Statement Delivered to Niagara Regional Council: Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities
19 September 2019
Niagara Regional Council, St. Catharines
Good evening Chair Bradley, members of regional council and staff. My name is Brian Scriver, and I’m the Chair of OUTniagara, an umbrella organization that seeks to represent the interests of hundreds of members of Niagara’s sexual- and gender-diverse community.
Our network includes not only individuals, but many established and newly formed organizations that serve the diverse 2SLGBTQ+ community. You’ll notice I started the initialism with 2S. This recognizes the Two-Spirit individuals of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, the original peoples and caretakers of this land, and is one small, symbolic way that OUTniagara attempts to live truth, and support reconciliation.
With that in mind, I am here tonight to add OUTniagara’s support to the Region’s consideration to join the 77 other Canadian municipalities who have allied with the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities, formerly the Canadian Coalition Against Racism and Discrimination.
OUTniagara’s values and mission closely align with the goals of the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities. The opening statement of the coalition says “This network brings together municipalities that want to improve their policies against racism, discrimination, exclusion and intolerance. Its strength lies in the shared experiences of its members. Together, the municipalities undertake initiatives to eliminate all forms of discrimination with a view to building open and inclusive societies.”
OUTniagara’s goals are the same, except our focus is on Niagara’s often-marginalized sexual- and gender-diverse community. We believe that diversity is key to the health of a community and must be nurtured and protected from racism, discrimination, exclusion and intolerance.
In the same way that we honour the first peoples of Canada, OUTniagara also recognizes that the region has a growing population of newcomers, many of whom have fled their home countries because of discrimination and violence based on their sexual or gender identity. Niagara needs to be seen as, and be a safe, inclusive and accepting place where newcomers can settle, begin new lives, and feel welcome.
As with any other human population, Niagara’s 2SLGBTQ members have complex lives. Not only are they sometimes dealing with overt discrimination, they also experience intersecting issues like race, disability, poverty, age, and access to healthcare, to name but a few.
I was born in St. Catharines and attended Niagara schools from the earliest grades through to university. I am, however, part of a lost generation. Every single Two-Spirited, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning person I knew through my high school and university years left Niagara. Every single one — including me. Where are they now? Montreal. Vancouver. And mostly, Toronto. Why? Because these cities all have a vibrant sexual- and gender-diverse community that they help to nurture and support.
A region that respects diversity, and backs it up with resources, will encourage young people and seniors to stay and to help build the communities in which we live. The 2SLGBTQ community represents a significant portion of what urban studies theorist Richard Florida would call the “Creative Class.” He believes, in part, that this is a segment of the community that will attract the economy and the jobs of the future. Niagara is a part of the Golden Horseshoe which is one of the fastest growing regions in North America, generating nearly 25% of Canada’s GDP. We are “the economic engine of Ontario”. We are leaders. What we do here tonight matters.
Joining the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities is a powerful, motivational and aspirational symbol of good faith, just as are rainbow crosswalks, the newly established Diversity and Inclusion and Anti-Racism Committees by the City of St. Catharines, and the 2019 raising of the rainbow flags at the District School Board of Niagara, Niagara Regional Police headquarters and most, if not all, Niagara municipalities, including here at Regional headquarters. Joining the coalition is also a concrete action toward building up a community that accepts all of its citizens, so they can feel welcome and safe in their own community and want to stay.
Those of us who enjoy privilege and positions of power must ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are included, and have a place at the table when these kinds of initiatives are discussed.
We respectfully call upon Niagara Region to join the coalition and to find ways to ensure the future of Niagara will be a vibrant place for the creative class to live, work, grow, raise a family, and retire.
Thank you for including OUTniagara at your table tonight.