High school students are exposed to homophobic incidents that
range from hearing “gay” used as a synonym for “stupid” or “worthless”
to insulting and assaulting students because of their sexual or
transgender identity or their perceived sexual or transgender identity.
This report discusses the results of a national survey of Canadian high
school students undertaken in order to identify the forms and extent of
their experiences of homophobic incidents at school and measures being
taken by schools to combat this common form of bullying.
Phase one of the study involved surveying almost 1700 students from
across Canada through two methods: individual online participation and
in-school sessions conducted in four school boards. This report
analyzes the data from individual online participation. The study has
been funded by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, the University of Winnipeg, and SVR/CIHR.
The lack of a solid Canadian evidence base has been a major impediment
faced by educators who need to understand the situation of lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students in order
to respond appropriately and to assure the school community that
homophobic bullying is neither rare nor harmless but a major problem
that needs to be addressed. The information presented here has come
from young people themselves through the many hundreds of students,
LGBTQ, questioning, and straight, who took the time to make their voices
heard by completing our survey. We reached them by advertising the
survey widely through news releases and direct contact with
organizations across the country that had LGBTQ youth memberships.
The survey itself was a fifty-four item questionnaire made available
online and in print, and consisting mostly of multiple-choice questions
of three kinds: demographic (e.g., age, province, gender and sexual
identity), experiences (e.g, hearing gay used as insult, being verbally
harassed), and institutional responses (e.g., staff intervention,
inclusive safe-school policies). Quantitative data were tested for
statistical significance through bivariate analysis that compared the
responses of various groups of students (e.g., LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ, LGB
and transgender, current versus past).
Three-quarters of LGBTQ students feel unsafe in at least one
place at school, such as change rooms, washrooms, and hallways. Half of
straight students agree that at least one part of their school is unsafe
for LGBTQ students.
Transgender students are especially likely to see these places
as unsafe (87%).
LGBTQ students see more places as unsafe for LGBTQ people than
do straight students, and transgender students most of all (4, 2, and 5
unsafe spaces, respectively).
Three-quarters of all participating students reported hearing
expressions such as “that’s so gay” every day in school.
Half heard remarks like “faggot”, “queer”, “lezbo”, and “dyke”
daily. Over half of LGBTQ students, compared to a third of non-LGBTQ
reported hearing such remarks daily.
LGBTQ students were significantly more likely than non-LGBTQ to
notice comments about boys not acting masculine enough or feminine
enough every day.
A third of transgender participants heard derogatory comments
daily about boys not being masculine enough, compared to a quarter of
LGB students. Transgender students were more than twice as likely as LGB
students to report hearing comments about girls not being feminine
LGBTQ students were more likely than non-LGBTQ individuals to
report that staff never intervened when homophobic comments were made
Half of transgender students reported that staff never
intervened when homophobic comments were made, compared to 34.1% of LGB
Current students were even more likely than past students to
hear expressions like “that’s so gay” in school.
Current students were also more likely than past students to
hear homophobic comments from other students every day.
One sign of progress:
Current students were significantly less likely than past
students to report that school staff never intervened.
Six out of ten LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed
about their sexual orientation.
Nine out of ten transgender students, six out of ten LGB
students, and three out of ten straight students were verbally harassed
because of their expression of gender.
One in four LGB students had been physically harassed about
their sexual orientation.
Almost two in five transgender students and one in five LGB
reported being physically harassed due to their expression of gender.
Two-thirds of LGBTQ students and just under half of non-LGBTQ
have seen homophobic graffiti at school. One in seven LGBTQ students
had been named in the graffiti.
Over half the LGBTQ students had rumours or lies spread about
their sexual orientation at school, compared to one in ten non-LGBTQ.
One third of LGBTQ participants reported harassment through
text-messaging or on the internet.
Three-quarters of LGBTQ students and 95% of transgender students
felt unsafe at school, compared to one-fifth of straight students.
Over a quarter of LGBTQ students and almost half of transgender
students had skipped school because they felt unsafe, compared to less
than a tenth of non-LGBTQ.
