On a night out with friends in late February, Sam Yang was targeted on a Toronto Transit Commission streetcar near Bremner Boulevard.
Yang said a person carrying a large suitcase called him homophobic slurs. When Yang and his friends decided to move away, the person spit on him. The group decided to exit the vehicle for another one.
Yang, who is a Toronto-based digital creator and social media manager, talked about the experience, which he said happened at around 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 26, in a TikTok video. For him, TikTok felt like a safe space to tell his story.
“I was hate-crimed on the streetcar because I’m gay,” he said in the video, noting that the alleged attack was the second time he had been assaulted on the same TTC streetcar route.
“This is dark, scary and a reminder that people like this still exist. How can being myself piss people off to the point that they’ll do something about it?” he said in the video.
Is a city known for its diversity still safe?
According to the City of Toronto 2021 Health Report, six per cent of the city’s adult population identify as gay or lesbian (three per cent) or bisexual (three per cent). The same report said one in 312 Torontonians are transgender or non-binary.
According to Statistics Canada, same-sex couples in Toronto make up for 18 per cent of Canada’s homosexual relationships.
Gay Times wrote an article in 2019 based on a study that ranks Toronto fifth of the best cities in the world when it comes to LGBTQ+ acceptance. The city’s annual Pride Parade is known as one of the biggest ones around.
But recently, attacks and incidents of harassment in the city, and especially on the TTC, have populated Toronto’s news. Incidents in 2022 rose 46 per cent compared to the previous year, according to this CBC article.
Who is more likely to be targeted?
The 2021 Toronto Police report revealed that around 13 per cent of hate crimes that year targeted LGBTQ2S+ people.
Most of the occurrences included offences such as assault, mischief and criminal harassment.
The report points out that since 2005, religion, race, sexual orientation and gender have been notably the most common contributing factors for hate crime victimization.
Experiences with prejudice
Phillip Barr, a gay Toronto resident, told the Toronto Observer he’s felt harassed and uncomfortable many times in the city.
“I don’t believe Toronto is safe for LGBTQ+ [people],” he said. “I know many specific [non-queer] males that have told me how much they are bothered by the community and would be willing to harm someone [in it]. I also feel like not enough is done to protect the community,” he said.
Barr said he has also experienced homophobia and transphobia from superiors in previous jobs.
Toronto Registered Psychotherapist Kimberlee Mancina works with patients in the LGBTQ2S+ community, among others. She said some of her queer female clients who worked in large corporations experienced discrimination.
“Their relationships are not taken seriously enough,” Mancina said. “Personal milestones are met in people’s lives, they are celebrated, but it’s not for same-sex couples. They hear comments of homophobia in the workplace.”
Yang said that depending on who is around, he can be more aware of his surroundings, especially on the TTC.
“When I didn’t give this dude the reaction that he wanted, I think he realized that he did something very strange,” Yang said about his most recent attacker. “Toronto is safe in a way that there is a lot of people around, but it doesn’t matter where you are, it will happen more in a city where there is just more people.”
Finding community and support
Yang’s video reached more than 15,000 likes and included comments from content creator and interior architect Phoenix Grey (also known as Design Daddy) and Canadian Actor Jordan Alexander.
Yang said people who have experienced homophobia should take comfort in the community.
“Try to talk to your friends about it if you can. Look to those people, be with those people, because the thing about going through a hate-crime [is that it] can feel so isolating.”
Yang said the incident will not stop him from showing up as himself and who he desires to be.
Mancina points out these incidents of harassment or abuse can affect someone’s identity. She highlights the importance of empowering people in the process of healing.
“The more people become closely connected to their authentic selves, the more resilience they have to understand that anyone who’s judging them is simply a projection of that [other] individual’s insecurities,” she said.
The city has many different institutions that work with the LGBTQ2S+ community.
The 519 is a registered charity and City of Toronto agency that offers a range of different programs and support.
The LGBT Youthline offers anonymous peer support and a live chat.
Toronto PFLAG is based in East-York and provides support for parents and families of members of the community.