This is the second installment of a three-part series on social stigma—a term that I would define as the negative connotations and prejudice people may have about an individual or specific group of people. This week, I wanted to write about the LGBTQ+ community. As you read the following, please be aware that labels are not absolute (nor are they necessary), gender is a spectrum, and that everyone, regardless of their sexuality, deserves to be treated with kindness. To begin, here is a breakdown of what the acronym LGBTQ+ stands for.
Lesbian: A woman who is attracted primarily to other women.
Gay: A person who is attracted to people of the same gender. This term is often used to refer to men who are attracted primarily to other men.
Bisexual: A person who is attracted to two or more genders. May also be defined as a person attracted to people of their own, as well as, other genders.
Transgender: A person who does not identify with their sex assigned at birth.
Queer: An umbrella term to describe a whole range of sexual and romantic orientations not covered under the LGB part of the acronym. “Queer” was historically a slur, which is now largely reclaimed.
+: The “+” encompasses a number of orientations and gender identities which exist outside of the heteronormative standard. This is including, but not limited to, those who are gender fluid, asexual, Two-Spirit, pansexual, non-binary, etc.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have long been stigmatized and ostracized. A notable example of this occurred in the late ‘80s when a horrific AIDS epidemic devastated America; the disease spread like wildfire and by 1990, over 120,000 Americans had died from AIDS/HIV related complications. The AIDS epidemic brought upon some of the darkest times of violence, death, social stigma, and oppression to the LGBTQ+ community, yet they fought back in the face of great suffering. Thus, a resilient, social movement for LGBTQ+ rights was instigated.
Canada, though significantly less talked about, also has a history of incredible LGBTQ+ activists, who have fought so we could get to where we are today. Jim Egan is one of the most remarkable Canadian LGBTQ+ pioneers. Egan met his long-term partner, Jack Nesbit in 1941— a time where being gay was a capital crime, punishable by the death penalty. One of the many things he did during his lifetime was write letters to local newspapers to challenge the way they viewed LGBTQ+ people. Jim’s activism landed him a court case that would result in the Supreme Court adding sexual orientation to the Canadian Charter of Rights, making it illegal for one to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Despite this huge monumental achievement, Jim was still denied the right of marrying Jack Nesbit, as the Supreme Court rejected his dream of legalizing same-sex marriage.
In 2005, Canada became the first non-European country and fourth in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. It is hard to believe that there are still so many places where people are being denied human rights, simply because of who they are attracted to. Though Canada is rather politically progressive, policies cannot stop people from projecting social stigma. Be conscious of how others identify and do not be afraid to ask what their pronouns are. There are ways to support the LGBTQ+ community, even if you do not identify as a part of it: become an ally, create safe spaces by joining your school’s GSA (gay-straight alliance) / QSA (queer-straight alliance), attend pride, or get involved with organizations like Rainbow Refugee, QMUNITY, and the Vancouver Pride Society.
The privilege of free expression is something we have today thanks to the extraordinary LGBTQ+ activists of both past and present; their legacies can also be found in the growing visibility and representation of LGBTQ+ people in society. This being said, it is important that we continue their efforts by contributing to the progress we have yet to see, because when you take away prejudice and labels, we are all human beings that deserve to be loved and accepted.
Here are some noteworthy LGBTQ+ documentaries:
“Paris is Burning” directed by Jennie Livingston
“We Were Here” directed by David Weissman
“Her Story” directed by Sydney Freeland
“Jim Loves Jack” directed by David Adkin
“Take Two: Enough is Enough” directed by Harry Sutherland
Written by Michelle Xie
*All views expressed in this blog post belong to the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.