The LGBTQ2S+ community and mental health
June is known and celebrated across Canada as pride month. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Alberta Division, believes the celebration of the LGBTQ2S+ community makes Alberta a safer, healthier place to live. Through programs and initiatives such as Youth Hubs, Healthy Campus Alberta, Recovery Colleges and others, CMHA strives to support both the LGBTQ2S+ community and its allies. Pride month now commemorates the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June in 1969, and represents the bravery, and liberation of the LGBTQ2S+ community’s battle for civil rights. Today, the LGBTQ2S+ community is welcomed and celebrated by ensuring equality and protection under the law. However, 40 per cent of LGBTQ2S+ people nation-wide have still felt discriminated against (Government of Alberta, n.d.). The underlying issue is ensuring the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTQ2S+ people, while working with Albertans to create safe spaces at home, in schools, workplaces and communities.
The LGBTQ2S+ community makes up 13 per cent of Canada’s population. Supportive spaces, also known as positive spaces and safe spaces, are welcoming, supportive environments that are allies to the LGBTQ2S+ community. The spaces often provide learning opportunities while connecting LGBTQ2S+ people to peers and professionals. Learning how to be an ally is more than just acceptance; supportive spaces educate people on the importance of tone when speaking, understanding values and perspectives, and how to create a safe space. There are various supportive spaces across Alberta, both in-person (schools, centres, workplaces) and online. Some spaces cater to Alberta specifically, however, national resources such as the Lesbian, Bi Trans Youthline and Kids Help Phone are accessible nation-wide to those in need.
Family & Friends
Positive support from family and friends, particularly for youth, is crucial for the mental health and wellbeing of an LGBTQ2S+ person. These close relationships are often highly valued and create the most fear for LGBTQ2S+ people when choosing to come out and look for support. According to a 2018 joint survey from the Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut, 24 per cent of LGBTQ2S+ youth said they felt they could be themselves while at home. Another 25 per cent said their family shows support by being actively involved in the LGTBQ2S+ community (Statista, 2020). A staggering statistic found that family and peer acceptance decrease the risk of suicide by 93 per cent in LGBTQ2S+ people (519 Organization, 2016). This shows that family and friends play a significant role as a support system and significantly impact the mental health and wellbeing of a LGBTQ2S+ person. Family and friends can take initiative by becoming educated on the LGBTQ2S+ community and how to be a positive ally.
Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and queer-straight alliances (QSAs) are supportive spaces that provide welcoming, caring, respectful school environments for LGBTQ2S+ students and their allies. GSA’s can be found within Alberta middle schools, high schools and universities. These safe spaces are important to students as they provide opportunities to develop essential relationships and play a role in LGBTQ2S+ students reaching their full learning potential. Students who attend schools with GSAs/QSAs are much more likely to be open with others about their gender identity and sexual orientation and see their school as anti-homophobic. Positive impacts of GSAs/QSAs include: greater school attachment and connectedness, increased safety, decreased bullying, improved mental health and student well-being, improved work ethic, higher self-esteem and positive identity development (Government of Alberta, n.d.). Even if students do not attend or participate in GSAs/QSAs, LGBTQ2S-inclusive policies contribute to a less hostile and more compassionate environment.
Twenty-one per cent of LGBTQ2S+ Canadians say they were fired, pressured to resign or denied employment due to their gender identity or sexual orientation and 13 per cent are discriminated against in a public setting. (Jasmin Roy Foundation, 2017). The irony is that the benefits of a widely diverse workplace have been researched, studied and professionally acknowledged, which means respect and acceptance are the top priority. To become a workplace that is an ally to the LGBTQ2S+ community is more than just a supportive environment. It involves creating and striving for a workplace culture that supports, admires and provides representation for the LGBTQ2S+ community. A 2019 LinkedIn survey revealed that 70 per cent of LGBTQ2S+ professionals believe they have no senior LGBTQ2S+ leaders to look up to and idolize. This affects whether people will feel comfortable and identify as LGBTQ2S+ at work (Morse, 2020). This struggle has detrimental effects on employee health, happiness and productivity. The Alberta Government and province workplaces can improve the working environment for LGBTQ2S+ community by visual signs of alliance (flags, signs, posters), having a LGBTQ2S+ role model or representative and ensuring a no-tolerance policy for discrimination.
