Prime Minister Trudeau delivers remarks at the 2018 IDENTITY Gala hosted by Egale Canada
When I think back on being a kid, growing up with a Prime Minister as a dad, I remember a few things; most memories are of the day to day: the car rides with the RCMP, or visiting my dad at work. But in terms of his legacy, the events and decisions written about in the history books, I don’t remember as much. I was 13 when he left. Rarely do we realize the big moments for what they are as they’re happening, and hindsight, most often gives us that perspective; a certain gravity that’s only afforded through distance. But there is one moment, one historical event that I remember quite vividly. It was April 17th, 1982. It was a grey and drizzly day, and I sat at ten years old on Parliament Hill, and I watched as my dad and the nice lady who was the Queen of England on TV, but the Queen of Canada when she was here visiting… Patriated Canada’s constitution. Now, at the time, I had no idea what that meant, possibly meant signing something publicly with the Queen, but I still knew it was a big deal. Of course, later, I’d realize just how big a deal with was.
That day Canada took a giant step forward, evolving into a nation of entrenched, fundamental rights; a nation that vowed to recognize all people as equal under the law. Now, the execution of that promise has been imperfect, yes, but over time, we’ve gotten better at peaceful coexistence, guided by the foundational principles of compassion, equality, and dignity for all. I often think of that afternoon now that I’m much older, and in the same position my father was in all those years ago. And I think about how my kids will reflect on their experience, having their dad as Prime Minister and living a pretty unconventional life. Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrian, what will they remember of this exciting era?
Well, I’d like to think, and I hope, that just as I remember that day in April 1982, they will remember November 28th, 2017; see, it was on that day that I rose in our parliament and delivered a long-overdue apology to Canada’s LGBTQ2 communities. The story told in that speech are familiar to many of you, but left others aghast. Thrown in jail for being gay? Not in Canada. Losing your job for being trans? Nah. Rejected and shamed for your two-spirit identity? No way. Outed in the local paper? Not in this country, an oasis of acceptance and progressivism. And yet, all true.
That was a very dark, very true chapter of Canadian history. Very, and disturbingly recent Canadian history, I might add.
This was the kind of discrimination suffered by the queer community for decades. So this apology and our vow to never repeat the devastating mistakes of the past, well, we know it would be an important moment for many people. A bittersweet moment of recognition. A moment that would, hopefully, bring progress on a long journey towards healing. And that’s why that November morning I decided that my kids wouldn’t be going to school that day. They were coming to work with dad.
The decision for them to be there in the House of Commons, sitting in the gallery, surrounded by lifelong advocates and looking down at me while survivors around them openly wept, well that decision wasn’t planned. But I woke up that morning and it hit me. Today’s going to be a big day, a really big day, and I want them to be part of it. So they came. And Ella and Xav watched their dad stand on the floor of the House of Commons surrounded by colleagues and promise that we as a nation would do better.
It was an incredible day that I will never forget, and I certainly don’t think they will either. And I am deeply privileged to have been a part of this larger moment. I have to thank members of the We Demand An Apology Network, the LGBTQ2 Apology Advisory Council, and the Just Society Committee for Egale for helping us do this properly. But perhaps even more deserving of our gratitude are the grassroots warriors; people who have dedicated their careers, and in many cases their lives to fighting for LGBTQ2 justice in Canada and around the world.
This apology and the many important gay rights victories of decades past, wouldn’t have happened without your efforts and your conviction.
So thank you.
My dear friends, I am sharing this story with you because I hope that in thirty years, when my children are thinking back to their childhood, this memory will come to them as an example of something that justified the hours their father spent away from them. The evenings when I was here instead of at home putting them to bed. In the same way that I remember my father sitting beside the Queen, I hope they will remember that that day in November was an important time for all Canadians.
All societies can and should be judged based on how they defend the rights of minorities. Protection, respect and support for LGBTQ2 Canadians must be entrenched, not conditional, but instead foundational.
Now, as Steve knows well, this is a point that I bring up all the time at international summits, in private and public meetings, with foreign leaders; sometimes, I’ll admit it, I’m forcing a conversation that makes people uncomfortable. But you know what? I don’t really care.
Because if me asking about gay rights in your country makes you uneasy, it means you’re not doing a good enough job.
It means you need to do better. Last summer I marched in Halifax Pride for the first time.
And it was incredible. One of those glorious… when it’s beautiful in Halifax, it’s more beautiful there than just about anywhere else. Except Vancouver, Vancouver when it’s a sunny day in Vancouver, it’s pretty nice. It’s the rarity of those two towns that really… But the streets were of course brimming with love, and laughter, joy and celebration; and as we were celebrating, someone leaned over to me as we were dancing up the street and they said: “You know, it hasn’t always been this way.” They were part of one of the very first Halifax Prides, where people actually wore paper bags over their heads as they marched, needing to be seen, desperately wanting to be counted, but not yet ready to be named.
We’ve come a long way in this country, and we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished to this point. Thanks to many of you who are here this evening, we have made significant progress. We have finally amended our Human Rights Act to protect transgender Canadians against all discrimination. We have launched Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-based Violence, and we are going to expunge the criminal records of people who were found guilty of homosexuality-related offences.
These are big and important steps forward, and I thank each and every one of you for the work you have done to enable us to get to this point. And yet, as Hélène said, we cannot stop here.
Queer youth homelessness, inadequate support for folks who are intersex, disproportionate violence suffered by the trans community, discrimination in blood and organ donation… and yes, we’re working on it, but I’m upset too that it’s not there yet; and the intersectional marginalisation of queer people of colour. These are among the next frontiers of this movement. And I want to achieve real, sustained progress on these things by working with you, by taking my cues from your leadership and your expertise, and delivering the kind of change that will impact so many. My friends, we all know there are many uncertainties in life, but know this for sure: I am on your side, and I will fight for you, and I will fight with you.
Our entire government is committed to full equality for the queer community, you have my word on that. I want my kids to grow up in a world where people’s differences are celebrated, and quite frankly, where they don’t even understand that there could have been a time when they weren’t. I want them to grow up in a world where career aspirations aren’t hampered by gender identity or expression; where families are diverse and varied, and all the more beautiful for it.
In fact, that’s what I want for all of us. More. More acceptance, more inclusivity, and more love.
And we will get there because of all of you
… and because of all of us.
Thank you very much, my dear friends. Thank you.