Election time is usually the moment when people’s voices are heard and issues are addressed, but some members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community feel they have been ignored.
Although political parties have begun to include equality sections in their platforms, some voices in the community say merely talking about such systemic issues is not enough.
“Politicians promise so many things and never deliver,” Celia Palombella, a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Scarborough, said. “The LGBT community is just a talking point for them to look good.”
Palombella said she did not cast a ballot on June 2 for the 2022 Ontario election. “My one vote is not going to make a difference for the greater good of this community,” she said.
2SLGBTQ+ mental health: an issue close to home
“2SLGBTQIA+ youth in Scarborough face complex and intersecting issues,” Dee Stoicescu and Ai Yamamoto, co-coordinators at Toby’s Place, said in an interview. “Among them are systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, violence and harassment, ableism, homelessness, and food insecurity.”
Toby’s Place is a Scarborough youth centre for those aged 13 to 29 years old. Its mission is to reduce social isolation among queer, trans and ace spectrum youth through arts-based programming. They offer free meals, workshops and activities in a safe and supportive space.
Young people who are part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community are particularly affected by the different issues, they said.
“As we witness at our program time and time again, these overlapping issues exacerbate mental health challenges for youth,” they said.
When it comes to voting, Stoicescu and Yamamoto said that, in their opinion, youth voters are disengaged because they feel their vote would not make a difference.
According to an elections Ontario report, each of the Scarborough ridings had less than 60 per cent voter turnout in 2018.
Early results from the 2022 election show that those numbers may have dropped further. Ontario recorded its lowest voter turnout in history during this election. Only 43 per cent of eligible voters went to the polling stations to cast a vote.
Queer Vote Ontario: Politicians must do better
Queer Vote Ontario is a non-partisan campaign to put 2SLBGTQ+ issues on the discussion agenda for the 2022 Ontario Election. The campaign calls on all political parties to create a provincial 2SLGBTQ+ action plan, expand coverage of and access to gender-affirming health care, and create a $25 million annual funding program for 2SLGBTQ+ services.
“Politicians and political leaders must do better than attending the same old debates that they always have. It’s the same questions, same speeches, same platforms, and we need new voices to be heard so that real change can happen,” said Jason Maclennan, debate co-ordinator, in an interview with the Toronto Star.
As part of this movement, the first-ever queer debate was hosted on May 26 at the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto.
One of the hot issues was mental health. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CAMH), 77 per cent of trans respondents in an Ontario-based survey had seriously considered suicide and 45 per cent had attempted suicide.
Each candidate addressed that the mental health crisis in the 2SLGBTQ+ community is an ongoing issue. Liberal candidate Paul Saguil said that it is “ever-maddening and ever-saddening”, while promising that his party would implement mental health funding in workers’ benefits packages and provide mental health support for students.
NDP candidate Kristyn Wong-Tam called this issue “an epidemic that we can see.” She said that her party would invest in increasing mental-health support in education, health care, and long-term care.
Nicki Ward, the Green party candidate for Toronto-Centre, was passionate in her remarks saying that she is proof that her party, “walks the talk.” The Green Party’s goal is to being trans issues to the foreground of conversation.
None of the Above party candidate Brian Crombie said his party stands for equal mental-health funding for all, regardless of sexuality or gender identity.
Doug Ford and the PC’s failed to reply to Queer Vote Ontario’s request, and have often declined to comment on 2SLGBTQ+ issues. Their platform does not outline any mental health supports or funding.
Queer Vote Ontario released a score card ranking each party on their political commitments to the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
Hate crimes against the 2SLGBTQ+ community have been increasing
A 2021 Statistics Canada report found that anti-gay hate crimes rose 41 per cent between 2018 and 2019, the most recent years for which there is data. The report notes 2SLGBTQ+ hate crimes are grossly under-reported.
Robert Chevalier, the 2SLGBTQ+ liaison for Toronto Police Service, said they are rolling out new initiatives to reinforce their commitment to the community. The department works in conjunction with the 2SLGBTQ+ community consultive committee on different programs.
One of the new programs that have seen success, according to Chevalier, is the “Coffee with cops” event. A few Toronto police officers take the time to have coffee with community members.
The last event took place on May at a Starbucks in “the village” at Church and Wellesley.
“We walked away with two occurrences that we otherwise probably would not have heard about. One was somebody had some property damage committed to the to the local resident’s property, and the other was a criminal harassment report,” Chevalier said.
Chevalier believes that engagement and visibility of the 2SLGBTQ+ community by a public institution is a step in the right direction to solving issues related to homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.
However, there is still a long road ahead to equality and safety.