by Fae Johnstone
On Thursday, April 7th, Canadian Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland introduced the 2022 Federal Budget. A great deal was at stake in this budget for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, particularly as we continue to grapple with the impact of COVID-19 and rising tides of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate. The featured 2SLGBTQIA+ commitment in this budget was the much-awaited LGBTQ2+ Action Plan, which the federal government has been developing over the past year and has been touted as a major federal commitment on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues. It was meant to be a plan government departments and civil society organizations could rally around. As it turned out, the action plan was a small step in the right direction, but far short of what our communities need.
While we anticipated a substantial commitment in federal funding behind the Action Plan, imagine our surprise when we found a fairly minimal commitment of $100M over five years dedicated to it. This Plan, which 2SLGBTQIA+ civil society organizations gave their time and wisdom to help inform, falls hundreds of millions of dollars short of what our communities need. We would have applauded $500M. We would have rejoiced at a $1Bn commitment over 5 years. We had hoped for an investment that would demonstrate that this government takes 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and our issues seriously, with a Plan that would tackle systemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. But with only $100M over 5 years, spread across federal departments–with who knows how much (if any) earmarked for 2SLGBTQIA+ civil society–this budget commitment is a disappointment. This plan was meant to galvinize and invigorate Government of Canada action on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues. With such a low allocation, it’ll be a small change from the status quo of departments rarely engaging with, let alone addressing, 2SLGBTQIA+ issues, or issues necessitating a 2SLGBTQIA+ lens.
Even aside from the fiscal commitment, we are left with more questions than we have answers: What will the LGBTQ2+ Action Plan include? How will this $100M over five years be spent? Why was there no additional funding allocated to tackle systemic injustice and discrimination? Will there be more funding for 2SLGBTQIA+ civil society through the action plan?
We applaud Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) and the LGBTQ2+ Secretariat for their recognition of 2SLGBTQIA+ issues as a priority. Through their programming and policy work, they have shown that they recognize and understand the need to tackle systemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. They know that the most effective way to do so is through deep and meaningful engagement with 2SLGBTQIA+ civil society. This is not a WAGE problem; it is a whole of government problem.
The de-prioritization of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities is a symptom of systemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. The lack of significant political will behind 2SLGBTQIA+ issues shows that this government still does not recognize the horrible social, economic and health costs of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ discrimination or the level of crisis in 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. Within the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board and Cabinet itself, it’s clear that 2SLGBTQIA+ communities are considered window dressing at best. But our communities are not here to be used as props to make governments look good. We don’t only exist during Pride Month or when Canada wants to brag about its record on 2SLGBTQIA+ rights at home and abroad. We’re here every day and we’re struggling. It is past time this government move beyond symbolism and put federal resources behind 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion, tackling systemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and supporting our front-line 2SLGBTQIA+ community organizations working tirelessly on shoestring budgets for decades despite chronic underfunding.
However, it is worth noting that there were numerous substantive investments in the 2022 Federal Budget despite our concerns, such as funding for a national Action Plan on gender-based violence, increased investments in housing, and more. There remain opportunities to ensure a strong 2SLGBTQIA+ lens on these critical policy issues. Nonetheless, we know our feminist allies shared our disappointment;while this government calls itself feminist, its fiscal commitments still fall short of what feminist organizations are calling for. Childcare is a huge, game-changing initiative that will have a massive impact on women’s equality and gender equity more broadly, but a universal childcare program alone doesn’t make this budget–or this government–feminist. Investment in anti-racism and anti-hate were a step in the right direction, but the volume of funding on these fronts again falls short of what is needed. Anti-racism, gender justice and 2SLGBTQIA+ liberation are intertwined. We will always advocate for bold investments not only in 2SLGBTQIA+ communities but in the women’s movement and in anti-racist movements as well.
It is time this government recognize that not only does it have a role to play in advancing 2SLGBTQIA+ peoples’ legal rights, but in creating a Canada where every 2SLGBTQIA+ person is safe, housed and healthy. This government needs to recognize that addressing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is simply smart public policy, because discrimination is expensive.
We’re underwhelmed and disappointed. But we’re confident in the power of our movements and in the momentum that 2SLGBTQIA+ civil society is building. The gains we have made–the victories both big and small–have only been possible through decades of advocacy and organizing by 2SLGBTQIA+ civil society organizations and community leaders. As a sector and as a movement, we’re not going anywhere–and we will hold this government accountable for inaction and underinvestment in 2SLGBTQIA+ issues.
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