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Transgender rights in Canada deeply divide voters as study suggests most still believe in only two genders

As more Canadians are faced with the evolving nature of gender identity, gaps in the ways different groups view the subject are growing, according to a recent survey by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI).

The survey of 3,016 Canadian adults is the second in a series of reports on Canada and the "culture wars," and finds that Canadians hold competing views of gender definition, womanhood, and transgender issues, sometimes divided based on the respondents' own gender.

Among the top findings are that 56 per cent of Canadians define a person as either male or female. Men are more likely to take this position, with 63 per cent of male respondents preferring a binary definition compared to 49 per cent of female respondents and 20 per cent of respondents who identify as neither male nor female.

About one third – 34 per cent – of Canadians responded that the binary definition is too limited. Men make up a smaller portion of this group, at 26 per cent, while people who identify as female or who don't identify as male or female account for the largest share, at 40 per cent and 76 per cent respectively.

The report shows clear divisions between Canadians persist on issues such as how a woman is defined, transgender rights and discrimination and transgender children.


One of the questions dividing Canadians is who is considered a woman?

For its survey, ARI focused on female identity and what is required for Canadians to recognize someone as a woman.

The largest share of respondents – 35 per cent – said a woman is anyone who identifies that way. This group consisted mostly of women 34 and under and people who don't identify as male or female. Men and older women were less likely to agree.

Another 34 per cent of respondents said a woman is someone who was born anatomically female. However, 18 per cent responded that they also consider someone who has undergone gender-affirming surgery a woman. Twelve per cent of Canadians are unsure how they would define a woman.


It's been almost 10 years since Time Magazine declared transgender rights "the next civil rights frontier" in a feature about Black trans actor Laverne Cox, and the struggle to be accepted – or even feel safe – in society continues for many trans people.

Protests against transgender people have contributed to an increase in anti-trans hate crimes over the past year. In a series of statements in May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a few cabinet ministers and Conservative MPs acknowledged a rising tide of violence and hate directed toward members of the trans community and towards drag performers in this country.

Amid this growing hostility, 71 per cent of Canadians responding to ARI's survey agreed that transgender people in Canada face significant discrimination in their daily lives. A further 64 per cent said increasing acceptance of trans people is a sign of social progress for Canada.

That said, the survey found Canadians tend to feel the media give the subject of transgender issues "too much attention." Three out of five, or 60 per cent of respondents, shared this view, up from 41 per cent who said the same in 2016.


In late August, the government of Saskatchewan joined New Brunswick in adopting a new gender and pronoun policy for schools which requires parental consent for students who wish to change their preferred name or pronouns.

According to the ARI survey, most Canadians agree that parents should at least be informed of their child’s decision. However, they're divided on the subject of whether or not parents should have to consent to it.

People participate in the Trans Pride March in Toronto on Friday July 1 , 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

ARI asked Canadians, "If you had a child who was showing an affinity for a gender other than that of their birth, how would you respond to this?" Most respondents, 69 per cent, said they would accept and work with their child to make the process comfortable. Among both male and female respondents, the majority answered this way.

Another 12 per cent said they would "resist this behaviour," while nine per cent said they would reject it outright. Thirteen per cent said they didn't know how they would respond.

Among all respondents, only 20 per cent supported the idea of allowing a child to receive hormone therapy.


Along with Cox, one of the key recent figures in the growing cultural awareness of transgender issues was Caitlyn Jenner, an athlete who came out in 2015.

In the years since Jenner's transition, the topic of sports and transgender rights has been debated hotly in both Canada and the United States.

In April, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban transgender athletes at federally funded schools from competing in sports as a female if their biological sex assigned at birth is male.

According to ARI, the legislation is unlikely to be implemented by the Democrat-controlled Senate, but it comes on the heels of nearly two dozen states passing similar bills.

The debate pitting the rights of a child to play with other athletes of their same-identifying gender against the physical advantages they may have if they were born male is something dividing Canadians as well.

Asked in the ARI survey if a trans girl should be allowed to play sports with other girls, Canadians offered three views. Most, 39 per cent, said it depends on the sport, with contact sports like wrestling and rugby a source of contention. Another 31 per cent, said yes, without reservation, while 30 per cent, said no with the same conviction.


The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from July 26-31, 2023, among a representative randomized sample of 3,016 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Another 322 Canadians who do not identify as male or female and who are also members of the Forum were also surveyed as a population booster. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI. Detailed tables are found at the end of this release.

With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello Top Stories


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