In December of 2020, a new facility to support homeless LGBTQ+ youth was opened after 5 years of planning and construction. Friends of Ruby is a nonprofit private social services organization that aims to provide homeless LGBTQ+ people from the ages of 16–29 a safe temporary living environment and mental health services. According to the Canadian Mental Health Organization, 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+, which is deeply concerning and raises many questions about Canada’s history of mistreatment of LGBTQ+ citizens.
Although Canada has some of the most “advanced” LGBTQ+ rights compared to more conservative countries throughout the world, it is evident that we continue to fail queer and transgender youth through the need to provide “safe housing” at all. You may be wondering why these young people are without a place to live, or why so many of them may not feel safe in the city’s other homeless shelters. The answer, unfortunately, is not simple. In order to understand Canada’s current relationship with LGBTQ+ people, we must understand Canada’s complex relationship with religion, particularly Christianity. When Canada was colonized by Europeans, they immediately instilled the rules and values of their church within Canadian culture. Settlers were so adamant about Canada being a Christian country, they committed a cultural genocide on Indigenous peoples by stripping them of their culture and enforcing laws that oppress non-christian people such as those of the Indian Act, not to mention residential schools. Because Christianity is a religion that was and for the most part continues to be non-supportive of queer and transgender people, those beliefs were also instilled in the very beginnings of Canada. Although today Canada has no direct religious affiliation, it is very clear that homophobia and transphobia still remain embedded within Canadian culture. This contributes to youth homelessness because many Canadians continue to be intolerant of LGBTQ+ people, creating an unsafe living environment for many people. In addition to this, because of discrimination queer and trans youth are more likely to suffer from mental health issues making it difficult to secure employment that would provide funding for their own housing.
Transitional housing is crucial to help keep Toronto’s LGBTQ+ youth as safe and secure as possible, but it does not solve the true issue at hand. Homophobia and transphobia continue to be a huge threat to the safety of LGBTQ+ youth in Canada, and although transitional housing will keep them safe it will not prevent these issues from occurring. So, what can we do to truly solve this crisis? The answer, in short, is education. In order to create inclusive members of society, it is important to implement further dialogue regarding the LGBTQ+ community within school curriculums. It is vital for children to be exposed to diversity at a young age in order for them in the future to feel compassion for themselves and their identity as well as others. In addition to this, it is important to educate people on the mental health struggles and homelessness LGBTQ+ people face as a result of their sexuality and/or gender identity. If schools normalize LGBTQ+ peoples and educate them on the discrimination they face, that is a crucial first step in undoing Canada’s intolerance of queer and transgender people.