North

Whitehorse marks 50 years since homosexuality decriminalized

Around two dozen people turned out to watch the City of Whitehorse raise the Pride and transgender flags at city hall on Tuesday.

Pride, trans flags were raised at Whitehorse city hall on Tuesday

The Pride and trans flags fly alongside the Canadian flag in front of Whitehorse city hall on Tuesday. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Whitehorse residents marked 50 years since a landmark vote in the House of Commons partially decriminalized homosexuality in Canada.

Around two dozen people turned out to watch the City of Whitehorse raise the Pride and transgender flags at city hall on Tuesday.

"Fifty years ago, this gathering, a partnership between Queer Yukon and the City of Whitehorse, would have been unheard of," said Queer Yukon president Stephanie Hammond.

"Now we celebrate the movement towards greater equality that collectively [LGBTQ people] and our allies have fought for."

Whitehorse resident Emily Tredger remembers a time when the city's Pride celebration was a small picnic. Now, she says, it's grown into a week-long event. 

"When I was a teenager here, I didn't feel like there were a lot of queer people here I could connect to," she said. "And now I feel like I'm part of this really vibrant community." 

Lisa Knight has lived in Whitehorse for 11 years. She married her partner in 2003, shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized. But that was seven years after she and her partner got married informally. 

"By [2003] we were old hands at marriage," Knight said, laughing.

Despite the advances, Hammond said transgender people in Whitehorse still face violence and harassment, and that 72 countries still criminalize homosexuality. In nine of those countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

'Moments like this today are an opportunity to kind of pause and reflect, take a breath, and celebrate those stops along the journey,' said Stephanie Hammond, president of Queer Yukon, on Tuesday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"There's a lot of work to do from a global perspective to keep people safe," Hammond said.

But she said things are getting better.

"Moments like this today are an opportunity to kind of pause and reflect, take a breath, and celebrate those stops along the journey."

Milestones for LGBTQ people in Yukon

February 1987

The Yukon government passes its first Human Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexual people, though it makes no mention of transgender people. Yukon becomes the third jurisdiction in Canada, after Quebec and Ontario, to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The legislation also establishes the Yukon Human Rights Commission.

Spring 1990

Two Yukon women, Helen Fallding and Lisa Tremblay, set up a post office box for Yukon Gays and Lesbians (YGL), according to a history written for Yukon Archives by Queer Yukon last year. It attracts some hate mail but also a mailing list of 50 subscribers.

"For the handful of us who were 'out,' threats were common, police were indifferent or hostile and churches were on the attack," Fallding recalled in the Yukon News in 2018.

Around the same time, the Yukon government becomes the second jurisdiction in Canada, after the N.W.T., to extend employee benefits to same-sex partners of government employees.

January 1992

YGL changes its name to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Yukon Territory (GALA). The organization sets up a legal fund to support Andrea Underwood, a Teslin woman, who takes the federal government to court after Canada refuses to allow her to sponsor her British partner, Anna Carrott, for immigration. Queer Yukon writes that Carrott is later granted permanent resident status.

July 2004

The Yukon Supreme Court orders the Yukon government to issue a wedding licence for Stephen Dunbar and Robert Edge of Whitehorse. The couple sued the government after it refused to issue a marriage licence before Parliament legalized same-sex marriage. Justice Peter McIntyre orders the government to change the definition of marriage to "the voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all others."

June 2017

The Yukon government amends its human rights legislation to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. The government also removes a rule in the Vital Statistics Act that required gender surgery before a person could change the gender on their birth certificate. Birth certificates with a gender-neutral marker become available within the year.

"It's a huge relief to wake up in the morning and not have to fight," said Chase Blodgett, a Yukon transgender human rights activist. 

Written by Chris Windeyer, reporting by Philippe Morin