The LGBTQIA2S+ (LGBTQ) community has made significant civil rights improvements here in Canada since the 1960s. However, the LGBTQ community here still faces substantial challenges, especially when it comes to healthcare and post-secondary education. With that being taken into account it really calls into question if Canada is really the “most gay-friendly country in the world.”
Post-secondary schools can be an alienating environment for students in the LGBTQ community. A 2019 study found that one in three students identified as part of the LGBTQ community, making up 11% of students across Canada. In this same study, students reported discrimination based on gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation; 31% of lesbian students and 34% of bisexual students faced discrimination based on their sexuality. Similar numbers were found for other LGBTQ students, while 15% of heterosexual students reported facing similar discrimination and harassment.
Makeda Zook, Education and Health Promotion Officer for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (ACSHR) said that current sexual education throughout Canada doesn’t properly address the life experiences of LGBTQ youth.
“…They’re not given sexual health information relevant to their lives in the setting of the school… it’s not even trans and queer-inclusive and sometimes even outwardly… discriminatory… But then more of what we see is that it’s invisible, like that their lives and experiences aren’t present within sexual health education…”
Zook added that while current sex-ed curriculums do talk about LGBTQ issues, it’s not integrated within the broader context of the course.
“They.. might have one section, maybe an hour section on LGBTQ+ issues, but it’s not integrated into the rest of the information which can leave people ill-equipped.”
In a report by ACSHR published in 2020 that outlines the current state of sexual education across Canada, incorporation of LGBTQ experiences in the context of the larger curriculum decreases the risk of bullying and prejudice directed at such.6
“…We also know that… [a] queer and trans-inclusive curriculum… isn’t just positive for queer and trans youth, it’s actually positive for all youth… but when it’s not there, the negative impacts of it not being that… more harshly impact queer and trans youth.”
Within our medical system, professionals are unaware of existing stigmas or hold negative attitudes towards those in the LGBTQ community.2 These behaviours have led to patients or clients feeling they need to withhold their sexual or gender identity, which can lead to them avoiding medical care. Those who identify as LGBTQ are at a higher risk for specific medical conditions including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obesity, cervical cancer, and anogenital cancer.3 This is due to a higher (though not uniform) likelihood to engage in recreational use of alcohol and tobacco to cope with stress or past trauma.4
Zook said one such problem her organization encounters is access to and provision of abortion for those who are LGBTQ.
“We get calls from those who identify as trans or non-binary, and they’re looking to access abortion care… they’re looking for places, to clinics they know are going to be trans-friendly, that will not misgender them… assume with using pronouns like she, her…”
A recent campaign by ACSHR in Calgary and Saskatoon made up offocus groups consisting of LGBTQ individuals brought to light the issue of LGBTQ-friendly STI testing and healthcare availability.
“The feedback we got from groups in those places is that they didn’t necessarily know where to get care… STI testing or sexual healthcare that is queer and trans-friendly… they didn’t always know… which places would be queer and trans-friendly.”
A 2004 study done in Canada by Christina Sinding et al, demonstrated a lack of education regarding medical care for individuals who are LGBTQ.5
In healthcare and post-secondary education, especially when it comes to providing an environment of inclusion, respect, and dignity, there needs to be a major review and overhaul of the medical training sexual education curriculums respectively. There exists a climate of discrimination, hostility, and unfamiliarity in Canada stemming from both prejudices towards the LGBTQ community and unfamiliarity with the community’s needs. It is only through personal understanding and patience that we can do better.
1. Burzyta, Marca. (September 15, 2020). Students’ experiences of discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation at postsecondary schools in the Canadian provinces, 2019. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-005-x/2020001/article/00001-eng.htm
2. Rapid Response Service. (March 2014). Facilitators and barriers to health care for lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people. Ontario HIV Treatment Network. https://www.ohtn.on.ca/rapid-response-79-facilitators-and-barriers-to-health-care-for-lesbian-gay-and-bisexual-lgb-people/
3. Popowich, Dominic, et al. (2017). Cancer and LGBTQ Communities. Rainbow Health Ontario. https://www.virtualhospice.ca/Assets/LGBTQCANCERFactSheet_20170411140903.pdf
4. Sinding, Christina et al. (December 2004). Homophobia and heterosexism in cancer care: the experiences of lesbians. National Library of Medicine.
5. Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights. (September 2019). The State of Sex-Ed in Canada. https://www.actioncanadashr.org/sites/default/files/2019-09/Action%20Canada_StateofSexEd_F%20-%20web%20version%20EN.pdf
Jonah van Driesum is the senior editor of Link, and co-host of our the MicroLink podcast!