Recent days have seen a chorus of objections and outright mockery of Global Affairs Canada’s travel warning for LGBTQ travellers to the United States. I’m a gay man who has travelled the world, and the two-sentence advisory buried near the bottom of a multipage U.S. travel advisory section of travel.gc.ca is hardly an affront to bilateral relations or a hyperbolic assessment of anti-LGBTQ discrimination. It is a needed caution for 2SLGBT+ persons who chose to travel to the United States
The two sentences are:
“Some states have enacted laws and policies that may affect 2SLGBTQI+ persons. Check relevant state and local laws.”
This milquetoast statement is quite literally the least the government of Canada can say about the evolving threat for queer travellers to certain states. The situation in the U.S. is anything but status quo. A proliferation of restrictive laws and acts of violence has targeted the community. It would be irresponsible for the government to say nothing. It would deny Canadians accurate information so that they can make informed choices about where and when to travel.
Apparently people have forgotten the homophobic terrorist attack against the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that claimed the lives of 49 people and wounded more than 50. They have forgotten the attacks in Colorado Springs at a gay nightclub where five were murdered and another 25 injured. According to the UCLA School of Law, LGBT people are nine times more likely than non-LGBT people to be victims of violent hate crimes. Transgender and non-binary persons are particularly at higher risk of being victims of violence. Tell me again why we shouldn’t warn Canadians about the risk of travel in the U.S.
Many states that have seen that increase in violence against the community have taken advantage of a wave of transphobia and homophobia to enact laws that specifically target 2SLGBT+ people. Whether in Florida, Texas or other states, the effect is to validate the prejudice many feel. They embolden a certain segment of the population to target events and locations frequented by the community. This legislation is championed by religious extremists who want to see the 2SLGBT+ community back in the closet. For them, tolerance is a step too far.
Their use of terms such as “groomer” to describe 2SLGBT+ people is meant to dehumanize us and portray us as threats to children. That language — much of it advanced by the U.S. extreme right — poses a direct threat to the community. As we have seen in the past, conspiracy theories about fake threats to children have resulted in real-life attacks against the community. If people are encouraged and radicalized to think that members of the 2SLGBT+ community are a threat to children, some will act in what they have been conditioned to think is defence. These messages are amplified online every minute, every day by social media accounts with millions of followers. To think that there are no consequences is delusional.
These same U.S.-based evangelical Christian extremists are behind many efforts in other parts of the world to criminalize the 2SLGBT+ community. In Uganda, they succeeded in getting legislation passed that imposes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, American evangelical groups have spent years and tens of millions of dollars spreading homophobia in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. According to Open Democracy, from 2007 to 2020 more than 20 U.S. evangelical groups spent at least $54 million in Africa to achieve this outcome. They, and state-sponsored homophobes in places such as Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, are the vanguard of a movement that is a profound threat to the safety of all 2SLGBT+ people.
The U.S. is, on almost all measures, an increasing threat to its own 2SLGBT+ population and to those from the global community who choose to visit. As someone who has spent years in security and intelligence, including as the director general at Global Affairs responsible for providing threat assessments that inform our travel advisories, I find the picture emerging from the U.S. clear and troubling. There is a rising threat. To say nothing in a multipage advisory on the U.S. that includes, crime, terrorism, even pet health, would be outrageously irresponsible.
So, no, the 2SLGBT+ travel advisory is not some partisan affront to Canada-U.S. relations. It is a measured — if not overly mild — reminder that things in the U.S. have changed for 2SLGBT+ persons. The Human Rights Campaign, the most prominent national LGBTQ+ organization in the U.S., has declared a “state of emergency” for LGBTQ+ Americans. It has issued a national warning to ensure safety for LGBTQ+ residents and travellers to the United States.
We need to listen to that warning. Canadians deserve honesty from their government. They should be aware of the risk — however small some people think it may be — before they go. The 2SLGBT+ travel advisory is more than warranted.
Artur Wilczynski is the former director general for Intelligence Operations at CSE and the former departmental security officer for Global Affairs Canada.
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