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Poll reveals Canadians’ views on gender identity in classrooms and conversion therapy

On some questions, ideology remains a key indicator
Nearly half of Canadians say they believe teachers should address students aged 16 and under using their preferred pronouns or names without having to inform parents

This summer has provided an extremely eventful “Pride Season” in Canada.

Governments and businesses have embraced the opportunity to connect with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ2+) community. At the same time, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs began a discussion on gender identity in the classroom that could have easily led to the collapse of his government.

Research Co. and Glacier Media have tracked the views of Canadians on LGBTQ2+ issues since 2019. The responses in 2023 continue to show majority support for abandoning “conversion therapy” as well as mixed reviews on whether everything expressed by kids in the classroom should be revealed to their parents. 

Ideology remains a key indicator on some questions. While 34 per cent of Canadians think people who identify themselves as LGBTQ2+ are making a choice (up six points since 2022), the proportion rises to 49 per cent among those who voted for the Conservative Party in 2021.

On the issue of “conversion therapy,” we continue to see a majority of Canadians (52 per cent, down five points) who think it is not possible for individuals who identify themselves as LGBTQ2+ to be “converted” into heterosexuals through psychological or spiritual intervention. There is a significant gender gap on this question, with 58 per cent of women rejecting “conversion therapy,” compared to 47 per cent of men.

Three in five Canadians (60 per cent, down two points) think the federal government was right to enact legislation making it illegal to promote, advertise or profit from providing “conversion therapy,” or to subject a person, consenting or not, to “conversion therapy” in Canada.

Once again, the perceptions of Conservative voters are different. Large majorities of Canadians who last voted for the Liberal Party (70 per cent) or the New Democratic Party (NDP) (73 per cent) are happy with the ban on “conversion therapy,” compared to 56 per cent among Conservative supporters.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005, and almost two-thirds of Canadians (64 per cent, down two points) think it should continue to be the law of the land. About one in four would prefer to go back to civil unions (14 per cent, up two points) or offer no legal recognition (10 per cent, unchanged) to same sex couples.

Atlantic Canada boasts the highest level of support for the continued recognition of same-sex marriage in the country (71 per cent), followed by Saskatchewan and Manitoba (68 per cent), Ontario (65 per cent), Quebec (64 per cent), Alberta (61 per cent) and British Columbia (59 per cent).

We felt it necessary this year to ask about New Brunswick’s Policy 713, which seeks to prohibit teachers from using the preferred names and pronouns of students aged 16 and under without the consent of their parents. Any decision that this provincial government ultimately makes could have implications across the entire country.

Debate over Policy 713, in and outside of New Brunswick, has been dominated by two camps. One claims that it might be dangerous and counterproductive for teachers to discuss pronouns or names with parents who may not be fully supportive of their kids. The other posits that this is just like any other school matter: A teacher’s responsibility is to let the parents know.

Practically half of Canadians (49 per cent) believe teachers should address students aged 16 and under using their preferred pronouns or names without having to inform their parents – a proportion that rises to 59 per cent among Canadians aged 18 to 34. In Atlantic Canada, residents are evenly divided (40 per cent for disclosure, 41 per cent for no disclosure).

As expected, Conservative voters across Canada are less likely to endorse a no disclosure policy in schools (36 per cent) than their Liberal and New Democratic counterparts (58 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively).

This does not mean that Canadians want no communication between teachers and parents on any issue related to gender identity. More than half of Canadians (54 per cent) believe teachers must inform parents if a student aged 16 and under expresses a desire to change his or her gender.

On this question, the ideological divide is narrower: 60 per cent of Liberals, 59 per cent of Conservatives and 47 per cent of New Democrats think this is a topic where parents should be involved.

In 2023, there is little movement on the perceptions of Canadians on “conversion therapy” and same-sex marriage. The reaction to New Brunswick’s proposed legislation, like the policy itself, is ambiguous. Canadians gravitate towards acceptance on students changing their pronouns or names, but more than half believe parents must be told if issues such as affirmation or reassignment are aired in the classroom.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from July 20 to July 22, 2023, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus, 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.