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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 1, 2020
With the requirement for physical distancing that has come about because of COVID-19, many of the celebrations that are usually held throughout Canada this summer are being held virtually. This includes Pride celebrations, which are held throughout the summer months depending on what part of the country you live in. It will certainly be different as the overall thrust of Pride is to bring people together in support and solidarity, but this pandemic forces us to stay apart. Despite the positive changes in Canadian society, there are still people who don't feel safe being open about their orientation and for many of them, Pride celebrations provide an opportunity to feel free enough to join the crowds of Pride celebrants and remain anonymous, if only for a short while. They will miss this opportunity this year and recent news out of Winnipeg appears to indicate that there is still work to be done and reasons for people to feel cautious in certain situations.
Late in June, reports began to circulate publicly about problems that were occurring at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, including allegations of sexual harassment and racism that was being experienced by some staff members. There were additional complaints that staff were being forced to censor LGBTQ2+ content during certain tours, in particular with certain religious groups, and that such activities had been ongoing for at least two years. In the fallout from these revelations, former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray resigned from the fundraising arm of the museum, CEO John Young announced his resignation and a non-profit group that was negotiating with the museum over a permanent exhibit commemorating the LGBT purge of federal employees suspended their plans.
While it really shouldn't come as a big surprise, it is disheartening that such types of activities have been happening without being addressed properly in any institution in Canada but especially in a museum dedicated to human rights. Canadians might expect that a human rights museum would have well-developed processes in place to ensure that the rights of all of their employees are respected. We would definitely expect this to be the last place where censorship of an important part of our history, the advancement of the equality of LGBTQ2+ Canadians, would not only be tolerated but forced upon employees in order not to offend the religious sensibilities of certain guests. The whole purpose of a museum is to bring our history out into the light, not to hide it away and this is particularly so when it concerns people who have had their human rights denied or been forced to live in the shadows. If your religious beliefs are offended by the human rights of LGBTQ2+ people, why would you choose to go to museum where such rights are celebrated and expect tour guides to shield your group from this reality?
Members of the museum's board of trustees are saying that the claims were not properly brought to their attention and, to their credit, they have acted swiftly once such concerns came to light and have offered a public apology to anyone who experienced these incidents. They have hired lawyers to look into the allegations of harassment and have established a diversity and inclusion committee chaired by one of the trustees to look into the issues of racism and homophobia within the organization. It is a promising start and it is hoped that this will lead to the concrete change needed to rebuild trust with the community.
These events are a reminder that the battle for equality hasn't ended just because laws have been changed. If history teaches us anything, it is that real change is usually incremental and it can take generations for major societal changes to take root. While it is wonderful that we have a museum in Canada devoted to human rights, it doesn't mean the work has stopped in creating an equal society. Just as the death of George Floyd sparked a discussion about racism that still exists in our society, let the events at the museum in Winnipeg remind us that homophobia still exists and can show up in places we least expect it.
Brian Hodder works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.