Hot! The true north LGBT: New poll reveals landscape of gay Canada

NationalPost.com – news
Jul 6, 2012.   Kathryn Blaze Carlson

Kyle Rae remembers a time when many Canadians took the question “Do you know someone who is gay?” to mean “Do you know a child molester?” Even after the pedophilia misconception wore off, he said most Canadians would have answered “no,” either because the community was so closeted or because straight Canadians preferred to turn a blind eye and pretend there was not a gay in their midst.

Mr. Rae, who became Toronto’s first openly gay city councillor in 1991, is gob-smacked at how Canadians respond to the same question today: 74% say they know someone who is what is now inclusively summed up as LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

That is one of the findings of a new poll zeroing in on this country’s gay landscape, and the survey is believed to be the most comprehensive snapshot ever — the “best estimate to date,” the lead pollster says — of a community that has so far mostly eluded Canadian statisticians.

SEE OUR POLL GRAPHIC: The Gay Questions & Answers

The Forum Research poll, commissioned by the National Post and taken twice in June to confirm its accuracy, found that 5% of Canadians identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And contrary to the popular wisdom that the same-sex marriage rate is surprisingly low, the poll found that a third of LGBT people say they are in a same-sex marriage.

“Social scientists have never been able to pin down how many Canadians are LGBT, but we believe this is the best estimate to date,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of the polling firm. “This is something people want to know; they’re curious. And now is the time to measure it: people are less reluctant to answer the question, so we can actually ask it.”

Statistics Canada says on its website it “has neither the definitive number of people whose sexual orientation is lesbian, gay, bisexual, nor the number of people who are transgender.” The statistical agency asked the question in 2009, but sociologists cautioned the rate is likely under-reported because some gays are suspicious of how the government will use the data or are offended Ottawa would even ask.

That 2009 survey found 2% of Canadians aged 18-59 said they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual — a full 8% lower than the “one in 10” truism that has circulated since 1948, when American biologist Alfred Kinsey pronounced that 10% of all men are gay. Gary Kinsman, a Laurentian University sociologist and leading Canadian expert on sexuality issues, said the new Forum poll will undoubtedly provoke contestation from both the gay community, which will say the rate is under-reported and far too low, and social conservatives, ‘‘who will argue the results are somehow bogus and too high.”

But Forum’s 5% figure jibes with the latest number out of the United States, where a University of California Los Angeles think-tank last year found 4% of Americans are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. University of British Columbia professor Amin Ghaziani said it is “terrific” that Canada has joined the U.S. in producing a more comprehensive snapshot of its gay community.

“I think this survey will prove useful for demographers and anyone who is tracking public opinion on sexuality — on the relationship between knowing someone who is LGBT-identified and support for LGBT issues,” said Mr. Ghaziani, an expert in the sociology of sexuality who is working on a book about gay neighbourhoods.

The results emerge in the same week that CNN personality Anderson Cooper revealed he is gay, prompting media pundits and journalists to ask an unprecedented question: Does it even matter anymore? With 74% of Canadians saying they know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, 28% saying someone in their family is LGBT, and two-thirds saying they support gay marriage, Mr. Ghaziani said we seem to be entering a “post-gay” era where gays are less likely to identify themselves by their sexuality and where so-called gaybourhoods are unraveling because the community is increasingly intermingling with the straight population.

Still, he cautioned that while gays are “disentangling gayness from militancy and struggle,” it would be a mistake to say Canada is void of discrimination. Scott Brison, the Liberal Party’s only gay MP, said in an interview he recently encountered a “young guy who was demonstrating bravado by making anti-gay comments to me in front of his friends.”

But the new Forum poll reveals much about Canada’s gay community and how the community interacts with straight Canadians, at times confirming what was widely believed true and other times offering fresh insight on how age, gender, income and region can affect a person’s experience with the gay community.

Younger Canadians are far more likely to say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender than older Canadians, with 10% of those aged 18 to 34 answering the question with a “yes,” compared to 2% or 3% in the four older age categories.

“My generation didn’t come out until at least university,” said Mr. Rae, 58. “Today, people are coming out in high school, if not grade school.”

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