Equality

Women to Know – Viola Desmond
Viola Desmond has done a great deal for making equality a reality rather than an idea.

Viola Desmond was one of many who have been fighting for equality of the races.

Chances are, you know that Viola Desmond is going to be the new face of the $10 bill, but you may not know who she is. She is the first Canadian-born woman who will appear on a Canadian banknote. The only other woman who does is Queen Elizabeth. Desmond is considered Canada’s Rosa Parks, but she hasn’t gotten near the recognition that Parks has received. Desmond is considered to have started the civil rights movement in Canada. Who is this woman who changed history?

Viola Desmond and Her Beginnings

Viola was born to James and Gwendolin Davis in 1914 in Halifax. She was one of fifteen children. Her parents were active in the black community and belonged to many organizations. Viola wanted to become a beautician because she noticed that professional skin and hair care products were not available for black women. She wasn’t allowed to train in her own town of Halifax. She went to Montreal, Atlantic City and New York to receive the training she needed to open her own hair salon.

Once she returned to Halifax, she did open a salon. She also set up a beauty school for black women to receive proper training. Desmond encouraged students to open their own businesses and then to hire other black women within the community. She marketed and sold her own line of beauty products for black women. It was on a business trip to sell these products when she made her stand.

Trouble in New Glasgow

Viola went to New Glasgow in November 1946 to promote her line. Her car broke down in the town. The parts would not become available until the next day. She went to the Roseland Film Theatre to pass the time. After purchasing her ticket, she took a seat on the main floor. The manager informed her that she could not sit there because she was black. She refused to sit in the balcony, which was designated exclusively for blacks. The police were called and had to forcibly remove her from the segregated theatre. She was injured in the process, kept in jail overnight and never informed that she had a right to a lawyer or bail.

There was a one-cent difference in tax between the price of the seats in the balcony and the seats on the main floor. Desmond was charged with tax evasion for not paying this difference. She was fined $20, which is about $270 in today’s costs, plus had to pay court costs of $6. She was able to pay the fine and return to her home town. Her husband suggested she let the matter go, but Desmond decided to fight the charge.

Fighting Back

The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) and her church helped her hire a lawyer. The first trials proved unsuccessful because she was not convicted out of racism or discrimination, but simply because she refused to pay the one-cent tax.

The case was dismissed. Justice William Lorimer Hall wrote, “One wonders if the manager of the theatre who laid the complaint was so zealous because of a bona fide belief that there had been an attempt to defraud the province of Nova Scotia of the sum of one cent, or was it a surreptitious endeavour to enforce a Jim Crow rule by misuse of a public statute.”

Desmond’s Legacy

Desmond died in 1965 due to a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. She was just 50 years old. Most people forgot about her act until Viola’s sister published “Sister to Courage” in 2010. The Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Mayann Francis, granted Desmond a free pardon, the first to be granted posthumously. Desmond would be honoured on a Canadian stamp in 2012. And now, in 2018, she will be the first Canadian woman to be portrayed on a Canadian note.

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Marriage Equality in Scotland
Gay / lesbian wedding icons set

The fight for marriage equality is one that is being fought on a global scale.

Next month, the Anglican Church of Canada votes on marriage equality in the church. As the ULC has reported in the past, this topic is hotly debated within the Anglican Church. The Episcopal Church in the United States changed their canon last year. They were given a “time out” by the international church, but have held to their beliefs that marriage equality is for all of their members. Now, the Scottish Episcopal Church has taken small steps toward changing the canon on marriage within their doors.

The Status of the Canon in Scotland

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church passed a first reading of the change. Currently, in Canon 31, it states that marriage is understood to be between a man and a woman. The proposal is to remove that statement from the canon. This is just one step along the process, because it should be noted that the proposed change is not the final decision. Now that the General Synod has made this proposal, it goes to the seven dioceses within Scotland for more discussion and opinions.

Next year at the General Synod meeting in June, the proposal will get a second reading. To pass, it must get a two-thirds majority of votes. Bishops, clergy and laity are included in this vote. Individual churches send representatives to the General Synod. The first reading received a vote of 5 for, 2 against from the bishops; 43 for, 19 against from the clergy; and 49 for, 12 against, 3 abstentions from the laity. The proposed change does seem to have a great deal of support from the church leadership.

The General Synod is the church’s legislative body, kind of like you might think of Parliament. The Synod members oversee the work of the church and vote on policy. They also might work on national and international issues. A diocese is made up of a group of churches in a particular region. This lets church members and leaders have input into the final canon of the church.

The proposed change would allow clergy to solemnize weddings between people of the same sex. However, there would be a conscience clause for clergy who are opposed to the change. They would not be forced into blessing a same-sex union.

The International Debate in the Anglican Church

Just recently, Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, married her girlfriend. Although South Africa recognizes same-sex marriages, the South African Anglican law does not. The church has made it clear in the past that gay clerics must remain celibate. Shortly after Tutu van Furth’s marriage was celebrated, the diocese withdrew her license to practice as a priest in the church. The South African Anglican Church is also looking at new guidelines for church members who are entering same-sex unions.

It’s been suggested that there might be consequences from the Primates and Archbishop of Canterbury, the international governing body of the Anglican Church, if countries move forward with changing church canon concerning same-sex marriage. Some countries with an Anglican church still have laws on the books that make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Other countries, such as Russia and Lithuania, simply have repressive laws that prohibit a propaganda of homosexuality. The leadership from some of these countries does not approve of the changes in other countries.

Pushing for same-sex marriage equality in the church is becoming an international issue. We’ll continue to watch how things in the church become more inclusive for all the members, not just heterosexual individuals. The Scottish Church is taking positive steps, but there is still a long way to go. It will be interesting to watch the vote at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada this summer to see what happens.

