Debate digs into mental health, education and hate affecting marginalized Ontarians

On May 26, over 30 organizations collaborated as Queer Vote Ontario to host a provincial debate on issues facing the 2SLGBTQI+ community and other marginalized groups of Ontarians. Four parties thought the event was worthy of acknowledgement and participation. The Ontario Party, the New Blue Party and the Progressive Conservative Party chose not to participate in a discussion of the needs of equity-seeking communities.

This is the first of two articles covering the debate. The election is on June 2. Woodstein Media intends to help people make informed choices at the polls.

ONTARIO – Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto Associate Pastor Junia Joplin opened the evening by explaining the intention of the church to be vibrant, inclusive, progressive and respect human rights.

“We have a long history of political action, and 21 years ago in January, the world’s first same-sex marriages to be legally recognized were performed right there,” she said. “We’re proud of that around here. It wasn’t just an act of faith to us, and it was an act of political activism.”

She said she was offered concert tickets but passed them up to attend the Queer Vote Ontario candidates’ meeting.

“As a Trans-Ontarian, I believe this stuff is really important,” said Joplin. “There are parties with ideologies that would make life harder for folks like me, and parties with ideologies that would make life better for folks like me.”

Sherwin Modeste, Executive Director for Pride Toronto, said he was thrilled to hear what four of Ontario’s political parties say about important issues for marginalized communities.

“It is really important that we hear directly from you, and this is why we’re here,” he said. “I could not turn down this moment, and this is an opportunity for you to tell us as folks from Ontario what your plans are for us.”

Indigenous Elder Blu Waters (they/them) performed a land acknowledgement.

“We need to see ourselves reflected and respected,” they said. “So tonight, I will ask those ancestors to come and be with us. All our ancestors, not just Indigenous ancestors. All those who have walked on this land tried to be the best person they could be and tried to be who they could be but were not allowed. They were told they don’t belong, and their way of living was incorrect.”

Waters acknowledged that before the idea of the colonial binary came in, people were allowed to be who they were.

“We all come as a beautiful gift whether we believe in the creator or God,” they said. “So, we ask those ancestors, be with us tonight as we do this hard work because it is hard work to (raise) our voices when we are always told to be quiet. It’s hard work that our voices have been silenced for so long, and each one of you in this room tonight is your ancestors’ dream. You are the ones that they dreamt would make the change that they didn’t make change with because they weren’t allowed to. Their voices were not honoured, and they were not honoured.”

They also honoured and invited those waiting in that spirit world to be born to participate in the event because Waters said they are watching and wondering if they will be safe, included, accepted and honoured?

“We all deserve to be treating each other as equal human beings and value each other no matter what our differences may be,” they said. “We look towards those little ones waiting to come, and we’re asking them to come, that spirit to come here with us tonight and let them see us do this work because that’s what we are doing this work for. Not only for ourselves. We can’t change what happened already, and it’s gone by, but we can make sure it doesn’t continue to happen and stand up and support each other in the best way possible.”

Waters said the representatives needed to be asked how they will make sure that not a young person takes their life again because there is no support or they are told not to be who they are.

“Our trans community suffers every day,” they said. “Where are the supports for our young trans youth that are not accepted into places because that binary still exists where we still divide by male and female.”

In their Indigenous language, they told the audience their name is Earth Song.

“That is the name I had before I became a human being that my ancestors and all those waiting to be born knew me by,” said Waters. “My family is from Ahtahkakoop Saskatchewan … I’m from the Wolf Clan, but mostly I’m an ayahkwêw which is the Cree word for neither man nor woman. I don’t have to fit into either of those. I can be who I am and walk between and with and crossover and come back. I don’t have to be just a man or a woman, and we don’t have to stay just men or women when we don’t see ourselves reflected in those mirrors.”

They pointed out that there is youth waking up and looking into that mirror every day thinking the gender they are told they are doesn’t feel like who they see themselves.

“How is healthcare going to help our youth in that way?” They asked. “How will healthcare address our youth suffering from their mental capacities not being able to be who they are. To have to wait for a long time to be seen and then to be seen by someone who has no understanding of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. How is our healthcare going to be educated? Our school system has started education, but our healthcare is far behind.”

 Waters spoke of hospital visits where they were told it was either Ms. or Mrs.

“No, it’s not,” they said. “That tells me that there is so much more work to be done, and I don’t know about all of you, but I’m tired. I’m tired, and I’ve been doing this work for almost 62 years.”

