In late November, the Russian embassy in Ottawa launched a diplomatic storm following a Twitter battle with three gay members of the federal cabinet: Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault, Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge and Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan.
The embassy, in response to global criticism of a new Russian anti-LGBTQ law, decided to have its way. a tweet of a crossed out rainbow pride flag which established that a family is only “a man, a woman and children”. After the ministers responded, the Russian embassy continued, with messages directed at St-Onge in particular.
In response, the Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly summoned the Russian ambassador to Canada Oleg Stepanovthe diplomatic equivalent of a flick of the fingers.
This incident reminds us that the wave of anti-LGBTQ sentiment around the world is growing, and Canada should step up and show leadership on the international stage. Whether the attacks come from governments or from vigilantes engaging in violence, the rights and safety of LGBTQ people are under threat around the world. Canada can do much more than respond through a few tweets and a diplomatic slap on the wrist.
Of course, there is no place in the world with full equality for LGBTQ people, including Canada, where work remains to protect the human rights of our community. But 67 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, including 11 that impose the death penalty. Countries like Russia, which at one point were advancing LGBTQ human rights, are now backtracking with severe crackdowns, exacerbating the existing LGBTQ refugee crisis. Authoritarian regimes are attacking LGBTQ human rights in many countries and online hate is spreading across borders.
Russia Just Passed New Legislation that expands on previous anti-LGBTQ laws, with fines for speaking about LGBTQ people in books or movies. In Qatar, the FIFA World Cup has raised awareness of the country’s anti-LGBTQ laws, which stipulate up to three years in prison for homosexuality.
Last month, five people were killed at a gay club in Colorado, a hate crime that may be linked to the growing and rampant online hate against LGBTQ communities. In Ghana and Uganda, anti-homosexuality bills are back on the agenda, with proposed legislation that would further criminalize LGBTQ people with harsh new punishments and imprisonment.
In a digitized and globalized world, the rise of anti-LGBTQ hate and misinformation is interconnected, and Canada must play a greater role in the world to combat it.
While Canada has begun to integrate support for the human rights of LGBTQ people into foreign policy, these efforts need more attention. Dignity Network Canada, the organization I work for, recently convened 150 LGBTQ human rights advocates from around the world in Ottawa to discuss ways Canada can show its support. Led by activists working on the front lines from Uganda to Peru to the Ukraine, they had many suggestions for Canada.
Some of the ideas discussed are not novel:
- First, they called for greater support for LGBTQ communities within humanitarian aid and international development assistance. At the moment, less than 0.2 percent of Canada’s total international aid is dedicated to promoting LGBTQ human rights.
- Second, they called on Canada to ensure that no international aid goes to organizations promoting anti-LGBTQ agendas abroad.
- Third, advocates called for a clear strategy on how Canada will work with other like-minded countries to coordinate efforts to combat hate and support countries that take positive steps forward.
- Fourth, a key call has been to appoint an ambassador or special envoy to coordinate and lead Canada’s role in the world on LGBTQ human rights issues, something that other countries such as Argentina, the US, the UK, France and Italy have done recently.
- Finally, Canada must create new pathways dedicated to safety for LGBTQ human rights defenders who are at risk and have to leave their countries.
These are tangible, concrete ways Canada can put its weight behind our words.
As a country committed to equality and human rights, we can and must do more to support LGBTQ rights on the global stage. We must work together, step up our support for communities under attack, and fight this rising wave of fear and hate.