For the first time, Canada is getting a more accurate picture of how its population identifies when it comes to gender.
Last year Statistics Canada included new gender questions on its population census, which allows people to differentiate between assigned sex at birth, and how one identifies when it comes to gender — not just male or female.
“It felt good because I didn’t have to put something I wasn’t. For years I used to tick off the male box, and that’s not who I was,” said Charlotte Nolin, a transgender, two-spirit woman.
“Historically, we’ve been in the shadows. Society didn’t acknowledge us, the government didn’t acknowledge us, and it’s time that we get recognized for who we are,” she said.
Janelle Campagne was excited to fill out their census for the first time last May. Campagne is non-binary and was happily surprised to see an option that would reflect that.
“To truly see my identity represented in the census was really a good feeling, like, ‘Wow, OK, I feel seen, I feel heard.’ It’s very validating,” they said.
“To even have that option on there, it feels welcoming.”
The distinction helps capture a more accurate reflection of Canada’s population when it comes to gender identity, Statistics Canada says.
“What we heard following the previous census is that there was just no data about transgender and non-binary populations, and this is a huge information gap because we see that LGBTQ+ populations … tend to report worse outcomes in mental health and discrimination and we need benchmark figures of how many people are affected,” said Elena Prokopenko, an analyst for gender diversity and inclusive statistics.
Canada first to gather gender diversity data
Canada is the first country to use its national census to collect and publish data on gender diversity.
While the population census is the most broad survey, including all households in the country, the modified question on gender has appeared on some social surveys beginning in 2018, allowing people to specify a choice beyond the option of male or female.
Nolin says the ability to be included in the census in this way will help transgender and non-binary people feel like they matter.
“We are human beings and we want to be acknowledged as human beings, and you may not understand our story but please allow us to share it in a good way,” said Nolin.
“We exist everywhere and we deserve to be seen, we deserve to heard by people and we deserve to have a voice,” said Campagne.
One in 300 are transgender or non-binary
Last year 100,815 people over the age of 15 living in a private household identified as either transgender or non-binary, which is about one-third of one percent of the population, or one in 300 people.
Nearly 60,000 of those who responded identified as transgender — people whose gender does not correspond with their assigned sex at birth. While just over 40,000 identify as non-binary — those who do not exclusively identify as a man or woman.
Almost one-third of those who selected non-binary describe their gender using other terms, including gender-neutral, gender-fluid, gender-non-conforming, queer, and two-spirit.
The term two-spirit, which is specific to some Indigenous peoples of North America, was used more often by non-binary people living in Western Canada, and was used twice as often in Manitoba where a large Indigenous population resides.
In 2020, Manitoba began to offer a non-binary option on driver’s licences and birth certificates.
Trans, non-binary more likely to belong to younger generations
In Manitoba, 3,620 people over the age of 15 identified as transgender or non-binary, which is in line with the national average, population-wise.
When it comes to age, those identifying as trans or non-binary increase in younger generations, with generation Z and millennials accounting for the largest portion.
But Prokopenko says the numbers show that transgender and non-binary people are found in all age groups and in all communities throughout the country. That information will help fill a data gap when it comes to addressing the needs of the population.
“To inform decision-makers about policies that could be tailored to better provide services for transgender and non-binary people,” said Prokopenko.
Nolin says she’d like to see the data help address issues facing the community, like higher rates of suicide.
“It’s time that stops. We want to let these young people know that they are loved, they’re accepted, they’re recognized and they are respected — and they’re part of our community, part of society,” Nolin said.
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