Edmonton Heroes: Marni Panas is fighting for inclusion and equal rights across the country
The Edmonton woman will be in Ottawa’s House of Commons Tuesday when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers an official apology to the LGBTQ community
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Marni Panas will be in Ottawa’s House of Commons Tuesday when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers an official apology to the LGBTQ community.
The Edmonton activist will be paying especially close attention after being part of the committee that advised Trudeau in developing the apology addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit Canadians – as well as their families, partners and communities – for “unjust treatment as a result of federal legislation, programs and policy.”
“There’s something quite profound about somebody telling you, ‘We were wrong, we’re sorry and we will work to make sure this doesn’t happen again,’” Panas said.
“I think that’s really an important message for anybody to hear who has felt and really, truly experienced incredible injustices and discrimination because of who they are.”
Thousands of Canadians in the military, RCMP and civil service were fired from the 1950s until 1992, when the federal government tried to weed out people it deemed susceptible to foreign intimidation and blackmail because of their sexual orientation.
Officials used a test called the “fruit machine” that measured a worker's arousal to pornographic images in order to determine their sexual orientation and justify firing them or denying them a promotion.
Panas, a transgender woman, said it’s been “humbling” to hear stories from people affected by the policy.
Her work on the committee is the latest in her ongoing activism efforts around LGBTQ rights.
In Edmonton, Panas is a regular fixture in the news. She has recently worked on amending the Alberta Human Rights Act and regularly does speaking engagements for health professionals and students around inclusivity.
She said she never set out to be an activist, but opportunities have come to her.
“When I transitioned four years ago, it was scary. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” she said.
“When a mom is saying, ‘My child is being discriminated against in their school,’ turning your back is not an option. A lot of these opportunities have found me because I wouldn’t turn my back.”
Panas says the best way to remove barriers and discrimination is to get to know people who are different, and she hopes sharing her story will open doors for other people to be heard.
She receives increasingly positive feedback, and said Alberta having a “more progressive” government has opened up space for conversations that weren’t happening years ago.
“Generally I feel safe and welcome in Edmonton, but I have a lot of privilege that contributes to that,” she said.
“We can’t take this in isolation of my colour, the fact that I look like what society says a girl should look like in this country – all of those kinds of things all play a role.”
Being outspoken has its pitfalls, too.
Panas was targeted in a hateful blog post by a man who was arrested earlier this year by the Edmonton Police Service Hate Crimes unit, as one example of the spiteful pushback she receives.
Still, Panas said it’s important for people with the privilege to speak out to do so when they can.
“I’m always thinking about the safety of my family and myself. There is still a very loud part of society that would still rather that we not exist at all, and certainly not talk about it. So that part is very real, and it’s something I’m always thinking of,” Panas said.
“But if we remain silent, then others are forced to stay silent, and that’s not OK.”