NEXT Human Rights Symposium paints a dull picture for LGBTQ+ in 2017

The NEXT Human Rights Symposium positioned the challenges of the Calgary LGBTQIA2S+ community as one with many battles to face.

The symposium, as presented by McCarthy Tetrault and Calgary Pride, took place on November 25th 2016 at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Calgary. In an attempt to discuss what was next for the Calgary queer community following a year full of queer identity politics and newly introduced provincial legislation, contemporary issues such as Indigenous/First Nations, Queer youth and seniors, Gender Expression and Identity, LGBTQA in the Workplace, and Inclusion in Sports were at the forefront of the symposium’s agenda.

The gathering of well known and respected community members such as the University of Calgary’s Women’s Studies Program Coordinator Rebecca Sullivan, the Calgary Gay History Project Research Lead Kevin Allen, and representatives from several notable businesses such as ATB invoked feelings of hope and determination that the issues faced by the queer community would be respectfully and properly addressed.

The panels that subsequently took place called forth visibility to serious and lasting issues surrounding the queer community. The Aging Out panel was notably compelling as the often ignored needs and rights of the senior queer community were outlined and addressed.

The assembly of local key political players at the closing keynote panel including Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel and Beltline MP Evan Woolley brought forth a series of awkward, unpleasant, and disheartening assertions that in light of 2016’s bumpy political duration, failed to inspire confidence within those in attendance.

Whether it was Rempel’s unnecessary mention that she had friends that were gay or Woolley’s anecdote of being called a “faggot” in the streets of downtown Calgary accompanied by his heterosexual partner, it was evident that these two government officials neither cared to Google how to properly address the queer community or take the issues at stake seriously.

Displaying minimal interest in the queer community to skyrocket one’s way into the popular “millennial” and/or “queer” vote diminishes those who have fought for the rights of women, the queer community, and racialized minorities. It felt evident that they were there out of an obligation to represent political support in light of an increased presence of queer politics in the Canadian government, and rather than instilling confidence in the support of the Alberta government, it was an exhausting and often offensive keynote panel that ended the day on an ambiguous note.

In contrast, the highlight speaker of the day was undoubtedly 2017 Ward 10 candidate Michelle Robinson. She eloquently advocated for the cause of indigenous communities of Alberta, and for visibility to be brought forth to issues such as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

What was astonishingly evident as the conference came to a close was the absence of any form of acknowledgement or accountability of the allegations of racism placed against Calgary Outlink last year. Following a complete reform to the organization’s board, it seemed a hot topic within the queer community and was noticeably absent from the pillars of discussion. Without the acknowledgment of these issues within the community, it was clear that the symposium wasn’t able to address what was next for the queer community and rather confronted what was of surface-level convenience.

Although many issues were brought forth and lightly touched on within each panel, attendees were left feeling as if the issues had not been rigorously addressed and were wary of the implications this had on what is to come for the Calgary queer community in 2017. The fact that these forums even exist is encouraging and necessary, but without transparency and accountability to the queer community from the provincial government or Calgary Pride, it is evident that 2017 is slated to be another uphill battle.