SHM Pride Guest Author: Alyssa Linn Palmer on Alberta’s GLBTQ2S+ History, and Me

We continue our Pride Month posts by welcoming another first time guest Alyssa Linn Palmer. I’m especially excited to welcome Alyssa because she’s Canadian, as am I, even though I live in the States these days. Welcome, Alyssa, it’s great to have you here!

Alberta’s GLBTQ2S+ History, and Me

Two young children on a tricycle, one on the seat, one on the handlebars

The author before she knew how life would change

There were times when I thought that nothing would ever change.

I knew I was bisexual from quite a young age, but until I was a teenager, I didn’t have the words to articulate it. And even then, given the homophobia prevalent in the early 1990s (the Calgary Pride Parade began in 1990 and some marchers wore paper bags over their heads so they wouldn’t be identified), those words stayed silent inside me. A few very close friends knew, but that was it.

One of the first things I remember about GLBTQ in the news was in 1991, when Alberta teacher Delwin Vriend was fired by a Christian college he worked at, just because he was gay. He tried to take his case to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, but he was turned away because at that time, sexual orientation wasn’t protected under the province’s human rights code. He sued the government and the commission, and won. And then on appeal, because the provincial government was staunchly anti-gay, the appeals court overturned the decision. Vriend took the case to the Supreme Court, and that court finally ruled in 1998 that governments could not exclude people from human rights legislation based on their sexual orientation. This change was “written in” to the province’s human rights legislation at the time.

I’ve lived in Alberta my entire life, and seen so much change, and so much protest against the change. There were protests about the Vriend decision, and foot-dragging by the government. There were demands to use the “notwithstanding clause” to overrule the Supreme Court decision. Being queer then felt like being marginalized, because if I came out, there was a chance that someone could decide that I wasn’t worthy of a job, or a place to live. And they’d have been able to defend it because sexual orientation wasn’t considered a protected status.

Around this same time, the push for same-sex marriage was increasing in Canada as a whole. But in Alberta, opposition to the push was vocal and harsh. The government, bowing to those voices, passed a bill to specifically amend the Marriage Act to include an opposite-sex only definition of marriage in 2000. What made it even worse was that a few of those voices were coming from my own extended family. I wasn’t anywhere near comfortable enough to come out, especially not as bisexual. Too many people did (and often still) think that bisexuals are just confused, that we’re supposed to be fully gay or fully straight, not any in between.

Though I didn’t come out, I certainly didn’t stop talking about the importance of same-sex marriage to anyone who would listen, and even some who wouldn’t. I talked about inheritance laws, about hospital access for spouses, about adoption, about all those little things that straight people take for granted when they get married. All those rights that kept the rug from being pulled out from under you because your spouse’s family hates you. They wouldn’t be able to take away your house, prevent you visiting your spouse in hospital, or being the one to advocate for their care. You wouldn’t be left vulnerable.

When same-sex marriage became law in Canada, coming into effect in July, 2005, it felt like oneBook cover for Midnight at the Orpheus by Alyssa Linn Palmer of the biggest hurdles had finally been conquered. Canada became the fourth country to have same-sex marriage become legal. I now had the chance to truly marry the person I loved, whoever that may be, male or female. But in Alberta, there was still talk of using the notwithstanding clause to get out of it, and even the Premier at the time, Ralph Klein, made comments speculating that the provincial government might pass legislation to allow marriage commissioners to refuse to perform marriages for same-sex couples if they had an objection to doing so. However, that never came to pass. Unfortunately, it took until 2014 for the opposite sex definition of marriage to be struck from the preamble of the Marriage Act, far longer than anyone should have a right to expect.

From here, things seemed to be a bit more normal. Marriage certificates had an option to say ‘spouse’ rather than the gendered ‘husband’ or ‘wife’. Updates to legislation were passed to enable transgendered people to change or amend their official identification. The furor over same-sex marriage became the faintest rumble from the most ardent of the naysayers, and the majority shrugged.

A few years after this, I did finally come out, though not to everyone. But I came out to those most important to me: my parents. I think they possibly knew before, or had some inkling, but they took it well. And I felt some relief that they finally knew for sure. (My brother had also come out to them a little while before, so I think they’d had some experience.)

And here we are, in 2018. Some things have changed for the better. The Alberta government legislated that GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) were allowed in schools, even though there was a chorus of complaints from the usual suspects.  Though those against these sorts of laws are loud, their voices are becoming more of a minority as time goes by. Companies are making their policies more inclusive, supporting courses and training and policies for diversity and inclusion.

In some ways, 1998 seems like a long, long time ago. Back in the dark ages (almost). Twenty years.

That’s twenty years of a massive sea change in public opinion, and in laws and legislation. Sexual orientation being added as a protected status. Same-sex marriage. Same-sex adoption. Inheritance changes. Identification, birth certificate, and marriage certificate changes. And the growing acceptance, particularly by those younger, of GLBTQ2S+ people as people. Not just as abstract ideas, but as real people. I am hopeful that this change will continue, and that truly everyone will be accepted as they are, as people with hopes, dreams, and ideas.

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About the Author:

Author Alyssa Linn Palmer sitting outside eating ice creamAlyssa Linn Palmer writes all sorts, from lesbian romance (published by Bold Strokes Books), to contemporary romance (check out her “Betting” series), and romance noir, the darker side of love and life. Her book MIDNIGHT AT THE ORPHEUS won a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fiction, and her lesbian romance BETTING ON LOVE was a finalist. Now that it’s summer, she’ll be riding her motorcycle.

Find her online, on Twitter & Instagram as @alyslinn, and on Facebook.

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