I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to the 138th meeting of the Standing Committee on Health.
Several members of the committee are just returning from a trip. I'm not sure what you'd call it exactly, but it was an educational trip to Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver. It was partially about LGBT2Q issues but also about methamphetamine, so it ties them together. We learned a lot.
I want to welcome our guests.
We're going to have 10-minute opening statements by each person.
First of all, we have Travis Salway, Ph.D., post-doctoral research fellow, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia.
We have Alex Abramovich, Ph.D., independent scientist, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
From the Health Initiative for Men, we have by video conference from Vancouver, Greg Oudman, Executive Director.
From Pflag York Region, we have Tristan Coolman, President.
We'll start with Dr. Salway, with a 10-minute opening statement.
Mr. Chair and members of the standing committee, it is a privilege to address you this afternoon. My name is Travis Salway and I'm an epidemiologist and a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia, where I study how stigma and stress affect the health of sexual minorities.
In my statement I will use the term “sexual minorities” to refer to those of us who identify as bisexual, lesbian, gay or queer, as well as those who experience non-heterosexual attractions but may not easily assign labels to their feelings. I will not be speaking specifically about the health of transgender people in my statement as this is not my area of expertise; however, I do encourage the committee to consider how my recommendations may additionally benefit the well-being of transgender Canadians.
The rate of suicide in Canadian sexual minorities is unacceptably high, and this is why I'm here today. In the past 25 years we have seen dramatic gains in the legal rights and social status of sexual minorities in Canada, and yet despite these gains, at least one in six sexual minorities, a quarter of a million Canadians, have attempted suicide at least once. This rate is four times higher than the rate in the heterosexual population.
These statistics indicate that more government action is needed. Specifically, I will recommend action to increase the availability of and access to mental health supports though expansion of the Public Health Agency of Canada's community action fund; ban conversion therapy; and increase research on sexual minority people's health.
First, to give you some context and to situate my research, I will define the concept of minority stress. Everyone experiences daily stressors—a late bus, a deadline at work. Sexual minority people, however, experience additional stress because of their minority status. Minority stress comes in many forms and adds up over time because of repeated exposure.
Through my research interviews with adult gay men who had attempted suicide, there was seldom just one stress that caused the suicide attempt. Rather, multiple assaults and stresses accumulated. One man reflected upon a hurtful remark from his father, who saw a gay couple on television and reacted by calling them “mentally sick fruits”. This remark was internalized. It became an echo throughout the interviewee's life, reinforced when he was mocked or rejected by others in the schoolyard, in the locker room, online, but also later in life, even when, as an adult, he came out and tried to join a gay support group but found it hard to connect with other men there. This is how minority stress gets under our skin, into our bodies and into our minds. The stigma lodges itself there and slowly kills us from the inside.
Minority stress is not only about discrimination and hateful language. It also comes from within us, through low self-confidence and low self-worth. Another participant I interviewed talked about “withholding [the] major secret...of being gay”. He blamed his multiple suicide attempts on the fundamental pain associated with withholding this secret.
Withholding is something every sexual minority individual experiences. Even those of us who live in environments that are open and accepting of minority sexualities must repeatedly revisit the decision of whether to disclose and when it is safe to disclose our sexual minority status. This creates a particular kind of stress.
The many forms of minority stress and the accumulation of that stress over time take their toll on mental health. This is one important reason the policies and legal rights recognized in our country during the past 25 years have not yet fully alleviated the burden of mental health struggles among sexual minorities. But there is hope for sexual minorities who are struggling, and I want to offer some tangible ways forward today.
In Vancouver, where I work, one-third of sexual minorities we talked to want to talk to a health care provider about depression, anxiety, suicide or substance use, but are unable to do so. In response to this backlog of unmet mental health care needs and the limited available services offering sexual minority-affirming care, my colleagues and I have co-founded a collaborative of individuals and organizations in Vancouver—the LGBTQ2 mental health round table. Most members work for organizations that were established in response to the HIV epidemic, and that historically have received funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada's HIV and hepatitis C community action fund. We recognize that the same community-based infrastructure that was created to address HIV and AIDS is needed to similarly reach sexual minorities with unmet mental health needs.
