·  by Lena Green, USW Local 5220, AltaSteel Edmonton

Reflections from the 2022 ILGA World Conference

In May, I had the opportunity to attend the 30th ILGA World Conference, hosted by the It Gets Better Project. Since the 1970s, the ILGA World Conferences have brought together LGBTQ2SIA+ leaders and activists worldwide. I was honoured to represent USW District 3 at the conference.

The conference taught me a lot about the struggles that LGBTQ2SIA+ people face daily. I have lived my life as an Indigenous lesbian and I know the struggle that entails. The biggest takeaway from the conference was realizing that I live a privileged life. Hearing about the hardships and struggles that individuals endured to attend the conference was quite the shock, let alone what other LGBTQ2SIA+ communities have to deal with in contrast to our community here in Canada.

In one of the first workshops I attended, I learned of the struggles of the two-spirit Indigenous people of Colombia. In Colombia, there is segregation between the Indigenous and colonized people. Indigenous people are separated from society, a lot like reservations here in North America, but unlike our reservations, if you are an LGBTQ2SIA+ Indigenous person you are forced out of that community. You are displaced, with no home and no access to basic necessities. You genuinely have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. The primary purpose of this individual coming to the conference was to tell their story of how Indigenous and LGBTQ2SIA+ Indigenous people are treated and find ways to get help to the communities back in Colombia. What I learned from this workshop was about all the different Indigenous groups worldwide, and that the term “Indigenous people” doesn’t just apply to North America. I also learned that segregation is still a huge issue in other countries and that individuals are still isolated from their families and communities based on their sexual orientation.

During the two-spirit workshops, I met a couple of people that work with two-spirit youth here in Edmonton. Meeting these people was eye-opening as they shared some very startling statistics. One shocking statistic was that two-spirit youth have the highest suicide rate globally. This statistic is due to the daily struggles they face with abandonment from their families who have been colonized. They are often told that being gay is wrong and that who they are goes against the Bible, and the list goes on. Back in traditional times, being a two-spirit person was celebrated. You were able to walk the path of feminine and masculine lines, and you were considered the caregiver or a medicine person of the tribe. Two-spirit people were highly looked upon in the tribe, unlike today, where people are shamed and outcasted if they identify as two-spirit.

Another eye-opening event happened during the North American council meeting. It was brought forward that someone had proposed an amendment to the board that a two-spirit person should have a seat on the ILGA board. At the time, my opinion was that having a seat at the table was a step forward. They both made me realize that it was not about having a seat at the table; instead, it was about how the motion for the amendment was put forward. There was no determination from this proposal if the member to join the board was to be two-spirit or Indigenous. It became clear that the meaning of two-spirit does not apply only to Indigenous people in North America. To be two-spirit is for any person from a colonized country where the Indigenous people have lost their cultural ways. Therefore, if you are going to have a two-spirit person on the board, you would be singling out Indigenous people from the BIPOC community. It was decided at the end of the meeting that the proposal put forward would be taken off the table and properly discussed how the board would like to move forward.

During an evening event at the conference, I met a man from Venezuela. He shared his story about the hardships he faced when travelling to the conference. His travels were very difficult as his passport would not allow him to fly out of Venezuela to America. The restriction on his passport did not apply in Colombia, so he decided to travel by foot all the way from Venezuela to Colombia. He had to walk across two rivers patrolled by the mafia and police, and all of his belongings got wet. During a security stop, the security officers strip-searched two teenage girls in front of him, where he was left powerless to help them. Half of his luggage was stolen during his travels, and the other half arrived wet and torn. He was coming to the conference to represent the transgender communities that he works with and to learn different strategies from other countries on how to combat hate and intolerance that the LGBTQ2SIA+ communities face. It was pretty shocking to hear of the many difficulties, hatred, and fear that one man had to endure to attend the conference all in an effort to find ways to help his community in Venezuela.

One of the main focuses during this conference was transgender rights, focusing on the youth in our community. After taking these workshops, I realized that it takes more than thinking outside of the box to combat what is going on in the world. It will take us burning the box to the ground and starting from scratch, where children are not born with gender ideologies. This means giving our children room to explore themselves and decide how they identify in a safe and loving environment, not only at home but also in the community. This also means not identifying their gender based on their biology when they are born, allowing children to grow and explore who they are as a person without labelling them based on their biological gender. We must teach our children that being different doesn’t mean being ridiculed or bullied and that you are who you are on the inside, even if it doesn’t match who you are on the outside. This way of thinking eliminates the initial box that all children are put into from birth, and it breaks down the wall that is placed around them from the moment they are born. Let’s start by identifying everyone as just human.

I will always be grateful for having the opportunity to attend this conference and expand my knowledge of the different communities in our world. These types of conferences are a fantastic venue for our union to participate in and learn from while expanding our own diversity policies and how to help our local communities. I hope this provides more insight into the LGBTQ2SIA+ community and how we all can do better to build a safer tomorrow for everyone.

In solidarity,

Lena Green
USW Local 5220
AltaSteel Edmonton

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