Cheri DiNovo Oral History (2016)
Cheri DiNovo served as the Member of Provincial Parliament for Parkdale–High Park from 2006 to 2017. In addition, she's also a minister for the United Church of Canada. Cheri was particulaely influential in the passing of Toby's Law, the amendment that added gender identity and gender expression as protected clauses under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
This law was named after Toby Dancer, a transgender woman who led the Emmanuel Howard Park United Church's gospel choir until she died of an overdose in 2004. As this was the church were Cheri ministered, this sparked a passion in her to fight for transgender rights in Ontario.
Toby's Law went through an extensive process in Parliament, being tabled five different times. At the time, Cheri described it as being the most inclusive law of its kind in North America, as it extended to employment, housing, and education unlike Bill C-16, which only covered the military, immigration, the criminal code, and federal employees. She highlights the need for provinces to cover gender-related issues beyond their respective human rights codes, as just doing this does not ensure that every service of the public sector is ready to welcome LGBTQ+ individuals. Thus, she pushes the provincial and federal governments to include protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in every aspect of the law. In addition, she considers that these protections need to be as extensive as possible and developed in consideration with transgender communities.
According to her, the political reality at Queen's Park showed her that progressive circles within Toronto exist in a bubble that does not really extend through all of the city, much less so the rest of the country. While she was doing activist work for the latest version of the Ontario sexual education curriculum, she realized there is still considerable amounts of homo- and transphobia in our society. She signals the queer homelessness epidemic as evidence that Ontarian homes and communities are not fully safe.As a queer person who was street-involved during her youth herself, Cheri is able to relate to stories of queer hardship and thus considers herself a natural, lifelong ally of the transgender community. She remembers queer activism in the 60s and 70s being more radical and profound as according to her we had a clear defined enemy: the rest of society. In the days before the AIDS crisis, there were many more demonstrations, rallies, and parties that she lists as powerful elements of the queer spirit of the time. She describes it as a countercultural radical movement that highlighted gender fluidity beyond normative and binary understandings. While she is thankful that the LGBTQ+ community has experienced a relative sense of freedom and inclusion, she fears it has lost a lot of its political sense and direction.
As a queer Christian, she felt compelled to practice her religious teachings and be an advocate for those in need, hence her general inclination towards LGBTQ+ activism. She talks about how she performed the first same-sex marriage in North America. Cheri recalls her role within Provincial Parliament to try to sway political opinion in favour of the LGBTQ+ community.
According to Cheri, re-listing GCS was a relatively easy way for the government to appease the large pressure from the LGBTQ+ community, as research and activism on the issue was very prevalent at the time. Although she agrees that there’s still a long way to go in the fight for LGBTQ+ human rights, she signals the relisting of GCS as an event that catalyzed further progress in this fight, such as the eventual passing of Toby's Act. Cheri speaks of the bill banning anti-conversion therapy, which got approved two months after Toby's Law. At the time, Cheri recalls they had an separate clinic set up to perform conversion therapy on LGBTQ+ individuals, enlisting several psychiatrists specializing in the area.
Interviewee: Cheri DiNovo