Amidst the vast mosaic of Canada’s cultural tapestry, a vibrant thread of LGBTQ+ voices is weaving a narrative of change, resilience, and empowerment. These are not just stories of struggle, but tales of triumph, as 20 gay Canadian figures rise to prominence, challenging conventions and lighting the path for countless others. From groundbreaking politicians in Ottawa to avant-garde artists in Quebec, from fearless activists in Halifax to pioneering entrepreneurs in Calgary, these individuals are redefining what it means to be both gay and Canadian in today’s world. Their journeys, marked by courage and authenticity, serve as a testament to the power of embracing one’s true self. Join us as we celebrate these trailblazers, their achievements, and the indomitable spirit of the LGBTQ+ community in Canada.
1. Elliot Page
Starting his career with roles in the Canadian television series Pit Pony and Trailer Park Boys, Elliot Page rose to international fame with movies like Hard Candy, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Juno. After coming out as gay in 2014, Elliot announced he was a trans man in late 2020. He later became the first known trans man to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, photographed by fellow Canadian trans man Wynne Neilly. In June 2023, he released his memoir Pageboy, which debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List for Nonfiction.
Maryam Said, also known as poolblood, is a nonbinary indie pop singer based out of Toronto. They released their first EP Yummy in 2019 under fellow black queer musician Shamir’s label Accidental Popstar. They were subsequently signed by Next Door Records, an imprint of independent Canadian music label Outside Music, for a full-length album. In 2023 they released their debut album mole, which was shortlisted for that year’s Polaris Music Prize.
3. Dionne Brand
Born in Trinidad and Tobago and based in Toronto, Dionne Brand is considered one of Canada’s best modern poets. Openly a lesbian, she was Toronto’s Poet Laureate for three years, has won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and in 2017 she was admitted to the Order of Canada. In addition to her poetry, she was a founder of Our Lives, the first newspaper in Canada written by and for Black women, and has done multiple documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada’s Studio D.
4. Xavier Dolan
Xavier Dolan is a gay actor and filmmaker from Montreal, Quebec, best known for his films I Killed My Mother and Mommy. I Killed My Mother was his directorial debut, which he also wrote, produced, and starred in, received a standing ovation at Cannes and won 3 awards at the festival. Mommy won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2014 (along with Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language) and became the highest-selling film in Quebec for that year. He’s also played roles in other filmmakers’ productions, such as Bad Times at the El Royale, Boy Erased, and It: Chapter Two.
With only 33,000 Spotify listeners as of August 2023, Zambian-Canadian rapper and music producer Backxwash is one of Canada’s most talented secrets. Based in Montreal, she came out as a trans woman soon after moving to Montreal to kickstart a music career and releasing her first EP. Real name Ashanti Mutinta, the horrorcore artist’s music combines heavy metal growls with trap beats to create a unique sound, and has received attention from critics like Anthony Fantano and publications such as NPR, Pitchfork, and Revolver. Her 2020 album God Has Nothing to Do with This Leave Him Out of It (which includes a feature by Canadian transfem duo Black Dresses) won that year’s Polaris Music Prize, and the 2021 follow up I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses was longlisted for the 2022 awards. In 2022, she released His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering, the final entry in a trilogy made up of her first three full-length albums.
6. Mae Martin
Mae Martin is a nonbinary comedian who started their career as a young teen in Toronto. As a teenager, they joined a comedy troupe called The Young and the Useless and did stand up at The Second City in Toronto. In 2011, they moved to London to pursue a comedy career in the UK. In 2016, they hosted a BBC Radio show called Mae Martin’s Guide to 21st Century Sexuality, which eventually became a YA book. Their show Dope was nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy award and later transformed into a half-hour Netflix comedy special. Their BAFTA-winning television show Feel Good was distributed internationally by Netflix and later renewed for a second series by the streaming giant. Most recently, they won the 15th series of British comedy game show Taskmaster and released Mae Martin: SAP, their first full-length comedy special, on Netflix.
7. Tegan and Sara
Tegan and Sara Quin are the two lesbian identical twins that make up this eponymous indie pop duo. Known for both their music and activism, Tegan and Sara have been open about their sexuality throughout their career. In 2012 they received a nomination for their album The Con, which was also longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. Their memoir High School received an Alex Award from the American Library Association and was later made into an Amazon Freevee show starring Railey and Seazynn Gilliland. The Tegan and Sara Foundation, a charity founded by the sisters, is dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ women and girls by funding queer summer camps, bringing LGBTQ-inclusive books to schools, and promoting access to healthcare.
Kaytranada, real name Louis Celestin, is a Haitian-Quebecois record producer, rapper, and DJ. His debut album featured guest appearances from names like Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, and Syd, and won a Polaris Music Prize as well as a Juno Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album. The follow-up, Bubba, won him two Grammys. In 2023, he released the album Kaytraminé, the debut album for his duo with Seattle rapper Aminé.
9. Ben Lewis
Ben Lewis is a gay actor from Toronto. His big break came when he played Other Scott in the Toronto-set Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but he’s best known for playing Bobby Beckonridge in Degrassi: The Next Generation as well as William Clayton on the CW’s Arrow. The latter eventually became the first openly queer character in the DCEU. In 2020, he and his real-life husband Blake Lee starred in The Christmas Setup, Lifetime’s first-ever LGBTQ+ Christmas film.
10. Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson is a queer speculative fiction author from Toronto. Her works primarily focus on themes involving Caribbean culture and feminism. Her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, received the Philip K. Dick Award and Locus Award for Best First Novel. She was named the Doman Knight Grand Master in 2020, an award given to a single living science fiction author.
11. Florence Ashley
Florence Ashley is a transfeminine academic and activist who became the first openly transgender clerk at the Supreme Court when they started working in the chambers of Justice Sheilah Martin. They were awarded the Canadian Bar Association’s SOGIC Hero Award that same year. Their papers were cited in WPATH 8, the leading international resource on transgender care, and in 2022 they published their first book, Banning Transgender Conversion Practices: A Legal and Policy Analysis.
12. Vivek Shraya
Vivek Shraya is a multi-talented bisexual trans woman from Edmonton, Alberta. A musician, writer, and visual artist, Vivek has been a finalist for Lambda Literary Awards seven times, released 8 music albums, and released multiple films that have screened at various festivals. She’s currently an assistant professor at the University of Calgary and a director on the board of the Tegan and Sara Foundation. Her most recent works include the album Baby, You’re Projecting and the book People Change.
13. Anna Paquin
An actress originally from Winnipeg, Anna Paquin first came out as bisexual as part of a PSA for Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Foundation, an organization dedicated to furthering LGBTQ+ rights. In 1993 she became the second-youngest Oscar winner for her role in her film debut The Piano. She starred as Sooki Stackhouse in the series True Blood, for which she won a Golden Globe Award, and was nominated for an additional Golden Globe, three Saturn Awards, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
14. Bilal Blaig
Hailing from Mississauga, Ontario, Bilal Baig is best known for their play Acha Bacha and television series Sort Of. Serving as the co-creator and co-writer of the television series as well as the star, Bilal plays Sabi Mehboob, a nonbinary Pakistani like the actress and writer themself. The show was the most-nominated at the 10th Canadian Screen Awards, and Vivek’s refusal to submit for Best Actor or Actress due to their gendered nature led to the academy getting rid of the categories in favor of the gender-neutral Leading Performance.
15. Dan Levy
Best known for the critically-acclaimed television show Schitt’s Creek, which he co-created, wrote, produced, and starred in with his father Eugene Levy, Dan Levy has certainly made a name for himself in the entertainment world. While he’s gay in real life, his character David Rose is a pansexual man who has relationships with both men and women on the show. Since then, he’s had roles in Netflix’s hit show Sex Education, HBO’s The Idol, The Great Canadian Bake-Off, and Disney’s 2023 remake of Haunted Mansion.
16. Bretten Hannam
Bretten Hannam is a two-spirit filmmaker hailing from Nova Scotia. Their first feature film, North Mountain, premiered at the Atlantic Film Festival, screened at many of Canada’s LGBT film festivals, and had a limited commercial release at a movie theater in Toronto. Wildhood, a feature based on their short Wildfire, was funded by Telefilm Canada and premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and received six Canadian Screen Award nominations. Most recently, they won the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Jay Scott Prize for emerging filmmakers.
17. Chase Joynt
Chase Joynt is a queer transmasculine filmmaker and assistant professor at the University of Victoria. His film No Ordinary Man, a documentary about transgender jazz musician Billy Tipton, premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, was screened at Cannes, and won Best Canadian Film at Inside Out Film and Video Festival. His most recent work, Framing Agnes, is a feature based on his short film of the same name. A documentary, it features a transgender cast reenacting case studies from sociologist Harold Garfinkel and won two awards at Sundance Film Festival.
18. Kiley May
Kiley May is a two-spirit actress and filmmaker from Six Nations of the Grand River. She plays River Baitz on Coroner, a CBC crime drama based on the Jenny Cooper books by M.R. Hall had a small role as a Native American woman in It: Chapter Two. She was the 2017 Youth Ambassador for Pride Toronto and won the Toronto Screenwriting Conference’s Magee TV Diverse Screenwriters Award in 2020. She co-directed the short film Discretion and wrote and starred in Disclosure, another short film about a trans woman debating whether or not to tell a man who asked her out whether or not she’s trans.
19. Wynne Neilly
Wynne Neilly is a transgender Toronto-based photographer and visual artist who specializes in art focused on queer and transgender people. He was the photographer for the first Time magazine cover to feature an openly trans man. He collaborated with Time again for a photoshoot with Jaz Brisack, a barista who lead efforts to unionize Starbucks in Buffalo, New York. In 2023, he won Scotiabanks’ New Generation Photography Award and had his work exhibited at Canada’s National Art Gallery. He has photographed many other transgender and nonbinary Canadians, including Elliot Page, Rae Spoon, Chase Joynt, and Mae Martin.
20. Syrus Marcus Ware
Syrus Marcus Ware is an artist and Black and transgender activist from Montreal and based in Toronto. He is a founding member of Black Lives Matter Toronto, Prison Justice Action Committee, and co-editor of Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada. In addition, he helped found the Gay/Bi/Queer Trans Men’s HIV Prevention Working Group, the organization that created the first sexual health resource for trans men who have sex with men in the world, and TransFathers 2B, the first parenting course for trans men in North America. His accolades include Now Magazine’s 2005 Best Queer Activist award and the 2012 Steinert & Ferreiro Award for LGBTQ Activism.