Team Gaysi had the pleasure of interacting with Anne-Sophie Ponsot, a team member of the Québec Government Office in Mumbai. We spoke in length about Quebec’s dedicated role in improving Queer lives not only back home in Quebec but also in India.
Q. Please tell us a bit about Quebec Government’s commitment to advancing the rights of LGBTQ+ people internationally.
As stated by the Independent Expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in his report, violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is both a local and a global phenomenon. While gender identity and sexual orientation are part of the makeup of every individual’s identity, some are considered as deviating from societal norms and therefore result in individuals suffering from harm and discrimination. Countermeasures to promote respect for gender and sexual diversity need to be implemented at all levels, whether local, national or international.
The Quebec Government shares the views expressed by the Independent Expert, and as a committed actor on the international stage in the promotion and protection of human rights, it also wishes to further the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights throughout the world. Quebec recognizes its duty to protect LGBT rights and considers that they are already circumscribed in existing international law instruments, including several to which Quebec has declared itself bound. For instance, Quebec is tied internationally to 12 pacts, conventions and protocols in relation to human rights.
There are two main ways Quebec aims to promote LGBT rights internationally and, as such, contribute to the improvement of the social and cultural situation for LGBTQ+ people. First, through its new international policy promoting and protecting LGBT rights and freedoms, which indicates that Quebec will aim to build bridges to foster innovative solutions to this issue. Second, Quebec’s new Government Action Plan against Homophobia and Transphobia includes for the first time an international measure for which the main objective is to promote the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights abroad. A budget of $ 165,000 over 5 years is associated with this international component. Of this amount, $ 15,000 is earmarked annually to enable young professionals to work on this issue as part of MRIF’s Internship Program in International Government Organizations.
Q. Why is the Quebec government interested in recognizing and protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ people?
LGBTQ+ people around the world fall victim to a plethora of different types of violence, discrimination and abuse. Various forms of social exclusion such as job loss, discrimination, imprisonment, family rejection, harassment in school, pressure to marry, have considerable impacts at the individual level for LGBTQ+ individuals. They might result in less education, lower productivity at work, lower labor force participation, lower earnings and as a result increased poverty, poorer health and shorter lives, etc. In addition to these individual consequences, there are also social and economic costs at the societal level to homophobia and transphobia, such as increased costs to health care and social programs.
As stated in the previously mentioned UN report, in many countries, responses to homophobic and transphobic violations are often inadequate, leading to a lack of justice, solutions, and support for victims. The Québec Government attaches fundamental importance to the principle of equality, which is reflected in its recognition of the rights of LGBT people. Respect for fundamental rights must be applied to all without discrimination on the basis of nationality, ethnic origin, gender, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Internationally, however, people identified as LGBT do not benefit from the protection of a specific international convention. It is therefore crucial to mobilize efforts at the international level to defend the rights and freedoms of people of all sexual orientations and identities and expressions of gender. Heads of State and Government must play a leading role in their society in the fight against homophobia and transphobia, and this leadership must also be reflected in their international action. Governments in this area have a role to play with their foreign partners, and this is the stance taken by the Quebec Government.
Q. How do you envisage the cultural exchange between Quebec and India would help in fighting homophobia and transphobia?
International partnerships are crucial for the exchange of best practices in the fight against homophobia and transphobia. By exchanging with one another, Quebec and India will be able to share successful initiatives and experiences that they have implemented.
Q. In your personal opinion, how do you think we can fight homophobia and transphobia?
Actions promoting LGBT+ visibility contribute effectively to the fight against homophobia and transphobia. Although pride parades are important moments, many other outreach activities help promote the expression of sexual minority identities and defend their freedoms and rights. These activities help to establish a constructive dialogue with society and to promote inclusivity. It is a matter of demonstrating that one can derogate from the norm (heteronormativity), present models adapted to LGBT people and recognize their right to be different and the right to love whoever they want. In this context, homophobia and transphobia appear as forms of resistance to a society embracing inclusivity, both aiming to hinder the emancipation of sexual minorities.
