6 LGBTQ Canadians weigh in on being queer in 2017

The lives of LGBTQ2S+ people in Canada are a rainbow of variation. We spoke to folks from across the country about their experiences. This is what they had to say.

'There is no single LGBTQ community, there are LGBTQ communities.'

To quote the brilliant queer elder LeZlie Maria Lee Kam, "there is no single LGBTQ community, there are LGBTQ communities." The lives of LGBTQ2S+ people in Canada are a rainbow of variation, impossible to reduce to a single narrative. As Pride season gets underway, we spoke to folks from across the country of different ages, backgrounds and identities about their experiences  — what has changed, what remains to be done and where we go from here. This is what they had to say. 

Tell me a little bit about yourself — where you're from, what you do and how you identify?

Cecilia Mason, 53: I was born and raised in B.C., living mostly in a small Christian community in the interior until I was 18. When I was a kid out there I never considered being disobedient — I just went to church and followed my parents' rules until I left home. It wasn't until I was 25 that I even came out as a lesbian.

Arielle Twist, 22 : I'm a Cree person originally from Regina, currently living on Mi'kmaw land in Halifax/K'jipuktuk, where I am part of an active queer community. I spend my time doing sex education work, being on the Board of Directors at South House [a gender and sexuality resource centre] and writing about my ancestors in my spare time. I identify as a Two Spirit trans femme.

Levi Titus has lived in Dawson City for most of their life. This year, they are helping plan the city's Pride celebrations. (Levi Titus)

Miki Mappin, 61:  I moved with my family from South Africa in1959 and spent my childhood living in different small, rural communities across the country. I am in Saskatoon now and I have been mostly settled here since 1968. I identify as a dancer and an artist because as humans we can't be reduced to just our sexual and gender identity. But I do also call myself a bisexual trans woman.

Daniel MacKay, 53: I'm from Nova Scotia, born on the extreme southern tip and then as a kid I moved to a small fishing village on the South Shore. In truth, it was a pretty miserable place to be a queer teen — not that I was out, but I was always different. I came out as a gay man officially in 1982 — at that time I was in university and living in Halifax where I still am. Here, I made friends, I fell in love, and found community.

Levi Titus, 20: I'm in Dawson City, Yukon and I've been here for most of my life. For the last five years I've spent my summers working at the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Culture Centre, teaching people the history of the First Nation. I am a Two Spirit person.

LGBTQ  youth today are experiencing the same oppression and stigma that we did - LeZlie Maria Lee Kam

LeZlie Maria Lee Kam, 63: I'm from Trinidad originally. I came to Canada in July of 1970 and I've lived in Toronto ever since. Now I couldn't even live in my home country because homosexuality is illegal in Trinidad and Tobago. So, while Trini will always be my home, Canada is my country. I identify as a world majority, brown, Trini, Carib, Calalloo, differently-abled, DYKE.

Daniel MacKay grew up on the South Shore of N.S.. It was only until he moved to Halifax for university that he found friends, love and community. (Daniel MacKay)

What was unimaginable when you were a kid?

Mappin​: Well, being trans was absolutely unimaginable. I was a kid in the '60s and it just didn't exist — it wasn't on the radar. I am lucky to have had a very progressive mother though. From the earliest time my mother reassured me that it was okay to be feminine because everyone is a mix of genders. But still, it was a different time. Even when I was in university and had a relationship with a man it was very dangerous to mention our relationship to people. We had to be quite secretive about being lovers. The openness of today was unimaginable.

Twist: Hmm... I think what would be unimaginable is that I could live my life as a Two Spirit trans femme in a world that is still learning how to hold all of my complexities.

It just seems like things have become way more open.- Cecilia Mason

MacKay: When I was a kid I had no idea what a gay lifestyle would be — I had no model for it. And I hadn't even ever really thought about it! I had crushes on the boys next door but I didn't understand that that was okay and that there was a whole gay culture.

Cecilia Mason grew up in a rural, Christian community in B.C.. She came out as lesbian in 1990. Five years later, she gave birth to a son whom she and her partner conceived through at-home insemination. (Cecilia Mason)

What has changed?

Mason: When I was young and gay and pregnant you weren't even allowed to put two women's names on the birth certificate. They couldn't even help us with our insemination at the fertility clinics. Because we were gay we were deemed 'unstable' and we had to do it ourselves — at home. Now there are more openly gay and lesbian families. It just seems like things have become way more open.

Mappin: The last several years have been a time of huge change, especially for trans rights. In Saskatchewan the protection of gender identity is included in the Human Rights Code and the province covers some surgeries. 

Arielle Twist is a Cree person from Regina currently living on Mi’kmaq land. She is Two Spirit trans femme working as a sex educator and writer in Halifax/K’jipuktuk. (Arielle Twist)

What changes do you see that still need to be made?

Titus: From my personal experience, I would say we need more events and more things for youth to do. This is especially true for LGBTQ youth. We just need more safe spaces and more trans and Two Spirit exposure.

Lee Kam​: LGBTQ youth today are experiencing the same oppression and stigma that we did — no jobs, no housing, no future in terms of pensions. I find it ironic and bizarre that it sounds like we have come so far but when you actually sit down and talk to youth we haven't.

Twist​: We need to centre the voices of trans femmes of colour and prioritize our safety. Yes, I feel like the world is getting better at holding everyone's complexities but trans women are still subject to violence in so many ways, especially trans femmes of colour.

Wouldn't it be cool to have a gay prime minister? - Daniel MacKay

Mappin: We need improved access to health care. There are just so few health care practitioners that work with trans people and those that do are located in Regina or Saskatoon, so trans youth have to travel from remote communities just for basic health care.

Miki Mappin moved to Canada from South Africa in 1959. After being fired from her job in 2011 for being transgender, Mappin became instrumental in advocating for trans rights in Saskatchewan. (Miki Mappin)

What's your hope for Canada in the future?

Titus: I would like to see more expression. If people were more comfortable expressing themselves in whatever art form they desire there would be so much less hatred. When you suppress your identity you become very drained and eventually you lose yourself and you lose your love. 

Mason: I hope that people will stop categorizing people into narrow boxes. We all have the same organs and the same blood. We are all people. Who I sleep with doesn't matter, I'm still a person.

Twist​: We need to be better at holding and supporting trans and non-binary people, especially trans femmes and queer indigenous youth. Because of colonization and white supremacy, LGBTQ2S+ people who live within indigenous communities have such limited access to resources and that must change. We need to talk about reconciliation and we need to talk about it in relation to queer youth.

MacKay: Well I have two answers to that. The first is — wouldn't it be cool to have a gay prime minister? And the second is wouldn't it be cool if being gay was so normalized that no one cared?

Mappin: I hope that the federal protection for the human rights of trans individuals goes through and that we manage to keep that momentum going. Canada is a bit of a beacon in the world in terms of a country that has made huge strides and I hope that continues. With that, the other big thing I want to see happen in Canada is more support for women, especially First Nations women. We must, as a country, extend more support and care to the First Nations people of this land.

For the past 41 years, LeZlie Maria Lee Kam has worked as a community activist. Currently, Lee Kam is with the Senior Pride Network to provide programming for LGBTQ elders. (LeZlie Maria Lee Kam)

About the Author

Kaleigh Trace

Kaleigh Trace is a sex educator and writer based in Toronto. Her work can be found in Guts and Shameless Magazine. Her first book, Hot, Wet & Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex is available for purchase at your local bookstore.