Waters told the candidates that they would be asked for their truth.

“As Indigenous people, we stand in the truth,” they said. “It’s very important to us, that truth. We have only two things in this world: our words and our bodies, and we know how much our bodies are not respected and violated. 2SLGBTQIA+ youth experience violence at such a high rate above everyone else … I am an outspoken person, but that’s why my community has me. I’ve learned how to fight back, and I’ve learned how to advocate, and it’s my job to teach it to other people because if I don’t, it stays with me, and it goes with me and then what has my life been … you are a beautiful gift just as you are. You don’t have to be anything other than you, and no one should tell you that you have to be different.”

Drag Person Geri Atrick and Comedian Martha Chaves moderated the debate.

Atrick informed the audience that all parties had been invited to participate in the debate.

“As you know, a couple of them caught COVID, sadly,” she said. “They decided the best alternative was sending representatives that speak on their behalf.”

The Progressive Conservatives, the Ontario Party and the New Blue Party did not feel participation in a debate discussing the issues of marginalized communities was worth participating.

Atrick said she felt bad Premier Doug Ford had no representation, so she unveiled an ice sculpture bearing his likeness.

Chaves was born and raised in Nicaragua but now calls Canada her home.

“In (Nicaragua) the government doesn’t even allow you to have rivals,” she said. “The dictator sends people to jail before they even run, so this is amazing for me to be here.”

Things have been happening in Canada Chaves does not like.

When she visits Nicaragua, people usually don’t know anything about Canada, but in March, her cousin said to her, “Hey, I heard that there is a revolution in Canada but what a nice revolution. There is a jacuzzi in the revolution and a bouncy castle in the revolution. They were roasting a pig in the revolution, and children played hockey during the revolution. What a nice revolution. In Canada, you are so oppressed that people showed up at the presidential palace with huge posters to tell the dictator to go F himself. That’s such great oppression.”

Chaves recalled watching a report of the Trucker Occupation of Ottawa, and a woman was coming out of the cannabis shop smoking a joint.

“She was with the convoy, and the CBC asked her why she was protesting, and she goes, ‘because (drag off the joint) we are so oppressed. FREEDUMB!’” She yelled the word. “I’m just here with my political thoughts, but I’m very happy that we have all these fine folks here at the interrogation, and I hope they tell the truth because we are at a church. When you lie at a church, you can burn to a crisp.”

Brian Crombie, None of the Above (NOTA) Party candidate for Mississauga-Lakeshore, said his party actually has a serious point of view.

“There is something wrong with our democracy today,” he said. “There is no love, and for sure, there is no respect. All these people putting their names forward for politics are good, really good people that want to do something better for their society. Still, the problem is once they get into Parliament or the legislature, they end up doing what the leader or the whip want them to do rather than what they should want to do and what we want them to do.”

Crombie said NOTA would like to see referendums and recall used in Canadian democracy.

“Over 50 countries have referendums and recall, and they work,” he said.

The third and most important thing he would like to see in this direct democracy strategy is proportional representation.

“If we had proportional representation, the Green Party would have somewhere around ten seats in the last Federal election rather than the one they have got. The People’s Party of Canada, which I disagree with, would have about 30 seats,” he said. “I think some of those people that went to Parliament Hill to protest in January actually would have had their voice heard in Parliament, and there would have been less reason to go object.”

NDP candidate for Toronto-Centre Kristyn Wong-Tam said they felt honoured to participate because she thought it was historic to have a debate about 2SLGBTQI+ equality in Ontario, especially over the last two years there has been a disproportionate number of 2SLGBTQI+ community members hurt and harmed during the pandemic.

“We know that politics does matter,” they said. “Decisions do matter, and we also recognize that it is tough to make a change.”

Wong-Tam noted her track record as a human rights advocate working towards building equality and acceptance through working for funding 2SLGBTQI+ youth shelters and supporting equal marriage.

“I came out of the closet when I was 16 years old, and I can tell you I wasn’t ready for life’s big decisions,” they said. “I wasn’t greeted with love and warmth, although my family loved me. I found myself homeless, and I found myself living in a shelter.”

They said it’s not easy to admit publicly, but it’s a story that is not so unique.

“All of those lived experiences now inform what I do, especially through the public legislative lens,” said Wong-Tam. “I’m very proud that our party has 12 percent of our candidates from the 2SLGBTQI+ community. Our party has been fighting for gender-affirming rights, parenting rights and the absolute ban of conversion therapy.”

