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The Size Of York Region's LGBT Community
According to our regional government, the estimated population of York Region1, at the end of 2008 was 1,011,360. But, trying to accurately calculate the number of LGBT individuals within the region is a difficult task, for several reasons.
Firstly, there's the issue of how we decide which factors determine that someone should be considered as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Should we only count individuals who are exclusively attracted to members of the same gender, or should we also include anyone predominantly attracted to individuals of the same sex, even if not exclusively? Should we be counting people on the basis of sexual attraction, or would it be better to use their sexual experiences as the criteria, or to simply base our results on how people choose to identify themselves?
Unfortunately, the availability of Canadian statistics in all of these areas is very limited. To make matters worse, the statistics that do exist use a variety of all these methods of counting. More comprehensive statistics have been compiled from surveys of individuals in other countries, but these could provide an unreliable guide, as the incidence of homosexuality does seem to differ between nations.
It follows that based on information presently available, nobody can reliably quantify the exact size of York Region's LGBT community, but in this article we will attempt to make an educated guess.
Canadian Community Health Survey
A 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey2, collected data from over 130,000 Canadian households and asked respondents if they considered themselves to be:
  • "heterosexual? (sexual relations with people of the opposite sex)",
  • "homosexual, that is lesbian or gay? (sexual relations with people of your own sex)",
  • "bisexual? (sexual relations with people of both sexes)".
This is the only Canadian statistical study, at least in recent times, that has ever asked this question. But the phrasing of the question's options (quoted verbatim above) immediately creates ambiguity about whether the interviewer is enquiring about self-identity or "sexual relations". Even the term "sexual relations" was a poor choice of wording as it might suggest "sex" to some, but "sex within a relationship" to others. "Sexual attraction towards" would have been a term more likely to achieve consistent interpretation.
For Canada as a whole, the results of this survey reported that 1.7% of respondents chose the homosexual or bisexual options. However, there are good reasons to assume that this figure significantly underestimates the true incidence of homosexuality and bisexuality.
Firstly, the survey involved telephone interviews in 40% of cases, and personal interviews for the remainder. It is well known that many gays and lesbians decline to admit their sexuality, even to friends and family let alone to strangers. The chances of this information being reported falsely would be greater still for telephone interviews, given the danger that other family members, present in the home, might overhear the responses to a telephone interview.
Secondly, various studies elsewhere have consistently shown that many individuals, who experience feelings of same-sex attraction and/or engage in sexual activities with others of the same gender, do not identify themselves as either gay or bisexual. This fact is even confirmed by Stats Canada who remark "Data from other countries suggest that the number of people who consider themselves to be homosexual is much smaller than the number who report having had sexual relations with someone of the same sex. However, people are more willing to answer questions about identity than about behaviour." But, in actual fact, as well as data from other countries, there is also data from our own country that clearly demonstrates this.
A 2003 British Columbia adolescent health survey3 surveyed over 31,000 students and discovered that even though only 1.5% of all boys identified themselves as either bisexual, mostly homosexual or entirely homosexual, 3.5% of sexually active boys said that they had engaged in sex with another male within the past year. Likewise, 3% of girls identified as bisexual, mostly homosexual or entirely homosexual, but 6.4% of sexually active girls reported a sexual experience with someone of the same gender, within the past year.
In addition, a 2007 Australian study4, indicated that some same-sex attraction or experience was reported by 8.6% of men, but only 1.6% identified themselves as gay or homosexual and 0.9% as bisexual.. The same study revealed that almost twice as many women (15.1%) reported some same-sex attraction or experience, but less than 1% identified themselves as lesbian or homosexual and 1.4% as bisexual. Similarly a 1992 American study5 reported that 1.1% of teens identified as gay or bisexual, but 4.5% stated that their main sexual attraction was to individuals of the same sex.
The influence of these factors in the results of the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey is also demonstrated by the large variation in results between provinces and between different age groups. Although the survey reported 1.7% homosexual/bisexual self-identity for Canada as a whole, the figure was a low as 1.2% in Alberta but as high as 2.3% for residents of Quebec. Likewise, as low as 1.2% for people over 45 years of age, but 2% for people under 35. It can hardly be coincidental that these provincial and age variations correlate directly with differences reported by other studies regarding the perceived acceptability of homosexuality in different provinces and amongst different age groups. Specifically, acceptability is greater than average in Quebec and greater amongst younger age groups. The tolerance levels demonstrated by any segment of society invariably influence the willingness of LGBT individuals to accurately disclose their sexuality, but do not actually cause anyone's underlying sexuality to change.
All the studies mentioned above have consistently shown that fewer than half of those experiencing same-sex attraction or sexual activity are willing to identify themselves as gay or bisexual. In many cases, fewer than one in four have identified themselves with these labels. On that basis, if sexuality is to be defined in terms of orientation and sexual experience rather than in terms of self-identity, it can be concluded from the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey that there must be at least a 3.4% incidence of homosexuality or bisexuality. (3.6% for men, 3.0% for women) and possibly an incidence as high as 6.8% (7.2% for men, 6% for women).
The Calgary Survey
In 1990, 750 randomly selected 18-27 year old men from Calgary were questioned on their sexual activity and orientation6. Of these men:
  • 14.0% reported same-gender sexual contact from age 12 to 27
  • 5.9% self-identified as homosexual; 6.1% as bisexual
  • 4.3% had engaged exclusively in same-gender sexual relationships within the preceding 6 months, whilst 4.9% had engaged in both same-gender and opposite-gender relationships.
