Federal government launches 2SLGBTQI+ action plan

Leaders and community groups weigh in on the new plan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Women and Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien announced the launch of their government’s 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan on Sunday, just before Capital Pride’s parade in Ottawa. Launching with a new acronym to be used across the federal government, the action plan is months later than it had initially been promised during the last federal election, when the commitment was to release it within 100 days of cabinet being sworn in. Stakeholders and advocacy groups have largely responded positively to the action plan.

“We were also committed that this wouldn’t be a made-in-Ottawa action plan,” says Trudeau when Xtra asked about the delay at the announcement. “As Marci pointed out, the level of feedback, of involvement, of consultation that went into this plan took us a little more time. I think it was worth the wait, because this historic, first-ever action plan is getting it right, even as we know, there is always going to be more to do, but this is a big step.”

According to the document, the newly renamed 2SLGBTQI+ Secretariat received 25,636 responses to their survey, as well as 102 written submissions, with seven roundtable discussions involving more than 100 participants across the country.

Ien echoed the PM’s sentiment and took responsibility for the delay because she wanted to hear more from people.

“I will sit here and take onus for a lot of it because I haven’t been a minister for so long, and I wanted to hear from people,” Ien says. “I wanted to not just talk to them on the phone—I wanted to see their eyes, I wanted to sit with them, I wanted to hear their stories and speak with our team and other teams about what we can do. We wanted to take the time to do that, so that this plan reflects what the community needs. That’s what’s important—that’s everything, frankly. Yes, it’s past the 100 days, but we’re here.”

While $100 million over five years was allocated in the current budget for the action plan, the document details that 75 percent of it flowing directly to community organizations.

That $75 million breaks down into $40 million of new funding for organizations to build their capacity, with an additional $35 million in new project funding that groups can apply for. For the remaining funds, $5.6 million will be used to create a public awareness campaign to “enhance inclusion and break down stigma and discrimination.” Additionally, $7.7 million will be used for disaggregated data collection, so that there is an accurate picture of the LGBTQ2S+ communities in Canada. Disaggregated data was something that the Auditor General recently highlighted as a problem that this government and Ien’s department in particular are lacking in.

 

The action plan also promises new consultations on criminal law and policy with regards to the criminalization of purely cosmetic surgeries on intersex children’s genitalia until they can provide consent, limiting the prosecutions of those who fail to disclose their HIV status before otherwise consensual sexual activity and modernizing offences in the Criminal Code that target “indecency.” It also pledges to expand the existing criminal record expungement regime for historically unjust offences that targeted the LGBTQ2S+ communities, and makes some commitments to advancing LGBTQ2S+ projects abroad as of 2025–26.

The Secretariat will be adopting a more inclusive acronym—2SLGBTQI+— with Two-Spirit being placed at the front in order to recognize that Indigenous people are the first LGBTQ2S+ communities in Canada, and as part of their mandate on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. A dedicated Two-Spirit senior advisor position will also be created within the Secretariat.

Tyler Boyce, executive director of the Enchanté Network, which connects Pride centres and LGBTQ2S+ service organizations, was on stage with Trudeau and Ien for the announcement.

“This is a historic day,” Boyce says. “This isn’t a last step, this is very much a springboard. For a long time, 2SLGBTQI+ organizations have been filling in the gaps [in services] across employment, across housing, across safety structures—every institution you could name. We’ve been filling that gap to make sure that queer and trans people are also served by the institutions of our democracy. With this plan, we finally have some resources to be able to do that work, and I’m just excited for the work that’s going to come from fuelling the work of folks who know exactly what they’re doing, and exactly how to make an impact in their communities.”

Boyce notes that capacity funds earmarked in a previous budget were extended in February to prevent organizations from having to let go of staff. With the action plan’s new funds, these organizations are able to have some longer-term stability.

“Something happens when you have the ability to plan out a few years,” Boyce says. “You can start focusing on the work. We’re excited for folks to finally have the resources to fill the gaps in their communities. Queer and trans organizations contribute so much to the Canadian economy, to the Canadian social service sector. This plan is really demonstrating that people are starting to recognize that.”

Boyce says that the $100 million investment is a result of community activism, and it means organizations like Enchanté can grow. Ien made several references to Boyce’s work during her speech, and there is an ongoing dialogue between them. 

Fae Johnstone, executive director of Wisdom2Action, a social enterprise and civil society consulting firm, says the investment is something to build on, but more is needed.

“One hundred million dollars over five years doesn’t go as far as people think it will, and I think that if we were talking about infrastructure, if we were talking about public safety or healthcare, we would be talking about hundreds and hundreds of millions, and I’m disappointed that we only got $100 million,” Johnstone says.

Johnstone was acknowledged by Ien during the announcement as someone she worked closely with during the development of the action plan, and has the minister’s ear for ongoing dialogue.

“We’re hoping we will see additional announcements,” Johnstone says. “It is an evergreen document, so we want a strategy to actually end conversion practices in this country. We definitely need a strategy specifically around anti-LGBTQ2s+ hate—we know it’s rising; we have data that shows that we’re approaching a crisis point—a 64 percent increase in hate-motivated crimes. We need more investments that are more targeted, and not just broad investments where everything is spread so thin so there’s not as much substance as we need.”

Johnstone later said over Twitter that the action plan doesn’t adequately address hate in Canada, and that it is silent on international issues, whether with LGBTQ2S+ refugees or advancing queer and trans rights abroad.

Michelle Douglas, executive director of the LGBT Purge Fund, which manages a portion of the funds received from the class action settlement for survivors of the government’s LGBTQ2S+ purge, was happy to see that the report from her organization is included within the action plan when it comes to ending discrimination against LGBTQ2S+ federal employees.

“There are still some gaps,” Douglas says. “The RCMP needs to do a lot more to be a better employer, and therefore serve Canadians better in what they do. There are still major gaps as we see it in what the RCMP is doing. The military, on the other hand, is making the kind of investment that is impressing us, with their commitment. Why are they doing it? Because they were so bad at what was happening before.”

While the military officially ended its homophobic and transphobic policies in 1992 after Douglas’s lawsuit, the toxic culture remained. Yet Douglas sees progress within the military. That the action plan promises to carry on the work of the Purge Fund report is heartening to her.

“We’re going to hold the government to account to implement their commitments,” Douglas says. “We are pleased to see many of the things in the document that we’d asked for, which is about shoring up the culture of inclusion and diversity with the federal workplace, and we will be relentless. We have been for more than 30 years.”

“I didn’t need this report to continue standing up for folks whose voices need to be amplified, and I see it as my own form of public service,” Douglas says. “It does make Canada a better place to work and to thrive. I know what it’s like to be fired for my sexual orientation by the government. It was horrible, and it stood for me as the most single motivating aspect for my activism, that no one should experience that. I’m glad it’s in an action plan, and I believe them that they’ll act on it.”

Dale Smith

Dale Smith is a freelance journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action.

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