The Intersection of Indigenous Racism and LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Canadian Healthcare

Written on 05/01/2021
Tessa Wotherspoon


Despite an increase in laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community in Canada, barriers in the healthcare system and stigmas resulting in health inequality still persist. What does this mean for LGBTQ+ and two-spirited Indigenous peoples who, on top of this inequality historically and currently, face racism and structural violence within Canadian healthcare?

According to Rainbow Health Ontario's 2020 "Health Equity Impact Assessment,'' one of the primary concerns for LGBTQ+ and two-spirited Indigenous health is related to a distrust in the Canadian healthcare system, largely stemming from historical oppression and colonization. For instance, an Indigenous participant in a 2013-2015 study conducted in Manitoba by Phillips-Beck et al. said, "Because of the history we had with the outside influences here residential schools, health services, and so on, it's been passed from generation to generation not to trust people and because of the diseases that the European settlers brought with them. And still, that sticks today, those types of things."

An example of this distrustful history is how Inuit peoples with tuberculosis were treated by the Canadian healthcare system in the mid-20th century. Inuit folks, including children, were evacuated from their communities into unfamiliar southern Canada without being able to say goodbye to their loved ones. On top of this, some families were not notified when their relatives died, and many were buried in unmarked graves. Even today, some Inuit families struggle to locate the burial sites of their loved ones.

In addition to the historical context, existing data suggests that racism is alive and well in the Canadian healthcare system. Participants in the previously mentioned study by Phillips-Beck et al. recount stories of discrimination, such as racist assumptions about Indigenous patients. In multiple cases, this resulted in a lack of quality treatment. However, we know from cases such as that of Brian Sinclair, a 45-year-old Indigenous man who died in the waiting room of a hospital after waiting 34 hours without receiving any treatment, that racism can be fatal.

Compounded with Canadian healthcare's racism problem is persistent social stigmas of LGBTQ+ folks, which can negatively impact health and quality of care. For Brianna Olsen Pitawanakwat and Nanook Gordon, a queer and two-spirited couple living in Toronto seeking to become parents via informal insemination, Indigenous racism and queer discrimination resulted in Pitawanakwat's request for a fertility assessment being declined. Following this occurrence, Pitawanakwat said how she will never go to a doctor "to ask for anything for my sexual reproductive health care unless I know that they're safe for queer people, because of the harm that came from that situation".

While the healing process from intergenerational trauma and the ongoing impacts of colonization persists for Indigenous peoples, it is important that as LGBTQ+ folks and allies, we listen to and support other marginalized communities. While our struggles and their origins are distinct and different in many ways and may overlap at different locations, we must recognize that we are connected through histories of oppression.


Tessa Wotherspoon is an undergraduate student at UBCO double majoring in Sociology and Political Science. Her research interests include anti-capitalism, labour, critical animal studies, and feminist/queer theory. They are a local activist in Kelowna, British Columbia.


(Image Credit: AAMC)