Next to introduce themselves was the Toronto-Centre candidate for the Green Party of Ontario (GPO), Nicki Ward.

“One of the things we are here to discuss today is expanding coverage and access to gender-affirming healthcare,” she said. “I’m honoured to be a candidate for the Green Party and a Trans person with a long history of activism … If you are in any doubt about the level of commitment that the GPO has to Trans issues, I am sitting right here, right now because they put the money where their mouth is. No empty words and certainly not tokenism. The T does not stand for tokenism in this party.”

Ontario Liberal Party candidate for Willowdale, Paul Saguil, said if he had been told when he first came to Canada 30 years ago that he would be sitting on a stage as a Queer Asian, Queer Filipino in a political forum he would have never believed it.

“I would like to set a tone for this conversation and applaud the parties who have put forward such powerful community advocates to bring forward the issues we care about regardless of your partisan stripes.” He said. “It is incredible that we as a community have come so far, and yet we have so much more that we need to accomplish.”

He is proud of the record of the Ontario Liberal Party electing the first lesbian Premier and its demonstrated commitment to 2sLGBTQI+ issues.

He said he has a history of fighting for inclusive education, Trans folks and marginalized communities.

“I will continue to do within my party, within the legislature in whatever forum or platform I have,” said Sagui. “That’s what I’m committed to doing.”

Chaves asked what steps candidates, and their parties will take to improve overall mental health and wellness in the 2SLGBTQI+ community.

Crombie said his son is gay, and he thought his family showed him acceptance.

“I went to a Pride parade and held up a sign that said ‘I am proud of my gay son,’” he said. “Many PFLAG people probably participated in those kinds of marches.”

Crombie was surprised his son came to him, cried and thanked him.

“I thought that he understood that he was completely accepted, but there was something about publicly acknowledging that I was proud of him even though I thought he knew,” he said. “So I guess that is number one that I think we have to show Pride for everybody.”

Chaves interrupted, saying the question asks, as a party, what would be done to improve or create facilities for mental health.

Crombie said he understood.

“Let me just say that I think the first and most important thing is showing Pride for everybody,” he said.

He said that Premier Ford’s failure to show support for Pride impacts mental health.

Wong-Tam pointed out that one out of every three Trans people has contemplated suicide and called the crisis an epidemic.

“When we have community members that are falling through the cracks because the social safety net doesn’t recognize them for who they are, their authentic self, these are things that can be prevented,” they said. “I will tell you that the NDP has committed to creating a 2SLGBTQI+ action plan and what this will do is ensure that the lived experiences of our community members are going to inform the changes necessary so that we can stay healthy and safe.”

According to Wong-Tam, the NDP plan will provide universal publicly funded mental health support.

“That is critically important,” they said. “The other thing is … talking about what happens in the education system. We have so many kids, especially young kids, that are falling through the cracks because we have publicly funded schools, including the Catholic School Board, that have been allowed to discriminate against 2SLGBTQI+ students so many reforms need to take place in those institutions.”

Wong-Tam acknowledged that individual acts of kindness are significant but are not enough.

“They are symbolic, but it has to be structural change, and it can’t be when it is only convenient,” they said. “Marching in Pride is just the easiest thing, and it’s the lowest hanging fruit for any Premier to do, and it can’t just be wearing a t-shirt when it’s convenient to wear pink. It is about standing up for the community when we need it the most. When it’s the most inconvenient, and it even means you pay a political price, and that’s what the NDP will do.”

Ward said GPO Party Leader Mike Schreiner has been clear that mental health is health.

“As it relates to people within the 2SLGBTQI+ spectrum, I’m a victim of bad healthcare because when I first came out 25+ years ago, being Trans was a mental illness,” she said. “I had to go to a gender identity clinic to prove that I was not crazy, prove that I was not a danger to my children, and worthy of respect.”

Ward has lived experience and has dedicated herself to advocacy on this issue.

“We have a Trans person talking about it,” she said. “Unlike other parties that trot us out on a gurney like some transgender Hannibal Lector when it’s time to raise funds and then put us back in the back where we don’t make any waves, the Green Party has demonstrated that it walks the talk … being authentic is not the same as being crazy.”

Saguil said Ward’s passion is incomparable, so speaking after her is difficult.

“I commend her advocacy for many things,” he said. “On mental health, we know the statistics, and they are ever-maddening and ever-saddening, and I know how deeply each of us in this community has been impacted.”

He spoke of the Liberal Party school curriculum introduced under Premier Kathleen Wynne in 2015.

