The Sochi Olympics are a gift to the Western world.
Not only have they given journalists and athletes the opportunity to bond over how traumatic it can be when a hotel is comically below standard, it’s also given us the opportunity to crow over how backwards Russia is. I mean, Putin! And gay people can’t marry! In Soviet Russia, the jokes make themselves!
Many countries have taken advantage of the opportunity to show how progressive and modern they are by donning rainbow attire. In Canada, rainbow flags have gone up in institutions across the country, including Fredericton’s own City Hall as well as here at UNB.
It’s a waving, brightly-coloured symbol of love, hope, and nauseating hypocrisy.
See, the thing is, everyone’s digging the bash on Russia right now. They ban gay marriage, promote violence against LGBTQ-identified people, have laws against gay “propaganda” and notoriously punish citizens who oppose them.
And people are very right to criticize these laws and the people upholding them. But in the rush to make snide, 140-character comments about Sochi’s dirty laundry – and by “dirty laundry” I mean “blatant human rights violations” – we’re failing to look closely at our own.
Yeah, sure, gay people can get married in Canada. But LGBTQ people, and particularly LGBTQ youth, are vastly overrepresented in the homeless population, disproportionately victims of violence and abuse, and at an increased risk for mental health issues.
Transgender people – that’s the “T” in LGBTQ, along with two-spirited – are particularly excluded from the conversation surrounding LGBTQ rights. This isn’t just a matter of bathroom signs and hurt feelings. 238 transgender people, the vast majority being trans women of colour, were murdered last year solely for being trans. Trans people are vastly more likely to live in poverty or be homeless, and nearly half of all trans people attempt suicide at some point in their lives.
This does not sound like the utopian image of an LGBTQ-positive Canada that the rainbow flags suggest.
Just last week, Avery Edison, a woman who happens to be transgender, was denied entry at the Toronto airport for reasons that were not gender-related. However, because the was trans, she was misgendered and sent to a men’s detention solely because Canadian border officials, and the government they represent, are ignorant enough to believe that a person’s genitalia is relevant to the conversation. It should also be noted that Edison’s legal identification, including her passport, say she is female.
Edison was later transferred to a women’s prison, and then allowed to return to the United Kingdom. Although Edison’s particular story has a ‘happy’ ending, she herself points out she had advantages – that being white, speaking English, and having almost twenty thousand Twitter followers – that many women in similar situations might not have.
Edison’s treatment is indicative of the Canadian government’s stance on transgender equality. For a country that seems to pride itself on its moral superiority to LGBTQ-hating Russia, Canada sure seems to have no problem with transphobia.
Bill C-279, introduced by NDP MP Randall Garrison in 2011, sought to entrench “gender expression and gender identity” into the Canadian Human Rights Act, to be included alongside protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, and religion, among others. If Canada were truly the open-minded LGBTQ haven it claims to be, the bill would have been seen for what it was – a protection against discrimination for transgender Canadians – and passed without much concern. However, that was not the case.
The infamously dubbed “bathroom bill” soon gained national attention as Conservative MP Rob Anders insisted that the ruling would allow sexual predators to access women’s washrooms under the guise of being transgender. Anders is not alone. There are many large groups, such as the “Real Women of Canada” and “Canada Family Action,” who threaten the realization of the bill.
The bill is currently in the second reading in the Senate, while many transgender Canadians continue to face daily discrimination in their professional, social, and personal lives.
The thing is, problems like these are swept under the rug when the conversation is set on mocking Russia and glorifying the free, progressive, magical nation of Canada. The self-congratulatory patriotic rhetoric encompasses the conversations and leaves no room for anything that might actually improve the lives of LGBTQ individuals, either here or in Sochi.
Flying a rainbow flag over city hall doesn’t hurt, I guess.
But it sure doesn’t do shit to help.