An Analysis from Wisdom2Action Consulting Ltd.
On April 19th, the federal government tabled its first budget in almost two years. This budget included significant and exciting commitments, including a $200 million investment to support gender-based violence organizations over the next 2 years. The budget also included $200M to establish Canada’s first Black-led philanthropic endowment fund dedicated to supporting Black-led charities and organizations serving youth and social initiatives. Despite these ground-breaking investments, on the subject of 2SLGBTQ+ communities, we saw a paltry $15 million commitment, to be spread over 3 years, for a new “LGBTQ2 Projects Fund”, and a similarly milquetoast commitment of $7.1 million, also over 3 years, for Heritage Canada to continue to operate the LGBTQ2+ Secretariat. After decades of chronic underfunding of our communities and the services that keep them healthy, we are disappointed in the continued under-resourcing of 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations. We would like to take this opportunity to explore the broader historical context of 2SLGBTQ+ issues in Canada, analyze the funds committed to 2SLGBTQ+ communities within Budget 2021, and provide our recommendations for greater federal leadership on 2SLGBTQ+ issues.
Understanding 2SLGBTQ+ public policy necessitates a brief dive into the history of federal involvement in, and support for, 2SLGBTQ+ communities and human rights issues. Prior to the 2000s, 2SLGBTQ+ communities couldn’t expect much from our federal government. Basic human rights were not afforded to many members of our communities – including, of course, marriage equality. In 2005, we saw a big step forward – when the House of Commons passed Bill C-38 – the marriage equality act – which afforded same-sex couples the right to marry. In the almost ten years between 2006 and 2015, the federal government and party in power was ambivalent (at best) to 2SLGTBQ+ issues. In 2015, with the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we experienced a much-needed breath of fresh air. For the first time in almost a decade, there was a clear commitment from the federal government to advance 2SLGBTQ+ rights and health in Canada.
In the 6 years since, we have indeed seen substantial action on 2SLGBTQ+ issues. A special advisor was appointed to move LGBTQ2+ issues forward, an apology was issued for the purge of LGBTQ2+ people from the public service and military, trans rights bill C-16 was passed into law, adding gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. In 2019, the Prime Minister appointed Bardish Chagger as Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth, whose mandate included 2SLGBTQ+ issues, and the federal government committed $18 million to support 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations. Most recently, the federal government introduced a conversion therapy ban through Bill C-6, which is working its way through the House of Commons as we speak.
On the surface, we’ve seen unprecedented action. Imagine our delight, after years of hostility and exclusion, as we’ve witnessed a government that actually seemed to care about our communities. Issues notwithstanding – it’s been an exciting few years.
However, government leadership on 2SLGBTQ+ issues isn’t just about new legislation or public apologies. These are important, necessary steps, but they are far from enough to truly deliver on equity, safety and rights for 2SLGBTQ+ communities. To support 2SLGBTQ+ communities, we need substantial, direct and on-going funding for front-line 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations.
Despite progress, 2SLGBTQ+ communities are still struggling. Because of homophobia and transphobia, our communities face significant rates of homelessness and poverty, mental health issues, and healthcare access issues. On top of it all, both online and in-person, 2SLGBTQ+ people in Canada continue to face hatred and violence everyday, which has a direct and debilitating impact on our communities, and especially our young people.
Many people assume that 2SLGBTQ+ communities’ issues started and ended with marriage equality, and that our focus now revolved around pride parades and parties. While many 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations indeed celebrate Pride, and host pride events, their mandates go above and beyond simply celebrating a parade.
2SLGBTQ+ organizations are hubs for our communities. 2SLGBTQ+ people often turn to our community-based, 2SLGBTQ+ organizations when they have nowhere left to go — or when they don’t feel comfortable speaking to anyone else.
Our community organizations are on the front lines of multiple crises, working to get homeless 2SLGBTQ+ people housed, providing counselling for people in distress or struggling with their identity, helping people access sexual and reproductive healthcare, providing 2SLGBTQ+ education to local communities, helping 2SLGBTQ+ folks find community and connection with their peers, and so, so, much more.
Despite their essential services, 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations are deeply and chronically underfunded, and our voices are all too often omitted from federal decision-making spaces). Even in big urban settings, 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations struggle to meet the needs of their local communities. From coast to coast to coast, our organizations are struggling to survive, while striving to support the diverse and complex needs of 2SLGBTQ+ community members. Our commitment to human rights must extend beyond legislation – we need the funding in place to advance human rights for 2SLGBTQ+ people and support the work of 2SLGBTQ+ organizations in creating equitable, safe and empowering communities.
In 2019, the Liberals committed $18 million to the LGBTQ2+ Capacity Building Fund. This fund, the first of its kind, seeks to disseminate funding to front-line 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations to enhance their capacity in key areas – for example, in fundraising, organizational development, evidence-based practices, and more. In the most recent budget, the Liberals committed an additional $15 million, over three years,to support community-informed initiatives and addressing key issues facing 2SLGBTQ+ communities, such as access to mental health services and employment support.
An $18 million investment, followed by an additional $5 million a year for three years, sounds great on the surface. And it is great. It is more money directly into 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations than we’ve ever seen before from the federal government. But is it enough? Will it truly create change?
$5 million a year, if we break it down anywhere close to equally across provinces and territories, comes out to about $384,000 a year, per province/territory. Which, without even thinking about program and administration costs, breaks down to about…7 full time positions at best, based on the average annual Canadian salary of approximately $54,000 a year. Of course, the funding likely won’t be distributed equally across all provinces and territories. Maybe some will get 8-9 new staff, others will get 2-3.
Don’t get us wrong: $5 million a year is better than nothing. Every single dollar of 2SLGBTQ+ funding will be stretched as far as possible by 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations doing the work and striving to reach more people. But $5 million goes nowhere near what we need to address the many crises facing our communities. Amidst a suicide crisis, a homelessness crisis, a poverty crisis, and a sexual health crisis, $5 million a year just isn’t anywhere near enough.
In fact, following the historic investment of $18 million in 2SLGBTQ+ organizations in 2020, these ‘new funds’ of $15 million over 3 years will be a de-facto decrease. After an unprecedented influx of funding in 2020, small 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations will see their budgets crash back down just one year later, given the significant reduction in available federal funding.
We need substantial investments in front-line 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations. Every single day, we see and hear the impact of these organizations. With next to no support, and a dependence on unstable, project-based grants, they quite literally save lives, every single day. And 2SLGBTQ+ people, despite our best efforts, are still falling through the gaps. With real funding, and greater federal leadership, 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations could take unprecedented steps forward in supporting our communities, tackling discrimination and advancing human rights. As it stands, Budget 2021 was a disappointment on 2SLGBTQ+ issues.
This budget was a missed opportunity for 2SLGBTQ+ communities. Despite unprecedented investments in equity-seeking groups – investments which we unilaterally applaud – 2SLGBTQ+ communities have been all but left out of the conversation. 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations provide live-saving services that are absolutely essential to protecting and promoting the human rights of 2SLGBTQ+ people in Canada.
Over the next few months, the federal government is creating an LGBTQ2+ Action Plan to guide future work on LGBTQ2+ issues. While government-led consultations are already underway with community to explore key activities and topics to address within the action plan, we want to share our recommendations, for the federal government, on strengthening 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations moving forward: