Last December, Quebec justice minister Kathleen Weil announced the provincial government’s anti-homophobia policy would get some teeth.
Weil — who is also the minister responsible for the fight against homophobia — said the goal is to make Quebec a place where sexual minorities are equal in the eyes of the law, and of society. Already lauded as a province ahead of the pack on gay rights, Weil made big promises to gay Quebecers.
At the Dec 11 press conference, Weil spoke of striving to recognize the realities of sexual minorities, promoting respect for their rights and promoting their wellbeing by offering services adapted to their needs. “Whether this translates into grand-scale measures or into simple, daily gestures, I am convinced that each of our actions against homophobia will make the society of Quebec evolve into a more just, more tolerant and more diverse one,” Weil said.
The first step toward turning talk into action came Jan 29, when the government announced an interdepartmental committee with minister-appointed delegates from all areas of government. The committee will be composed of the departments of public security, health and social services, education, sports and leisure, family and the elderly, culture, communication and condition of women, immigration and cultural communities, labour, employment and welfare.
As for the committee’s first meeting, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Justice says “no specific date has been set yet, but it should be within the next few weeks.”
For Laurent McCutcheon, president of Gai Écoute, a Quebec hotline for gays in crisis, slow progress is to be expected.
“It is the government,” he says over the phone, with a knowing chuckle in his voice. McCutcheon, who has been the president of Gai Écoute since 1982, has worked closely with the Quebec government in a number of roles since it began its fight against homophobia, including his present one as spokesperson for Quebec’s anti-homophobia policy. McCutcheon stood alongside Weil at the press conference on Dec 11, calling the mandate a big step toward real social equality. An action plan requires the entire Quebec government’s cooperation, McCutcheon says. “It necessitates a lot of bureaucracy, but it’s important the government takes charge of this…. It will be long, but I don’t think we could do it any other way.”
The pace at which the Quebec government has been moving has invited the ire of detractors, among them the powerful Centrale des syndicats du Québec (Quebec House of Labour) union. The CSQ, whose membership is largely composed of educators and related staff, has taken a firm stand against homophobia. In a press release issued two days prior to Weil’s Dec 11 announcement, CSQ president Pierre Jobin lambasted the justice ministry for dragging its feet on drafting anti-homophobia policies.
Jobin referred to an anti-homophobia report compiled by the Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission that was filed with the Quebec government in March 2007. “Nearly three years have passed since the [report was filed] and the government has done practically nothing about it,” he said. Jobin also referred to a statement made by Weil on last year’s International Day Against Homophobia (May 17) in which she stated her intention to adopt a provincial policy against homophobia. “Seven months later, we’re still at the same point and minister Kathleen Weil did not keep her promise,” Jobin said in the Dec 9 press release. The CSQ released another communiqué on Dec 17, six days after Weil’s announcement, alternating criticism and praise for the interdepartmental committee. It commended the government for making anti-homophobia in schools a priority. “[However] without concrete actions made in reasonable delays, this policy will remain a collage of good intentions.”
In the past 10 years, Quebec has made great strides towards equality for gay people. “I think Quebec is a pioneer,” says McCutcheon of Gai Écoute, listing achievements in areas of adoption, marriage and social and tax benefits. Despite the advancements in Quebec, though, McCutcheon says there’s much work left to do. “Homophobia is everywhere,” he says. “The ultimate objective is to not have any homophobia in society and in public services. But we must be realistic — we’re not going to change mentalities just by writing a document.”
The document in question — the Quebec policy against homophobia — hinges on four major tenets: recognize the realities faced by sexual minority members; promote respect for the rights of sexual minority members; promote wellbeing and ensure a concerted approach. The interdepartmental committee will also “liaise with various [lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans] groups for the implementation, monitoring and assessment of the policy,” the policy states. However, Quebecers will have to wait three years from the time the action plan is filed to get a progress report on the committee’s work.
McCutcheon realizes anti-homophobia legislation may be a little further off in the distance than many gay Quebecers would like but says a lot of groundwork has already been laid by community organizations. “The work has begun. We aren’t waiting for the government to start things — we’re already doing it at a community level.”