Montreal

Boisclair responds to homophobic slurs

Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair was forced to address his homosexuality for the first time in the provincial election campaign on Thursday.

Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair was forced to address his homosexuality for the first time in the provincial electioncampaign on Thursday.

The openly gay Boisclair was asked to respond to comments madein lateFebruaryby "shock jock" radio host Louis Champagne, who said factory workers in the Saguenay would never vote for a "tapette," the French slang equivalent of "fag."

In an interview with local PQ candidate Alexandre Cloutier, Champagne hadasked whether he thought it would be hard to sell aleader like Boisclair in the region, givenhis sexual orientation.

Then, referring toanother PQ candidate in the area, Sylvain Gaudreault, a gay candidate running in the Jonquière riding, Champagneasked Cloutier whether the PQ had becomea "fag club."

Champagne crossed a line with his comments, Boisclair said on Thursday.

"Is he saying on the radio that people in Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean are more homophobic than other people elsewhere in Quebec? Homophobia exists, but I feel these words are very insulting for the people of Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean,"the PQ leadertold CBC during his stop in Quebec City.

Boisclair acknowledged homophobia is a problem throughout the province, where the suicide rate among young gay menis significantly higher than among others in their age group.

In a rare revelation about his personal life, Boisclair admitted he'd been fortunate to have never experienced homophobia growing up in Montreal: "I was very privileged, and I grew up in an environment where I had caring parents and fantastic friends."

When reporters asked him whether homophobia was weighing on his election campaign, Boisclair took a long pause before saying he wouldlet Quebecers answer that question, because he knows they believe in equality and freedom.

Boisclair was in Quebec City to unveil an education program he said will lower dropout rates in the province. The PQ leader said he wouldalso like to encourage young gay boys to stay in school.

Boisclair had spent some time campaigning in the Saguenay region earlier this week to shore up support for the PQ in the traditionally sovereigntist region. Recent polls suggest Boisclair is fighting off surges in the area from the Liberals and the ADQ.

'Public school must be secular'

Thursday afternoon, Boisclair took aim at ADQ Leader Mario Dumont on his views about religion in schools.

Addressing students at the Université Laval, the PQ leader said Dumont would allow anyreligion in public schools — "from Jesus Christ right to Rael,"the leader of a sect that believes life on Earth was created by extraterrestrials — if he's elected and enacts his plan to fund religious instruction.

The proposal would divide Quebecers and undermine its secular identity, Boisclair said. "Public school must be secular, it must be neutral," he told an enthusiastic crowd of students.

The PQ leader also got enthusiastic applause and cheers when he reiterated his promise to maintain a freeze on tuition.