In February 2021, the Canadian federal government announced new outgoing funding for 76 LGBTQ+ organizations across the country. Totaling $15 million CAD ($11.85 million USD), these new grants offer a much-needed capital injection for LGBTQ+ organizations at a time when the queer community struggles to meet and offer support for each other. This funding represents an exciting and forward-focused campaign for Canada — but says plenty about the lack of federal LGBTQ+ funding opportunities in the United States.
Our neighbors to the north have frequently led the way in liberal and progressive policymaking, and this new round of federal funding is yet another way that the Canadian federal government is outpacing our own in terms of progressive thinking. The Biden Administration already has its work cut out for it “rolling back the rollbacks” from 45, but it cannot ignore the conspicuous funding gap between federal programs and the LGBTQ+ community.
Like so many other communities, LGBTQ+ Canadians have been forced to “go virtual” for support, community events, and finding housing and healthcare. To fight this access gap, the Canadian government introduced $15 million CAD in federal funding for LGBTQ+ programs, including $400,000 to an advocacy organization devoted to ending suicide in two-spirit youth, and $239,000 to a housing organization connecting queer youth with safe housing in the Great Plains and Prairie provinces.
“As we continue our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also work to build up and support strength and resiliency, wherever we can,” said Bardish Chagger, the Canadian Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. “It is crucial that organizations serving LGBTQ individuals from coast to coast to coast are supported with the means to do their important and life-saving work.”
Meanwhile, the United States federal government seems to be taking steps back instead of forward. One of the final blows from the Trump administration was the finalization of a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that rolls back the LGBTQ+ protections laid out in the Obama administration. The full release takes up 77 pages, but the crux is that social service agencies receiving government funds now have the ability to deny otherwise appropriate adoption applications based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The new rule states, “Given the careful balancing of rights, obligations, and goals in the public-private partnerships in federal grant programs, the Department believes it appropriate to impose only those nondiscrimination requirements required by the Constitution and federal statutes.”
(Before you feel that all hope is lost, there’s a light on the horizon: Discrimination against same-sex couples in taxpayer-funded adoption proceedings is already in hot contention between LGBTQ+ activists and the legal system, and the Supreme Court will be taking it up soon.)
Meanwhile in Canada, the federal government is funding inclusion initiatives in Ontario’s rehabilitation centers and retirement homes, emergency phone and text hotlines for Canadian LGBTQ+ youth, and community groups devoted to developing francophone and racial voices within the Canadian LGBTQ+ community.
It’s exhausting to be queer in the United States.
Sometimes it feels like one politician promises the community the moon only to shrug and say “What can ya do?” when LGBTQ+ serving policies come up against contention in the House or Senate. It’s also exhausting to feel like the federal government is yo-yoing on human rights, playing with the identities of America’s LGBTQ+ millions: What one progressive administration rolls forward, the next rolls back.
There’s an obvious call here for Joe Biden to stand firm in the promises he made to the LGBTQ+ community. It’s understandable and necessary for COVID-19 to be at the forefront of policy changes right now, but at the same time, federal funding programs cannot forget the LGBTQ+ communities that desperately need the same emergency funding Canada has granted to keep their communities connected and supported.
It’s worth noting that the Biden administration has already made some promising steps forward, by introducing the Equality Act to Congress, passing progressive executive orders reversing the ban on transgender military service and implementing the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, and appointing some of the nation’s first openly gay and transgender Senate-confirmed officials.
It’s important too to acknowledge that not all is perfect for our friends in the north. Canada still has a ban against blood donations from gay men and other members of the LGBTQ+ community (a ban Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to get rid of years ago) and still has work to do in terms of nationwide protections for queer folks.
However, Canada is also leading the charge with its commitment to a federal “action plan” to serve the LGBTQ+ community, including the creation of an online survey to “better understand the lived realities of queer Canadians.”
It’s validating to hear from politicians that the lives of our queer friends and family members are valued, but simply saying as much only goes so far.
It’s time for the American government to put its money where its mouth is in regards to federal funding for LGBTQ+ serving organizations. Expansion of programs like the Global Equality Fund and the introduction of new federal programs beyond legislation will go miles toward correcting the rollbacks from the last administration and fulfilling the promises made for the next four years.
America, I recommend taking a large maple leaf out of Canada’s book — we’ve got a lot of work to do.
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