The majority of Canadians – 78 per cent – believe transgender people should be protected from discrimination in employment, housing and access to businesses. Seventy-four per cent believe that same-sex couples should have the same rights to adopt children as straight couples. However, the latest polling, conducted by Ipsos, found only a dismal one-in-10 consider themselves to be an active ally to the queer community.
Just under half (47 per cent) of Canadians express some degree of support, either in that they consider themselves active allies and/or engaged members of the community (10 per cent) or that they support the LGBTQ2S+ community, but do not actively engage in allyship (37 per cent).
And regardless of how people view their ally or supporter status, the polling also found there’s a noticeable say-do gap in general support versus active engagement.
Less than half of the 1,000 Canadians polled said that they are likely to engage in forms of active support, such as signing petitions (46 per cent), speaking up against homophobic or transphobic comments online (48 per cent), or attend a rally in support of the queer community (32 per cent.)
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“When you move beyond just that kind of superficial type of support and you start to get into systems of specific areas of support and things that people would have to do, that’s where you start to see things get a bit softer,” Darrell Bricker, CEO, Public Affairs for Ipsos, told Global News.
Bricker says polling has shown this “softening” of support in recent years, and points to a number of factors at play.
“Most people have a pretty much a live-and-let-live perspective and they just want to leave it at that. They don’t necessarily feel that they need to move beyond that,” he explained.
As well, he says that an increase in hate and vitriol directed at the queer community and its supporters in recent years has led allies away from overt signs of public support as they “may be a little bit more fearful themselves about potential backlash.”
The perils of silence
Kojo Modeste, the executive director at Pride Toronto, says that the growing silence of allies is allowing overt hatred and opposition toward the queer community to gather steam.
“I think people are afraid of the backlash; the backlash that they see at workplaces, the backlash that they see at schools, from their neighbours. So as a result, folks are saying ‘I support the community, however, I don’t want to get involved.’ And this is why I believe the hate that we’re seeing continues to grow rather than to get less,” Modeste told Global News.
Perhaps more people would be willing to engage in active allyship if they were better educated on how to talk about difficult issues or stand up to people with different opinions using tactics that open up a conversation, instead of shutting them down, argues Carmen Logie, Canada research chair in Global Healthy Equity and an associate professor at University of Toronto.
“What I do think might be hard is the lack of ability to talk across difference and to accept that people might make some mistakes. And we have to be calling people in versus calling people out.”
Logie also explains that definitions of allyship can be murky and that while some people may see their appreciation for certain facets of queer culture – a fondness for shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race, for example, or attending LGBTQ2S+ events but only during Pride Month – as a form of allyship, the queer community needs active forms of support, year round.
Pockets of support
Ipsos’ polling, however, found that certain groups of Canadians are more willing to speak up for the LGBTQ2S+ community than others.
Women and young Canadians are “significantly” more likely to show meaningful, active support to the queer community – unsurprising, given that recent research done by the firm showed that people from these groups are more likely to identify as LGBTQ2S+ themselves and to say they have a friend, relative, or work colleague who is LGBTQ2S+.
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And, with the exception of attending a rally or donating to an LGBTQ2S+ charity, the likelihood to show support tends to be higher among Canadians with a post-secondary or university-level education compared to high school graduates or those with less education.
However, support varies significantly across the country, with people in some provinces far more likely to show true allyship. The likelihood of speaking up against homophobia and transphobia is highest in Quebec (55 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (56 per cent), while Albertans are the most likely to say they would not speak up against homophobia or transphobia online (68 per cent.)
‘Allyship requires risk’
Across Canada, anti-LGBTQ2S+ protesters are only becoming more emboldened, their voices louder, meaning the queer community needs allies to show up more frequently and push back with more determination, Modeste says.
“When our allies are silent, it is… giving additional ammunition to the folks that are attacking the community,” Modeste said, explaining that when people stand up against hate it sends three distinct messages – a show of support to the queer community, a message to the perpetrators that bigotry will not be tolerated, and, thirdly, it sends a message to Canadian politicians.
“When we speak up, it shows our legislators that we are not in agreement with the haters and that we will not allow them to sit on their hands.”
And while Modeste maintains that vocal, public support sends the loudest message, there are other ways to support the queer community that also have a big impact.
“Support isn’t always this big, public thing. It can be in the form of, you know, very private, very intimate, personal, out-of-public-view kinds of ways of supporting people,” a researcher of gender and sexuality issues at the University of British Columbia, who wished to remain anonymous after being the target of recent online attacks from anti-LGBTQ2S+ activists, told Global News.
He said there needs to be an acknowledgement that, just as with being queer, allyship to the queer community comes with risks; sometimes it’s just not safe to speak out – especially when it could lead to repercussions in the workplace, targeted online hate campaigns, or a threat to one’s emotional or physical safety.
“There are other kinds of support that are life saving and just as important – like creating safe places for your queer friends, letting them know they can turn to you for support, being there for them when things get hard and they need a hug or someone to talk to.”
Despite Ipsos’ somewhat discouraging polling numbers, Logie is hopeful that Canadians will increasingly speak up for the LGBTQ2S+ community and says it’s never too late for anyone to commit to being a stronger ally.
“I don’t think Canadians want to live in an environment where there’s open or even covert homophobia and transphobia,” she said, adding that there are lots of different ways to stand up for less marginalized, and that expressions of solidarity will be unique to each individual.
She said support as an ally begins with stepping outside of your echo chamber and educating yourself on issues of gender, sexuality and queer identity. From there, people can figure out how they want to get involved – maybe it’s educating others, maybe it’s volunteering with an LGTBQ2S+ organization or maybe it’s helping circulate petitions or attending events to show support.
“Whatever brands of allyship you choose, they all have a place and they’re all part of creating a better world for every single person.”
About the study
Ipsos conducted their polling between June 20 to 21, 2023, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.