Cheri DiNovo Is Still Fighting For A Queer-Friendly Canada
The former MPP’s new book, The Queer Evangelist, is all about amplifying marginalized voices…
By Courtney Hardwick
Former provincial MPP Cheri DiNovo may have retired from politics, but that doesn’t mean she’s done fighting for change in Canada. Now the minister at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts, DiNovo continues to spread her message of acceptance across Ontario and beyond with her podcast The Radical Reverend and her new book The Queer Evangelist.
DiNovo’s second book (she also wrote Lambda-award-winning Qu(e)erying Evangelism in 2005) is a memoir that takes readers through her experience as a teenager living on the streets and her early interest in social activism, which helped lead her to a career in politics. Before running for provincial office, DiNovo earned a doctorate in ministry and her goal has always been to bring together the best parts of Christianity, feminism and socialism to work towards acceptance and equality for all. She believes the best way to do that is to listen.
“I maintain we gather in communities of faith to be evangelized by those who are on the margins. We gather hoping our actions will attract the Christ who will then teach us,” says DiNovo. “The Queer Evangelist is the tale of a woman who was ‘evangelized’ in just that manner – by trying to listen to those more marginalized than I am.” Her success in politics was due in part to her knack for connecting with people on the periphery, and as an openly bisexual woman, DiNovo has always understood the importance of pushing for progress. She was the only woman to sign Canada’s first gay rights manifesto “We Demand” in 1971, and she was the minister who performed the first legalized same-sex marriage in Canada in 2001.
Christianity, and religion in general, have a bad reputation for being unwelcoming when it comes to issues of sexuality. As a minister and activist, DiNovo wants to change that. “Queer-phobia, racism and misogyny are real. We’ve all been raised in a world that denies women, BIPOC folk and queers, justice,” says DiNovo. “Often it’s those who see themselves as ‘progressives’ who perpetuate injustice because they haven’t done the work necessary to see their own assumptions as a problem. This is and should be the spiritual path.”
During her 11-year tenure as an NDP MPP, DiNovo worked hard to forge a better world for LGBTQ2+ communities, and she succeeded in passing more pro-LGBTQ2+ legislation than anyone else in Canadian history. Her biggest wins included Toby’s Act, which added trans rights to the Ontario Human Rights Code in 2012; the Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act, which banned conversion therapy for LGBTQ2+ youth in 2015; Cy and Ruby’s Act, which established parent equality for LGBTQ2+ parents in 2015; and the Trans Day of Remembrance Act in 2017.
All of her accomplishments, for LGBTQ2+ rights and otherwise, always came back to the same thing: listening and spreading the word. “In all of that work, I simply gave voice to those who were having a difficult time being heard,” says DiNovo. She believes all experiences and perspectives are worthy and valid – and the more we take the time to listen, the better off we’ll all be.
Despite all the progress that has been made in Canada for LGBTQ2+ rights, there is still a lot to be done. DiNovo is looking forward to plenty more changes in the future. “I hope to see conversion therapy criminalized across Canada and trans rights put into practice now that the law has changed,” says DiNovo. “I also hope the educational process will pick up speed so that the suicide and homelessness rates for queer kids come down. I hope all faith institutions recognize equal marriage and that queer rights are human rights and that faith demands equality for all.”
The Queer Evangelist is one woman’s experience, but DiNovo hopes to share everything she has learned and help inspire the next generation to not only prioritize acceptance but make it a non-negotiable.
To young activists who want to make a difference, DiNovo has this to say: “You don’t have to settle. You can support both revolution and reform: both are necessary. You can tell truth to power and survive. You can struggle for justice and you can win. History shows us this. Like the graffiti from the student action in France in the 1960s said, ‘Be realistic – Demand the impossible.’ The fate of our earth now rests on this and the good news is, the impossible is possible.”
The Queer Evangelist is out now!
COURTNEY HARDWICK is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared online at AmongMen, Complex Canada, Elle Canada and TheBolde.