Canada was recently called the best place in the world for an LGBTQ+ person to travel to. But is that the end of the story? We asked Asher Fergusson, who recently did more than 350 hours of research on every single country’s laws. He, along with a professional researcher, gathered data from a variety of trusted international sources to create the definitive “LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index.” He more often writes about how queer people can stay safe no matter what country they’re in.
6ixBuzz: Are there aspects of LGBT rights Canada has missed despite being highly accepting?
Asher Fergusson: “Out of the 203 countries in our study, Canada is #1 in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. Canadian citizens have more LGBTQ+ protections than any other country in the world.”
He quickly notes, though, that “no country is perfect.”
For example: in Canada, gender specialists have to be psychiatrists and they’re the only ones who can issue a letter that admits someone onto a surgical assessment waitlist. This regulation limits the number of providers transgender people can access. If general physicians, social workers, and nurse practitioners could also become authorized, after training, to become gender specialists, more transgender people could easily access treatment.
Increasing access to gender-affirming surgery and associated treatments/medication is a way Canada can become even more welcoming to queer people.
What are the current risks for a transgender vacationer hanging out in Canada, staying in hotels, catching Ubers and public transit, etcetera?
“Canada ranked poorly for trans murder rates, coming in 40th place in the world at 0.239 murders per million population. While the transgender legal identity laws are progressive, this doesn’t necessarily mean that transgender individuals aren’t at risk of discrimination in Canada. Universal safety precautions while travelling are always advised.”
Fergusson has published a detailed travel safety guide which was written by a whole panel of LGBTQ+ travellers.
To make it safer, is there a step the government could take? Or is this more of a cultural issue solved by things like positive representation?
“Some Canadian territories have been slower to enact protections than others. For example, a nationwide ban on conversion therapy only came into effect in January 2022. Prior to this year, it wasn’t banned in multiple territories.”
When it comes to safety and rights, how big of a factor does public acceptance play?
“Public acceptance plays a huge factor in LGBTQ+ safety. Perception and acceptance will often determine if legislation will be passed (through voting, putting pressure on legislators, donating, etc.), and it also impacts how the legislation will be implemented. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s enforced.”
“Many of the countries in our study look “good” on paper, but the day-to-day experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals in those countries do not necessarily match the supposed “rights” they have. If members of the community, law enforcement, and even the judicial system turn a blind eye to harm and injustices being done, legal protections don’t really help.”
“Positive representation is a very powerful tool to help boost self-esteem in marginalized groups but it also has a spillover effect in increasing wider social acceptance.”
What’s something about trans issues that you think ‘if the public knew, they would be supportive’?
“I think people would be more supportive if they knew more of the real stories of the trials and tribulations that trans people around the world go through on a daily basis.”
“In our research, we were disheartened at how often trans individuals in many countries are being pushed to the margins of society. In Latin America, for example, the trans murder rates are astronomical (not to mention likely largely underreported and under-investigated) because those who come out as trans are ostracized by their communities and families. Many are homeless, exploited, and left to fend for themselves in communities and countries that vilify them.”
“Trans issues aren’t trivial; they are about safety, access to adequate medical care, and the basic right to live free in a not-overly-judgemental society like everybody else.”
“It would also be helpful for the public to know more about the actual data on trans issues and not just get news and opinions from sensationalized headlines.”