Additionally, education plays a crucial role in raising awareness of the issues LGBT people are confronted with. Demystifying the realities of LGBT people, not just to the public but also to service providers working with LGBT people, is essential in ensuring they feel safe and understood in society. Another important way to fight homophobia and transphobia is to ensure that LGBT people are involved in decision-making processes surrounding issues that concern them directly.
Q. Could you share a few highlights from the Quebec govt’s policies and programs in support of LGBTQ+ rights?
In 2017, the Quebec Government has taken several important steps towards greater support of LGBT+ rights.
On May 17, 2017, the Quebec Government launched the previously mentioned 2017-2022 Government Action Plan against Homophobia and Transphobia: Québec, rich in its diversity. Quebec is currently the only Canadian province with a governmental policy to combat homophobia and transphobia. A budget of $10 million over five years has been allocated for its implementation, including $2 million for the year 2017-2018.
Like its predecessor, the second action plan promotes respect for the rights of sexual minority members and helps raise public awareness about the realities they face. Special attention is paid to the most vulnerable groups such as young people, the elderly, trans individuals and indigenous peoples, as well as people living in regions and communities where fewer resources are available.
Additionally, the Quebec Minister of Education recently announced that all Quebec schools will be required to offer, as of September 2018, sex education classes. These courses will provide information, adjusted according to the age of the students, on sexuality, anatomy, body image, social roles, sexual assault, emotional and love life, sexual relations, stereotypes, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. This will allow, among other things, to fight against sexism but also heterosexism.
The Government of Quebec has also chosen to financially support projects developed and implemented by non-profit organizations whose primary mission is to fight against homophobia and transphobia, to promote a more inclusive society, and to promote the recognition of the rights of sexual minorities. In this context, a wide variety of projects are implemented to benefit young people, the elderly, workplaces, regions, and so on. The Quebec government recognizes that community-based mobilization and action contributes in essential ways to the exercise of citizenship and to Quebec’s social development.
The plan results from discussions and joint work by stakeholders and partners in the government, community and university sectors across the province.
Q. Could you tell us about some of the successful programs executed in Quebec that fostered acceptance of LGBTQ+ persons?
There are numerous programs developed and implemented by civil society over the years that have contributed to greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in society.
For instance, the non-profit organization GRIS-Montréal has been working since 1994 to ensure greater awareness of homosexual and bisexual realities in society. Over 250 GRIS volunteers conduct interventions in schools, mainly in secondary schools and cégeps (pre-university colleges), French-language learning classes, youth centres, workplaces or seniors’ centres. They seek to demystify homosexuality and bisexuality by offering personal testimony.
While GRIS-Montréal was the first to be founded, several other GRIS were developed in other regions of the province: GRIS-Québec (founded in 1996), GRIS-Chaudière-Appalaches (1998), GRIS-Mauricie/Centre-du-Québec (2008) and GRIS-Estrie (2014).
In addition, every year, the Conseil québécois LGBT (Quebec LGBT Council) hosts its annual Gala Arc-en-Ciel, (Rainbow Gala) a gala which seeks to reward the outstanding contributions of community organizations and individuals in Quebec that have had a significant and positive impact on LGBTQ+ communities over the year.
This year, several nominees can illustrate some of the successful initiatives implemented in Quebec that help foster acceptance of LGBTQ+ people:
- The magazine Lez Spread the Word, a lesbian magazine published in French and English. The magazine provides an intimate portrait of Canada’s lesbian communities. In addition to the magazine, Lez Spread the Word (LSTW) is an organization created in Quebec in 2012 to provide online news and entertainment content while being a valuable resource to French- and English-speaking lesbians in Quebec, Canada, and internationally. LSTW also organizes social events and has helped produce the web series FÉMININ/FÉMININ, which offers a new look on the world of lesbians in Quebec.
