“Why’s it hard to be queer in our country still?” Ottawa’s LGBTQ community Reacts to discrimination

On his first night in Ottawa, Jeremy Dias was attacked leaving a local gay bar. That was more than 10 years ago.

Dias, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity, says that in the decade following the attack, Ottawa’s LGBTQ community continues to face discrimination, and worries that the election of Donald Trump could make things even worse.

“I think we have taken a number of steps forward, but we have also taken a number of steps back,” says Dias, an Ottawa resident.

Dias says that while Canada has introduced legislation to better protect the rights of LGBTQ people, the nation still has a lot of work to do. Last month, the House of Commons passed Bill C-16, which makes gender-identity based discrimination illegal in the workplace.

Jeremy Dias speaks at the Day of Pink Gala in 2015. As a LGBTQ individual and advocate, Dias has been a victim of discrimination throughout his life. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity.

“If we have accomplished so much on paper, why are we still struggling in practice?” he asks.

Following the United States presidential election, acts of hate in the U.S. have spilled into Canada.

With a heavy sigh, Dias reflects upon recent racist and anti-Semitic graffiti, which marred a number of religious establishments in the Ottawa area. The spray-painted swastikas are a reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust and were “not just attacks on one community, but attacks on a lot of us,” says Dias, noting gays and lesbians also were persecuted alongside the Jewish people by the Nazi regime during the Second World War.

Information from Statistics Canada.

The community is also worried about white supremacist groups in the U.S. receiving a lot of media attention.

“These neo-Nazi groups are saying ‘of course we would ban LGBTQ rights and LGBTQ identities,’ as if it wasn’t even up for discussion,” Dias says.

He has also received numerous calls from LGBTQ Americans, who are seeking help. “They have been asking us for, in some cases immigration information, but in a lot of cases work visas.”

Dias says these discriminatory attacks and groups are terrifying, but not as frightening as the uncertainty of the future.

Drag queen, Jade London, carefully applies her makeup. Photo: Jordan Steinhauer.

Ottawa drag queen, Jade London, is also unsure of what the future holds for the LGBTQ community.

“I can’t assume, because we just don’t know. We just have to be positive,” London says.

Sitting at her vanity, London carefully layers makeup on her face, like an artist putting paint onto a blank canvas. The tools of her trade, fluffy make-up brushes, shimmering highlighters, and an array of rainbow-coloured eyeshadows, are arranged in front of her.

Jade London's tools of the trade. Photo: Jordan Steinhauer.

When in drag, London commits to her female persona, but identifies as a homosexual male otherwise.

London's three bedroom apartment has been devoted to her drag career. This former bedroom has been converted into a shoe closet. Photo: Jordan Steinhauer.

Like other LGBTQ individuals, London says she is no stranger to discrimination. London is of Cambodian and Chinese dissent, and was the first of her family to be born on Canadian soil in 1986.

“Just being gay and being Asian alone is a hard life, and doing drag is another type of discrimination I receive.”

London says her career as a drag queen has allowed her to become the confident person she is today. Before discovering drag, she was not fully accepted by the LGBTQ community.

“I would go to one of the gay clubs and I would drink my beer, standing at the wall, no one would talk to me, I wouldn’t talk to anyone.”

Trained in hip-hop, London says she entered the world of drag as a back-up dancer. Eventually London made her way from the back of the stage into the spotlight.

London highlights her cheekbones; the final step in the several hour makeup process. Photo: Jordan Steinhauer.

“That opened the doors to be more accepted in the community, because it’s a hard community to be accepted in.”

London poses for a selfie, documenting her final look. Photo: Jordan Steinhauer.

Since finding a place within the local LGBTQ community, London says she uses her position to advocate for equality.

London says that she dislikes politics, but following the election of Donald Trump, she says that it “is a topic that people need to talk about.”

London says she believes that the key to protecting LGBTQ individuals is through education and peaceful protest.

She adds that the community needs to continue “fighting for equal rights, like we always have been, regardless of whoever’s been in charge.”

Keya Prempeh, of Carleton University's Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre, says that the LGBT community is banding together to fight against discrimination. Photo: Jordan Steinhauer.

Keya Prempeh, the program coordinator of Carleton University’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre, says “people are rallying together” for LGBTQ rights.

Prempeh identifies as queer and non-binary, which means she “doesn’t prescribe to Western ideals of what it means to be a man or a woman.”

Along with being gender-fluid, Prempeh is a visible minority, which she says makes her a target for discrimination.

Prempeh works closely with LGBTQ students and says, “a lot of people are feeling really scared … and just worrying about their future and what these kinds of things mean for queer people and trans people.”

LGBTQ community members and advocates stand together during a pride event in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity.

As he discusses the years of fighting and protesting for LGBTQ equality, Dias asks:

“Why’s it hard to be queer in our country still?”

Dias admits that there is no clear answer to this question, but says now, more than ever, is not the time to give up the fight.

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