Professor recognized for LGBT activison

University of Manitoba law professor, Karen Busby, was inducted into the Canadian LGBT Human Rights Hall of Fame (Q Hall of Fame) in Vancouver last month in honour of the work she has done for the community.

The Q Hall of Fame, founded in 2009, recognizes pioneers in the area of LGBT human rights. Busby, 52, is the first Manitoban inductee.

“I was delighted, of course, because it’s a really nice honour,” said Busby. “It’s nice to be recognized for your work.”

Busby researches laws related to sexuality and violence, including human rights laws affecting lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-gendered people. Over the past 20 years, she has lobbied the government for legal recognition of same-sex relationships, worked on anti-sexual-violence campaigns with the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), and assisted LGBT advocacy organization, Egale Canada, in a campaign for equal marriage.

In the late ‘90s, Busby represented LEAF in the Supreme Court of Canada in the Little Sisters case about the suppression of LGBT material by Canada Customs.
“This is a well-deserved honour for Professor Busby,” said Joanna Birenbaum, director of litigation for LEAF. “Her scholarship, activism and courage have contributed greatly to advancing LGBTQ rights.”

Birenbaum said that Busby has worked with LEAF for over 20 years and has dedicated “too many hours to count” to equality work.

“LEAF has benefited greatly from her incredible commitment,” said Birenbaum.
Throughout the last decade, Busby has also worked on several campaigns through Egale Canada, including an injunction for a gay teenager in Ontario that allowed him to bring a male date to his prom and a case that involved giving gay men the right to donate blood.

Hilary Cook, who worked with the professor on both the board and legal issues committee of Egale Canada, said that Busby’s work through the organization has allowed LGBT people to “be a full part of Canadian society.”

“It’s been really helpful having that type of a legal brain and that type of legal analysis applied to the problems that have come to our organization,” said Cook.

Busby was a leader in the campaign to amend all of Manitoba’s statutes to make sure that LGBT couples were treated the same way as straight couples.
“Manitoba has made the most comprehensive changes of any province in Canada and I was a big part of that,” she said.

For Busby, the motivation behind her work in the area of LGBT human rights comes from personal experience.

Busby said that many of her gay male friends in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s died in the AIDS epidemic. To see young men dying from a disease people didn’t know anything about “was terrifying and a real spur to action,” she said.
Busby, who identifies as lesbian, said that when she graduated law school, lawyers could lose their job if they came out, but as a professor with tenure, she couldn’t be fired for her sexual identity. The job security put her in the position to be able to speak up for human rights.

“It was important for me to take a leadership role because nothing could happen to me,” Busby said.

Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research) at the U of M, said it is wonderful to see Busby’s human rights work formally recognized.

“As well as being an exceptional professor and researcher, Karen has displayed passion, energy and commitment in her efforts to advance the protection of all human rights — including those affecting lesbian, gay, and transgendered Canadians,” said Jayas.

Busby is currently the academic director for the Centre of Human Rights and Research at the U of M and she is continuing her own research on sexual assault, human rights of trans-identified people as well as work on the conflict between sexual orientation and religious rights.

Busby was inducted into the Q Hall of Fame alongside 11 other individuals and joins past honourees such as former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.