Critics call on Quebec to cut funding to 'overtly transphobic' women's group

LGBT advocacy groups and critics are calling the Quebec government's commitment to fighting transphobia and homophobia into question after it was revealed a group promoting anti-trans views is getting funding.

LGBT organizations in the province say they are systemically underfunded

Exterior of greystone government building with Quebec fleur-de-lys flag.
The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity says it takes the allegations against PDF Québec seriously and will review the case before renewing the group's funding. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

A women's group in Quebec could lose its government funding after having made a series of public comments that critics say are transphobic.

The group — PDF Québec — has been under increased scrutiny since using its Twitter account to attack prominent advocates of the trans community, first detailed by CBC News.

The opposition critic for the 2SLGBTQIA+ Community, Liberal MNA Jennifer Maccarone, told the National Assembly that she wants the Coalition Avenir Québec government to stop funding the group.

"We're in the midst of a renewal of the action plan for the fight against homophobia and transphobia, and they continue to finance in increasing amounts since 2019, a group that is overtly transphobic," Maccarone told CBC in an interview.

In recent days, trans advocacy groups have questioned why the Quebec government funds PDF Québec at all while their own organizations continue to struggle financially.

"I feel insulted," said Marie-Philippe Drouin, who runs Diversgenres, an advocacy group for trans people in Quebec City.

"I'm frustrated to know that a group that promotes hatred against other people [...] can exist."

two people at a pride festival holding a sign that says "Divergenres"
Marie-Philippe Drouin, left, and Alexys Guay, right, run Divergenres, an advocacy group for trans people in Quebec City. (Submitted by Marie-Philippe Drouin)

In a statement, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity said it takes the revelations in the CBC article "very seriously."

"Given the situation, an analysis will therefore be done prior to a possible renewal of the PDF Québec grant agreement," it said. Decisions about funding are usually taken at the beginning of the fiscal year.

PDF Québec also lobbied against the province's ban on conversion therapy in 2019, saying therapies to encourage trans people to identify with their sex assigned at birth should be allowed.

Critics say funding such groups calls Quebec's commitment to its LGBT population into question.

Liberal MNA speaks out

After a tense exchange about PDF Québec's funding at the National Assembly, Maccarone says the government is failing to properly fund LGBT organizations.

Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Martine Biron told Maccarone and the CBC that "funding an organization does not mean the government endorses all its views."

But Maccarone isn't convinced. She points out that not every advocacy group that applies for mission-based funding gets approved, even if they do meet the outlined criteria.

"At some point they're making an educated decision," said Maccarone.

She points out that PDF Québec is one of the only women's rights groups in the province that supported Bill 21, which prevents civil servants and teachers, among others, from wearing religious symbols.

Jennifer Maccarone at the National Assembly
Westmount MNA Jennifer Maccarone is calling on the Quebec government to stop funding PDF Québec, saying it is "overtly transphobic." (Radio-Canada)

Many organizations operate with project-based funding, meaning they need to reapply for funding with each project proposal. Mission-based funding allows organizations to get a lump sum for their operations every fiscal year.

The criteria to get mission-based funding as a collective rights group include: being a non-profit organization or co-operative created for social needs, being community-based, encouraging democratic life, having consulted the community it represents and pursuing a mission for social change.

The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity told CBC its funding criteria and framework for funding is meant to show the government's openness to "various points of view."

But Maccarone stresses that LGBT organizations in the province have been systematically underfunded.

With more laws restricting access to gender-affirming care for trans people passing in the U.K. and U.S., anti-trans hate on the rise and protests against drag performances in Quebec, support for those with marginalized gender and sexual identities is crucial, she says.

Quebec is dragging its heels when it comes to fighting homophobia and transphobia, says Maccarone.

"We're late on deploying the new action plan, financing has not been there for these organizations and the government continues to support organizations that promote hate speech against the trans community," she said.

"I think that we need to be very, very concerned about the future."

LGBT groups struggling

Divergenres offers various social and educational services like awareness training, accompaniment services for trans people, a phone helpline and community activities.

The organization has been getting by with project-based funding for six years. That means it can't offer job security to its workers and it may have to temporarily suspend services while waiting for the next round of grants.

"Our organization is in such precarious condition right now and our volunteers are at their wit's end," said Drouin.

Drouin decided to hire professionals to help them write their grant requests for the next fiscal year and make sure their application is air-tight. But they say they had to spend money that could have been reinjected into the community.

"We are for-and-by, we do activities in the community, we wrote a brief, we considered we met all criteria to be recognized," said Drouin.

"We're wondering what more we need to do?"

Other LGBT groups in the province say they face the same struggle. Interligne, a phone helpline for LGBT people, may soon have to close its overnight services due to a lack of funding.

Person looking at camera
Mona Greenbaum, executive director of the LGBT Family Coalition, says it tooks years for the coalition to achieve the funding that PDF Québec receives. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Maccarone said Interligne should be able to get the same type of funding as other suicide hotlines, but because it is considered an LGBT organization it is put in a different category.

"And therefore, they're underfinanced. And yet what they do is exactly the same work, but they're even more qualified because they have a very specific training to support a very specific clientele," she said.

Mona Greenbaum, the executive director of the LGBT+ Family Coalition, says her organization receives the same amount of funding as PDF Québec — but it took years to gradually increase their funding to the $143,000 it gets yearly. And even that doesn't cover everything the 25-year-old organization needs.

"For the longest time, we were just a volunteer organization. It took about nine years before we had any funding at all, and started at $25,000 a year," said Greenbaum.

The LGBT+ Family Coalition offers awareness training for workers like doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers who aren't briefed on the realities of gender and sexual diversity, which can cost $150,000 per year.

"We're all historically underfunded," said Greenbaum. "For the longest time the only thing that the government thought was legitimate to fund were groups for HIV [and public health]."


Erika Morris

CBC News journalist

Erika Morris is a journalist at CBC Montreal.