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Understanding the Background of Life Experiences of an LGBTQ2+ Older Adult

 

Members of the LGBTQ2+ community are accepted by Canadian society more than ever before in history. And the milestones that have been reached to get to this point are worth highlighting, especially as they have had a dramatic impact on the lives of so many within the community.

Anywhere between 3 to 13% of Canadians identify as part of the LGBTQ2+ community, depending on where you look for statistical information. And the number is only getting larger as more people feel comfortable identifying as part of the community.

But you only need to look at the older generation of LGTBQ2+ individuals, whose numbers are much smaller than the younger generation, to see the impact that previous restrictive laws and societal beliefs have had on their lives. 

LGBTQ2+ older adults experienced hate and discrimination on many different levels from the very beginning of their lives. Someone born in 1940 grew up in a society where homosexuality was illegal and witnessed the changing of that law when they were 29 years old. If they were male, most of their youth would have been spent under the threat of being arrested and put in jail if they were to be caught having sex with another man. Gay and lesbian individuals also wouldn’t have been able to experience full political equality or be able to marry their partners until they were in their mid-60s.

Growing Up in the Early 1990’s in Canada
Year Event Someone Born in 1940 

(Age 81 Now) 

Someone Born in 1950 

(Age 71 Now) 

Someone Born in 1960 

(Age 61 Now) 

1969 Homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada.  29 19 9
1973 Homosexuality is no longer considered an illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II). 33 23 13
1977 The first group for Queer Deaf people was founded: “The York Rainbow Society of the Deaf”.  37 27 17
1981 First Lesbian Pride march. 41 31 21
1985 First programs created with the focus on combatting anti-gay discrimination.  45 35 25
1991 The City of Toronto officially endorses the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day.  51 41 31
1992 Canadian military now accepts gay and lesbian members.  52 42 32
1992 The World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders.  52 42 32
1996 Sexual orientation is now protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which means it is illegal to discriminate against someone due to their sexual orientation.  56 46 36
1998 Supreme Court of canada supports the right to equality for people who identify as homosexual. To discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation is considered a violation of the Constitution.  58 48 38
1999 The right of same-sex partners to seek spousal support when their relationships end was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada. 59 49 39
2005 Marrying the same sex became legal.  65 55 45
2017 Bill C-16, prohibiting gender identity and expression discrimination, was enacted for all of Canada. The bill also lead to an amendment to the Criminal Code to ensure judges consider discrimination against a person due to their gender identity or expression as a factor.  77 67 57

For much of their lives, many LGBTQ2+ older adults had to hide their sexuality, their partners, and their families, in fear of violence and discrimination. Even though homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, the violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTQ2+ community didn’t start to decline until decades after, and there is still a very strong stigma within society regarding transgender individuals and their rights.

Pivotal Moments in Canadian History
Year Event

Incident & Outcome 

Someone Born in 1940 

(Age 81 Now) 

1971 First gay rights protest. 

Around 100 people from different cities in Canada surrounded Parliament Hill for the first Gay Liberation Protest and march in Canada. They gave a petition to the government including a list of ten demands for equal rights. Another group of 20 people protested at Robson Square in Vancouver. 

31
1973 Pride Week – the fight for gay liberation. 

Held in different cities, the first Pride Week in Canada included art festivals, dances, a picnic, and a documentary screening of gay rights. 

33
1975-1976 Montreal Olympic “Cleanup”.

The order for police raids increased at Club Baths, Neptune Sauna, and multiple gay and lesbian bars in Montreal. Jean Drapeau, the Mayor during that time, attempted to “clean up” the city in preparation for the Summer Olympics. 

35-36
1977 CBC Halifax protest.

First public protest picketing CBC headquarters in Nova Scotia. CBC refused to run a Gay Alliance for Equality’s Gayline advertisement. This protest led to many other protests in front of CBC offices across Canada. 

37
1977 Raids in Montreal.

50 police officers were ordered to raid Montreal gay bars. This raid was considered more than a normal police intervention as the police were wearing bulletproof vests with handguns and machine guns drawn. 146 patrons were arrested and held in cells for more than eight hours. They were forced to take venereal disease tests and were not given their right to call a lawyer. This led to a huge protest that included two thousand people blocking the corners of Ste. Catherine St. W. and Stanley St. to fight for the rights of those arrested. Police assaulted many protestors in different ways, including riding their motorcycles into the crowd and clubbing protestors. 

37
1981 Police raid: “Operation Soap”.

After raiding bathhouses dedicated to members of the LGBTQ2+ community, Toronto Police arrested 300 men. This operation was called “Operation Soap”. The majority of the charges were later dropped or dismissed. In response, Canadians held a huge rally to fight for LGBTQ2+ rights, marching through the streets of downtown Toronto. Violence between police and protesters broke out during this time. This event was the largest mass arrest in Canada, and is considered Canada’s “Stonewall” event. 

41
1981 Pisces police raid in Edmonton.  

Almost 50 police officers, including municipal and federal officers, stormed and raided the Pisces Health Spa, a bathhouse used by gay men. 58 men were arrested and charged. Breaking confidentiality, the names of those arrested were later revealed by a local TV station. Due to this injustice, 100 people rallied at city hall to protest against such a raid. 

41
1982 Bookshop raid: Glad Day.

Police raided a bookstore dedicated to the LGBTQ2+ community in Toronto multiple times. The reason was that they held “obscene material for the purpose of resale”. 

42
1990 The Sex Garage Raids. 

In Montreal, the police raided the Sex Garage, which led to a 36-hour violent fight. This event is considered Montreal’s “Stonewall”. Due to the event, many LGBTQ2+ activists would work to change Quebec’s laws on discrimination against someone’s sexual identity. 

50

Though there are many older adults who support the LGBTQ2+ community, plenty still do not. Some LGBTQ2+ older adults choose to stay “in the closet”, as a way to protect themselves from being discriminated against in a long-term care home, from family members, or friends.

And while Canada may be further along in its journey towards equality and inclusion for LGBTQ2+ individuals and couples, there are many countries where these rights are not available and the community is actively discriminated against or threatened with violence by the state. As we are a diverse country with many immigrants, it is not uncommon for clients, their families, or our staff to have grown up in a country with different laws and cultural beliefs. This background can play a tremendous role in the way they feel about the LGBTQ2+ community – whether they are part of the community or interacting with someone who identifies as a member.

At Circle of Care, we’re striving to ensure all older adults are treated properly as they receive care. To focus on this, we created best practices for our team to reference, and recently also introduced a training module for our staff to learn about becoming allies to the community. By continually being conscious about diversity and inclusion, we hope to do our part to make everyone feel welcomed and safe at work and in their homes.