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Opinion: The fight against homophobia is far from won

This opinion piece was published in the Montreal Gazette May 16, 2013
May 16, 2013
By Gabriel Girard, sociologist and post-doctoral fellow

Gabriel Girard, is a sociologist and post-doctoral scholar. | Image courtesy of Girard
Gabriel Girard, is a sociologist and post-doctoral scholar. | Image courtesy of Girard


The recent coming-out of National Basketball Association player Jason Collins has confirmed that, even in 2013, publicly disclosing one’s homosexuality is no easy feat.

Collins has said that it was a liberating act for him, after years of being in the closet. For the sports world, it was indicative of how far it has to go.

Collins’s situation parallels that of many lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT) people who spend years concealing their sexuality fearing insults, rejection or violence.

May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, is our chance to honour their struggle.

In South America, Europe and Canada, the progress made in recent decades may give the impression that the toughest battles have been won. Legal discrimination against gays and lesbians has mostly been eliminated, and several countries have implemented legal equality for same-sex couples.

Though these steps are certainly important, events of the last few weeks have shown that formal equality does not eradicate hateful reactions and violence against LGBT persons.

In France, the debate on the legalization of same-sex marriage triggered an outburst of homophobia. This appalling climate, largely fuelled by the parliamentary right and the Catholic Church, has prompted a resurgence of hostile discourse and aggressive acts against homosexuals.

Fortunately France’s “marriage-for-all” law was passed. But the French debates have much to teach us. Even homophobia’s more subtle forms — like the characterization of the heterosexual family as “natural" — are harmful. Gays and lesbians, and their families, are relegated to an awkward realm of “otherness” that renders them second-class citizens — far from the values of liberty, equality and fraternity on which the French Republic was built. Ultimately, discrimination begins when we treat others as inferior, whether in our legislation or through our actions.

In Quebec and Canada as a whole, the situation is not that much rosier, despite the fact that gays and lesbians have had equal rights for almost 10 years.

It’s true that there have been no mass protests against the rights of homosexuals. But much ink and venom was spewed, especially on the Internet, following the Quebec initiative against homophobia and transphobia that was launched in March. The campaign ads show everyday scenes where homosexuality or trans identity are presented as just one of the aspects of a person’s life. The slogan then asks the viewer: “Does this bother you?” Unfortunately, as it turns out, for many the answer was “Yes.” The negative reactions expressed online are the theme chosen by the organizers of this year’s May 17 events in Quebec, who are calling on the public to “Fight the Homophobia Web Virus.”

These concurrent expressions of homophobia on either side of the Atlantic may seem very different at first glance. But the rowdy hostility of the French protests and the anonymity of hateful online comments in Quebec are two manifestations of the same problem. They are proof that, both at home and abroad, homosexuality is too often met with a lack of understanding and with fear and rejection. They are proof that laws alone will not resolve this issue.

As with racism and xenophobia, homophobic reactions must be taken seriously. There is no room for excusing or understanding these expressions of rejection. Instead, we must all ask ourselves some serious questions about this homophobic backlash. The fight against homophobia and transphobia is a long-term endeavour that will require means, large-scale educational programs and the mobilization of the LGBT community.

Related links:
•    International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
•    Concordia HIV/AIDS Project
•    Faculty of Arts and Science

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