries of colonization and oppression.
The history LGBTQ+ has well been silenced by Western colonization. Speaker Devan Nambiar, the Education Coordinator for Rainbow Health Ontario, opened his talk on colonization with the example of the Portuguese monarch’s first encounter with the King of the Ivory Coast in the 15th Century. The Portuguese were astonished when the King was female, and there were multiple male Queens to the throne. The Portuguese instructed the King that she could not be a King, but only a Queen. She dismissed the Portuguese and was able to keep Portuguese colonizers at bay for 30 years.
This story is most certainly not an uncommon one in Queer history, a history that has been silenced to suit a heteronormative monosexist Western agenda. In fact, upon speaking to other self-identified racialized attendees, this history was quite common in Indigenous groups within South Asia and Africa.
It is convenient that it is not common now, even moreso when it’s considered appropriate to debate whether trans* identified persons should have the same privileges as anyone else. To add further context, Devan alerted me that homosexuality was outlawed in 1834, yet the term heterosexual only emerged in the 1940s.
In the current neocolonized world we live in, homosexuality is outlawed in 70 countries. Devan highlighted that this is important for service providers to know when working with newcomers and refugees who may come from these countries or countries where LGBTQ status is still taboo. He mentioned how coming out or publicly self-identifying is a very Western notion, and that not all LGBTQ+ feel safe doing so, especially when their life was previously at stake for doing so. This relates to what our blog reported back in October about Closeted Activism in the Middle East (http://wp.me/p2D1by-hs).
There are subtle moments where you come face to face with privilege, and that moment occurred for me when a self-identified gay cisgendered man expressed that he needed to be careful travelling and identifying himself publicly for fear for his and his partner’s personal safety. As a straight-identifying person, this would never be a thought.
My fears revolve more around being morally policed for my choice in wardrobe and attitude as a cisgendered woman, or being blamed for any potential sexual violence imposed on me. Although I may be anxious travelling as a sex-positive feminist, my anxiety has never been based on who I may bed that evening. Heterosexual privilege is complicated by gender, and further complicated by race and ethnicity or able-bodied status when it comes to who can freely express their sexuality.
The following day, intersectionality was further dissected while looking at family practice, pluralism, and colonial practices. In Ontario, queer parents often had their children taken from them through custody cases, as family court judges deemed them unfit to parent.
A lot of change occurred in the 90s, including a family court decision recognizing same-sex couples as “spouses,” and allowing lesbian non-biological parents to legally adopt their children. This led to the constitutional addition of protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation to Bill C-38, Canada’s civil marriage bill in 2005, allowing same sex marriages across the country.
This continues to be a struggle for Trans* parents. Devan said that transparents are finding the same resistance today that lesbian couples found in the seventies. According to Rachel Epstein, LGBTQ+ parenting activist, educator, and researcher, and workshop facilitator for the day, approximately 45% of Canadians still believe that LGBTQ people should be denied the right to parent. “That’s pretty profound. When we walk into your services, we don’t know if you are one of those people.”
That’s when everyone started talking about tokenism among service providers, that posting a rainbow in the waiting room at your workplace was not enough to render your agency inclusive. Someone from the workshop referred to the need to “back up the rainbow.” As well meaning as posting a rainbow sticker might be, if there is even one prejudiced staff member, this could create an exclusionary atmosphere for the service user.
The relevance of having properly trained staff in both social services and healthcare became apparent when Rachel informed everyone that former generations of LGBTQ people still carry the impact of historical discrimination. Barriers to accessibility are still encountered by LGBTQ communities “That’s why you, as one of those service providers, you must go out of your way to make LGBTQ people feel comfortable,” said Rachel.
The workshop not only increased my awareness about the unique challenges the LGBTQ communities face, but also educated me on the unique challenges LGBTQ people face depending on what stage of life they are in. For elders, many are finding that they have to go back into the closet just to survive in Senior homes, where a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seems to take effect. If their sexual orientation becomes disclosed, they risk alienation and their personal safety.