The work of our round table is undertaken by volunteers and other individuals who are not formally tasked with addressing mental health-related epidemics affecting our communities. These individuals are nonetheless committed to this work because the levels of need are so high. Our work effectively reaches sexual minorities because it is led by organizations with long histories of working with sexual minority communities. For these reasons I recommend expansion of the Public Health Agency of Canada's community action fund to address suicide, depression, anxiety and substance use epidemics in the same way this fund has created equitable responses to the HIV and hepatitis C epidemics.
The research I have done on minority stress has allowed me to see with particular clarity the harm associated with an ongoing and overlooked practice here in Canada, that of conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is an umbrella term for practices that intend to change an individual's sexual orientation and gender identity. It is among the most extreme forms of psychological abuse and violence, leaving those exposed to manage the stress associated with a severe form of withholding for many years. Conversion therapy is thus the sharpest edge of minority stress. For this reason, conversion therapy has been unequivocally denounced by the Canadian Psychological Association and multiple other professional bodies.
Despite those denouncements, in a recent Canadian survey, 4% of sexual minority men reported having attended conversion therapy. On this basis, as many as 20,000 sexual minority men and countless more sexual minority women and transgender people have been exposed. Exposure to conversion therapy was associated with numerous health problems in the study we conducted. Most notably, one-third of those who had completed conversion therapy programs attempted suicide.
Sexual minority youth are especially vulnerable to being enrolled in conversion programs against their will, yet in Canada we lack federal policies to protect our youth from these harmful practices. Many, if not most, conversion programs are practised outside health care providers' offices. Thus, the current situation in which some provinces ban conversion practices by a subset of providers is insufficient and inequitable. Therefore, I recommend a federal ban on the practice of conversion therapy.
Minority stress is harmful, but it is not the entire story of sexual minority health. From data gathered through the Canadian community health survey, we know that sexual minorities are less likely to be married or partnered, and thus miss out on some of the beneficial health, social and financial benefits conferred through partnership. Sexual minorities, most notably bisexual people, are more likely to be living in poverty. Even in environments where minority stress is diminished, sexual minorities often lack social support networks as robust as those of heterosexuals.
Those patterns are striking, because in the general population we see that partnership, income and social support networks are among the largest and most consistent protective factors for suicide. This suggests that the suicide statistics I shared with you earlier are products of more than minority stress alone. For this reason, we need to deepen and expand Canadian research on sexual minority people's health.
As others have stated to this committee, Canada lags behind other countries in the routine collection of sexual and gender minority data. The sexual and gender minority research office of the U.S. National Institutes of Health lists 13 publicly available national datasets that measure sexual or gender minority status. In Canada, we have just two.
The opportunities in harnessing multiple large, linked federal datasets to more fully characterize sexual and gender minority health issues have yet to be realized. I therefore recommend the addition of sexual and gender minority measures to all federally funded health surveys and for respondents of all ages.
Furthermore, much of the evidence I have referenced today stems from research supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. This research has established initial Canadian estimates of the prevalence of health outcomes among sexual minorities that we're discussing today and has helped us understand some of the pathways through which minority stress causes these outcomes. However, acknowledging that we still have much to learn about the various other causes of ill health among sexual minorities, I recommend that special funding be identified to accelerate new research on the health of sexual and gender minority Canadians.
In closing, I believe the government actions I have recommended will make a substantial contribution to reducing the inequitably high rates of mental ill health for sexual and gender minority people in Canada. Again, my recommendations are, first, to increase the availability of mental health supports through expansion of the community action fund; second, to ban conversion therapy; and third, to increase research on sexual minority people's health.
