A new study has found that gay rights activists are in the “couch” when it comes to their sexual orientation.
The study, conducted by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Public Policy at the University of Toronto, found that the “mainstreaming of homosexuality” has led to “increasing pressure” for gay rights advocates to “come out” of the closet.
In fact, only one in 10 gay people surveyed said they had experienced bullying in their lives.
“They feel they’re in the dark,” said Dr. Matthew Taggart, who conducted the study with Dr. Mark Hodge, a psychology professor at U of T. “It’s not a surprise that a significant number of gay people don’t want to come out.”
In the survey, gay and straight participants were asked to describe their own sexual orientation and the impact it had had on their lives as a whole.
The findings reveal a significant divide in how gay people perceive the gay community as a group, with a majority saying they have felt “marginalized and bullied” because of their sexual identity.
“The vast majority of gay and lesbian people feel that they’re marginalized and have had to endure negative experiences of harassment and discrimination in their everyday lives,” Dr. Taggar said.
“There are significant gaps in the knowledge of the gay and queer community.”
The study also found that only a quarter of people in the LGBT community knew the names of the leaders of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLSF), the organisation that created the Canadian anti-bullying strategy, the anti-discrimination legislation, and the LGBTQ community’s rights.
Dr. Hodge noted that the LGBTQ people surveyed are often hesitant to speak out against bullying because they are afraid to be identified as a lesbian or gay, and also because they fear they will be ostracized and discriminated against.
In the study, gay people were also asked about their expectations about coming out as gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.
“I think the gay people in Canada are the ones that are really feeling this pressure, because they’re the ones who are still closeted,” said Mr. Hogue.
“If you think about it, most gay people are closeted.
The majority of people who are closeting are trans, bisexual or intersexual.”
“They’re just the ones whose sexuality is not their orientation,” he said.
The report’s findings are particularly important to the gay rights community, as they show that the gay activism community has been slow to “reach out” to the LGBT people in their community, Mr. Tagan said.
For instance, only four per cent of gay men and one per cent from bisexuals said they were actively seeking out support and resources for their sexual health.
Mr. Fennell said the gay activists who are in their communities, including the ones in Toronto, need to speak up for their community’s needs, because “when you have the most marginalized people being marginalized, when you have people who have been marginalized for years, and have been excluded, you’re going to see an increase in bullying and discrimination.”
The gay community is “losing out,” Mr. Koehler said.
It has been too long since there has been a comprehensive and inclusive movement to tackle homophobia and transphobia, he said, adding that “it’s been too hard to push forward on these issues.”
Dr. Peter K. Bouchard, director of the Centre on the Health and Development of the LGBTQ+ Community, said he is also concerned that gay activists have been “marginally” included in the mainstream gay rights movement, and that there is a “very limited” understanding of what it means to be “out.”
“If there is no gay movement, then the very thing we need to be focusing on is being out, ” he said in an interview.
“We’re trying to build the movement that we need, but we have to make sure that we’re building a movement that actually helps people.”
The researchers also found significant differences in the way that the LGBT communities view and experience homophobia, which is a key topic in the study.
“What we found is that the lesbian, gay, transgender and queer communities are not equally affected by homophobia,” Dr Taggard said.
One key difference is that “LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be bullied or harassed in the community,” he added.
“LGBT+ people may be less likely to report homophobic bullying because of a fear of being out.”
The research is being published in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health.
Follow The Globe & Mail on Facebook and Twitter.