  • 15.3% considered themselves to be "homosexual by some degree" by virtue of being members of one or more of the above groups.
In contrast to the health survey, this study involved computerized responses and will therefore likely have prompted more honest disclosure. However, the number of individuals surveyed was relatively small, increasing the potential for a significant margin of error. Nevertheless, these figures again show a disparity between self-identification and sexual experiences. Considering the age group, sexual experience statistics may be a less reliable indicator of sexuality as instances of same-gender sexual encounters might include isolated instances of experimentation, not always relevant to the sexuality of a participant. The remaining statistics would however appear to suggest an incidence of homosexuality or bisexuality between 5% and 11%.
Canadian Youth and Sexual Health Study
In 2002, a sexual health study of 11074 Canadian high-school youth7 revealed that almost 3% of the sample indicated that they were attracted to members of the same sex. The research acknowledges however that this is likely to be "an underestimate as adolescents of these ages may be uncomfortable in identifying their sexual preferences, or may not be fully aware of their own sexual orientation." These results would however seem to suggest that the incidence of homosexuality or bisexuality, based on same sex attraction, is certainly no lower than 3%.
Data From Other Countries
There are many more sources of statistics from outside Canada. In recent years, these have included the following:
  • In the 2008 United States presidential election, CNN exit polling showed self-identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual voters at 4% of the voting population.
  • When the UK government analyzed the financial implications of the Civil Partnerships Act, in 2005, they commissioned a study, which estimated that there were 3.6 million gay people in the United Kingdom - around 6% of the total population8.
  • In 2003 an Australian study9 was published, which had involved telephone interviews with 19,307 respondents, aged 16-59 in 2001/2. The results indicated that 1.6% of men self-identified as gay and 0.9% as bisexual. For women: 0.8% as lesbian and 1.4% as bisexual. However, 8.6% of men and 15.1% of women reported feelings of attraction to the same sex or some sexual experience with the same sex. Half the men and two thirds of the women who had same-sex sexual experience identified themselves as heterosexual rather than homosexual.
  • In 1998, a random survey of 1672 US males10, aged 15-19, asked questions relating to same-sex activity. Two methods were used: one involving pen and paper and the second involving responses via computer. With the first method, 1.5% reported homosexual activity, but this increased to 5.5% when the computer response system was used.
One In Ten
In the 1940's, Alfred Kinsey, an American biologist at Indiana University, undertook a detailed study of human sexuality, interviewing more than 12,000 individuals. From the results he estimated that 10% of males were "more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55"11. This led to widespread adoption, by gay activists in particular, of the idea that "one in ten" people are gay.
However, over the past fifty years, several aspects of Kinsey's work have been discredited. There has been much criticism of his sample selection, as a significant percentage of the men interviewed were, or had been, prison inmates, male prostitutes or sex offenders. It has also been suggested that Kinsey's own desires for unconventional sex and contempt for the sexual morals of his era influenced his agenda and biased his results. Most significantly, almost all subsequent studies have revealed lower incidences of homosexuality, usually between 2% and 8%, but largely depending on the question asked.
The Approximate Answer
If individuals are to be considered members of the LGBT community only on the basis of how they choose to identify themselves, the combined statistics suggest that the percentage of the region's population within this group is no less than 3% but more likely to be around 4%. Disregarding children, this equates to approximately 32,000 individuals, nearly equal to the entire population of Whitchurch-Stouffville.
However, the statistics suggest that homophobia in our society encourages many people to choose a heterosexual self-identity, despite their feelings of same-sex attraction or their sexual activities with others of the same gender. Given a complete absence of discrimination and heteronormativity, the vast majority of this group of individuals would probably elect to identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Consequently, if these individuals also to be counted as LGBT community members, the percentage could be as high as 7.5%. but is more likely to be around 6%, which coincides with the figure calculated by the UK government. This equates to approximately 50,000 adults within York Region; almost equal to the number residents in the town of Aurora.
© 2008. All rights reserved.
1 Current York Region Population Estimate, December 2008,, sourced from: York Region Planning Department based on Statistics Canada data and CMHC Housing Completion data.
2 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Statistics Canada record number 3226
3 Saewyc E, Poon C, Wang N, Homma Y, Smith A; The McCreary Centre Society. Not Yet Equal: The Health of Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Youth in BC. Vancouver: McCreary Centre Society, 2007.
4 Sex in Australia: Sexual identity, sexual attraction and sexual experience among a representative sample of adults, 2007, Anthony M.A. Smith, Chris E. Rissel, Juliet Richters, Andrew E. Grulich, Richard O. de Visser
5 Remafedi G, Resnick M, Blum R, Harris L. Demography of sexual orientation in adolescents. Pediatrics 1992;89:714-21.
6 On the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality, in a random community survey of 750 men aged 18 to 27. Bagley C.( Department of Social Work Studies, University of Southampton, England.), Tremblay P. (Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary).
7 Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Study 2002. Factors influencing knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. William Boyce (Ph.D.), Social Program Evaluation Group, Queen's University Maryanne Doherty (Ph.D.), Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, Christian Fortin (M.D., M.P.H.), Universite Laval, Centre hospitalier universitaire de Quebec David MacKinnon (Ph.D.), School of Education, Acadia University
9 Sex in Australia: The Australian study of health and relationships, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. (Published as the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health vol 27 no 2.)
10 Adolescent sexual behavior, drug use, and violence: increased reporting with computer survey technology. Turner CF, Ku L, Rogers SM, Lindberg LD, Pleck JH, Sonenstein FL (May 1998)
11 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, p. 651