A Manitoba woman and her wife are rethinking their U.S. travel plans after the Canadian government issued a travel advisory for LGBTQ people heading to that country, warning that some state laws may affect them.
“It’s devastating right now,” said Deborah Romeyn, who lives in the Manitoba Interlake community of Sandy Hook with her wife, in reference to a recent surge in state-level legislation targeting the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a huge step backwards.”
Romeyn said she and her sister, who lives in North Carolina, “had a really good cry” on a recent FaceTime call.
Some U.S. states have enacted laws and policies such as prohibiting which bathrooms and public locker rooms transgender people can use, prompting an updated advisory from Global Affairs Canada posted Tuesday.
The advisory doesn’t specify which states raise concerns, but advises travellers “check relevant state and local laws” and points to a government of Canada website that provides general information on safety for LGBT travellers.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said it is tracking 494 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. that are working their way through state legislatures.
Romeyn said while she appreciates the Canadian government’s advisory, it wasn’t entirely surprising. She started noticing changes in attitudes in the U.S. last year when the country’s Supreme Court overturned the 1973 abortion rights decision best known as Roe v. Wade.
“We decided at that time that we were not comfortable as two women travelling through the states in our camper. We just didn’t feel safe,” Romeyn told CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Wednesday.
That’s now creeping into their lives in Canada, Romeyn said, where anti-LGBTQ sentiments are starting to echo the Parental Rights in Education bill in the U.S., legislation commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
“We even have discussions here in Canada about whether or not to fly a rainbow flag, which is unthinkable to us in this day and age,” Romeyn said.
“For us even to have the conversation indicates that what’s happening in the United States is profoundly affecting how we feel everywhere.”
Planning changes for next U.S. trip
She and her wife, Judy Hill, are planning to head to New York in October but expect to make some difficult decisions.
“We are going to have a talk about modifying our behaviour,” Romeyn said. “I don’t know if we’ll wear, for instance, our wedding rings, which is unthinkable.”
The couple spent decades fighting for LGBTQ rights, and seeing some of them eroded by the current climate has resurfaced hurtful memories, she said.
“Both Judy and I were in the first Pride Parade [in Manitoba in 1987], and at that time I wore a paper bag on my head because I was a teacher,” said Romeyn, adding she is ready to take up that fight again.
“Once we’re done being devastated then it’s time to muster again, and to generate the same sort of pushback that we did way back when we were much younger women.”
Winnipeg-based travel agency owner Linda Robidoux Burndorfer is also watching what’s happening in the U.S. She applauds the Canadian government for posting the advisory.
“I think it makes people just be a bit more aware,” said Robidoux Burndorfer, whose company, Out’n About Travel, caters to the needs of the LGBTQ community, which she is a member of.
“As far as my understanding, there’s maybe 10 to 12 states that are kind of the ones that we want to look at. And I must say the majority of my clients aren’t going to those states, so that’s a good thing,” she said.
But “depending on the state that you’re going to, an extra level of caution and discretion is highly advised.”
Like Romeyn, Robidoux Burndorfer says her level of comfort in the U.S. has changed.
“It has become quite divisive. You’re feeling a little less comfortable than you did, say 10 years ago, looking over your shoulder a little more going, ‘OK, am I going to be a target of something something awful?'” she told CBC Manitoba’s Up to Speed host Faith Fundal on Tuesday.
“These thoughts were never in my head before.”
Heather Milne, an English professor at the University of Winnipeg and member of the LGBTQ community, also said issuing the advisory was a wise decision, but said it’s a good idea to “have your wits about you” no matter where you are.
“I also would remind people that sometimes it’s not safe to hold hands with your partner in Manitoba as well. These dangers are sort of ever-present for queer people who are policed in ways that straight people and cisgender people are not,” she said.
“It is sad that we are still in a state in 2023 where that’s the case and where it actually, in fact, appears to be getting worse in a lot of locations.”