“We all live with the objective of being happy,” Anne Frank once said.
This is a simple human desire that is sometimes easier said than done—and particularly difficult for people that experience the pain of being rejected for who they are.
According to a March 2019 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 3.3 per cent of people in Canada self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Over time, acceptance for the LGBTQ2S+ community has been growing, but the OECD data shows that Canadians are only halfway to full social acceptance of homosexuality, and only 44 per cent would accept if a child dressed and expressed themselves in a way that was different from their assigned gender.
For the LGBTQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirited and others who don’t fit a gender or sexual binary) community, a lack of acceptance creates barriers across many aspects of their lives. With Western culture being primarily organized around heteronormativity, the set of values and beliefs that prioritize and view heterosexuality as the “norm”, discrimination and stigma is an everyday reality for many in the LGBTQ2S+ community. This can create, or compound, mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
Discrimination can make it hard for people to access their basic needs, such as food and shelter. In an economy where thousands are struggling to make ends meet, even those working full-time jobs, LGBTQ2S+ people are particularly vulnerable. “Many LGBTQ2S+ people are actually overeducated and underemployed,” says Parker Chapple, executive director of Calgary Pride.
For those struggling to pay for the bare necessities, homelessness is an obvious risk. The Canadian Coalition Against LGBTQ+ Poverty indicates that LGBTQ2S+ people are more likely than their heterosexual peers to live in poverty, and according to the Homeless Hub, about 40 per cent of homeless youth in Canada identify as LGBTQ2S+. As compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ2S+ youth are more likely to experience violence or abuse at home. When people are homeless, they face barriers that make it harder to gain or sustain employment—such as having no fixed address, unreliable transportation, and a lack of work-appropriate clothing. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty and can put LGBTQS+ people in especially dangerous situations.
“Even those within the LGBTQ2S+ community who do have a safe space to live face violence, transphobia, and discrimination,” says Chapple. “So when you’re putting an individual onto the streets that is already at risk, then you’re just layering in a whole new challenge.”
By promoting diversity, inclusion, and acceptance, we can reduce poverty and ensure the safety and equality of everyone in our community—regardless of gender or sexual orientation. To get to a place of acceptance, as individuals, we can start by taking small but important actions in our everyday lives that show acceptance and create empathy. Here are just a few examples:
- Practice active listening: If you’re engaging with someone that identifies as sexually or gender-diverse, create intentional space to learn about their experience.
- Steer towards gender neutral language, and away from terms like “ma’am” and “sir.” Chapple suggests using the word “friend” instead: “Not only is it gender neutral, it’s amazing what happens when you start a conversations having already framed it as a friendship.”
- Offer your time: Calgary Pride always welcomes volunteers, and offers opportunities on a year-round basis to help drive forward its mission.
While these seemingly small actions may seem trivial, they could very well be the thing that puts a smile on someone’s face, or injects hope into their lives. And if we can walk away at the end of the day knowing that we’ve made a difference, we all inch just a little bit closer to being—happy.
United Way was proud to march in the Calgary Pride Parade again on Sept. 1 in support of diversity, inclusion, and opportunity for all.