I thank the committee for undertaking this study, a historic and pivotal step toward national leadership in addressing the health needs of LGBTQ2 people. Yet another profound effect of minority stress is that it often leads to a sense of hopelessness, and in this context, a federal study on the needs of sexual and gender minorities is itself a formidable intervention. Congratulations on this important work.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the standing committee, for the opportunity to take part in this historic study on LGBTQ2S health.
My name is Alex Abramovich and I am an independent scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
I have been addressing the issue of LGBTQ2S youth and young adult homelessness for over 10 years. I'm currently leading a study on transgender health more broadly. Today I will be speaking about these two topics.
I will use the term “youth" to refer to those between the ages of 16 and 29 and the term “cisgender”, which refers to people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth.
There are approximately 40,000 young people experiencing homelessness in Canada and up to 7,000 young people experiencing homelessness on any given night across the country. Of youth experiencing homelessness, 25% to 40% identify as LGBTQ2S.
Identity-based family conflict resulting from a young person coming out as LGBTQ2S is a major contributing factor to youth homelessness and the most frequently cited cause for LGBTQ2S youth experiencing homelessness. The experience of homelessness is different for LGBTQ2S youth versus for heterosexual and cisgender youth. LGBTQ2S youth tend to become homeless at younger ages and experience homelessness for longer episodes compared to cisgender and heterosexual youth.
Some LGBTQ2S youth experience discrimination and violence at higher rates than do others. For example, transgender people of colour, especially young transwomen of colour, face the highest rates of discrimination and violence in shelters and housing programs and on the streets. They are more likely to experience violent crime, sexual assault and murder.
One of the biggest issues that LGBTQ2S youth face in shelters and housing programs and institutions more broadly is safety. Over the years my research has looked at the different ways that LGBTQ2S people are further marginalized and erased in institutional settings such as shelters and housing programs, making it difficult to quantify how many LGBTQ2S individuals are experiencing homelessness in Canada.
While research in this area has certainly expanded in recent years, there is still minimal investigation into these issues and large-scale data collection remains limited. Most of the research and point-in-time counts, or PiT counts, up until very recently have not included any questions regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.
Accurate prevalence rates are also dependent on a community's or system's data management program having been set up to include data on sexual and gender identity as well as the larger data management systems at the national level having been designed to capture and integrate this type of data.
For example, HIFIS, which is a comprehensive data collection and case management system used by housing and shelter programs across the country, provides individuals options to identify only as female, male or gender diverse and does not collect any data on sexual orientation. Even when we do collect inclusive data, many youth are missed because they do not access services given their safety concerns and difficulty fitting into the gender binary, since most programs are segregated by male and female floors.
Hidden homelessness, such as couch surfing, remains a significant issue among LGBTQ2S youth, especially for those living in rural and remote communities, making it difficult to accurately determine the scale of the problem. A lack of inclusive services and supports as well as the availability of fewer housing options to youth experiencing homelessness in rural areas may force youth to relocate from their communities and leave behind important social networks and emotional connections. Relocating to big cities in order to obtain inclusive services and supports can introduce a whole host of consequences, including worsened health, fewer social networks and support and increased risk of victimization and exploitation.
I recently worked with the homelessness partnering strategy on the development of two new questions focused on sexual orientation and gender identity, which were included in the 2018 national PiT count and were administered in over 60 communities across Canada. It has been only in recent years that the first population-based housing programs for LGBTQ2S youth have opened their doors in Canada.
A major milestone was the opening of the YMCA's Sprott House in Toronto in 2016, Canada's first LGBTQ2S transitional housing program. The biggest difference between Sprott House and many other housing programs is that all of their programs have been designed through an LGBTQ2S lens with the needs of LGBTQ2S youth at the centre of all aspects of the housing program. This has been an important step in the right direction and has inspired more programs to open and others to rethink how they deliver their services and whether or not they are inclusive. But we still have a long way to go.