“We introduced an inclusive curriculum,” said Saguil. “We will reintroduce that, and we will make sure that kids going forward have the support they need. We’ve also committed to gender-affirming care in creating spaces within long-term care facilities that will treat our seniors, including 2SLGBTQI+ seniors, with the dignity they deserve in their golden years.”

Atrick noted that the waitlist for mental health is currently 18 months to two years.

“What will your party do to get those needs met for folks waiting the 18 months?” She asked.

Saguil said recovery from the pandemic backlogs wouldn’t happen overnight. The Liberals have a plan and funding commitment to ensure addressing medical and surgical backlogs and incentivizing people to go into healthcare.

“People who come in from other countries can get accredited faster in Ontario to deliver these services,” he said. “These are the different levers we can pull to create that capacity in our system to address the backlog, which is real and needs to be addressed quickly.”

Atrick said the question is how people will be helped while they wait 18 months.

“This is the real hard question for everybody,” she said.

Wong-Tam said it’s a great question because it’s about making sure parties act quickly and are not setting up goals that go into the future.

 “I think we can all recognize the mental healthcare system in Ontario is broken,” they said. “No previous government, whether the Liberals or Conservatives, whoever has held power has ever tackled the mental healthcare system in Ontario well, which is why we have this patchwork of loose services that don’t necessarily work and are chronically underfunded.”

Wong-Tam argued that the social determinants of health are the same regarding mental health, access to housing, good employment, and living a life that is free of discrimination and violence.

“We should put some money into mental healthcare especially … for Trans and Non-binary youth, and we do it with them in mind, so we centre the investments in the people who need it the most,” they said. “So we measure to make sure we get those outcomes, and then we clear the waitlist, and the New Democratic Party is committing to clearing that waitlist, especially for children’s mental health within six months.”

Crombie said he thinks the current government’s priorities are messed up, and Bill 124 caps transfers to all of the organizations that fund nurses, fund long-term care, and mental health.

“It caps all those transfers at one percent,” he said. “Conservatives say they hate wage-price controls, but what they put in place a couple of years ago was a wage control. When you can’t hire more people, when you can’t increase wages, particularly when inflation is six percent, that’s the problem. People are leaving mental health and nursing. … that’s the number one thing I would do if my party were elected is get rid of Bill-124. “

He also mentioned the years-long waitlist for long-term care facilities.

“You can go through too many healthcare sectors, and the problem exists, so the bottom-line answer is we have been bringing budgets down on the back of healthcare spending in Ontario, and that’s the reality, and we need to change it,” said Crombie. “That’s the only solution for your problem is dramatically more increases in funding.”

Ward has experience working in the health insurance field, providing emergency care for people.

“The trick to triage, and that’s what we are talking about here, triage is to deal with the things that are killing us fastest,” she said. “First, COVID has affected everybody and the holes in the mental health system that already existed for all three parties. They are decades-old holes, including my time when I came out as trans 25 years ago, and it hasn’t always been Liberal and Conservative.”

Ward said the mental health crisis needs to be treated like the emergency she said it is.

“This is a question of stopping people from killing themselves, killing other people, harming themselves, harming other people,” she said. “There can be no delay for this, and the money exists within the health insurance program to do this.”

If it’s a minority government, then Ward expects the GPO, the NDP and the Liberals will work to provide practical economic, environmental and socially sustainable suggestions.

“But if we get the four-letter word that is Ford in as our next government, then the Green Party is the correct choice because we’ve demonstrated that we can convince Doug Ford that things are his idea,” she said. “Remember he has discovered electric vehicles suddenly after tearing down charging stations.”

Ward said investing in disability payments and mental health supports is not just a compassionate argument. It’s a dollars and cents argument.

“The fact is that helping people with this terrible waitlist isn’t a cost,” she said. “That’s a faulty argument, and that won’t fly. It’s an investment in people. And the money we spend on helping people in mental health crises isn’t a cost. It helps stop them from hurting themselves and costing our society more so we can sell that idea regardless of whether it’s a coalition, a minority government or indeed the four-letter word.”

Blu Waters said education about Indigenous people and the Queer community has a similar need.

They said it needs to start in Kindergarten and in high school, there needs to be a mandatory accredited course that is mandatory, so people realize that discrimination, racism, and homophobia exist for both the Indigenous and 2SLGBTQI+ communities and are rampant still.

Waters said in post-secondary education, another course must be completed to graduate.

