British Columbia

Pervasive racism a toxic problem in Vancouver's LGBTQ community, say activists

Vancouver is perceived by many as a safe haven for the LGBTQ community and yet, as these three members of it attest to, racism is an ongoing issue both online and in physical spaces.

'On the online world, especially ... there is just a lot of blatant racism'

A large rainbow flag is carried by people marching in the Vancouver Pride Parade in Vancouver on Aug. 4, 2019. The Vancouver Pride Society is gearing up for its annual festivites on the B.C. Day long weekend and, with the spotlight on the local LGBTQ community, some members want to shed light on issues of racism they say are rampant. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

From July 26-30, tune in to CBC Radio One's The Early Edition at 7:10 a.m. for All Out Vancouver  a new special series produced by CBC's Kiran Singh that explores how the city of Vancouver supports its LGBTQ residents, many of whom seek refuge in the city because of its reputation as a safe haven. 

Vancouver will be awash with rainbow flags this weekend as people celebrate LGBTQ pride and yet, while the city is perceived by many as an inclusive and safe space to be your authentic self, some members of the queer community say that's not necessarily the case if your skin is not white.

In the lead-up to the Vancouver Pride Society's annual August long weekend festivities, three members of the LGBTQ community who are also people of colour joined CBC's The Early Edition Tuesday to shed light on the racism say they say is pervasive both in the city at large and online.

"It's white people who are the gatekeepers. They decide what's acceptable or not," said Sasha Mark, a Cree-Métis stand-up comedian and member of Vancouver's gay community.

"When we think of like nightclubs and clubs and spaces, a lot of folks feel really left out. And then also on the online world, especially on the queer dating apps, there is just a lot of blatant racism on those," he added.

Sasha Mark, a Cree-Métis gay man living in Vancouver, says he is constantly asked online where he is from because he is not white and that there is a lot of blatant racism on queer dating apps. (Sasha Mark)

Grindr, a popular LGBTQ dating app, removed ethnicity and race filters last year after criticism from users and critics. But it still gives users the option to state their racial preferences for potential partners in their bios — and they don't have to disclose their names or photos. 

Mark says the anonymity of it enables people to be racist in a way that they might otherwise be called out for.

"It's just like an online place where people can say, you know, that I'm only attracted to these races — no femmes, no fat, no Asians... this is some of the language that is used online," he said.

Norma Lize is a transgender activist who moved to Vancouver from Lebanon as a refugee in 2018. She said she has faced a lot of online racism since coming to Canada, as well as app users fetishizing her because of her race.

"You are something that, oh my gosh, we only think about in our dreams or in our fantasies," said Lize.

The Vancouver branch of Black Lives Matter marching in a previous year's Pride Parade. This year, there is no parade due to COVID-19 but the Vancouver Pride Society does have many events planned starting this week and leading up to the B.C. Day long weekend, including an online session about supporting Black transgender women. Visit for details. (Black Lives Matter Vancouver/Facebook)

Both being ostracized, or over-sexualized because of your race can be incredibly harmful to BIPOC people and, according to Mark, can lead to lasting damage.

"It can leave you feeling insecure about, you know, who you are and your identity, and especially when it's so pervasive within the community," he said.

Imtiaz Popat, coordinator of the Muslim queer group Salaam, said the city does have many LGBTQ community members and allies who do not perpetuate racism but that discrimination against BIPOC members is an ongoing issue — sometimes with fatal consequences.

"You have a situation where you can have abusive relationships because one has more power than the other, or you can have date rape or you have missing men happening all over the place and murdered," said Popat.

Imtiaz Popat addresses a crowd of protesters at a demonstration in Vancouver's West End on September 2020 where he criticized the Vancouver Police Department's ability to protect the city's gay community from hate speech after a series of clashes between residents and anti-gay street preachers. (Jon Hernande/CBC)

"It's mostly people who are racialized or Indigenous or Black who are the ones who will end up missing," said Popat, adding that LGBTQ people can be hesitant to call police for help because, historically, police "have been not our friends."

To make things safer, Mark says having apps that offer positive spaces for queer folks without racial preferences or derogatory descriptions would be one place to start.

But when it comes to actually creating an inclusive LGBTQ community on Canada's West Coast, Marks says individuals need to look inward.

"The solution is for people to really have good conversations with themselves about racism," he said. "People need to really look into themselves and be like, 'Okay I have racial bias, what are my racial biases and how do I act on them and why do I do this?'"


  • A previous version of this article stated that the Grindr app gives users the option to select racial preferences for potential partners. In fact, the app removed its ethnicity and race filters last year.
    Aug 04, 2021 9:18 AM PT

With files from Kiran Singh