Discrimination and social stigma have serious consequences on the health and well-being of LGBTQ2S youth, leading to significant mental health issues, substance use, anxiety, depression and high rates of suicide, especially for young transgender people. It is well documented that transgender individuals experience negative physical and mental health outcomes and high rates of disease burden, including high prevalence of mental health issues.
Still, trans health continues to be an understudied area. Gender identity information has yet to be routinely collected in administrative data, electronic health records and provincial and federal surveys, making it difficult to identify trans individuals within population-based data sources.
I'm currently leading a study that investigates the health care utilization trajectories and health outcomes among transgender individuals in Ontario, by linking health service data. This study uses high-quality data from primary care and psychiatric settings to identify a large number of transgender individuals in Ontario over the entire age range. It is the first study to identify transgender individuals in the ICES data repository.
This study is still in its early stages, so I can only speak to some of the very preliminary findings. So far, over 2,000 transpeople have been identified, and 50% of them are living in the two lowest neighbourhood income quintiles, compared to 37% of the general population. There are very strong links between income and health. Those living in the lowest-income level neighbourhoods tend to experience poor health outcomes compared to those who live in higher-income level neighbourhoods.
The preliminary data are showing significantly higher rates of mental health-related primary care and psychiatry visits, as well as higher rates of hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to self-harm and mental health-related reasons, compared to the general population.
There are different solutions to these issues, and I'd like to close with some recommendations.
Targeted strategies and prioritizing LGBTQ2S populations, especially youth, in Canada's homelessness, national housing and poverty reduction strategies provide an important opportunity to more comprehensively end homelessness in Canada. When government policies and plans to end homelessness prioritize disproportionately represented populations, including LGBTQ2S youth, they create life-saving policies.
The Government of Alberta has done some exceptional work in this area. I developed a targeted provincial strategy on addressing LGBTQ2S youth homelessness with the Government of Alberta and a provincial working group. This work was a result of their youth plan, which prioritized LGBTQ2S youth and stemmed from their 10-year plan to end homelessness, a first of its kind in Canada, and a truly important response that emphasizes longer-term solutions and prevention.
Six key recommendations were made in the final report, all of which were approved by the Alberta government and are in the process of being implemented. Targeted strategies such as this involve population-based housing programs, comprehensive education and training for all staff, and inclusive housing and shelter standards and policies, ultimately creating a standardized model of care and service delivery that meets the needs of everyone experiencing homelessness, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
I also recommend including sexual orientation and gender identity questions in all federal surveys, data collection systems and administrative health data to provide a better understanding of the health disparities and circumstances of LGBTQ2S individuals across the country.
When surveys do not present inclusive questions and response options, they perpetuate data erasure towards LGBTQ2S individuals and make it extremely difficult to collect data that accurately reflect the population.
I echo the recommendation to prioritize LGBTQ2S health research in Canada, particularly within the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and to develop the capacity for research focused on LGBTQ2S health. This is an incredible opportunity for Canada to better understand and address the health disparities experienced by LGBTQ2S individuals, and I'm truly honoured to be part of this important discussion.
Mr. Chair and members of the standing committee, it's a privilege to address you this afternoon. My name is Greg Oudman. I am the Executive Director of Health Initiative for Men, a community non-profit organization located in Vancouver that is both led by and run by gay men. Our mission is to strengthen the health and well-being of gay men toward a vision of gay men building healthy lives together.
You've heard from my esteemed colleagues about the results of research undertaken with sexual minorities and the continuing need for increased focus on this research. As a service provider, HIM is in a unique position in that we are able to put research into practice at the community level. Let me tell you a little bit about us. HIM was founded in 2008 by a group of community-minded thought leaders who were concerned about the lack of focus on the health of gay men in Vancouver's response to HIV and AIDS. HIM's inception happened at a time when there were elements of a perfect storm that were able to lead us to the development of a truly unique organization founded on the principles of for us, by us.
