The LGBTQ+ community in Canada has seen many gains in their rights since the late 1960s. Although discrimination still persists in places towards LGBTQ+ people, the country has taken major steps towards mainstream social acceptance, including equal legal rights, making Canada an internationally recognized leader in equal rights for all people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
This article looks at the statistics around LGBTQ+ rights in Canada, including data from the Canadian census. It also includes a brief history of LGBTQ+ rights in Canada and how the Canadian government is supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ Statistics for Canadians
- Homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969.
- In 2005 Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage across the whole nation.
- LGBTQ+ people represent 4% of the Canadian population.
- Canada’s 15-24-year-olds account for almost 30% of the country’s LGBTQ+ population.
- LGBTQ+ people are more likely to belong to lower income groups than non-LGBTQ+ people (41% compared to 26%).
- People who identify as LGBTQ+ are twice as likely to experience homelessness.
- A third of same-sex couples in Canada are married.
- Between 2018 and 2019, hate crimes targeting sexual orientation increased by 41%.
- LGBTQ+ Canadians are almost three times as likely to say their mental health is poor or fair compared to non-LGBTQ+ Canadians.
- 75% of Canadians support same sex marriage.
- There are still 60 countries where homosexuality is criminalized.
History of LGBTQ+ Rights in Canada
For centuries, homosexuality was illegal in Canada and until 1861 it was punishable by death. The law was changed slightly in 1861 when instead of the death penalty, the punishment for homosexuality was imprisonment ranging from ten years to life.
Any law adjustments since then were mostly targeted at men and used ambiguous language. Amendments to the Canadian criminal code criminalized homosexuality by inventing new categories such as ”criminal sexual psychopath” and ”dangerous sexual offender”.
Since 1957, there was growing demand for reform following the Wolfenden Report which recommended decriminalizing homosexuality. In May 1969, a bill was finally passed that decriminalized homosexuality for the first time in Canada’s history.
Despite the legalization, discrimination based on sexual orientation was still strong. For example, until 1977 gay men were banned from immigrating to Canada. In the same year, Quebec made an amendment to its Human Rights Code that prohibited all discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.
Later Legal Victories
In 1986, Ontario followed Quebec’s lead, adding sexual orientation to the province’s Human Rights Code. Manitoba and Yukon did the same in the following year. However, it took until 1998 before all province’s included sexual orientation in their code of rights after the Supreme Court ruled that Alberta had to include sexual orientation in its human rights legislation.
In 1992, following a federal court ruling, gays and lesbians in Canada were allowed in the military, and in 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that gays and lesbians could apply for an asylum if they were persecuted in the country of their origin for their sexual orientation.
Same-sex couples have been allowed to adopt in Ontario since 1995 and in 1999, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must have the same rights in common law relationships as opposite-sex couples.
The first same-sex marriage took place in Ontario in 2003 and in 2005 same-sex marriages became legalized across the country and Canada became the fourth country to allow same-sex marriage.
Conversion therapies, which are used to ”convert” a LGBTQ+ person into heterosexuality, have been banned in Canada since 2021.
LGBTQ+ People in Canada
There are around one million Canadians who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or other non-heterosexual orientation. They represent 4% of Canadians aged 15 years or older. Approximately 44% of this population are men, 52% are women, and 3% are non-binary.
Based on survey data from 2015 and 2018, 255,100, or approximately 25%, of people in the LGB population in Canada were gay men. Around 14%, 150,600 people, were women. There were more bisexual women than men at 332,000 compared to 161,200, respectively.
0.33% of the total Canadian population aged 15 years or over are gender diverse. Out of the 100,815 Canadians, 59,460 are transgender and 41,355 are non-binary. 53% of transgender people are women and 47% are men.
LGBTQ+ Demographics: Age
In 2018, Canadians aged between 15 and 24 accounted for 29.7% of Canada’s LGBTQ+ population. The age group of 25-34-year-olds made up 28.7%- and 35–44-year-olds 15% of the LGBTQ+ population in Canada. People aged 45 to 54 represented 10.1%, 55 to 64 represented 9.2%, and over 65-year-olds 7.3% of the Canadian LGBTQ+ population.
In contrast, 15 to 24-year olds represented just and 25 to 34-year olds 16.5% 14% of the non-LGBTQ+ population. At the other end of the age spectrum, people aged 65 and over represented 20.6% of the non-14% of the non-LGBTQ+ population.
According to educational data, LGBTQ+ people are slightly more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to complete secondary school in Canada at 42.1% compared to 37.2%. Non-LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have a trade certificate at 9.1% compared to 6.2%.
The proportion of people who have a Bachelor’s degree or higher is fairly even between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ people at 30.8% and 29.3%, respectively.
In Canada, more LGBTQ+ people are on low salaries and fewer on high salaries compared to non-LGBTQ+ people. 40.5% of LGBTQ+ Canadians earn less than $20,000 compared to 26.2% of non- LGBTQ+ Canadians. In the next income bracket, the portions are almost even, with 24% of LGBTQ+ and 23.3% of non-LGBTQ+ people earning between $20,000 and $39.999.
