Activist cautiously optimistic as census data provides picture of Sask.'s transgender, non-binary populations

·4 min read
The 2021 census was the first time that Canadians were given the option to identify  as transgender or non-binary. Previously the only options available were man or woman.  (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC - image credit)
The 2021 census was the first time that Canadians were given the option to identify as transgender or non-binary. Previously the only options available were man or woman. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC - image credit)

For the first time ever, Statistics Canada has provided Canadians with census data on how many people living in Canada identify as transgender or non-binary.

In Saskatchewan, 2,530 people over the age of 15 identified as transgender or non-binary, according to information released on Wednesday as part of the second wave of data from the 2021 census.

The data is being welcomed by activists in Saskatchewan, but they urge Canadians and politicians to be cautious about drawing too many conclusions.

Ariana Giroux is the interim executive director of UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity in Regina. Giroux, who uses she/they pronouns, says there are issues with the way the census framed its question around gender, and concerns about those who may not feel safe enough to identify as transgender or non-binary in the census.

"So, those numbers are not going to be fully reflective of our community," she said on Thursday. "However, they definitely start to paint the beginnings of a picture."

Statistics Canada says Canada is the first country in the world to record gender identity in this way. The changes were an attempt to "reflect a growing social and legislative recognition of transgender and non-binary people" according to Statistics Canada, and fills in a gap in information.

The data on gender is divided into five categories: Transgender women and men, cisgender women and men, and non-binary people.

Censuses held before 2021 only recorded whether respondents identified as men or women.

The data released on Wednesday broke down responses from Saskatchewan's people aged 15 or older as follows:

  • 665 transgender men.

  • 790 transgender women.

  • 1,075 non-binary people.

  • 435,375 cisgender men.

  • 444,880 cisgender women.

Numbers of transgender and non-binary people aged 15 and older by province and territory

Sask. transgender or non-binary populations among lowest

Transgender and non-binary people accounted for a small proportion of Saskatchewan's population, with .16 per cent of the population over the age of 15 identifying as transgender and .09 per cent of its population identifying as non-binary.

Those numbers gave Saskatchewan the second fewest people who identified as transgender or non-binary among provinces.

Only Quebec had a lower proportion, with transgender people representing .14 per cent and non-binary people representing .09 per cent of its population.

Both provinces' proportions were far below the general Canadian population.

Of the more than 30.5 million Canadians aged 15 and over who were counted in the 2021 census, 100,815 of them identified as transgender or non-binary. That's 0.33 per cent of the total population, or about 1 in 300 people.

Transgender and non-binary people by province and territory

Challenges of collecting data

Giroux said that UR Pride's own data shows there is little doubt that the census numbers undercount the number of transgender and non-binary people in Saskatchewan.

She pointed to the the way that Statistics Canada formatted the question in the 2021 census. Statistics Canada asked two question: sex assigned at birth, which could be either male or female, and gender identity, which may or may not align with sex assigned at birth.

Giroux said the use of the phrase "sex assigned at birth" can feel exclusionary to members of the transgender or gender diverse community in Canada.

"It puts people into boxes that are not necessarily reflective of the actual truth and reality of human existence," she said.

"It can also cause a lot of what we call disphoria, which is an incongruence between how the world treats us and how we exist."

Giroux said people who feel those things may choose not to take part in the gender question. She said Statistics Canada should change how it formats the question in future censuses.

Giroux also said people may not feel safe enough in their own community to identify themselves as part of those groups. Giroux pointed to how 13 of 14 Saskatchewan MPs initially voted against a bill banning conversion therapy in Canada, although it did eventually get unanimous support.

"I definitely think that Saskatchewan is not the safest place in the world to be out or identified as a transgender, diverse person," she said.

Giroux said the data is a good start and a building block toward accurately counting the transgender and non-binary populations.

However, she urged politicians to be cautious if they want to develop policy around the census data.

"You shouldn't look at this number go, 'oh, there's so few trans people in Saskatchewan,' because that is just not simply the case," Giroux said.

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