Scotiabank's inclusion of same-sex partners in health care benefits for employees in its local operations is more than an extension of a policy already in place at its Canadian head office. It’s a bold step forward. It reflects a groundswell of change. That change is as much local as it is international.
The pandemic has transformed the world. It has sharpened focus on inequalities.
There have been, and continue to be, important conversations about race. The sigh of relief after Tuesday’s guilty verdicts against the officer who murdered George Floyd could be heard all over the globe, not just in the US.
Mr Floyd’s case was part of a bigger consideration of the wrongs of history and of the plight of smaller, less developed countries that have today been left behind in the vaccine race.
We have reassessed our relationships with one another. We have also examined the impact of our society on the land and the environment.
The nationwide outpouring of condemnation over recent acts of violence against women should be understood in the same context. People are fed up with feeling unsafe. They are impatient with a world in which all kinds of privilege rules us: patriarchy, class and ethnic inequalities.
And also a world in which discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community goes unchecked.
The inclusion of same-sex partners in employee medical benefits is unsurprising in a society that has made strides in terms of ushering change. For instance, such benefits, and much else, have long accrued to common-law partnerships, partnerships in which women have very often been prime among those penalised for not being in officially sanctioned unions.
Our society has come a long way when it comes to acknowledging LGBTQ rights, as shown by the stories of individuals such as Xoë Sazzle, 29, a transgender woman from Diego Martin who was among many who commemorated the 12th International Transgender Day of Visibility in March.
But Ms Sazzle’s story of being forced to leave her job because of her desire to embrace her true self is a cautionary tale on how much further we have to go.
Days after Scotiabank’s announcement, the chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), Ian Roach, confirmed there are discussions with the State to have the Equal Opportunity Act amended. That law does not protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination. In fact, it explicitly makes clear sexual orientation is not within its protections.
“In any society there will always be people for and against something, then transformation changes the society and then the law catches up with itself,” Mr Roach said.
At the same time the chairman, who was himself once an independent senator, acknowledged the limits of legislation. He pointed to the importance of corporate social responsibility and praised Scotiabank’s example (which in fact is not the first of this kind).
“It is important that the others should follow suit, past what the law insists,” Mr Roach said.
We agree. Both the State and the private sector must lead.
In the end, a productive workforce can only be achieved if everyone is allowed to play their part.