Gay rights still an uphill fight

During a lecture entitled Outlaws or Inlaws? Successes and Challenges in the Struggle for Equality, activist John Fisher spoke about what remains to be done in the quest for equal rights for homosexuals.

The lecture, given at McGill University last Friday, was part of McGill Law Journal’s Annual Lecture Series.

Fisher is the former executive director of the activist group Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE) Canada. As both executive director and director of advocacy at EGALE, Fisher has campaigned tirelessly for the recognition of gay and lesbian rights within Canada and abroad.

In Canada, Fisher’s advocacy has led to the inclusion of “sexual orientation” as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and was also pivotal in the creation of omnibus legislation to recognize same-sex relationships. More recently, Fisher was a key player in the political and legal struggle to secure equal marriage rights across Canada.

A New Zealand native who went to Queen’s University in 1991 to complete a graduate degree, Fisher recently left EGALE to join Allied Rainbow Communities (ARC). As ARC’s director, Fisher will endeavor to raise the profile of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities on the global stage.

In order to conquer the goals for the equality of gays and lesbians, Fisher said political and social issues need to be addressed. As of today, the greatest progress has been in the mainstream issues. In other words, the concerns with the general public and their recognition of same-sex relationships.

However, when it comes to the integration of gays, lesbians and transgendered communities into the legal system for their own protection and freedom, there is still much work to be done according to Fisher.

“We want to go beyond Section 15 of the Chartered Rights to Section 7,” he said.

Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is under the Equality Rights section and states “every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”

Section 7 is under Legal Rights and states “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

When speaking about the countries which are ahead in recognizing gays and lesbians, Fisher said, “Canada is looked at and respected as a peacemaker and has a lot to offer to the international level.”

According to Fisher, the Canadian identity has always been to differentiate us from other countries, namely the United States, through our diverse culture.

Therefore, accepting pluralism would not only benefit the communities in question, but Canadians as a whole.

Despite Canada’s potentials, Fisher said European countries seem to have embraced the issue the most so far.

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