New study looks at how queer spaces in Toronto have been impacted by the pandemic

Toronto's Gay Village sign
A new study led by U of T Scarborough researchers is looking at how businesses and services serving The Village have been affected by the pandemic (Shutterstock photo by MikeCPhoto)

Tina Adamopoulos

A new U of T Scarborough study is helping to bridge understanding about how the LGBTQ community has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early results from the Queer COVID-TO study highlights that LGBTQ people are concerned that businesses in The Village and catering to queer folks have been at risk of closing during the pandemic. In particular, LGBTQ people in the GTA worry that businesses dedicated to women, trans and non-binary people have been disproportionally affected when compared to spaces that cater to gay men.

Spearheaded by Professor Jessica Fields of the department of health and society, the study explores the question of what social life will look like for the queer community with the anticipation of more businesses at risk of closing their doors.

“Across Toronto, we have seen neighbourhood businesses close. For queer people, the loss of those businesses is also a loss of a place in which people get to express themselves, explore themselves and find community,” Fields says.

Queer COVID-TO launched last summer to document the impact of COVID-19 public health measures on mental health and wellbeing. It aims to raise awareness about how the city can identify and improve resources and policies to better support the LGBTQ community. 

Across 413 survey results and 46 in-depth interviews, participants reported concerns about the loss of more safe, inclusive, community-based spaces for women, trans and non-binary people.

Assistant Professor Sarah A. Williams, a co-investigator on the project, explains that during the brief stages of reopening in Ontario, participants reported feeling a great need to go to queer businesses for a sense of community and connection.

Williams notes that while people turned to virtual platforms to socialize, the loss of physical space means there will be further limited diverse spaces for all community members to fully express themselves.

“Participants are mourning that space,” Williams says. “There needs to be a diversity of businesses and spaces for all members of the queer community to feel safe and comfortable to show up as themselves and feel welcome.”

Here’s what one participant said about the anticipated loss of a local business:

Crews and Tangos probably is (going) be gone once this is finished. And it's a very important place because a lot of people rely on that place to feel safe (and) go to the drag shows. It is actually one of the places that are very inclusive…

For queer people, the loss of those businesses is also a loss of a place in which people get to express themselves, explore themselves and find community.

“Many participants see the closure of queer businesses, specifically places for lesbians, queer women and trans folks, as being a reflection of broader patterns of disparities in access to resources and public spaces for the queer community,” Williams says.

The study also highlights how housing insecurity and family dynamics shaped by the pandemic have affected mental health and wellbeing.

James K Gibb, a visiting scholar in U of T Scarborough’s department of health and society, notes that participants reported feeling a greater sense of isolation during the pandemic, resulting in elevated depression and anxiety. Factors included the loss of community, but also moving back home, where their identity may not be fully supported or recognized.

“The LGBTQ community tends to be more vulnerable to having limited access to socio-economic resources,” Gibb says. “That already inequitable access to resources is going to be disproportionately impacted by a pandemic that has disrupted daily life,” Gibb says.

The group hopes the project will not only help in understanding how the queer community has navigated the pandemic, but identify resources and funding to support initiatives and preserve diverse community spaces going forward.

“We hope that by highlighting the possibility of loss, we can re-enter with greater intention and with an understanding of what these spaces mean to us,” Fields says.


This research project is possible due to the work of Laura Beach, Jada Charles, Danii Desmarais, Leela McKinnon, Kaspars Mikelsteins, Jennifer Peruniak, Zarin Parisa Tasnim, and Pamela Tsui.