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Prime Minister Trudeau Introduces Legislation Protecting Gender Diversity
The heart painted

There have been huge strides in the LGBT Community recently.

Even if you don’t follow politics in the United States, you’ve probably seen something about the transgender bathroom policy debate. In a nutshell, there are certain locations in the United States that are passing laws to limit bathroom use based on a person’s sex at birth, whether the person identifies as a different sex today. It’s turned into a national debate, with businesses, states, cities, and the federal government each weighing in. While this situation should be watched, the real news in Canada is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has introduced a bill that extends human rights protections of gender diversity to all Canadians.

Gender identity is described as an individual’s personal experience of gender. It’s not the same thing as their sexual orientation. Essentially, it is a sense of being a man or woman, or neither, or anywhere along that spectrum. Often, when a person’s gender identity is different than their assigned sex at birth, they may be called transgender. Cisgender is the term for gender identity that conforms to the gender given at birth. Gender expression is how people present the gender in public, which might be through dress, hair style, body language or voice.

Five Key Things to Understand About the Legislation

On May 17, 2016, the Government of Canada introduced a bill that would give basic human rights to the gender-diverse community. According to the Department of Justice website, there are five things that you should understand about the new legislation.

  1. Gender diversity is an umbrella term that includes gender identity, gender expression and transgender.
  2. The “Canadian Human Rights Act” would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
  3. The Criminal Code will be amended to include hate crimes based on gender identity or expression. These types of criminal offenses could have longer sentences.
  4. According to a study from 2010, 18 percent of transgender participants had been denied employment based on their gender identity. Transgender individuals face much higher levels of discrimination than cisgender individuals.
  5. Transgender individuals face higher risks of violent crime. One study estimates that at least 20 percent of the participants had been physically or sexually assaulted. Many people do not report these crimes to the police.

Currently, the “Canadian Human Rights Act” prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Ethnic origin
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Colour
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Disability
  • Convictions when a pardon or suspension has been ordered

The proposed legislation would make it clear that transgender individuals have protection under the law.

Social Media Discussion

PM Trudeau opened the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #FreeToBeMe. Overall, the bill has support from many different organizations and leaders, including the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board; Bill Morneau, Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre and Canada’s Minister of Finance; Eric Alper, SiriusXM Host; and TELUS, a communications provider. The hashtag is also being used on Facebook with a great deal of support.

Once the legislation is passed, it will be a huge step forward for LGBT rights in Canada and in the international venue. Canada is on the forefront of human rights for all its citizens. Jody Wilson-Raybould,

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, issued this quote:

“In Canada, we celebrate inclusion and diversity. All Canadians should be safe to be themselves. The law should be clear and explicit: transgender and other gender-diverse persons have a right to live free from discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crime. We are committed to making Canada stronger by ensuring Canadian laws reflect the rich diversity of our people.”

More governments need to take up the fight for inclusion and safety for all their citizens. Trudeau and the other leaders who support this legislation make us proud to live here.

Advocates for Marriage Equality in the Anglican Church
Advocates for Marriage Equality in the Anglican Church

Advocates for Marriage Equality in the Anglican Church

In 1976, the Episcopal Church (the branch of the Anglican church in the United States) took steps toward marriage equality when it recognized that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” In 2015, the General Convention made changes to church canon and liturgy for marriage equality. Months later, at the Anglican Communion’s Primates’ Meeting, the primates, who are the head bishops of the church, voted to suspend the right of the Episcopal Church to be represented at international meetings. This summer, the Canadian Anglican Church is expected to vote on same-sex marriage equality for its membership. The debate has been going on for months, and it’s not looking positive, but there are people who are pushing forward.

Same-Sex Marriages and the Anglican Church

The General Synod, which is the body responsible for church canon, has been trying to find agreement over same-sex marriages in the church since 2004 when they deferred the vote over blessing the union or not. This would have given each church the authority to bless unions. One of the bishops had already given permission for some of the priests in his district to bless same-sex unions as early as 2003. Currently, there are many parishes that are authorized to bless all marriages, but the church itself has not approved the change to the marriage canon.

This July, the General Synod is voting on a change to the canon at its triennial meeting. According to the final report presented to the Commission on the Marriage Canon,

“In 2013 the General Synod passed a resolution (C003, which is included as an appendix to this report) directing the drafting of a motion ‘to change Canon XXI on marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples, and that this motion should include a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.’ Such a motion will be considered by the General Synod in 2016.”

After a special meeting early in February, the House of Bishops announced that the resolution would probably not pass because it would not get the support it needed to pass. It takes a two-thirds majority to pass, and according to an article in the Anglican Journal, one-third of the bishops are in favor of the change. Another third of the bishops are opposed. The remaining third are those bishops who are still wrestling with the issue. There is another meeting in April to provide more thought and alternatives to the resolution before the final vote in July.

Social Media Comes to the Rescue

Just a few days following the statement from the Bishops, advocates of the resolution came together and formed a Facebook group, Advocates for Changing the Marriage Canon. It started out with 25 members in March, and it has grown to almost 1400. Both clergy and laypeople are in the group. Administrators must approve the request to join, or you must be invited by another member. The rules are clear that the group is not there to debate the issue. It is strictly for those who are in support of the resolution. Members have reached out to the leaders in the church, expressing their views about why this resolution is so important to the church and to their faith. The group is actively reaching out to the House of Bishops, but it also is serving a purpose of unity among Anglicans who feel marginalized because their marriages are not recognized by church canon. We’ll be watching this issue to see how it turns out when the Bishops vote in July.