[A rainbow flag flies at Queen’s Park at the annual Pride flag-raising ceremony at the official launch of Pride Month in Toronto on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima]
A new Ipsos poll that suggests LGBTQ Canadians, particularly transgender people, feel less safe, more discrimination and less support in their communities than their straight counterparts comes as no surprise to those who advocate for them.
The exclusive poll, commissioned by Yahoo Canada, found 95 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they felt safe in their communities, compared with 89 per cent who identified as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer). There was also a 10 percentage-point gap in those who felt supported in their communities.
And about a third of LGBTQ respondents reported often facing discrimination based on gender, compared with 17 per cent of straight Canadians, while 28 per cent said they frequently faced discrimination based on sexual orientation, compared with eight per cent of straights.
Society’s views on sexual orientation have evolved in recent years, fostered in part by human rights legislation targeting discrimination, along with increased educational awareness, said Richard Hudler, chairman of Queer Ontario.
“But there still is this fear,” he told Yahoo Canada News.
More supports exist for LGBTQ people in cities such as Toronto, said Hudler, but overt prejudice is still evident in some smaller communities, especially directed at young people. Many flee to the city to escape it and fall into poverty and homelessness, he said.
“We know for example that in Toronto 23 per cent of youth who live on the street identify as LGBT, which is a huge over-representation of our community on the streets at any given time,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada.
Elderly LGBTQ Canadians are also facing discrimination in seniors’ homes, she added.
“Many are being forced back into the closet,” said Kennedy.
“So yes, we have legislation that’s as good as, if not better than a lot of other countries around the world but we need a cultural shift. Where we’re sadly lacking is in government policy and government initiatives to provide the education required to accommodate that cultural shift to acceptance.”
Rights for trans people way behind
The problem apparently is even worse for transgender people. The poll found even wider gaps when it came to feelings of safety, discrimination and support. Ipsos noted only 25 Canadians who identified themselves as transgender were polled, not statistically significant but enough to indicate their experience differs from other Canadians.
Absolutely true, said Rebecca Rose, chairwoman of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project.
“Rights for transgender people are about 20 years behind rights for other lesbian, gay, bisexual folks in regards to legal rights,” she said in an interview.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the Liberal government would amend federal human rights legislation to cover gender identity, which Rose called a major victory for trans activists who’ve been pushing for it for years.
“But at this point it’s a promise, it’s not legislation yet,” she said.
Rachel Loewen Walker, executive director of OUTSaskatoon said the climate has changed in terms of increased support but the poll data on transgender discrimination is reflected in her organization’s experience.
“We see that absolutely in a lot of our work, where we are moving more and more to focus our energy because it seems that people are starting to ‘get’ gay and lesbians but they have a long way in understanding bisexuality, trans, two-spirit, gender-queer,” she said.
Morgane Oger, who chairs Vancouver’s Trans Alliance Society, said the Trans Pulse Project survey, completed in 2014, documents the violence and discrimination trans people experience across all facets of society.
There are already laws in place that should protect transgender people, said Oger, but it’s clear many Canadians aren’t aware of them or ignore them.
Laws have made it harder to be overtly hostile, she said.
“The most prevalent discrimination is the small discrimination, the daily stuff,” Oger said. “I would say it’s just social exclusion, where you go to participate in an activity that you would normally do and people demonstrate that they are offended by your presence or they want nothing to do with you.”
Whether it’s applying for a job, trying to rent a home or going to the local gym, trans people are constantly challenged, she said.
“Though each one of these aggressions is small, they add up to a very clear message that society wants nothing to do with you,” Oger said.
‘Tiny minority’ raising a fuss
The Ipsos/Yahoo Canada poll hinted that an attitudinal shift may be underway. Only 15 per cent of respondents said transgender people should be made to use the washroom of their birth gender. Some 30 per cent supported allowing them to make their own choice and 34 per cent were indifferent, which could be seen as tacit acceptance.
“Only a very tiny minority of extremists care at all what the person peeing next to them is doing,” Oger agreed. “I think that’s what this poll reflects, actually, that this very, very loud extremist minority that raises a fuss whenever this comes up. They’re actually totally unrepresentative of Canadians.”
The poll also suggested gender-based discrimination was less prevalent in Quebec than almost anywhere else in Canada (about the same as in Atlantic Canada).
But that doesn’t mean Quebecers are more inclusive, said Gabrielle Bouchard, peer support and trans advocacy co-ordinator for the Centre for Gender Advocacy in Montreal.
“That’s a myth,” she said, adding it’s particularly the case for transgender people.
“One of the things that we see here is that francophone Quebec is resisting so much to change and [being] trans-inclusive,” said Bouchard. “It’s a bit chilly.
“For trans people, we see that the English side of Quebec has a much more inclusive [attitude] to trans people than the francophone side.”
It’s not clear why that divide exists, Bouchard said, but speculated it may be that francophone Quebecers consume a lot of news and information from France, where there is still a passionate debate over same-sex marriage, an issue settled 11 years ago in Canada.
For instance, she said, the Quebec government has been slow to join other provinces in allowing citizens to change the gender markers on their official documents, making it hard for residents and new arrivals who are transgender to get the appropriate identification.
Bouchard’s centre filed suit against the province to change the law.
The advocates say that while laws are helpful in helping curb open discrimination towards transgender people, education starting at a young age is what’s needed to foster the kind of acceptance and inclusion gays and lesbians are beginning to experience.