Canada has the reputation of being somewhat of a paradise for members of the queer community, not only since President Justin Trudeau was photographed joyfully attending a Pride Parade during his first term. Every year, thousands of immigrants and refugees arrive in Canada, including a considerable number of queer folks looking for freedom and a better life. Is this positive image justified? Let us look at the facts, and at the pros and cons of living in Canada when you are queer.
While the nation of Canada is born out of colonialism, during which the First Nations of ‘Turtle Island’ have tremendously suffered, the modern nation’s self-image is that of an inclusive rainbow nation where, in theory, everyone is welcome. Long before colonial settlers arrived on this land, several first nations had 2spirit communities – 2spirits being an indigenous variant of queer/trans. 2spirits are a precious cultural heritage in all of North America which is why we have dedicated an entire blog to them - check it out! Modern Canada offers 2spirit, gay, bi, lesbian and trans folks more rights than many other places around the world. Gay marriage, for example, is judicially absolutely the same as marriage for straight couples. Gay and lesbian couples are allowed to adopt babies, and queer women with an uterus have the right to buy sperm and undergo fertility treatments in a clinic in order to start a family. When a lesbian couple has a baby, the non-biological mother is automatically considered “the real parent” in the birth certificate, no distinction made to the biological mom (or to a straight biological dad). LGBT families, including mono or multiparental, foster, adoptive, trans and polyamourous, find support with www.coalitiondesfamilleslgbt.com. Queer youth find support with organizations across the country and a youth crisis line https://www.youthline.ca/ specialized in confidential and non-judgemental LGBTQIA2+ peer support. Parents whose kids come out find support here https://pflagcanada.ca/ .
There are anti-discriminatory laws in Canada which also help members of the queer community: when you send your resume to a future employer, it is prohibited to include your photo, marital status, age, religion etc., to protect your rights. The chance to be interviewed is therefore higher for members of minorities than without those requirements. Canada holds yearly Pride Parades in many cities, where the entire city raises the rainbow flag. They usually do not cause any anti-gay protests worth mentioning. The city of Toronto, Canada’s biggest metropolis, even hosted World Pride in 2014. Conversion therapy was recently banned, and every major faith group has chapters supporting and celebrating LGBT believers. Overall, being gay, bi or lesbian in Canada, whether you want to find housing, open a bank account, look for a college program or a kindergarten, or flirt across the table in a restaurant, does not cause anyone to raise an eyebrow.
Trans rights, while less advanced than gay rights, have a decade long history of activism in Canada, too. Good news – they are currently improving! The province of Quebec, for example, is discussing how to include a third gender option in official documents and birth certificates. The debates surrounding this new law are heated as the local government suggested a nonsense version at first, however they listened to the uproar in the community and invited experts of NGOs in order to implement a law that will actually serve the trans and nonbinary community. Numerous non-profit organizations are in place to support trans, enbys and questioning individuals. https://enfantstransgenres.ca/ is offering services for trans kids, here referred to as “gender creative kids”. https://atq1980.org is a very active NGO which already supports trans folx since as early as 1980, to name just a few.
Health insurance is public in Canada, and trans folks seeking gender affirming surgery can have a big chunk of costs covered. However, some procedures are falsely considered “purely esthetic” and thus not covered.
Specialized surgeons are available (with waiting lists). The gender affirming surgical clinic GrS Montreal has become the largest hospital specializing in trans-affirmative surgery in the world, with an increase of 1096% in the past 12 years. This year of 2021 alone, this clinic will perform a total of 1375 surgeries for trans and non-binary folks!
Last but not least, Canada does acknowledge that many places in the world are unsafe if not deadly for members of the LGBT communities, and specific programs to help resettle refugees are in place. These include https://www.rainbowrailroad.org/ and https://www.rainbowrefugee.com/
The pros above are actually mainly true for the urban centers of Canada: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and the small but liberal capital, Ottawa. Homophobia and transphobia are much higher in rural areas – who is surprised? Moreover, just like the US, Canada is not a centralized country but has different laws in every province. It is therefore of prime importance to do research where exactly you want to settle in Canada – this may tremendously alter your experience. Language is another factor – as some areas are francophone! Amongst non-binary folks, the anglophone areas of Canada have a better reputation, as English, unlike French, has more widely adopted they/them pronouns.
Another fact is that the realities minorities in Canada live in do not keep up with the pink image the government likes to sell. Research shows overwhelming evidence that many people who are subject to multiple discriminations, e.g. queer and BIPOC and Muslim, encounter a lot of difficulties in Canadian society, from racism (including in dating apps) to police violence. Many have trouble to find their place as “gay villages” and community organizations and events are often predominantly white. Some of these immigrants even report they were better of in their country of origin, even though they were subjected to anti-LGBT laws. Another factor many people in Canada are struggling with are the long and dark winters, during which seasonal depression is on a high and extreme cold limits social activities and access to safe spaces to mingle with members of the community. Depression and suicide rates are high in Canada, especially amongst First Nations but also among queer and trans folks, including refugees. Last not least, even a country like Canada that is known to be “immigration friendly” has a lot of yearlong paperwork and bills waiting for you if you ever consider moving here.
Let us go back to the question we posed in the beginning. Is Canada a safe haven for LGBTQIA2+ people? Well, depending on your expectations, and where in the world you are from, and depending on privileges you have, Canada can be a great place to live out and proud. But do not expect paradise, please.