Province suspends anti-homophobia ads
Gender equality campaign on pause too, for now
In its quest to slash $3 billion from the budget, the province is suspending an acclaimed anti-homophobia advertising campaign.
The ad campaign slated for 2014-15 would have cost $1 million, as part of five-year, $7.1-million plan, launched in 2013 to get the public thinking about how open they really are to homosexuality.
The province is also putting a gender equality campaign on the back burner that would have cost $500,000.
"This year, we're in a situation where the budget asks us to limit the publicity and different expenses within the department," said Stéphanie Vallée, Quebec's Minister of Justice, who is also responsible for the province's anti-homophobia strategy.
"I understand the perception of it, but at the same time, it's a decision that we've had to make. Are we going to cut on publicity? Or are we going to cut on direct help? And my decision was to go and support directly the groups."
Public awareness is the number one priority in the government's action plan to fight homophobia, a strategy launched in 2011.
"We need that kind of campaign from the government. It's its responsibility to make sure all people are included and accepted in society. And Conseil québécois LGBT and other organizations, we don't have the capacity to reach out all the population [like the provincial government does]," said Steve Foster, executive director of the Conseil québécois LGBT.
The province is in the midst of a major overhaul of services as it tries to balance the budget by 2015-2016.
All ministers are reviewing their programs and where they can save money.
Vallée says Quebec's precarious financial situation forced her to put the campaign on hold.
"I understand the good that comes with a publicity campaign, but sometimes when you have to make efforts to balance a budget you have to make choices that are not always easy," she said.
In 2013, the Parti Québécois government launched an online, radio and television campaign showing LGBT people and couples in every day situations.
The campaign received international attention and was heralded as groundbreaking.
Subsequent ads were supposed to bring attention to same-sex parenting and transgender issues.
The 2013 ads also pulled the curtain back on homophobia that still exists, as some took to the internet to attack the ads.
"You can measure the inclusion of the LGBT people in society by the reaction of the other people. And with the first campaign, we saw a lot of hateful comments and homophobic comments, so we need to continue to work on that to make sure LGBT people will be included in all aspects of our society in Quebec," said Foster.
The 2013 campaign was successful, reaching 76 per cent of Quebec adults, according to a provincial report.
The postponement of the campaign comes as Premier Philippe Couillard convenes a round table of community leaders to combat bullying Thursday in Quebec City.
Over the past couple of months, Couillard has repeated that the most vulnerable people will not be affected by his government's budget slashing exercise.
Other ways to support the fight
PQ justice critic Alexandre Cloutier says suspending the ads send the opposite message.
"The bottom line is that it is is the minority groups who pay for the cuts of the government and in this instance it's the gays and lesbians," he said.
The justice minister does not see it the same way and says her department will find other ways to support the fight against homophobia.
"We have to make choices because the financial situation commands it. But this being said, we hope to be able to continue with the plan, if not this year, when things will be a bit better," she said.
Vallée says the government will continue reaching out, with initiatives that include using social media and events like an anti-bullying forum in Quebec City.