“I used to have unfettered access to public spaces, something most people would take for granted, but when I began visibly violating gender norms, I became subject to verbal and physical abuse while in public on a fairly regular basis and have little recourse except to avoid public spaces.” - Participant
Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is the use and abuse of power and control based on gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender. Gender roles, sexual violence, toxic masculinity and more are all part of the systemic violence that makes up GBV.
In a world where girls are taught to be submissive and boys are taught to be dominant, GBV impacts everyone. However, some are impacted more than others: LGBTQ2+ youth are all too likely to experience sexual violence, street harassment and homelessness because of their gender identity and sexual orientation.
Because these realities are often left out of the discussion on GBV, Wisdom2Action compiled a report to bring to light, through an anti-oppressive and youth-engaged approach, the particular ways in which LGBTQ2+ youth are impacted by GBV and what they want done about it. To do justice to this task, we reached out to more than 500 LGBTQ2+ youth across Canada through focus groups, online conversations and a forum, to get their perspectives and amplify their voices. From what we know, this is the first time anyone has engaged this many LGBTQ2+ youth—not just in a conversation about the violence enacted against them, but about what they want to have done about it.
On a personal note: as a nonbinary, bisexual and transfeminine young person, the realities uncovered in our report were no surprise to me, because that’s my life and the lives of most of my friends. But I still found myself shocked at the prevalence of violence, abuse, and discrimination against our community
Report findings and recommendations
Over the course of conducting the research, we heard that LGBTQ2+ youth are impacted by GBV in a stunning diversity of ways. In particular, participants emphasized the impact of street harassment and violence in public, intimate partner violence, violence from family members, and the negative portrayals of LGBTQ2+ people in media as key examples.
Respondents made a number of important recommendations: LGBTQ2+ youth want more peer support programs for themselves and their families. They want better training for people who work in health, social services and education. Notably, the topic of health and social services for LGBTQ2+ youth came up frequently—not just better mainstream services, but services by and for LGBTQ2+ communities. We heard there was a huge desire for better and more targeted services to support street involved and homeless LGBTQ2+ youth.
Because we know that LGBTQ2+ youth have diverse and complicated needs, and that the road to equity isn’t instantaneous,we asked not only what they want to see—but what they would prioritize most. Their responses? Action on homelessness, more inclusive health and social services, and better public education.
The importance of public education
In fact, we heard more about education than we had expected, which emphasizes the important role of schools as community spaces for LGBTQ2+ youth. Unfortunately, it also underscores the failure of our school systems to do justice to our communities through a genuine commitment to LGBTQ2+ inclusion.
At a time where LGBTQ2+ inclusion has been politicized or even jeopardized by some provincial governments, LGBTQ2+ are emphasizing their desperate need for more inclusive educators, more inclusive education, and safer schools. And, like all students, they deserve to have those needs met—and to be given access to the inclusive environments required for them to flourish.
In the face of a growing backlash against LGBTQ2+ inclusion in schools, from Ontario’s repeal of LGBTQ2+ inclusive sex education as part of the Health and Phys ed curriculum, to Alberta’s efforts to repeal protections around Gay-Straight Alliances, our participants highlighted the importance of inclusive schools, the need for better training for education and, in particular, the importance of LGBTQ2+ inclusive Comprehensive Sexuality Education—which, significantly, was one of the most common recommendations from the youth participating in our report.
Underscoring the immediacy of these concerns, and the importance of the recommendations: we have run LGBTQ2+ youth projects before, but never have we experienced the degree of bigotry received throughout this project. Almost single every day we had to delete homophobic and transphobic comments from our social media. While we as an organization are used to, and can handle such comments, they’re indicative of the degree of hate and violence that shapes the everyday experiences of LGBTQ2+ youth in an increasingly hostile public environment. They also reinforce the need to immediately address GBV, specifically for this particularly vulnerable group, in a meaningful and substantive way.
Our biggest takeaway from this consultation is that not only do we need to do more, we need to do better. We are calling on policy makers, decision makers, service providers, community organizations and our allies to take this report to heart—and to bring our recommendations into action in their local communities, in their workplaces, and in their advocacy.
We have many roadmaps for change—from reports to research studies—but we need to mobilize for real action on key issues impacting LGBTQ2+ young people. And putting into action the priorities of LGBTQ2+ young people—to address LGBTQ2+ youth homelessness, to improve health and social services, and amp up public education—is the perfect place to start.
Fae Johnstone (they/she) is an LGBTQ2+ educator and organizer based on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin Territory (Ottawa, ON). Follow them on Twitter at @FaeJohnstone.
LGBTQ2+ Youth Priorities for Addressing Gender-based Violence is part of a youth engagement project led by Wisdom2Action for the Public Health Agency of Canada.