In the mid-2000s, the community was hearing increasing calls for effective programming for HIV/AIDS prevention and gay men's health at the same time that the region's primary health funder was looking to increase its focus on prevention. Community-based research was indicating that HIV infection and HIV and transmissible behaviours were on the rise. At the same time, testing for HIV was down in men having sex with men, especially in men under 30. The integration of the LGBTQ2 community into the mainstream as a result of expanded rights and increased societal acceptance meant that what were once traditional gay venues were disappearing. Gay men were increasingly living outside of traditionally gay urban areas, and instead connecting with each other through the realm of online networking. All of these factors led to an increasing awareness that innovative approaches had to be developed to significantly impact gay men's health.
It was into this environment that HIM was born as an organization with unique values that highlight the faith we have in our own community to be the authors of the most effective tools to ensure our own health. HIM's approach to gay men's health is an integrated one, understanding that sexual health is only one of several components of health and wellness. Physical, social and mental health needs are often drivers for more healthy, and sometimes less healthy, sexual behaviours. Very few of HIM's programs or interventions have a singular focus. All understand the role of syndemics in overall health outcomes.
HIM engages with gay men in the broadest range of ways to work with them to ensure the broadest of health outcomes. Interventions at HIM represent efforts designed to improve the sexual, physical, social and mental health of gay men, and are largely contained within health promotion and knowledge translation. They also relate to highly specific target populations, diseases and/or other important health factors or issues identified to be a priority.
Our health promotion efforts are based on scientific research and represent our largest mechanism for engaging with the health of gay men. Health promotion at HIM is delivered through a variety of methods, including social marketing campaigns, creation of unique and custom-tailored resources, health-centred communications and media, and educational and community engagement strategies. HIM recently partnered with a community-based research centre here in Vancouver to develop an official position statement on mental health and problematic substance use among gender and sexual minorities, including gay men. This statement outlines the impact of mental health on problematic substance use, highlights barriers to progress, and makes key recommendations to address issues related to mental health and problematic substance use. Much of the information I'm about to outline in this next section comes from the research done to inform that position.
We know that despite the experience of ongoing marginalization and oppression, gender and sexual minority individuals, including gay men, have made significant progress in human rights and recognition from broader society. Despite this progress, research demonstrates that gay men continue to be disproportionately impacted in terms of mental health and problematic substance use. As you have already heard, extensive research has shown that compared with the average population, gay men experience higher rates of mental illness, problematic substance use, and suicide. The overrepresentation of mental illness among gay men is also often accompanied by increased rates of problematic substance use, which are frequently part of a larger syndemic of interconnected health problems. For example, gay men are also shown to have higher rates of tobacco use, heavier episodic drinking, and nearly twice the level of substance use disorder as the general population.
This overrepresentation is also attributable to intersectionality, as key population segments of gay men also face additional barriers to accessing mental health and problematic substance use services, including racism, ableism, sexism, classism and other forms of oppression and discrimination. Some gay men identify with a combination of these social categories. Therefore, building services based on a singular aspect of their identity can represent a barrier to appropriate and effective care. The complexity of these intersecting identities requires a community-driven and evidence-based approach to ensure that the unique needs of diverse gay men are carefully considered in the delivery of services for mental health and problematic substance use.
Despite evidence of the disproportionate impact of mental health and problematic substance use in gay men, insufficient progress has been made to address this impact, and resources and support for addressing mental health and problematic substance use among gay men remain scarce.
Adequate treatment and prevention services in B.C. are not easily available to the general population and are often not funded by the public system. Most often these services are paid for out of pocket or through private insurance plans, while services that are publicly funded are often over-capacity and have extensive waitlists or challenging eligibility criteria.
The recent study noted by my esteemed colleague Travis Salway, which examined the effectiveness of integration of mental health services within a specialized STI clinic setting, found that 20% of respondents reported a recent unmet need for services related to mental health or problematic substance use, and 83% of those same respondents indicated they were comfortable talking with an STI clinic provider about mental health or problematic substance use. These statistics demonstrate both an unmet need and an untapped opportunity to address the specific mental health and problematic substance use needs of gay men.