 “What are you going to do to make these things compulsory?” They asked.

“I have been struggling with what I see happening in the education system, especially when protecting our Queer youth and the families they belong to,” said Wong-Tam. “It also means making sure there are good work environments for the queer, trans and non-binary teachers, so there are no repercussions when they want to be their true authentic selves.”

They said inclusive physical and sexual health education is critical and should not be something you can opt-out of especially regarding informed consent.

“It’s talking about making sure kids understand their bodies,” said Wong-Tam. “It’s also about making sure we affirm their identity … I live in downtown Toronto, and I can see the Village from my window, but I’m sure not everybody is so fortunate.”

They acknowledged that kids in the rural communities and the Catholic School System might not even have a Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) space available.

“I’m proud of our party’s track record pushing for legislative change, ensuring that we have that program concerning inclusive physical and sexual health education,” said Wong-Tam. “It should be in all publicly funded schools, so if you are in a public school or Catholic, you should be taught that.”

They noted that it would save lives and create a safer environment.

“I’m very proud that our party led the fight in the legislature even when we were the third party back in 2012 to make sure that trans and non-binary people are included in the human rights code,” said Wong-Tam.

Ward pointed out that she was part of the movement to include gender identity and gender expression at the federal level for well over twelve years.

“I remember the Trans women who were there, and I remember the people who were not there,” she said. “While some of the parties threw some lip service behind including gender identity at the federal level, the people who did the hard work were the Trans people who suffered along the way, so I have to correct my colleague here.”

Ward brought the conversation back to the question of education.

“We can’t have people going out into the world that doesn’t understand that inclusivity isn’t something like an afterthought,” she said. “It should be hardcoded into our DNA as we go out into the world. We have doctors who are well educated in every other respect … the fact is that we can’t have so-called well-educated people out there who consider themselves well educated unless they have had a complete education that is inclusive. I completely agree that it has to start at ground zero.

Ward agreed it must be mandatory.

“Not some liberal arts hairy fairy thing,” she said. “You don’t get your fancy diploma for a doctor or a lawyer or anybody else until you’ve figured out the truth.”

Ward also spoke about helping kids understand their bodies, beauty and authenticity.

“That needs to be baked into our education system,” she said. “Not so that they grow up to be good doctors, but they grow up to love themselves.”

Saguil agreed education is the foundation of how to build a society.

“It’s colonial from the outset,” he said. “It has all of these poisonous lessons we carry for generations, and we need to start undoing that. That begins by reforming the education curriculum we all go through and making sure we undo and unlearn some of those terrible and poisonous legacies.

Saguil said he thought there was alignment between the participating parties that the education system must affirm all genders, orientations and different cultures and backgrounds.

“That is part of what we’re learning now,” he said. “That neurodiversity, understanding people’s different abilities both from a physical and mental perspective, has to be part of the understanding of a spectrum of a society that we need to coexist with … so that’s my commitment to you. I will be committed to an affirming and inclusive education on all aspects of the human spectrum of diversity.”

Crombie said he thought the sex education program the Liberals introduced in 2015 was good.

“It was put in place by many experts, and it had gender identity issues, mental health issues, sexual identity issues, reproductive issues, sex protection issues etc.,” he said. “It should have been implemented, and the Ford government backtracking on that was a huge mistake.”

Crombie was Liberal campaigning for Kathleen Wynn in Mississauga six years ago.

“The negative comments that I received at the door about her sexual orientation were astonishing,” he said.

Crombie hosts a nightly radio show, and last year he interviewed Joplin.

“She was removed from her post as a pastor in a church in my riding in Mississauga Lakeshore because she came out as Trans,” he said. “The people I know in her congregation thought she was a fantastic preacher. She was loved in her church, but she was fired because of her gender orientation. That’s wrong.”

He noted if it was in a job, anti-discrimination laws might have applied, but the human rights code doesn’t apply to religious institutions.

“There is a hatred in Canada that I have never seen before,” said Crombie. “Whether it’s against Kathleen Wynn, Reverend Joplin, against Trudeau … hatred exists in Canada today like it never has before, and that is the most important thing we need to stop, to get anywhere close to what you are trying to achieve. We have got to get rid of the hatred in politics and the politic in Canada.”

Chaves said she does believe a lot of the hatred is because Trudeau is the first Prime Minister to march at Pride.