Many LGBTQ students would not be comfortable talking to their
teachers (four in ten), their principal (six in ten), or their coach
(seven in ten) about LGBTQ issues.
Only one in five LGBTQ students could talk to a parent very
comfortably about LGBTQ issues. Three-quarters could talk to a close
Over half of LGBTQ students did not feel accepted at school, and
almost half felt they could not be themselves, compared to one-fifth of
Transgender students (over a third) were twice as likely as LGB
students to strongly agree that they sometimes feel very depressed about
their school that they do not belong there, and four times as likely as
Fewer than half of participants knew whether their school had a
policy for reporting homophobic incidents.
Of those, only one-third believed there was such a policy.
LGBTQ students who believed their schools have anti-homophobia policies
were much more likely than other LGBTQ students...
to feel their school community was supportive (one half compared
to fewer than one-fifth),
to feel comfortable talking to a counsellor (one half compared
to fewer than one-third), and to feel comfortable talking to classmates
(over a third compared to one-fifth),
to believe their school was becoming less homophobic,
to hear fewer homophobic comments and to say staff intervene
to report homophobic incidents to staff and their parents,
to feel attached to their school.
LGBTQ students who believed their schools have anti-homophobia policies
were much less likely than other LGBTQ students...
to have had lies and rumours spread about them at school or on
to have had property stolen or damaged,
to feel unsafe at school,
to have been verbally or physically harassed.
The results were similar for students who believed that their school districts had such policies.
Only one-tenth of students in Catholic schools believed there was such a
policy in their school or school district. Students from Catholic
schools were much more likely than students from non-Catholic schools...
to feel their school was not supportive of LGBTQ people,
that teachers were ineffective in addressing homophobic
that they could talk to at least one adult in their school.
(Unfortunately, no Catholic schools or school boards have as yet agreed
to implement the survey, and we regret that we will therefore not be
able to report further on the situation in Catholic schools in Phase 2.)
Conclusions and Recommendations
This survey has provided statistically-tested confirmation of what LGBTQ
students and their allies have known for some time: that despite
Canada’s leadership on human rights for LGBTQ people, a great deal of
verbal and physical homophobic harassment goes on in Canadian schools,
that they are more likely to be aware of it than are other students who
are not its main targets, and that the response has more often than not
The survey also shows, however, that the situation is much improved
where schools and schools divisions have developed safe-schools policies
and procedures that explicitly address homophobia and made them known to
students. In such schools, LGBTQ students are less likely to hear
homophobic comments or to be targeted by verbal or physical harassment,
they are more likely to report it to staff and parents when they are,
and staff is more likely to intervene. They feel safer, more accepted,
and more attached to their school.
Developing inclusive safe schools policies and making them known to
students are not the complete solution. However, this survey has
identified big differences between schools with and schools without
We therefore strongly recommend the following:
That schools implement anti-homophobia policies and make these
well known to students, parents, administration, and all staff as a
positive part of their commitment to making schools safe.
That divisions develop anti-homophobia policies to provide
institutional authority and leadership for schools. Although our
analysis showed that students are less likely to know about
division-level policies, it would of course be helpful to principals to
know that their school-level efforts had strong divisional endorsement
in the form of official policy at that level.
That schools strongly support the efforts of students to start
Gay-Straight Alliance clubs (GSAs).
That in schools where students have not come forward,
administration should ask teachers to offer to work with students to
start a GSA club. It is not safe to assume that LGBTQ students would
prefer to go through high school isolated from their peers and teachers.
That provincial Ministries of Education mandate the inclusion of
homophobia in safe schools policies and programs, including
those of Catholic schools, along with steps for the implementation of
the policies, to provide support and motivation to divisional and school
What students have told us in the First National Climate Survey
on Homophobia in Canadian Schools is that speaking up works, and that
they want the adults in their lives to do their part, too. They are
weary of seeing teachers and principals look the other way. And they
are grateful to the many dedicated school staff who have worked to make
schools safer for everyone in their care – not everyone but them.
For more information:
Helen Kennedy, Toronto. Tel: 416-964-7887