Lessons for housing providers from the 2017 National Conference on LGBTTQIA2S Lives

October 3rd, 2017 by Elliot Fonarev

Montréal Pride (Fierté Montréal) hosted the 2017 National Conference on LGBTTQIA2S Lives in August. I had the privilege of attending as a student bursary recipient. The acronym, “LGBTTQIA2S” stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, intersex, asexual, and two-spirited – in this blog I also use the term “sexual and gender minorities” to refer to members of this community.

The conference brought together community and cultural partners, university researchers, and government representatives for a discussion of the important issues facing sexual and gender minorities across Canada today.  The workshops highlighted how different civil society groups, academics, businesses, and governments have approached civil and human rights, health and family rights, social and cultural issues, employment and workplace inclusion, migrant and refugee issues, and international issues and movements.  The topics focused on different realities and identities within the LGBTTQIA2S umbrella, raising a broad range of issues affecting different people in the community.  The overall theme that emerged from discussions was that although there have been many recent gains with respect to legal recognition and formal protections of sexual and gender minorities in Canada, many members of the LGBTTQIA2S communities continue to experience high levels of insecurity and marginalization and remain vulnerable in every sector of life.

One community in particular should be of interest to our clients who house and employ individuals from the LGBTTQIA2S communities: migrants and asylum seekers who are sexual and gender minorities.  One panel featured settlement workers who work exclusively with sexual and gender minorities in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, spoke of the difficulty that many of these individuals, particularly transgender migrants, experience in finding housing.  These individuals are at risk of encountering multiple kinds of discrimination due to the intersection of their status as migrants and sexual or gender minorities, and often race or ethnicity.  Many sexual and gender minorities who are not migrants and live in social housing communities also report feeling unwelcome and unsafe due to their sexual orientation or gender as well as other intersecting identities.

Housing providers in Ontario have an obligation to comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), which prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, race, and ethnicity, among others.

One way housing providers can work to ensure sexual and gender minorities feel safe is by having welcoming signage that indicates that your premises are safe for sexual and gender minorities.  Of course, it’s important to also have a human rights policy that addresses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression and a procedure in place for addressing complaints and issues on Code‑related grounds.

Housing providers may also wish to offer sensitivity training for staff and employees in providing service or working with sexual and gender minorities, particularly those who are seeking asylum in Canada due to their identity.

At one workshop I attended I learned about the Anti‑Discrimination Response (A.R.T.) Training for active witnesses (Ishiyama, 2006).  The focus of this training is to equip witnesses or bystanders to be active in responding to interpersonal discriminating situations.  This training could be useful for any institution seeking to practice anti‑discrimination in public or community spaces.  This proactive approach can take a range of forms, from addressing the perpetrator head‑on, to speaking directly to the victim in support and disagreement with the discriminatory behavior, to calling to other bystanders.  More information about the Anti‑Discrimination Response (A.R.T.) Training can be found online.

A housing provider or employer that wishes to better prevent human rights conflicts among its members or tenants may wish to use this framework and train staff in active witness responses.  Addressing potentially discriminatory conduct using social responses in the moment or close to the time when the incident occurs could help the housing provider resolve human rights conflicts without needing to go through a formal and costly process to come to a resolution.  Furthermore, this helps create positive social norms around respecting and making sexual and gender minorities feel safe and welcome, as well as signaling to all residents that homophobia, transphobia, racism, and other forms of prejudice, have no place in your housing community.

The conference featured an impressive list of keynote speakers – including Sylvia Maracle, Executive Director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres; Tamara Thermitus, President of the Quebec Commission on Human Rights and Youth Rights and former Chief Negotiator for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; Svend Robinson, Canada’s first openly gay Member of Parliament (MP); Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda; Randy Boissonnault, MP and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 Issues; and many more academics, activists, and public figures – joined an equally impressive schedule of presenters leading 55 different workshops and three special plenaries over three days.

Filed in: Housing, Human Rights

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