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Freedom from discrimination
including homophobia and transphobia.

For Canada’s unions, it’s a labour of love.

Unions for LGBTQ rights

Starting in the 1970s, Canada’s unions have supported LGBTQ rights at work, in the courts, and in our communities. Unions advocated for inclusive language in collective agreements to promote equality and protect workers from discrimination. Many of these rights and benefits are now standard in workplaces today.

In the early 2000s, unions were key partners in the Canadians for Equal Marriage campaign, along with LGBTQ organizations, professional associations and students advocating for marriage equality in Canada.

But there is still work to be done to challenge homophobia and transphobia and ensure freedom from discrimination in our workplaces and communities, and Canada’s unions are standing with the LGBTQ community to take on that challenge.

To support LGBTQ rights, unions today:

Trans workers

Ensuring respect and fair treatment for trans workers is a key priority for Canada’s unions today. In May 2016, the federal government introduced Bill C-16, which will add gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code. This is the third attempt to pass this legislation, which Canadian unions have supported since the beginning. There is hope for swift adoption in the fall.

Unions like the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) have made gains for trans members by bargaining for access to safe washrooms and change rooms and for the right to be referred to by one’s chosen gender.

Recently the Canadian Labour Congress released a practical guide for union representatives to support trans union members in the workplace before, during, and after gender transition.

Historic milestones

  • 1970s – The Canadian Union of Postal Workers was the first Canadian union to organize in support of gay and lesbian workers. Several CUPW locals negotiated collective agreements prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by the late 1970s. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) sought to have similar protections added to its collective agreements as early as 1980.
  • 1986 – The Canadian Labour Congress amended its constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • 1993 – PSAC files the first successful arbitration for same-sex benefits, on behalf of a member who was declined family and bereavement leave because the leave involved a same-sex relationship.
  • 1994 – The CLC adopts a policy on sexual orientation and establishes a Solidarity and Pride Working Group to ensure space for LGBTQ members to organize and advocate within the labour movement.
  • 1996 – Sexual orientation was added to the Canadian Human Rights Act, making it prohibited ground for discrimination in Canada.
  • 1997 – The CLC hosts the first ever union-sponsored Solidarity and Pride Conference.
  • 1998 – CUPE wins a Charter challenge against the Income Tax Act definition of spouse. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruling set a major precedent for equality in pension and other benefits for same-sex couples and led to Income Tax Act amendments.
  • 1998 – PSAC negotiated changes to Treasury Board collective agreements that expanded the definition of common-law spouse to include same-sex couples.
  • 1999 – The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be afforded the same rights as opposite-sex couples in a common-law relationship. This was followed by the passing of Bill C-23, which brought federal statutes in line with this ruling. The CLC and many affiliated unions made submissions in support of this bill during Parliamentary hearings.
  • 2005 – Unions campaigned with the LGBTQ community for equal marriage and on July 20, the Civil Marriage Act became law, making Canada the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

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