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Funding for community groups a central plank of Canada's first ever LGBTQ2S+ 'action plan'

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The federal government says it will prioritize direct funding for community groups under Canada's first ever federal LGBTQ2S+ "action plan,” stating that they are the best-placed organizations to identify and deliver the support needed to address “persisting inequities” and improve the wellbeing of LGBTQ2S+ individuals in this country.

Through the plan, the government is also pledging to study emerging criminal justice issues such as HIV non-disclosure; adopt the usage of the "more inclusive" 2SLGBTQI+ acronym; and launch an awareness campaign aimed at combatting discrimination.

All of these issues, the government says, were raised as concerns from members of the LGBTQ2S+ community during the years-long consultation process that informed the plan.

In the 2022 federal budget the government earmarked $100 million to be spent over the next five years on implementing this plan. The central plank of this plan is now a commitment to direct 75 per cent of this money to community organizations, with the remainder largely focused on community research and awareness campaigns. 

Through pre-established funding streams, the government is promising to allocate $40 million for "capacity-building grants" for LGBTQ2S+ community organizations that can be used to hire additional staff or improve record collection, for example. Another $35 million will go towards funding a wide array of community-pitched projects, with the intention of providing longer-term sustainable funding for these initiatives.

Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien unveiled the long-awaited plan on Sunday alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during Pride celebrations in Ottawa. The report's tagline is "building our future, with pride."

"It is well-known that 2SLGBTQI+ people continue to face significant challenges – including negative mental health impacts, underemployment, homelessness, harassment, bullying, and violence. These challenges are further amplified for people with intersecting lived experiences," Ien writes in the 53-page document. "While this is a historical first, I can assure you that the work does not end here."

The Liberals are touting the plan as an historic investment and among the highest rates of direct federal funding to community groups, allowing for a more sustainable flow of resources to keep their programs and initiatives up and running.

However, instead of spelling out in the document specifically which groups will be receiving funds—something advocates have been waiting to get more information about since the budget was released—the government intends to reveal that level of detail through a series of announcements in the future.

Sources told CTVNews.ca that the intent is to see this newly announced money begin rolling out the door in early 2023.

The government says it'll be prioritizing allocating this funding to groups who are doing work with LGBTQ2S+ Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) as well as other demographics in the community who experience additional layers of marginalization such as people with disabilities, seniors, youth, and those who don't live in major urban centres.

FIVE COMPONENTS, INCLUDING JUSTICE POLICY

Overall, the "action plan" has five central components, each including specific commitments to the LGBTQ2S+ community: Prioritizing community action; advancing rights in Canada and abroad; supporting Indigenous "resilience"; fostering an inclusive future; strengthening data and evidence-based policymaking; and seeing the federal government "embed" LGBTQ2S+ issues into its work.

"It is my hope that with the measures laid out in this whole-of government approach, we will achieve a future where everyone in Canada is truly free to be who they are and love who they love," writes Trudeau in the plan's opening message. "There is still a lot of work to do."

As part of the commitment to strengthen LGBTQ2S+ rights in Canada, the government is committing to launch public consultations starting this fall on three criminal law reform issues identified as areas that require attention.

The consultations will be on:

  • the criminalization of cosmetic surgeries on intersex children’s genitalia until they are of age to consent;
  • limiting prosecutions HIV-nondisclosure before consensual sexual activity, something Justice Minister David Lametti committed to ahead of summer’s International AIDS Conference; and
  • updating the laws around indecency-based offences.

As well, the Liberals are committing to expanding the list of offences for which it'll expunge the criminal records of people who were convicted of what the government now considers "historically unjust" offences.

This commitment would be building on legislation passed in 2018 that expunged records of Canadians who were charged for having consensual same-sex relationships. The Liberals advanced this justice policy change coinciding with 2017 apology for the federal government’s so-called LGBTQ2S+ purge.

INTERNAL GOVERNMENT CHANGES, AWARENESS

The plan released Sunday also commits $5.6 million to launch an awareness campaign led by Ien's department that will be aimed at breaking down "underlying and longstanding stigma and discrimination" faced by LGBTQ2S+ communities.

As for plans to reform how the government handles, considers, and responds to LGBTQ2S+ issues, the plan details a series of internal changes planned, framing it as a government-wide effort going forward. Arguably the marquee feature of this portion of the plan is a commitment to begin using the acronym 2SLGBTQI+ rather than the currently used LGBTQ2 acronym.

"The '2S' acronym at the front recognizes Two-Spirit people as the first 2SLGBTQI+ communities and foregrounds their experiences as part of the Government’s mandate on Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples," reads the report.

Largely the commitments made throughout the “action plan” do not have concrete timelines attached, but the government plans to spend $11.7 million to support the existing government “secretariat” to oversee the implementation of these promises.

The release of this plan comes after the Liberals broke their election promise of completing the plan within the first 100 days of their post-2021 election mandate. 

The government took the first steps towards this plan in 2020, launching public engagement plans just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the government held virtual roundtables with advocates, community leaders, and researchers on a range of topics, received more than 100 written submissions, and also issued a national online survey inquiring about the lived realities of queer Canadians.

The survey sought feedback from LGBTQ2S+ people in Canada on experience with safety, health, housing, employment and discrimination. It generated responses from more than 25,000 people.

Among the findings were that 39 per cent of respondents reported experiencing violence due to homophobia, transphobia, biphobia or other sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination in the last five years. Verbal abuse and online harassment were the most commonly reported forms.

In an effort to continue its evidence-gathering, the plan also earmarks $7.7 million for community groups to continue research projects, and for the government to conduct further research through a national survey, to inform future initiatives. 

Asked by CTV News when the government is committing to fulfilling the promises in this plan, given the absence of concrete timelines beyond the pledge to spend the $100 million in the next five years, Trudeau and Ien didn't offer a specific time frame.

Instead, they said the government is confident their approach is the best way to support the community.

"There's a lot in it, absolutely. A lot of it is very ambitious. But we also know, there is a lot more to do," Trudeau said.

Ien added, "We understand how important community is. We're not here to kind of be on high and say, 'here's what you need.' The community tells us what it needs, and we act. And that's what this is about." 

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