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Queering Canadian suburbs: LGBTQ2S place-making outside of central cities

Researchers: Professor Alison Bain (York University), Julie Podmore (John Abbott College), Tiffany Muller Myrdahl (Simon Fraser University), Brian Ray (University of Ottawa), Tarmo Remmel (York University)

This research will address key knowledge gaps regarding the lives, service needs, and place-making practices of suburban Canadian LGBTQ2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, and Two-Spirit) populations. The dearth of attention to sexuality among suburban scholars and the limited investigation of the suburbs by geographers of sexualities means that we know little about the LGBTQ2S populations living there, or how to situate them within changing suburban landscapes. In Canada, this inattention has significant implications: a limited understanding of the spatial, embodied and discursive dimensions of everyday queer lives in suburbia; an inadequate grasp of the support services and the socially inclusive policymaking needed at the municipal and metropolitan scales; and an inability to imagine suburbia as a queer location. This research uses queer and intersectionality theories to document the geographies of queer suburban lives as they intersect with other minority identity markers (e.g., ethnicity, racialization, class, gender, and age) in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

Research shows that Canadian suburbs are not the normative environments they once were, having been transformed by forces of expansion, decentralization and immigration. Concurrently, seismic shifts have occurred in the socio-legal status of Canadian LGBTQ2S populations. While LGBTQ2S place-making is visible in downtown neighbourhoods the complexities of making and supporting LGBTQ2S lives in suburban places is largely unexplored by scholars and policymakers. Increases in same-sex marriage, parenting, social inclusion policies, and housing prices suggest that more LGBTQ2S people live in suburbs that were originally built for heterosexual households and where differing ideas of family, sexuality, and citizenship may increasingly clash. Given these changes, we ask:

  • Where are LGBTQ2S households living in the suburbs of Canada’s three largest metropolitan areas and why?
  • How are suburban LGBTQ2S residents served by community, municipal and NGO services?
  • Under what social and neighbourhood conditions do diverse LGBTQ2S populations live in suburbia, and how does queer sexuality inform their place-making practices?

This research employs an innovative theoretical and methodological approach to analyze LGBTQ2S lives in suburban Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In phase one, we will statistically and cartographically examine the influence of socio-demographic and neighbourhood characteristics on social relations among LGBTQ2S and heterosexual respondents in the three metropolitan regions. In phase two, we will identify the social planning and policy circumstances under which suburban LGBTQ2S populations live through an analysis of ‘inclusion’ policies and in-depth interviews with civic leaders. In phase three, we will document LGBTQ2S social service provision through in-depth interviews with community organization leaders and an online questionnaire survey for residents about service use and needs. In phases four and five, we will counter formal governance and service representation with collaborative web maps and photo-interviews with a diverse cross-section of LGBTQ2S residents. These visual and web-based methodologies permit co-generated local knowledge about queer place-making practices to be visualized and shared in ways that can empower and foster community-building across cultures and generations.

Our research will contribute to and complicate existing city-centric theorizations of sexuality and space while at the same time providing needed data on suburban LGBTQ2S lives for policy development and service provision. It will supplement the Canadian scholarly record on suburbia in quantitative and qualitative terms, provide a service efficacy assessment for institutions and community groups striving to address the changing needs of LGBTQ2S populations, and speak to suburban municipal governments seeking more inclusive social plans and policies.

This project has been made possible through a financial contribution from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the associated universities and partners. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of those involved.