- The organization TRANS-Mauricie/Centre-du-Québec, which was created in 2016 to provide assistance and services to trans people and their families in the regions of Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec.
- The documentary The Migrant Mixtape, which seeks to present the realities of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers on their journey to Quebec. The documentary was produced by HELEM Montreal, an organization aiming to fight homophobia in the Arabic-speaking community of Montreal by promoting the visibility of queer individuals. HELEM also strives to protect Arabic-speaking LGBTQs who deal with rejection, prejudice, discrimination, fear, etc.
- Fondation Émergence, in partnership with the organization Aide aux Trans du Québec, has produced an information guide on how to support transgender employees in the workplace.
- The Montreal LGBTQ+ Community Centre hosts the Open Book Library, the only specialized documentation center on issues related to sexual diversity in Quebec and one of the largest in French-speaking nations and Canada. With its unique cultural heritage, the Open Book Library plays a crucial role in the preservation and dissemination of Quebec and global LGBTQ+
These programs offer a glimpse of the initiatives that contribute to fostering understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in Quebec.
Finally, one initiative that has garnered a lot of praise and deserves international attention is Gender Creative Kids Canada. The organization is a non-profit volunteer run community organization, based in Montreal, and initiated by a group of parents. Parents and allies, as volunteers, offer support and advocacy parent groups, training to schools and other organizations, workshops, and create safe spaces for gender creative kids.
They also run the website GenderCreativeKids.ca, which provides resources for supporting and affirming gender creative kids within their families, schools and communities.
Gender creative kids are kids who identify and express gender in ways that differ from what others may expect. As stated on the organization’s website, gender diversity is healthy, and gender creative kids deserve to be supported and affirmed in their families, schools and communities.
One of the projects they have developed is The You Inside project. As part of this project, they have developed an eBook and a video to help children (and adults as well!) understand what it means to grow up as a transgender child.
How do you plan to realize your goals in India?
The Quebec Government Office in Mumbai was active to get an intern from Quebec to develop a dialogue between trans communities in Mumbai and Quebec. By welcoming Quebec interns who focus specifically on LGBTQ+ issues over the course of their internship, the Quebec Government is ensuring that LGBTQ+ issues remain a priority on their agenda. Several activities are planned in order to initiate a sustainable dialogue between the communities.
Could you give us a glimpse of trans persons lived experiences in Quebec?
Legally, tremendous strides have been achieved in the past few years for trans people in Quebec and Canada. In June 2016, Quebec’s Bill 103, An Act to strengthen the fight against transphobia and improve the situation of transgender minors in particular, was passed. The Bill gives teenagers 14 and up the power to change the gender designation and legal name on their official documents. Children under the age of 14 will have the same right, provided their parents or legal tutors agree to make the request for them.
At the federal level, Bill C-16 was passed by the Canadian Parliament in June 2017. This new law expands the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. The law will also change the criminal code to extend protection from hate speech to trans and non-binary Canadians.
Additionally, the Canadian government has introduced this year the gender-neutral ‘X’ option on passports. The Quebec government is also actively reflecting on gender markers in the identity documents it provides. For instance, it is considering the option of following in the steps of the state of Oregon in the United States and including the ‘X’ option for gender markers in driving licenses.
While the adoption of such laws sends a message of support to trans and non-binary communities in Quebec, work remains to be done to guarantee that laws ensuring rights and protections for transgender citizens translate into greater acceptance and understanding at the social level.
Furthermore, in terms of services, several trans groups claim that service providers, whether in the health care system or social services, need to receive more training on how to cater to the needs of trans and gender diverse communities. A trans person in Montreal and a trans person in a more rural area or outside a major urban centre will also have very different experiences and will not be able to access the same types of services. Fewer services for trans people are available outside Montreal, although a greater number of organizations for trans people are starting to emerge and fill this gap.