Worlds of Education

Union action for the rights of LGBTQI+ people: the experience of the CSQ

published 17 May 2024 updated 17 May 2024
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The trade union movement is no stranger to fighting for the rights, support and inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in Quebec. In this respect, the ongoing work of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) is of particular importance. Its contribution has stood out over the years. In addition to having launched and nurtured initiatives specific to education, public and union life, the CSQ and its partners in education have achieved concrete results for the benefit of Quebec society as a whole in recent decades.

The CSQ has been working on the rights and recognition of LGBTQI+ people since the 1960s and 1970s. In 1977, the Quebec government introduced a provision prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Other Canadian provinces followed suit in the years that followed, and these provisions were introduced into the Canadian constitution in 1982. On the other hand, profound injustices persisted in terms of discrimination, which motivated trade union organisations to continue the fight.

It was under the impetus of Jacques Pétrin, a campaigner for over 40 years for the rights and recognition of LGBTQI+ people, that the CSQ played a major role in this struggle. An activist since the 1980s and then vice-president of the Fédération du personnel de soutien (Federation of Education Support Personnel - FPS) in the early 1990s, Jacques helped found the Fédération du personnel de soutien de l'enseignement supérieur (Federation of Education Support Personnel in Higher Education - FPSES) in 1998 and has been involved in raising awareness among CSQ members and Quebec society as a whole about the rights of LGBTQI+ people. He also contributed to the Comité intersyndical (inter-union committee), in 1996, and the Forum des gais et lesbiennes syndiqués du Québec (Forum of unionised gays and lesbians of Québec - FGLSQ), in 1997, to campaign and lobby governments and raise awareness among colleagues of the issues and discrimination experienced by members of the community. This commitment would lead, among other things, to the fair application of social benefits for same-sex partners. Clauses would also gradually be added to collective bargaining agreements thanks to the work of the unions. The Loi sur l’impôt (Income Tax Act) was amended in 1998 to include same-sex partners.

Jacques Pétrin

Jacques' work, which was again crucial in 2002, made him a key figure in the campaign to have same-sex civil unions recognised in Quebec. His children's testimony before the parliamentary committee on Bill 84, which was to become the Loi instituant l’union civile et établissant de nouvelles règles de filiation (Act instituting civil unions and establishing new rules of filiation), made an impact and moved the then Minister of Justice. It was a powerful demonstration of the fulfilment of children in same-sex families, an issue that was at the heart of public debate at the time.

Founder of CSQ's Comité pour la diversité sexuelle et l’identité de genre (Committee for Sexual Diversity and Gender Identity - CDSIQ) more than 20 years ago, Jacques Pétrin was also the initiator of the Table nationale de lutte contre l'homophobie et la transphobie des réseaux de l'éducation (National forum against homophobia and transphobia in education networks) in 2006. The forum’s mission is to encourage cooperation between the various partners in the education networks on issues relating to the fight against homophobia and transphobia. Its aim is to promote peaceful behaviour in order to prevent and counter bullying, violence, heterosexism, cissexism and cyberbullying in schools, from primary to university level. The forum’s strength lies in its broad membership of diverse partners, including trade unions, employers' organisations, associations of principals and managers, members of research teams, parents' committees, student associations and the Ministries of Education and Higher Education.

As a forum for fruitful exchange, the forum contributes to school and public life by producing recommendations. For example, as part of the consultations on the government's Action Plan to combat homophobia and transphobia 2023-2028, the forum is recommending the implementation of institutional policies on sexual diversity and gender plurality in each school, as well as adjustments to existing policies and school codes of conduct. These policies should include the entire school community, i.e. students, parents and staff. The forum also promotes accessible, high-quality sexuality education, funding to match ambitions, staff training and inclusive, safe facilities. It is also contributing to the consultations underway in Quebec by the Comité de sages sur l'identité de genre (Expert Committee on gender identity).

On its website, the forum lists a range of documentary resources, research and practical guides to facilitate action. The document Mesures d’ouverture et de soutien envers les jeunes trans et les jeunes non binaires – Guide pour les établissements d’enseignement (Openness and support for trans and non-binary young people - A guide for educational establishments) has also been well received in the community. Published in 2017, this guide is the fruit of the invaluable collaboration between the forum’s partners, and has inspired the Quebec Ministry of Education to produce its own guide for schools in 2021: Guide à l’intention de milieux scolaires : Pour une meilleure prise en compte de la diversité sexuelle et de genre (Guide for schools: Taking better account of sexual and gender diversity). With the same aim of supporting all stakeholders, in 2019 the forum also produced Mesures de soutien et d’inclusion des personnes trans et des personnes non binaires en milieu de travail – Guide pour les employeurs et les syndicats (Measures to support and include trans and non-binary people in the workplace - A guide for employers and trade unions).

Its work in consultation, research and communication helps to inform and equip Quebec schools to act on LGBTQI+ issues. The five previous conferences organised by the forum and the upcoming sixth conference, to be held on 16 and 17 January 2025 in Longueuil, Quebec, bear witness to this. Research and the dissemination of knowledge also occupy a special place, thanks in part to the work of our partners in the Chaire de recherche sur la diversité sexuelle et la pluralité des genres (Research Chair in Sexual Diversity and Gender Plurality).

Building on Jacques Pétrin’s rich legacy of commitment, the CSQ and the national forum are proud to continue working for the rights and recognition of LGBTQI+ people in education and for the benefit of the entire community.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.