Summer vacation is upon us, and as a father of three kids, I’m looking forward to the warmer weather, time with my kids outside of school, and a vacation or two before the hustle and bustle of back-to-school season starts up again.
Recently I was weighing my options for vacation destinations I might like to visit with my daughters, when I began to realize there weren’t as many places I felt comfortable traveling to this year – as a member of the Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, (2SLGBTQ+) community – compared to last year.
The reality is, there are places in the world where I don’t want to travel with my kids that maybe I wouldn’t have given a second thought to as recently as a year ago, and rightfully so – why would I go somewhere that members of my community aren’t welcome?
It was a harsh realization that change can happen quickly, and change isn’t always positive.
Around this time last year, I wrote a piece for TD Stories about what “forever proud, forever progressing” – which was the theme of last year’s Pride celebrations – meant to me. At that time, I wrote that even though as a society and as a Bank we’ve made a lot of progress as it relates to diversity and inclusion, I also cautioned that the fight for equity is still far from over, and that for people in the 2SLGBTQ+ community, there are still many challenges and stigmas to overcome.
“It’s clear that we must remain ever vigilant about the progress that we’ve already made, because sometimes rights that we thought had been won, issues that we thought had been settled, well, aren’t,” I wrote at the time.
While I am old enough to have learned that progress is rarely a straight line, I am saddened to see such a backslide this year as it relates to the fight for inclusion and equity for the 2SLGBTQ+ community in some parts of the world.
Because the truth is, there are some places where it’s worse out there for many people in our community than it was last year. What's more, the sad fact is that if we’re not careful, things will continue to get worse. We must remember that if one group's rights and dignity are at risk, it is only a matter of time before others’ rights and dignity are also threatened.
2SLGBTQ+ community rights under attack
In Canada, the march towards equity for members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community has been a long one, but one that continues to this very day. From the passage of the Civil Marriage Act in 2005, which recognized same-sex marriage across the country, to Bill C-16 in 2017 adding Gender Identity/Expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act, we've made meaningful progress.
At TD, we're proud of our own efforts to aid in that progress, becoming the first North American bank to introduce spousal employee benefits for same-sex couples in 1994, being the first major bank in Canada to sponsor a Pride festival in 2005, providing gender affirmation benefits for Transgender Colleagues in 2019, and expanding family planning benefits to include coverage for fertility and reproductive treatments, as well as surrogacy, donor and adoption costs in 2022.
However, as I like to say, it's often the case that when society takes two steps forward, we then experience the inevitable backlash which moves us a step backwards ... or more.
When we see discriminatory legislation in one jurisdiction, members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community everywhere are impacted. In fact, everyone is impacted – because human rights and dignity are everyone's concern.
There are places where you can't sing songs about rainbows, fly a Pride flag, read Judy Blume books in school, or even read children's books to children.
Recently, it’s the Trans community who are being targeted. This is simply a continuation of the historically disgraceful tactic of targeting society's most marginalized communities.
Throughout history, there have been too many examples of times where those who are the most vulnerable were attacked. We can't let that happen again.
Thankfully, in many regards, 2SLGBTQ+ communities in many parts of the world have never experienced the levels of allyship and acceptance that currently exist. But now is not the time for complacency, as people from 2SLGBTQ+ communities need our allyship, our support, and our active efforts to ensure this backslide does not continue.
The effect of hate on mental health
Of course, the effects of these attacks on individuals, families and our community are far reaching and often unseen. The numbers show that many 2SLGBTQ+ individuals are increasingly struggling with their mental health. When people in the community see legislation that is discriminatory to 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, it can often lead to feelings of hopelessness. When these laws are passed, or when the news cycle seems particularly negative towards 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, suicides increase.
According to research that was published last year by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, youth questioning their sexual orientation "had twice the risk of having attempted suicide in their lifetime" compared to their cisgender, heterosexual peers. The same study found that transgender adolescents "showed five times the risk of suicidal ideation" and were nearly eight times as likely to attempt suicide as their cisgender, heterosexual peers.
More research has been done on the impact of acceptance for 2SLGBTQ+ youth in the United States than in Canada, but what the Trevor Project – a suicide prevention and mental health organization for 2SLGBTQ+ youth – has found is significant. Youth who live in communities that are accepting of 2SLGBTQ+ people reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide than those who do not, which further speaks to why things need to change now.
Standing with the 2SLGBTQ+ community
I started working at TD in 1990 but didn't come out until 2007. For 17 years I stayed in the closet. Even though TD is a place that introduced benefits to same sex couples in 1994, I didn't feel it was in my best interest to come out. The fact is, I was scared. I didn't see opportunity – only risk. It took time and support from my manager to create a space that felt safe and enabled me to bring my whole best self to work.
Since then, I've dedicated a lot of my time at TD to the Forever Proud Employee Resource Group (ERG) – at TD, ERGs are colleague-led groups usually organized around a shared identity – to help create and maintain meaningful progress on equity within the Bank.
Beyond the work that's being done within the Bank, throughout the year, TD reaffirms its commitment to the continuous progress of the 2SLGBTQ+ community across its footprint. Through the TD Ready Commitment, the Bank is supporting organizations that are helping to drive positive change through work in affordable housing, health and social well-being, and financial security. This is important, life-changing work that TD is supporting, and it’s making a positive impact the 2SLGBTQ+ community among others.
The road ahead
As we embark on Pride month this year, I can only think to myself that being vigilant in the face of anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiment isn't enough anymore, because, well, it isn't. We all know the phrase that "actions speak louder than words," and trust me, for my community they do.
I'm confident that the Bank's support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community will never waver, and I’m forever proud to work for an organization like TD. But it's also clear that there are plenty of people and organizations out there that don't see things our way, who would like to see the rights of 2SLGBTQ+ individuals rolled back and curtailed.
That doesn’t mean that we can't keep pushing for equity and inclusion. It doesn't mean that all is lost. It just means we need to work harder to champion our shared belief that no matter who you are or who you love, you belong.
So, in the face of everything that is happening, I must ask you, the reader of this story – what will you do?
Will you practice being an active ally? Will you stand up for equity? Will you get involved by educating yourself, or donating to local 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations? Will you challenge a homophobic comment? Will you protest a law that targets your neighbour or loved one? How will you show up? How will you lead?
I can't answer those questions for you.
All I know is that we can't give up.
We need to continue to lean on one another.
And we can't lose hope.