As I've already noted, HIM is in a unique position in that it is a community-based organization that uses research to develop evidence-based practices. We actively engage in knowledge translation, which involves delivery of concise, clear and relevant translation of complex biomedical and/or health-related information and research to the community in a way that matches the community's needs.
Effective knowledge translation requires significant partnerships with researchers, universities and other research organizations such as the researchers you already heard from this afternoon. Knowledge translation initiatives work in conjunction with health promotion in that the goal for both is to create significant change in the health and well-being of gay men. HIM uses research such as that undertaken by Travis Salway and his colleagues to develop effective programming to address the challenge of mental health and problematic substance use. As I've already pointed out, HIM approaches all of its work from an integrated perspective, believing that social determinants of health are deeply interconnected and that the most effective programs and interventions are those that address more than one aspect of overall health.
Strong mental health supports good physical, sexual and social health. More than ever before in its 10-year history, HIM believes that specifically tailored mental health supports for gay men are desperately needed, including peer counselling, programming to address substance use and queer-focused suicide prevention programs, all of which are important in helping gay men to build healthy lives together.
Currently, Health Initiative for Men operates a professional volunteer counselling program, which at any given point engages 15 to 20 professionals—social workers, psychologists from the community, as well as students in the same fields—to volunteer their time to offer clinically supervised, solutions-focused sessions with an option for follow-up case management. This free program prioritizes gay men from economically disadvantaged or marginalized backgrounds.
HIM also offers a coaching program operated by volunteer peers, mentors and professional coaches who are supervised by an expert coach to offer multiple goal-focused sessions utilizing a HIM-designed motivational interview-based system.
HIM also offers specialized professionally facilitated closed mental health support groups that focus on specific needs, including issues such as anxiety and the problematic use of substances like crystal meth.
HIM also offers a subsidized counselling program, which provides reduced-rate counselling by registered and independent therapists, social workers and psychologists, all vetted by HIM's mental health advisory committee. These sessions have no session or cap limit and focus on clients with medium-to-high annual incomes.
As a community-based organization that has a unique ability to use research to inform its practice, HIM supports the recommendations made by Travis Salway in his presentation. Increasing the availability of access to mental health supports through the expansion of the Public Health Agency of Canada's HIV and hepatitis C community action fund, while increasing research on the health of sexual minorities, will help bolster the work that HIM already does to meet the need for more programming in mental health and substance use.
With the expansion of existing resources and increased capacity, we hope for expanded mental health programming to close the gap in unmet needs. We hope for increased counselling and therapy interventions within our community. We hope for new levels of excellence in mental health care. We hope to both develop and support groundbreaking programs to address forms of addiction that affect our community. We hope to develop higher standards for mental health and addictions care. We hope for a reduction of the stigma of mental illness, addiction and suicide among gay men. We hope to mobilize and engage the community to create a welcoming and healthy environment. Finally, we hope to become a beacon of change and hope for those facing loneliness, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.
In closing, I would like to thank the committee for undertaking this historic study, an important and necessary step toward national leadership in addressing the health needs of my LGBTQ2 health family.
Your leadership in this area will positively impact thousands of sexual and gender minority lives for years to come, and I thank you for that.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon to all of you. My name is Tristan Coolman. I use the pronouns he, him, his, and I identify as a gay man. My journey with volunteerism led me to my current position at Pflag York Region as its president. Pflag York Region is a support, resource and education network for all municipalities in York region.
It truly is an honour to be here today to speak directly to LGBTQ2+ health in Canada. With Pflag, we have a variety of initiatives that promote community and safe spaces. For example, we host several coffee nights a month, which act as support meetings for LGBTQ2+ identifying individuals, their families, friends and allies. It's a safe, confidential space to share their stories and gain advice from others who are on similar journeys. We are family for all, where no hand goes unheld, where no one is left behind.