For children, the main concern is being accepted at home and social alienation when they begin school. This video about Dyson, The Princess Boy, was shown to us, and I had to share it here because it was beautifully put together and is incredibly heartwarming, minus the part quoting a Fox News opinion.
For parents, heterosexism is constantly an issue, especially when it comes to intake forms that ask about who is the mother and father to their children. Transparents expressed fear of walking in public while being a pregnant male. Among youth, heterosexism within schools was also a major concern, and new issues were brought to the surface. We were shown a video where multiple youth shared their perspective on the issues they faced, and one affirmed that coming out of the closet was antiquated and that it shouldn’t be necessary, that sexuality should be accepted as fluid. This is a pretty basic summary, because this analysis becomes further complicated when intersectional analyses are applied.
According to the research findings Rachel presented, children from LGB led families exhibit:
- Increased awareness & empathy towards social difference
- Higher self-esteem & better mental health than children from heteronormative families
- Less likely to apply gender values and stereotypes to others
- Lived in more egalitarian households with shared parenting and housework and parents spent more time with their children
- More likely to be sexually explorative, though no more likely to identify as LGB
After seeing these findings, I recalled the video where the person brought up how oppressive it feels for someone to debate about how many rights you should be entitled to all because of your LGBTQ status. The fact that children from LGB led families are studied on the basis of who their parents bed is oppressive. It points to how LGB parents must prove they are not corrupting their children’s mental and emotional wellbeing, when heterosexual parent led families aren’t put under the microscope on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Despite the blatant display of heteronormative privilege, it’s great to see these positive results. In fact, it appears children from LGB parent led families may be better adjusted emotionally and more mentally stable than their heterosexual parent led peers. In all honesty, what standard would LGB parents have to fulfill anyway? Perfect families don’t exist.
For heterosexual parents to expect more from LGB parents is simply setting them up to fail. Instead, it appears that children from LGB families are more well-adjusted when it comes to gender and sexuality than children from heterosexual led families. Yet, CAS will not be investigating the homes of those who perpetrate violence against LGB children and youth, nor will be any study be surveilling heterosexual parent led families to scrutinize their parenting skills on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Both workshops placed emphasis on what constitutes sexual identity and gender identity. Most of us know that sex refers to the biological identifiers of gender – genitals, hormones, anatomy and genetics – and that gender is how one expresses and identifies oneself, including if this means expressing as androgynous and/or nonbinary.
Simply put, gender is between yours ears and sex is between your legs, but even this may be problematic. Sexuality can also be distributed between two categories: sexual orientation and sexual behaviour. The two are not mutually exclusive. For instance, although sexual orientation may be heterosexual for a cisgendered female, her sexual behaviour may include bedding other cisgendered women.
This interprofessional workshop provided invaluable insight on the next steps required to provide inclusive practices across the province, as well as speaking to the difficulty of advocacy work in suburban and rural parts of Ontario. It provided a great networking opportunity for professionals to connect and work together in creating better services across Ontario. This workshop helped me restore my faith for a more inclusive Ontario, hopefully leading us to the day where no one will have to face barriers just to be with the person they love, irrespective of their gender identity and expression.*
Here are a few concluding tips for anyone planning to work with the LGBTQ communities
- Advocate for your agency to implement more inclusive language practices, most importantly on intake forms. Intake forms are the first impression a service user has of your agency. Let service users identify themselves by providing a blank space under gender, and on certificates that ask about the user’s parents. For example, where it would ask mother and father (because forms were heteronormative), you would switch it to parent and parent
- Advocate for all staff to be trained in LGBTQ+ inclusiveness. This will create a welcoming space and decrease barriers that LGBTQ people face in health and social services
- Always ask, don’t assume. Always ask someone what pronouns they prefer to go by.
- Avoid using the word homosexual and homosexuality. It refers to the criminalization and medicalization of LGBTQ People.
Here’s another great resource Devan shared with me on the dangers of social work being colonial by being overreaching with wanting to ‘help’.
Sara Moscatel is a third-year social work student focusing on sexuality, gender, anti-colonialism, and settlement concerns for Portuguese-Canadians. When she’s not dedicating herself to something, she can be found at home eating and bingeing on Netflix with her partner.