Gay Students in Canada Get Bullied, Too. A Lot, Actually.

Nearly two out of three non-heterosexual students feel unsafe in school, according to a national study by the University of Winnipeg.

The study, which included 3,700 Canadian high school students surveyed between December 2007 and June 2009, tried to identify how students experienced homophobic and transphobic incidents, including what happened, the impact of those experiences, and what the schools did afterwards. The findings generally suggest that high school sucks.

Homophobic comments — from other students and, more disturbingly, from teachers — were reported as a common and accepted part of going to school.

Key findings include:

+ Girls are more likely than boys to experience verbal and physical harassment due to their sexual orientation

+ Aboriginal students are most likely to know an out student. They are also most likely to see classroom discussions of sexuality as positive.

+ All non-Aboriginal visible minorities are least likely to know an out student and least likely to report seeing classroom discussions of sexuality as positive.

+ 70% of all participating students reported hearing expressions like “that’s so gay” in school on a daily basis.

+ 47% reported hearing “faggot,” “lezbo,” and “dyke” in school on a daily basis.

+ 58% of straight students find homophobic comments upsetting.

+64% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school, particularly in washrooms and gym changing rooms.

+ 21% of LGBTQ students have been physically harassed or assaulted in school.

+ 10% of straight students have been harassed or bullied by people who thought they were gay.

+ Students in schools with gay-straight alliances are more likely to be open about their sexual orientation.

How does this compare to the 2009 National School Climate Survey conducted in America by GLSEN?

+ 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.

+ 61.1% of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and 39.9% felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

+ 40.1% of LGBTQ students had been physically harassed or assaulted in school for their sexual orientation, 27.2% harassed/assaulted for their gender presentation.

+ “Having a Gay-Straight Alliance in school was related to more positive experiences for LGBT students, including: hearing fewer homophobic remarks, less victimization because of sexual orientation and gender expression, less absenteeism because of safety concerns and a greater sense of belonging to the school community.”

There’s a lot said about the “trickle-down” theory — that if we take discrimination out of the US constitution, that will send a better message to kids about how to be nice to homos. This seems to be true in some regard, but the relentless desire of kids to be assholes to other kids is often hard to overcome.

getty images stock photo of bullying

The Canadian report also makes several recommendations, such as developing provincial and school-board-based anti-homophobia programs and safe school policies, giving teachers professional development programs related to sexual orientation issues, and encouraging schools to start gay-straight alliances, either through student initiatives or, if no students are willing to do it, through teachers.

All of which makes the Burnaby parents protesting their school district’s new anti-discrimination policies even more ludicrous. According to the Globe and Mail, one supporter said, “If you changed everything in the original policy to say Chinese or black of Hispanic or any racial thing, it would be appalling to oppose it.”

Of course, if it was appalling to oppose it before Egale released the finding of the study, it’s even more appalling now.

You can read the full text of the report Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools online at Egale Canada.


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Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Editor and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Bitch, Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

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20 Comments

  1. not to downplay the severity of the subject matter or anything, but that is the most bizarre “stock photo” of bullying ever.

    Also, I haven’t lived in Canada for years, although I’m from there originally, these statistics:

    + 58% of straight students find homophobic comments upsetting.

    and

    + “Having a Gay-Straight Alliance in school was related to more positive experiences for LGBT students, including: hearing fewer homophobic remarks, less victimization because of sexual orientation and gender expression, less absenteeism because of safety concerns and a greater sense of belonging to the school community.”

    make me hopeful for the future. More GSAs, yes please.

  2. Thank you for this post! Everyone talks about Canada as some sort of gay wonderland. It’s better than the US in terms of rights for sure, but I was bullied so badly it led to a few actual physical fights in high school. It’s not all roses up here folks!

  3. I find it interesting that in this survey girls reported more harassment related to their sexuality than guys. In my experience in the US, queer guys were harassed more often and more virulently than girls, and you heard “faggot” far more often than “dyke”. I wonder what might explain the difference.

  4. Oooh, national study conducted by my school! We’re such a hippy school, so this makes me proud-by-association.

    Not pleased that the numbers are still so high, but at least we’re better than our southern neighbours. Still…I’ve gotten into some really ugly conversations (that turned misogynist quickly) when I’d correct people about saying “that’s so gay”. Also surprised that more girls are harassed than guys. I wonder if this is because of the constant exposure of gay males in the media while lesbians are largely down-played or “feminized”.

  5. This seems like a pretty big generalization.
    Yes, a stat is a stat and it sounds like it’s based on pretty legit research but Canada is too huge to be able to conclusively say “this is the way it is” for queer youth.
    It has to be different for kids growing up in rural Alberta than it is for kids growing up in Toronto or Montreal.
    I know the same thing can be said for the entirety of the US but I just think this kind of perspective needs to be thought about.

    • I know for a fact that it’s not easy to find these sort of surveys in a rural area. I’m lucky enough to have had the opportunity to LEAVE my rural area, therefore exposing me to the world and making me more confident, which I feel was an important part of me having the courage to google something lesbian-related that eventually led me to AS and to this survey.

      My point is that most kids in rural areas won’t see it, for whatever reason. Exposure doesn’t happen in small towns. I think some sort of official system of distribution to schools (and a request to have them give it out to kids who identify themselves as acceptable survey-takers) sounds like the best idea, but we all know that not all administrations are keen on this sort of thing. And there’s always the chance that some rude kids get ahold of the survey and screw it up. But hey, some data is better than no data.

    • Lol, this is a year later almost.
      I agree with what you’re saying, but would just like to point out that I grew up in Montreal, and was bullied in high school and certainly would not have seen a survey like that. Maybe it also has to deal with schools in suburbs (where I was) vs. school nearer to the more downtown area.

  6. Canada IS a little more queer friendly…but there are assholes everywhere…and some of those assholes are, sadly, teenagers who, you would think and hope, were more enlightened and open-minded then some adults. It’s a thing, a sad and rather pathetic thing, but a thing nonetheless.

    I particularly liked the comment by one supporter: “If you changed everything in the original policy to say Chinese or black of Hispanic or any racial thing, it would be appalling to oppose it.” How any of this kind of bullying is still going on is beyond me.

    But, as a Canadian, I still wouldn’t trade this country for any other.

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