June is Pride month, an event steeped in history that carries with it joy, pain, anger and profound importance for so many people in BC each year.
This year, Pride month began with the killing of George Floyd, which initiated an international outcry for police reforms and the need to tackle systemic racism. The widespread protests sparked from this injustice are a critical reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and how Pride month came about from a history rooted in protests led by Black and Hispanic LGBTQ2S+ activists.
Pride is a celebration of love. And for many, Pride is also a protest for equality and a time to honour trans activists of colour, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who led the Stonewall protests, fighting to modernize LGBTQ2S+ rights, pushing justice, equality and love for all to the forefront.
For me, Pride is also a recognition of the challenges many people continue to confront simply because of who they are. Even as we acknowledge the progress LGBTQ2S+ people have fought for, I appreciate how far we still have to go to make sure that everyone has the right to be who they are without fear and stigma, regardless of the colour of their skin, gender identity or sexual orientation.
For starters, we need to recognize that LGBTQ2S+ people continue to face discrimination, violence and harassment disproportionately, which puts them at risk for much higher rates of poverty, mental health issues and other complex challenges. For people of colour and Indigenous peoples, there are even more systemic prejudice and barriers to overcome.
During this pandemic, we've seen the best in people, with many going above and beyond to support and care for others. Sadly, we’ve also seen very troubling actions driven by fear and ignorance. More than ever, we must join together and denounce acts of intimidation and violence fuelled by prejudice. Here in BC, our government is taking action with the reinstatement of the Human Rights Commission and the creation of the Resilience BC anti-racism network to support inclusion and diversity, be it race, gender or sexuality.
Additionally, this pandemic has meant that thousands of people who would usually gather need to find new ways of coming together. Even though the pandemic means we must reimagine the way we connect, I hope we can continue to share what Pride means, be it a celebration or a protest, for our friends, family members, neighbours and communities.
Pride month, and in fact, every month, is a time for all of us to keep pushing for equality and surround those in our lives who identify as non-binary or as a member of any minority with all our support, compassion and protection.
As a government, we have acted and made important strides, even as we know there is still a long way to go. In BC, we have ensured all 60 school districts, several First Nations and independent schools are part of the BC Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Educator Network to help schools be more inclusive for students starting from their very first day in kindergarten. We have provided a third option in the gender field of government-issued identification for those who do not identify as male or female. We have also moved to ensure publicly funded, gender-affirming surgeries are available in BC, so people don’t have to travel away from home to receive the care they need.
We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has meant distress for many people who may have faced delays in their treatment plans or who have been distanced from friends, family and support networks.
We also know that this pandemic will not last forever. I encourage people to see this year’s Pride as an opportunity to connect with and support one another however you feel safest.
Reimagine what you can do to honour and celebrate Pride and diversity in your community. And in doing so, know that you have our unwavering support and commitment to continue the fight to advance the rights and freedoms for people of all sexual orientations, ethnic origins and gender identities so BC can be a place where people are truly free to be who they are.
Mitzi Dean, MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, is the parliamentary secretary for gender equity.