American homophobia is oozing north. Are Western Canadian radicals rolling out the welcome mat?

Feature | Gregory Beatty | May 26, 2022

Battles once thought fought and won have suddenly flared up again. Globally, Russia seems intent on time-travelling back to the Cold War era when it dominated Eastern Europe under the Warsaw Pact. Closer to home, the U.S. is poised (at least in Trump Republican states) to recriminalize abortion with the leaked U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade (1973).

At the federal and state level, Trump Republicans are also moving aggressively to restrict 2SLGBTQIAP+ rights.

Hello, students, and welcome to today’s topic.

Trump’s ban on trans people serving in the military got the most ink, but there were many rights rollbacks during his presidency. They include giving federal contractors permission to discriminate against trans workers, authorizing shelters to turn away trans people, directing prison officials to put trans women in men’s prisons where they face 10 times the risk of sexual violence, and telling medical providers and insurers they can discriminate against trans people.

At the state level, dozens of bills have been passed or are being considered — such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that aims to shut down classroom discussion of gender and sexual identity. Textbooks, novels and other learning materials are also being censored (even Math textbooks!) if there’s even a hint of anything outside the fundamentalist Christian heterosexual “norm”.

A whopping 21 states, including Texas, Idaho, Alabama, Tennessee and Arizona, have passed laws blocking schools from taking steps, such as gender-neutral bathrooms, to give trans students a safe learning environment. Medical services have also been cut, and it’s estimated that one-third of U.S. transgender youth could lose access to gender-affirming healthcare including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and transition surgeries.

With activist Republican judges controlling the U.S. Supreme Court, more state legislation attacking 2SLGBTQIAP+ rights is all but guaranteed [see sidebar]. To get their thoughts on what’s happening south of the border, and more importantly its possible impact on Canada, we contacted Krystal Nieckar, executive director of OutSaskatoon, and TransSask Support Services project manager Claire Yacishyn. 

Mob Mentality

Nieckar traces the renewed attack on 2SLGBTQIAP+ rights back to the Trump presidency. “It opened the door to people who wanted to halt or claw back some of the headway that was made during the Obama era,” she says. “It created a mob mentality, then the far right took that and ran with it.

“They had someone in power who was able to stoke that and make it okay,” she adds. “It created space for anger to grow, and anger generates fear, and fear makes people do a lot of things. And here we are with ‘Don’t Say Gay’.”

Like the hard-right conservative approach to other contentious issues such as climate change and acknowledging the historical reality of racism and colonization, the belief seems to be that if sex and gender diversity aren’t discussed in the classroom (or broader society) then they don’t exist.

If only life (at least for Christian conservatives) was that simple.

“My view on things like Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and other legislation is that it is erasure, plain and simple,” says Yacishyn. “There’s this narrative that some cisgender heterosexual people have that queer people are somehow a new phenomenon — like there weren’t any of us prior to the 1960s, when we’ve been around throughout history. We’ve just been hidden.”

And for good reason, too. Until the late 1960s, homosexuality was actually illegal in both the U.S. and Canada. Queers faced constant threat of police harassment, violent attacks, loss of employment, denial of housing and even blackmail in certain circumstances. So queers had to be discreet.

Republicans justify the school legislation on the basis of parental rights. The Florida bill, for instance, is officially titled Parental Rights and Education Act. Now, in an ideal world, every child would grow up in a nurturing and supportive home.

Unfortunately that’s not always the case, says Nieckar.

“If you come from a home that is hurtful and not safe as you grow up as a queer or trans kid, the need to survive is great and the statistics speak for themselves,” she says. “When kids don’t have the space to be themselves and be free, the rates at which they experience poverty, homelessness, anxiety, depression, trauma — all of those go up.”

The statistics are shocking, says Yacishyn. “In Canada, 25 to 40 per cent of 2SLGBTQIAP+ youth, and 67 per cent of trans youth, report engaging in self-harm; two in five in a 2019 study said they had considered suicide in the past year, and one in five had attempted suicide. Creating more environments for youth to have a safe space is so needed.”

Over the past few decades, as discriminatory attitudes towards 2SLGBTQIAP+ people have slowly waned, educators and medical professionals, including pediatricians, adolescent medical physicians, psychologists and school administrators, have worked together to devise strategies to better support non-binary children and youth.

Even just ensuring that students have access to educational materials that show a diversity of people and lifestyles can help, says Yacishyn.

“It’s getting better, definitely, but for me, I didn’t come out until I was 30 as I didn’t really know of any trans women,” she says. “I think Lana Wachowski (co-creator of The Matrix) was the first time I heard of anyone transitioning in real life. Before that, you’d see men in dresses that were played up as jokes, or else stirring up fears among cis gender audiences. I never had a chance to see trans women as normal, everyday members of society.

