Celebrating Pride & Making Strides in the Canadian Public Sector

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Madeson Darcy 21 June 2023
Celebrating Pride & Making Strides in the Canadian Public Sector

Pride Month in the Canadian public service is a time of celebration, reflection, and progress. Throughout this month, employees come together to commemorate the rich history, diverse experiences, and resilience of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. The public service showcases its commitment to inclusivity and equality through a series of events, workshops, and initiatives aimed at fostering a safe and affirming workplace for all. From rainbow flag raisings to informative panel discussions, Pride Month serves as a platform to amplify voices, promote understanding, and encourage dialogue on the challenges and triumphs faced by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. This collective celebration not only strengthens the bonds between colleagues but also sends a powerful message of solidarity, inspiring other organizations and communities to follow suit in creating a more inclusive and accepting society for all. In the spirit of Pride Month, we had the privilege of speaking with Jason Bett, a prominent 2SLGBTQIA+ advocate making waves in the Canadian public service. Throughout this interview, we speak to Jason about his journey in the public service and initiatives that the he, alongside the Canadian government is doing to ensure that we're making strides towards an inclusive, resilient country. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in the public sector:
Born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario, I moved to Ottawa in 1996 to pursue my studies in Political Science at the University of Ottawa. Right out of high school, I landed a volunteer position in the office of a Member of Parliament on Parliament Hill. Since then, I've held many positions in the Government of Canada, serving both on the political and Public Service at Industry Canada/Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and more recently, with the Office of the Chief Information Officer at Treasury Board of Canada. In addition, I took on the role of GC Pride Champion and I've been leading the Public Service Pride Network (PSPN) since 2019 building on my vision to create a safe and inclusive workplace for 2SLGBTQIA+ public servants and allies. 
How does the Public Service Pride Network promote inclusivity and support 2SLGBTQIA+ employees during Pride Month?

In the face of rising 2SLGBTQIA+ hate, it is more important than ever to support 2SLGTBQIA+ employees in the Public Service not only during Pride Month but throughout the year.

June started off with the raising of the Pride Flag to mark the beginning of Pride Season. I had the privilege of standing on Parliament Hill alongside numerous colleagues and allies to witness this ceremony organized by our colleagues at Women and Gender Equality Canada. This ceremony was a powerful symbol of unity and support for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, and it reminded us of the progress we have made while acknowledging the work that lies ahead.

As mentioned earlier, I champion Pride in the Public Service. The Public Service Pride Network is an employee-led organizations with participation of thousands of public servants across 70+ federal departments and agencies. Our initiatives and activities are created, piloted and delivered by our members, which includes a small Secretariat that I work with which is staffed by dedicated individuals who are on short-term ‘loans’ from various organizations. The beauty of this structure is that it allows is to truly speak on behalf of our members and develop initiatives to respond to the needs of our 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

The PSPN supports 2SLGTBQIA+ employees through Pride month, as well as throughout the entire year. The network hosts Brave Space sessions throughout the year, including one this month to discuss Pride Month and Pride Season. Our Gender Identity and Expression Committee hosts coffee chats for our transgender, gender-diverse and non-binary colleagues to share their experiences in a safe space. This committee is also creating a guide on how to navigate the workplace transgender, gender-diverse and non-binary employees. We also plan and host Public Service Pride Week (PSPW) each year. This year is the fifth annual Public Service Pride Week, taking place August 21st to 25th. The theme is “Taking Action to Create a More Inclusive Public Service”. We emphasize taking action this year and we have outlined some actions allies can take in the Open Letter we sent to Deputy Ministers in support of transgender, gender-diverse and non-binary colleagues. The Public Service Pride Awards are also announced during Public Service Pride Week. These awards recognize the efforts made by employees, departments and agencies to improve inclusivity for 2SLGTBQIA+ employees across the Federal Public Service. 

In addition to these initiatives, the network raises awareness, educates, and advocates for equality and acceptance. This month, we have been participating in town halls and deputy minister management tables to engage directly with colleagues from all levels to talk about our programs and services, the barriers faced by our 2SLGBTQIA+ employees and the crucial actions required or being taken to address them. We're talking about important issues such as the need for safe accessible and inclusive washrooms, name and gender marker changes, mandatory training on inclusion, intersectionality and allyship awareness. 

What steps has the Federal Public Service taken to create a safe and welcoming environment for 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals, both as employees and as citizens who interact with government services?
As public servants, we must strive to create safe, inclusive, and equitable environments for all individuals, embracing the diversity that exists within our communities. We must recognize that progress in achieving 2SLGBTQIA+ rights is inseparable from advancing the rights of other marginalized groups. By championing intersectionality, we can work towards dismantling the systemic barriers faced by not only the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, but also by individuals facing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, disability, religion, and other factors.

How does the Public Service Pride Network encourage 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals to participate in Public Service and leadership roles within the government?

As part of our broader network, we formed a 2SLGBTQIA+ Executive Network about a year and a half ago, which has now grown to over 120+ members from 45+ organizations. This month, we are wrapping up the pilot of our Pride Mentoring Program where we paired 13 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals with senior leaders so employee can ‘see themselves’ in senior leadership roles and talk about workplace issues in a safe and accepting relationship where the question of sexuality, gender and lived experience is easily shared. Given the resounding success we’ve heard from all of the participants, we plan on moving Pride Mentoring into regular programming with a greater number of pairings. We’re hoping to launch the call for interest this fall.  

Who is your biggest role model?

In grade 9, Garth Brooks was my role model. He was so inspiring, and his music spoke to me. I even cried at my first Garth Brooks concert back in 1996 in Ottawa. Today, I don’t really have a role model. Generally, I look up to leaders who genuinely believe in the potential of people. I believe in leaders who walk the talk. I believe in leaders who value the different lived experience, skills, cultures, race, religions and more when making decisions that have such a grandiose impact on people.  

What would you say to your younger self?

It’s a good question. One that I often think about in this current reality. A few months ago, I was invited to attend the Glebe Collegiate Institute in Ottawa as a part of their human library program where I shared my personal journey of coming out and my passion for doing the work that I do as the GC Pride Champion to bring awareness to 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion. It was a fantastic experience to engage with the students, who were receptive and curious about the topic. But I won’t lie. It made me think about my younger days and my time in high school. There was no safe space for these types of discussion. Let alone thinking of coming out. Given my drive and energy to lead, maybe I should have stood up for what I believed at the time and do something about it to bring change forward. But like many, I was scared. 

Most recently, I was a chaperone at the Ottawa Queer Youth Prom organized by Capital Pride. It was remarkable to see more than 500 youth walk through that door feeling proud of who they are and comfortable in their own skin. Our youth need more safe spaces and opportunities to be their full selves in society and I am committed to be more involved with these initiatives.  

To learn more about how you and your organization can support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community throughout the year, check out https://publicservicepride.ca/about/ as well as their 2023-2025 strategic plan. 

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Madeson Darcy Marketing Manager, Public Sector Network