General public perception of the LGBTQ2S+ community determines how safe, comfortable and accepted LGBTQ2S+ people feel in their communities. In a survey conducted in 2019, results found that 85 per cent of Canadian’s believe homosexuality should be accepted by society, (Pew Research Centre, 2019) however, four in 10 LGBTQ2S+ youth still believe their communities are not welcoming of them (HRC, n.d.). Eliminating the stigma can be achieved through compassion, human connection and education. Not everyone will be accepting; however, understanding, humanizing and respecting one another is the way to better Albertan communities. Finding common ground through community resources such as Youth Hubs, GSA Networks, Pride Parades and more, are effective ways to build pride community spirit and create a space to learn, understand, ask questions and become involved in the LGBTQ2S+ community. Alberta communities must also work to normalize LGBTQ2S+ people by increasing access to information and visibility.
Investing in LGBTQ2S+
The Alberta Government needs to prioritize and continue investing in LGBTQ2S+ programs, initiatives and infrastructure to provide Albertans with the best resources possible. Valuable and advanced initiatives ensure programs are updated with the changing times and accurately fit the needs of LGBTQ2S+ people. Meaningful investment and action include:
- Creating overarching multiagency priorities to improve the well-being of LGBTQ2S+ people.
- Increase access to affordable, high-quality, non-discriminatory health care services and insurance benefits for LGBTQ2S+ people.
- Promote the economic security and financial stability of LGBTQ2S+ people by fostering inclusive labor practices and workplace policies.
- Protect and strengthen the civil rights of LGBTQ2S+ people engaged with the criminal legal system and law enforcement.
- Foster inclusive, safe, welcoming, and affirming schools and educational environments for LGBTQ2S+ students.
- Ensure greater access to safe and stable housing for LGBTQ2S+ people, as well as support services for those experiencing homelessness.
- Support fair treatment of LGBTQ2S+ immigrants, including by promoting the rights of LGBTQ2S+ people abroad.
(Gruberg, Mahowald, Medina & Santos, 2021)
Achieving these goals require determined, strategic, consistent collaboration amongst the Government of Alberta and LGBTQ2S+ non-profits to find gaps, deficiencies and areas of opportunity in Alberta communities. LGBTQ2S+ community support from government entities ensures Albertans feel heard, protected and prioritized, which enhance the mental health of LGBTQ2S+ people.
The mental health and wellness of LGBTQ2S+ people rely on a variety of support systems. Creating supportive spaces in schools, at home, in workplaces and communities significantly contribute to the wellbeing of LGBTQ2S+ Albertans. Through the use of advocacy, understanding, education and celebration we can make Alberta a safer, healthier place to live. For more information on mental health and LGBTQ2S+ resources, visit https://alberta.cmha.ca/lgbtq2s-resources/.
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please call 211 (in Alberta) or your local distress line.
The 519. (n.d.). LGBTQ2S Youth Suicide. The 519. https://www.the519.org/education-training/lgbtq2s-youth-homelessness-in-canada/lgbtq2s-youth-suicide.
Government of Alberta. (n.d.). Positive impacts of GSAs and QSAs. GoA. https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/dc476f90-e1f3-44f8-a689-555359a018bd/resource/b9e51319-920d-4827-931b-edbc87581be4/download/positive-impacts-of-gsasqsas-hmjwb.pdf.
Gruberg, S., Medina, C., Mahowald, L., & Santos, T. (2021, January 12). Improving the Lives and Rights of LGBTQ People in America. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/reports/2021/01/12/494500/improving-lives-rights-lgbtq-people-america/.
Meckbach, G. (2020, March 17). LGBTQ: More than just letters. Canadian Underwriter. https://www.canadianunderwriter.ca/features/lgbtq-more-than-just-letters/.
Piskorski, M. J., Toegel, I., & Lavanchy, M. (2019, June 20). LGBT diversity and inclusion within organization: IMD Article. IMD business school. https://www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/Thrive-as-an-LGBT-executive-or-ally/.
Poushter, J., & Kent, N. (2020, October 27). Views of Homosexuality Around the World. Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/06/25/global-divide-on-homosexuality-persists/.
Resources. HRC. (n.d.). https://www.hrc.org/resources.
Richter, F. (2020, June 11). Infographic: Importance of Family Support for LGBTQ Youth. Statista Infographics. https://www.statista.com/chart/21976/family-support-for-lgbtq-youth/.