Culture Question:

I want to know the phenomenon of homophobia in Canada

(posted: April 24, 2011)

Homophobia, "a negative emotional reaction (e.g., fear, anxiety, anger, discomfort) to homosexuality"2 has been on the decline in Canada since at least the late 1960s. You can see this in the steady change in Canadian laws.

Before 1969 homosexuality was illegal in Canada. But change was in the air, as indicated in 1967 when "Pierre Elliott Trudeau, then Justice Minister [later Prime Minister of Canada] made his famous comment that 'there is no place for the State in the bedrooms of the nation.'" (Ryan p. 58) Just two years later, in 1969, Canada decriminalized homosexuality.

Further legal changes were slow in coming, but in 1996 'sexual orientation' was added to the Canadian Human Right Act, meaning that discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation was now illegal. This lead to "adoption rights, inheritance, spousal support – these and many other areas previously reserved for heterosexuals ... gradually being extended to same-sex couples." (Ryan p. 57) And in 2005 : Same sex marriage was made legal in all of Canada.

The changing laws and, perhaps more importantly, the increasing visibility of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people has had a significant impact on the perceptions that average Canadians have of homosexual people. The more straight people who know friends and family who are not straight, the more the sterotypes of gay, lesbian, bi and trans people fall apart and the more accepting and tolerant people become.

But homophobia does still exist in Canada, just as it does all over the world. Conservative Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions harbor negative views of homosexuality (they see it as sinful, a transgression against God) and so they foster on-going homophobia. Canada's immigration patterns can affect the levels of homophobia in the country. As an example: "in many of the African cultures both Islam and Catholicism play an important role in society. Immigrant communities in Canada often maintain strong links to their religious roots as a way to maintain links to their cultures." (Ryan p. 38) The religious and social customs of newer Canadians can be at odds with the more liberal society that has grown up in Canada.

It would be a mistake to see homophobia as only coming from immigrants though. There are still many social conservatives in Canada who lament the changing laws and do not welcome gays and lesbians as brothers and sisters. Many gay students find that they are bullied at school, gay teachers worry about losing their jobs if their orientation is discovered, and the word 'gay' is often heard as an insult.

Homophobia isn't just about homosexuals though. "The accusations of “dyke” and “fag” exist in significant part to keep women in their place and to prevent men from losing theirs." (Ryan p.21) Girls may avoid sports or doing things seen as masculine to avoid being thought of as lesbians and boys may suppress their emotions and care-giving instincts to avoid being cast as 'fags'. This polarization of gender differences hurts everybody as it seeks to put and keep women and men in their separate places (with that of men being more valued). To be a man is to be 'not-woman', so any men who show traits that are associated with women are attacked (name calling, bullying). This is part of what underlies homophobia. And straight men as well as gays suffer under homophobic attacks.

The majority of Canadians support equal rights for gay, lesbian, bi and trans people. But sometimes the people who don't are in positions of power in the country. The governing polical party of Canada at the time (the Conservative party under Stephen Harper) showed its own homophobia in 2010 with the publication of a citizenship study guide for new Canadians that was produced by the Federal government. It "omitted all mention of gay rights in the study guide, despite senior department officials’ pleas to keep the information in." (Jarrah)

As Canada heads into an election in 2011, the new 2011 "guide includes the line: 'Canada’s diversity includes gay and lesbian Canadians, who enjoy the full protection of and equal treatment under the law, including access to civil marriage.' " (Jarrah)

So you can see that while Canada has done a lot to reduce homophobia, more work still needs to be done. Here are some Canadian organizations who are trying to reduce the affects of homophobia (each with a description of the group taken from their linked website):

EGALE Canada: (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) Canada's LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) human rights organization: advancing equality, diversity, education, and justice.

Alterheroes: a not-for-profit organization that encourages the development of all individuals in relation to their sexual orientation, gender identity and sexuality .

The Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition: a national organization whose objective is to address the various health and wellness issues that people who have sexual and emotional relationships with people of the same gender, or a gender identity that does not conform to the identity assigned to them at birth, encounter.

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network: an organization working on the legal and human rights issues rlated to HIV/AIDS.


  1. Jarrah. Gender Focus, “Gay Rights Back in Citizenship Guide...Sorta.” March 17, 2011. (, 24-Apr-2011.

  2. Religious Tolerance, “University Study of Homophobia” (, 24-Apr-2011.

  3. Ryan, Bill, A New Look at Homophobia and Homosexism in Canada, Canadian Aids Society, 2003. ( 7df11ef9c5b7c745852568ff007d35e8/ e597f908b523522c85256e91006f2fcf/ $FILE/homophobia%20report_eng.pdf), 23-Apr-2011.

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Homophobia: Insecurity about being heterosexual

Further Reading:

10 Ways Homophobia Affects Straight People