I encourage all of you, as members of this standing committee, at some point to attend a local Pflag meeting in your respective ridings. It's one thing to allow me to speak today, and my colleague from Toronto, in February, just to share a small handful of stories, but it's another to hear them in person.
LGBTQ2+ health, as I'm sure you have discovered, varies immensely based on a number of intersections, which can include but are not limited to access to education, income and financial stability, ethnicity, creed, faith and geography. You name it, and it will change and shape that person's experience.
As a gay man, I've experienced intersections with my background. I was raised by an immigrant single mother. With her background and upbringing from Guyana, her influences from my grandmother and her siblings, she didn't know much about the LGBTQ2+ community. When I came out almost 15 years ago, neither did I. I came out on Labour Day in September 2004, as I entered my last year of high school.
I recall the moment when I knew things would be all right. I had received an essay back in my Canadian law class on the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada—quite the hot-button issue back then. It was one of the easiest essays I had ever written. As I received my paper back, I looked down and saw a mark of 98%, easily the best grade I ever received. My teacher handed it to me with a smile and invited me to drop by the office during lunch. I did, and I was greeted by my philosophy, history and economics teachers, all of whom shared how impressed they were with the paper and wanted to congratulate me.
That support meant everything to me and gave me the courage to confront my mom. That night, I knocked on her bedroom door and handed her the paper without saying a word. A few days later, we embraced and talked it out. There was still work to be done with our relationship, but in the moment, I knew it had pivoted in the right direction.
Fast-forward to today—15 years later and 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalized in our country. I wish I could say I hear more stories like this, but I don't. The situation is dire. A lack of education and a lack of understanding and love for one another are still running rampant in our communities from coast to coast to coast. Unfortunately, hate is alive and well, compounded by a lack of access to services, degrees of homophobia, transphobia and queerphobia that are layered into each intersection in our country. It is institutional, it is cultural and it's once again gaining strength in numbers.
One of our service users who identifies as a transgendered woman has faced consistent discrimination in every work environment she has entered. She works in construction and has an exceptional skill set as a manager. However, on every job site she has worked on, she's been faced with hateful comments in verbal exchanges with her co-workers and in private, etched on the walls of bathroom stalls.
Recently, she encountered a time of financial instability. She shared that she had to move as she was being evicted due to missed rent payments. She had to make a choice between paying her rent and paying for her meds. She shared this news in December 2018, and we've yet to hear from her since.
Clearly, more needs to be done to encourage our private sector partners to engage their employees in equity and inclusivity training.
Very recently, a mother and her son started coming to our meetings. Soon after, the son shared that he was struggling with his gender identity and started to identify himself as non-binary. The mom and her child are in their mid-fifties and late twenties respectively. They were diagnosed with Asperger's and anxiety. As they started to seek other support services, the mother shared her experience in contacting a number of clinics and counselling services. With a referral, wait times to even meet with a professional were at least five months. Services, however, could be accessed quicker; they would just have to pay for them. Unfortunately, the family cannot afford the luxury of receiving quicker access to counselling services.
For some, counselling services wouldn't mean just an improvement in their quality of life; it could very well be the key to unlocking how they navigate their gender identity. It may be the key to unlocking how they navigate day to day and how they choose to present themselves to the world and mark their place in it. It may be the key to unlocking how they can live as their true, authentic self.
We recently met with a family of a transgendered boy who has fears that many of us in this room have thankfully never experienced. One day the family—mom and son—were at a local community event attended by hundreds of their friends, family and neighbours. Everyone seemed to be having a good time until mom had to use the washroom. It was a hot summer day, so they'd had a lot to drink to stay hydrated. The only washrooms available were in a nearby community centre. When mom asked if he needed to use the washroom, her son said he'd wait until they got home. It would be hours until they would get home.
