Justin Trudeau has been a better ally to gay communities than his predecessor. However, he seems to be losing interest in protecting the rights of LGBTI people in other countries, despite the desperate need for such support.
Justin Trudeau’s government has proven itself to be a better ally to LGBTI communities than any previous one. It took many steps during its first mandate to affirm the rights and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Canada and abroad. Now, as the Liberal government begins its second term, it is poised to take additional positive steps for LGBTI Canadians. However, it seems to be losing interest in protecting the rights of LGBTI people in other countries, despite the desperate need for such support.
The prime minister’s mandate letters to cabinet ministers provide the best indication of the government’s agenda as it gets back to work this month. Trudeau has assigned most LGBTI-related tasks to the minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Bardish Chagger. Funding for LGBTI groups is also mentioned in passing in the mandate letter of Maryam Monsef, minister for Women and Gender Equality.
Those provisions, as positive as they may be, all focus on LGBTI rights in Canada. The international dimension, however, is nowhere to be found. In particular, there is no mention of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or LGBTI concerns in the mandate letters of the minister of Foreign Affairs, the minister of International Development, or the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
This omission is surprising, given that during its first mandate the Trudeau government took many steps to protect international LGBTI rights. Notably, from 2017 to 2019, Canada’s co-chaired the Equal Rights Coalition, a grouping of 42 governments that seeks to defend LGBTI rights around the world. The high point of Canada’s involvement was hosting the coalition’s global conference in Vancouver in August 2018. A few months later, it announced $30 million in funding over five years to support LGBTI people in developing countries.
There is no mention of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or LGBTI concerns in the mandate letters of the minister of Foreign Affairs, the minister of International Development, or the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
Since then, however, Canada’s efforts have lost steam. After its re-election in October 2019, the Liberal government dropped the position of Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues, when the incumbent, Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault, was defeated. As a result, the domestic and international LGBTI communities lose a champion within the Canadian government structures.
The apparent downgrading of international LGBTI concerns comes at a time when assistance is desperately needed. Same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults is criminalized in some 70 countries, including six where it is sometimes punished by death. Although there has been progress in some places, state-sponsored homophobia is on the rise in many parts of the world, from Brazil and Gabon to Indonesia. LGBTI rights defenders undertake crucial work with extremely limited financial resources and often at great personal risk. Jeudy Charlot, for instance, Haiti’s most prominent LGBTI activist, died under suspicious circumstances in November 2019.
Having staked its position during its first mandate as a prominent defender of international LGBTI rights, the Liberal government should ensure that it follows through in this area. The ministers of foreign affairs, international development, and immigration, refugees and citizenship should step up efforts to speak out on behalf of international LGBTI rights where they are under attack. They should also support the work of LGBTI rights defenders, facilitate the latter’s travel to Canada to consult with the Canadian government and civil society organizations, and provide them with asylum when their lives are at risk because of who they are and what they do. By doing so, the Trudeau government could consolidate Canada’s role as a global champion of LGBTI rights.
The article was first published in the Ottawa Citizen