“Parents obviously have strong influence in raising their children,” Yacishyn adds. “But one person alone doesn’t raise a child. A community raises a child. And in cases where children are lucky enough to havefamily support, many of these bills, such as the one in Texas, actually criminalize families for offering that support.”

You read that right. In Texas, parents who provide gender-affirming care for their children can be investigated for child abuse. Surgery, at some point, may be part of that care. But it’s a broad continuum that also includes relatively modest steps such as pronouns, preferred name and dress.

“There is perhaps a perception that trans people jump into transition when many of us face a long road to even start to consider it for ourselves,” says Yacishyn. “Even when we do decide, we face long wait times just to see a doctor.”

Trans youth, at that stage, may be looking to go on puberty blockers. But the new laws would criminalize doctors who prescribed them to adolescents.

“When trans youth go on puberty blockers it’s just to delay the decision, to give them time to figure out how they relate to gender and how they would like their puberty to be,” says Yacishyn. “If they decide to go through a normal cisgender puberty, it’s just a bit later. And there are cisgender people who go through puberty later already. It isn’t a drastic step.”

Some of the rhetoric Republicans have used to defend the bills has been truly shocking. Similar to the “blood libel” slur against Jewish people (that they ritually sacrifice Christian children at Passover to get blood to make unleavened bread), queer advocates and their allies have been demonized as “groomers” eager to prey sexually on children.

“In some cases, I would say the rhetoric is borderline genocidal language designed to eliminate trans people from society,” says Yacishyn.

Oh. Canada.

As we saw during the convoy protests and border blockades this winter, there is a direct pipeline between Trump Republicans, Christian Nationalists and other far-right elements in the U.S. and their Canadian counterparts.

U.S. support for Canadian homophobes includes money, tactical training, slanted media coverage on U.S. channels and more. And, as the growing radicalism of Canada’s conservative movement shows, it is having an impact.

“Under our current federal Liberal government, I don’t honestly know what would have to happen for us to be thrown back to the 1950s like that,” says Nieckar.

The passage of a bill last December to outlaw conversion therapy (which received unanimous House of Commons support) suggests that’s true. Still, before the 2021 election, 62 Conservative MPs voted against an earlier version of the bill.

Many of those MPs were from Alberta and Saskatchewan. And social conservatism in those provinces, plus parts of rural Manitoba, Ontario and B.C., is a potent force.

When Jason Kenny’s UCP government took office in 2019, one of their first acts was to change the previous NDP government’s rules around Gay Straight Alliances, eliminating a requirement that schools form GSA clubs promptly when asked by students, and dropping an explicit ban on notifying parents, which was in place to protect student privacy.

Pointing to last summer’s fractious Regina City Council debate to ban conversion therapy, which drew numerous Zoom submissions from anti-ban advocates across Canada and the U.S., Yacishyn says it’s obvious that 2SLGBTQIAP+ hate groups are active here.

“They may have had more success in the U.S., but they don’t respect the border between our countries,” she says. “They are organized, and they work as a unit — and not just in Canada and the U.S. There’s lots of anti-trans rhetoric in the UK and other countries that’s connected to U.S. evangelicals.

“My perception is that while the groups haven’t had much success so far, they are here.”

And that should be a wake-up call for all Canadians. 


Freedom, Fascism And A Supreme Court Gone Rogue

The upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on a Mississippi law restricting the right of girls and women to access abortion hinges on the balance between federal and state power.

Right now, abortion is a federally protected right. The leaked decision would return that power to individual states, allowing each one to make its own law governing the procedure.

The draft decision cautions that the ruling should not be interpreted as opening the door to aggressive state action to revoke other federally protected rights such as the right to contraception, to engage in private consensual sexual activity, and to marry someone of the same sex or a different race.

But given the vicious nature of the state laws being enacted in anticipation of Roe v Wade being overturned — such no exclusion for pregnancies through rape or incest or for ectopic pregnancy — critics of the court decision predict that same-sex marriage will almost certainly be targeted. Private consensual homosexual activity? Why wouldn’t the Christian Taliban that’s hijacked courts and state governments go after it?

And, again, that hate-based agenda will inevitably ooze north to Canada.

“With technology these days, it’s very easy to access awful, terrible rhetoric,” says Krystal Nieckar, executive director of OutSaskatoon.

“But it’s 2022, and organizations like ours exist,” she says. “We have loud voices and we have power. Collectively, we will do again what we’ve done throughout our history. That is what is truly resilient about 2SLGBTQIAP+ people: we will stand up and fight for our human rights.”

American homophobes have repeatedly shown what fascists they are. Canadians need to believe them — and make sure they don’t get any more traction here than they already have.