Her son then shared his feelings on using public washrooms. He described that using a separate, gender neutral washroom in the presence of a male and female washroom would feel like an act of coming out. Her son is still very conscious of his appearance. He cut his hair short and started wearing larger and darker coloured articles of clothing to look, in his eyes, more like a man. Conscious of his appearance, he fears for his safety when using a male washroom. He feared strangers taking notice of his actions and his appearance. He feared strangers who may want to question him in person and who may even turn violent. Just imagine that every time he goes to school, or goes out with his friends or his family, he's exposed to situations that threaten his perception of safety.
For many in the LGBTQ2+ community, safety and health work in tandem, with personal safety being a daily concern. Much like a soldier in a war zone, people like this young man are incredibly conscious of threats to their safety. On the surface, sources of these threats can sound simple enough, but the roots are largely cultural and could be mitigated by the way we think about equity, diversity and inclusion in all of our institutions at all levels of government.
Allyship is not an identity, but a set of behaviours and character traits we all need to promote. It's a lifelong journey of connecting with marginalized groups and individuals to build trust and hold those who threaten these groups publicly accountable, with no room for interpretation. Most importantly, being an ally isn't something you get to call yourself. It's a title that's earned.
Allyship can take many forms. Being an ally can take the form of identifying pronouns in everything you do—from a signature on an email to introducing yourself with them in a formal setting like this meeting here today. Sharing your pronouns makes those who identify with a gender and those who don't feel welcome and openly accepted.
The LGBTQ2+ community simply doesn't have access to the same quality of life as the majority of Canadians highlighted earlier, with months-long wait times for services. Unfortunately, this access greatly depends upon the moral fibres of our leaders. The LGBTQ2+ community expects each and every one of you, regardless of political party, to evaluate and understand the recommendations you've heard so far and any that are brought to you in the future. You must push forward with all of them with the utmost urgency. It's not your place to pick and choose, but to listen and to take action.
There is no boundary—and there should be no boundary—between levels of government. There is no excuse. It is no exaggeration for me to sit here today and to say that LGBTQ2+ people are at a disadvantage. They're alone. They are suffering. They are dying. They have died. My first boyfriend was one of them, having lost his battle with depression at the age of 23.
I want to make my personal recommendation clear to all of you. I expect you and your colleagues, both past and present and across political boundaries, to lead by example and to take on the life of being a strong ally to marginalized groups like the LGBTQ2+ community. Leave no room for interpretation when it comes to the use of hateful statements and actions, whether they are direct or ambiguous. It is simply not enough to assume you or your colleagues possess these characteristics. Fifty years have gone by since homosexuality was decriminalized and we have not moved fast enough.
It was the allyship of my high school teachers that gave me the courage to confront my mom. These behaviours may have saved the life of my first love. They would have stopped discrimination on that construction site. They can make our community spaces institutionally accessible and access to health care services more equitable. Should this committee suddenly dissolve, it is allyship that will carry this cause on. The lens of allyship requires no bills and no second or third readings. It's allyship that will truly hold us accountable to future generations of LGBTQ2+ people in Canada.
Mr. Davies asked what you would do to best help your community if you were prime minister. I think the best thing that you could do is send all Canadians on the same trip that we made last week. We learned so much. I was sitting here thinking, “What is the emotion that I feel?” The emotion that I feel is a privilege to see and hear what we heard last week and today. We heard the most intimate, personal issues that we don't usually hear. I came back from that trip—I think we all did—really moved and humbled by it, so if I were prime minister, I would send everybody in Canada to go do what we did, if they can survive it.
Anyway, I want to thank all of you for your participation. It's been very helpful.
I know, Mr. Coolman, from your opening remarks that you're in a hurry, but this place doesn't move fast. However, it's progress. I believe you're making progress, and things like this make a difference. It will help.
Thank you on behalf of the committee.
We're going to break for a few minutes, and then we're going to go in camera.
[Proceedings continue in camera]