“I do believe the right-wing ideas from the US have come here, and I do believe that Trump permitted racists to come out of the closet,” she said. “Hated is horribly contagious, and as a lesbian, as a member of this community that would have suffered if I were in the United States or Nicaragua, I am afraid of the hatred against us. … I had never been afraid in Canada of being discriminated against because of my gender, my orientation or my ethnicity, but I think now we have to be concerned about that.”

She asked if parties have a plan to educate people, so the racists and bigots go back in the closet, or their minds get changed.

“I used to be proud to see the Canadian flag, and now I’m terrified when I see it,” said Chaves.

Ward has been involved in Trans advocacy for over 25 years, and she marched first in 2009  and then on Yonge Street in 2013.

“What we talked about was not about being Trans, although we were out and proud,” she said. “We talked about how we are members of society, how we wanted to contribute, how we wanted to participate, how we wanted to be with our family, how I desperately wanted to go see my children at school in their school plays.”

She felt that approach communicates more than shouting and screaming.

“Anybody who is a bigot is not just an unpleasant person but stupid because we need everybody in Canada and Ontario and Toronto working together,” said Ward. “There is such a thing as Canadian values that go right across gender and cultural lines, and it’s the idea of fairness and mutual support.”

At the risk of harping on about it, she said that the Green Party supports Trans people and other equity-seeking candidates, proving their work.

“We can speak about ourselves in far more compelling and frankly more inclusive ways,” said Ward.

Saguil said there are structural changes that we need to put in place.

“We need to have foundational guard rails and foundational understandings, rules or else there isn’t such thing as a society,” he said. “There are things like human rights and constitutional rights that we need to enforce.”

Saguil said the human rights code is an essential document in Ontario to understand what is and is not acceptable behaviour.

“I’m coming from that lens,” he said. “I’m a lawyer. I fought for equality. I fought for constitutional rights to the supreme court for our community to be included in spaces and institutions like higher education,”

Saguil also said people need to be able to talk to each other despite differences.

“We need to have forums like this where we discuss ideas without descending into partisan sniping, without descending into character attacks or personal attacks,” he said. “I know that sounds idealistic, but that is what we need to keep striving for.”

According to Saguil, isolation leads to division.

“What we see then will result in other contexts is civil war and aggression, which I don’t want to come to Canada,” he said. “That is something I will fight tooth and nail against, and that is why regardless of what happens in this election, I will sit and stand across the aisle and work with anyone willing to advance the causes that we all passionately care about because that’s the kind of Ontario I’m committed to.”

Crombie said the hatred in Canada is because partisan politics have become extreme, and he believes that proportional representation is the solution. 

“I think the people who had the trucker occupation, which I disagreed with, but they had a view that wasn’t being listened to, and they represented based on polls 10 to 15 percent of the population, and no one was listening to them,” he said. “If we had proportional representation, Maxime Bernier and his party would have 28 or so seats in Parliament, and they would have realized they are a tiny minority. They thought they were this huge majority.”

He feels the Conservative Party leadership is the best example of what’s going wrong.

“The leaders start to cater to the extreme, and we’ve got a populist partisan that will probably win the Conservative leadership,” said Crombie. “it’s going to be the most right-wing person that we’ve ever had leading a major party in Canada today. Even more right-wing than Ford, I must tell you.”

Wong-Tam brought the conversation back to the issue of what parties can do to prevent hate.

“As a human rights advocate and someone who has fought for marriage equality, that was a decade-long legal battle,” they said. “This was not necessarily something that came to the Queer Trans community out of the kindness of the hearts of the government that they said they were going to do this. We had to fight for this legislative right, and we had to fight to ensure gender identity and expression were included in the Ontario Human Rights Commission. That was through Toby’s Act in 2012. Reverend Dr. Cheri DiNovo, the MPP in our party, helped pass all of that legislation, including banning conversion therapy in 2015 and making sure that parents like myself who are not the birth parent can put my name on my son’s birth certificate.”

Wong-Tam stated that changes do not come easy, and they come with the fight of a community that rises and makes transformations happen.

“That is why Pride is important, why Pride is political, and every single time we’ve been able to take steps forward in the justice pathway, it has been on the backs of our community members,” they said. “Hate is not something we teach away, and I know that because I have lived a long enough life to know that. Hate is something that we must legislate away and make it illegal and criminal to protect our trans and Queer kids at all costs. They need to know that the law is behind them.”

Before taking a break, Atrick pointed out that Pride organizations across Ontario came together to host the debate.

“So you know something is happening because although we are protests, we have our drama,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve seen Prides come together to do something with Queer Vote.”

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