Looking at the two income brackets above $80,000, only 5.4% of LGBTQ+ people earn between $80,000 and $99,000 and 5.5% earn more than $100,000 per year. The portions are 7.9% and 10.8%, respectively for non-LGBTQ+ people.
LGBTQ+ People More Likely to Experience Homelessness
Considering the large number of LGBTQ+ Canadians who are in the lower income bracket, it is not surprising that they are more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ+ Canadians. Before the pandemic LGBTQ+ Canadians were more than twice as likely as non-LGBTQ+ Canadians to have experienced homelessness at 27% and 13%, respectively.
Research also shows that parental rejection increases the risk of homelessness among young LGBTQ+ Canadians. The effect of this rejection is twofold. It may make it impossible for the young LGBTQ+ person to stay at home or to seek support if they are at risk of becoming homeless. In 2018, 35% of Canadian LGBTQ+ youths were not living at their parents’ homes. For non-LGBTQ+ youths the portion was 24%.
Marriage Among LGBTQ+ Population in Canada
There has been considerable growth in the number of same sex couples in Canada since 2001. Between the 2006 and 2016 censuses, the number of couples in same sex relationships increased by 60.7%.
Based on the answers given in the 2016 census, there were 72,880 same-sex couples, which is 0.9% of all couples in Canada. 33.4% of the same-sex couples were married.12% of the same-sex couples had children who lived with them, compared to around 50% of opposite-sex couples.
Same-sex couples were mostly living in large urban centers with half of the couples living in Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, and Ottawa–Gatineau. 18% lived in Toronto, 17% in Montréal, 10% in Vancouver, and 5% in Ottawa-Gatineau.
Hate Crimes Targeting Sexual Orientation
Despite growing awareness and acceptance, LGBTQ+ people are still the target of hate crimes far too often. In 2019, 263 hate crimes that targeted sexual orientation were reported to the police. This was a 41% increase compared to 2918 and the highest since 2009.
88% of the hate crimes targeted the gay and lesbian community in Canada. Of the remainder, 6% were against asexuals, pansexuals, or people with other non-heterosexual orientations, while 2% were against bisexual people and 4% against people with unknown sexual orientation.
53% of the hate crimes targeting sexual orientation were violent. In comparison, 52% of hate crimes targeting ethnicity or race and 27% of hate crimes targeting religion were violent.
Canadians who belong to the LGBTQ+ community were also twice as likely to report inappropriate behaviour compared to non-LGBTQ+ people. 57% had experienced inappropriate behaviour in public, 37% online, and 44% at work. For non-LGBTQ+ people, the portions were 22%, 15%, and 22% respectively.
Mental Health Among LGBTQ+ Canadians
Canadians from sexual-minority groups are more likely to report their mental health is poor or fair. 32% of LGBTQ+ Canadians say their mental health is poor or fair compared to 11% of heterosexual Canadians.
Suicidal thoughts are also more common among LGBTQ+ people that non-LGBTQ+ people at 40% compared to 15%. 41% of people identifying as LGBTQ+ have been diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorder, compared to 16% of heterosexuals.
Transgender Canadians are even more likely to consider suicide. In a survey conducted in Ontario, 77% of transgender Canadians reported they had considered suicide seriously. Even more alarmingly, 45% reported they had attempted suicide.
There is also some evidence that suggests the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances are higher among LGBTQ+ people compared to heterosexual people. For example, a study based in Toronto found that 36% of LGBTQ+ adults smoke, compared to 17% of heterosexual adults.
Majority of Canadians Are Supportive of LGBTQ+ People
According to an Ipsos survey, 61% of Canadians support people who are open about their gender identity and sexual orientation. This is higher than the 51% average among the countries included in the survey. Canadians are also more accepting of LGBTQ+ people displaying affection in public. 48% of Canadians say they support LGBTQ+ people showing affection in public compared to the average of 37% across the survey group.
In addition, 44% of Canadians would be happy to see more LGBTQ+ people on TV, and in films and advertising. This is 9% higher than the average. 75% of Canadians also believe that people in same-sex relationships should be able to get married legally. This is considerably higher than the 54% across the survey countries, which included Malaysia and Russia where only 8% and 17%, respectively, supported same-sex marriage,
While there are many countries around the world where people are no longer criminalized for their sexual orientation, there are still 60 countries where the laws criminalize homosexuality. In addition, 83% of LGBTQ+ people around the world hide their sexual orientation for fear of persecution and there were 350 transgender people murdered in 2020 around the world.
Canada has for decades been one of the leaders in ensuring equal rights for all regardless of their sexual orientation or gender preference. In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage across the country.
Despite this, there are still inequalities between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ people in Canada. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to earn smaller incomes, suffer from mental health issues, and be at risk of homelessness than non-LGBTQ+ people. This shows that even though Canada is a safe country for LGBTQ+ people and everyone has the same rights, there is still work to be done to achieve complete equality.
Frequently Asked Questions
4% of Canada’s population identify as LGBTQ+, which is about 1.5 million people.
Canada was the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage and same-sex marriage has been legal in every Canadian province and territory since 2005.
Canada is a safe country for LGBTQ+ people and it is against the law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.