Building an equitable society for all

Photo: Rainbow Resource Centre, 2013. Pictured left to right: Jared Star, Youth Program Coordinator; Dianna Grywinski, Youth Counsellor and Programming; Lillian Chartrand, Volunteer.

The history of 2SLGBTQ+ (2-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, + other non-cisgender identities) people in Canada is difficult to reconcile. It wasn’t until 1969 that Bill C-150 decriminalized sexual activity between men. It wasn’t until 1995 that it was illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. And it wasn’t until 2005 that same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide. We have taken strides to right the pain and prejudices of the past.

In 1984, activists in Manitoba pushed to include protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the Human Rights Code. Tactics deployed included a 59-day hunger strike by Richard North, and in 1987, the legislation passed.

It was only the middle of the 1980s that recognition of gay men became a focus of mainstream society. The 2SLGBTQ+ movement has grown and evolved exponentially since then, but it was often a struggle for recognition to anyone who self-identified outside the hetero-normative spectrum. Initial conversations almost solely focused on the experiences of gay men and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. More recently the focus has expanded to include the full spectrum of genders and sexualities.

“The system is by no means perfect, but I think that we’ve come a lot further in the last decade than we’ve ever been,” Noreen Mian, Executive Director of Rainbow Resource Centre, said in 2020.

One of The Winnipeg Foundation’s first recorded grants in support of this Cause was in 1989, when it issued $20,318 to the Winnipeg Gay Community Health Centre (an organization that no longer exists) to develop a plan providing service to individuals with AIDS. The AIDS virus was first identified in Canada in March 1982, and the first AIDS awareness week was started in 1984 in Toronto.

Since then, healthcare providers have expanded their understanding and scope to not solely support gay men and focus on HIV/AIDS but to also focus on the full gamut of sexual health for all genders and sexual orientations.

“It’s important to recognize discrimination still exists,” Mian said. “There has been a lot of work to dismantle barriers in healthcare, whether that is visibly letting patients know it’s an inclusive space, asking healthcare professionals to consider the language they’re using, or additional barriers that may impact somebody’s health, not necessarily related to the physical.”

The Winnipeg Foundation has supported many organizations working to help the 2SLGBTQ+ community during the past three decades, including grants to Nine Circles Community Health Centre, Rainbow Resource Centre, and Klinic Community Health.

Prevention, testing, treatment, and support are vital to the health and wellness of our city, and the work continues to adapt as communities evolve.

Since the ’80s and ’90s, there has been tremendous growth in public education, conversation, and acceptance of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

“Yes, the laws are in place, but the system hasn’t caught up to reflect those laws,” Mian said. “This work is still important to undo systemic homophobia that still exists.”

Michael Payne has been with Nine Circles Community Health Centre for more than 20 years and has watched the system slowly evolve.

“The movement has been focused on empowering people with information so they can make an informed choice to do what’s right for them,” Payne said in 2020. “The core concept, given to us from our Indigenous partners, is the notion of there being no wrong doorway. Whichever agency people stop at, we should have the capacity to help people navigate to the place they need to be.”

Different Indigenous groups have had their own traditions and approaches to transgender people, gender variance and/or sexual identity. Communities often treated transgender people with reverence, and they often acted as caretakers of children who had lost their families.

“We need to take a meaningful look at what unique needs in our community are not being met in the healthcare system, as it transforms,” Payne said. “It will be important we make sure we’re thinking about who in our community is reflected in these new systems, and who might be left behind.”

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