Montreal

Fighting homophobia and the other F-word

An anti-bullying campaign launched by the Quebec government urges people to speak up when they hear others use homophobic slurs.

'Fag is no longer part of my vocabulary,' Quebec anti-bullying campaign proclaims

David Platts, president of GRIS Montreal, said it can be 'paralyzing' as an LGB person to hear someone causally called a slur. (Cloé Jourdain/Gris.ca)

I admit, I was shocked when I suddenly heard the word on the radio. It turns out, that was the point.

"Fag. We always said it as a joke. At the office. On fishing trips. Even you seem to find it funny," said the male voice in an English-language radio announcement produced by the Quebec government.

It went on to say, "Well, yesterday my son told me he was gay. And I realize every time you hear it, it must hurt."

The blunt message is part of a broader anti-bullying campaign launched by Quebec's ministry of family.

It's an in-your-face approach to bring attention to a word I would rather not write, but that is spoken so often that a publicly funded campaign aims to curb its use.

Shari Okeke reports on a new provincial campaign against the "F" word.

"Anyone hearing [a homophobic slur] and who might happen to be gay or lesbian or bisexual is going to be hurt because for them, they hear that word and an electric shock goes right down to their heart," said David Platts, president of GRIS, a group that holds workshops in schools to demystify homosexuality and bisexuality.

Platts welcomes the campaign and says it's real-life testimonials, similar to the one portrayed in the announcement, that often spark a change.

That's why GRIS workshops in schools include personal testimonials from gay and bisexual people.

"The kids often come up to us afterwards and say, 'I'm not going to use those words anymore,'" Platts said.

Homophobic slurs in sports 

The campaign includes television and radio announcements as well as posters that will soon appear in arenas, sports centres and community centres across the province.

Platts, a long-time athlete, remembers how it felt to hear slurs when he was a young hockey player  — still in the closet — and did not want to fight on the ice.

"Someone will say, 'come on you fag, drop your gloves,' and when they do, the desire to punch them in the face becomes pretty strong," Platts said.

"It was because I was so angry and I was trying to hide the fact I was gay myself."

Hearing homophobic language is still a reality for youth involved in hockey today.

Keith Mills, a minor league hockey referee in Montreal, says he is shocked every time he hears a slur launched by players or coaches. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

"You will hear in locker rooms...sometimes from a coach, from one player to another, if it appears that you're playing soft, if you're not playing hard enough with enough grit you'll hear terms like, 'you're a sissy, you're a fag,' and it's very unfortunate," said Keith Mills, a minor league referee in Montreal, who also plays hockey regularly. 

Mills said, as a referee, if he can identify the player who said the slur, he'll kick that player out of the game.

But it's tough to hear every comment and when a comment is heard from the bench, it's hard to determine who said it, he said.

Young players are also influenced by professional players, their own upbringing and coaches, Mills said.

"Sometimes you're fighting years of what's been drilled into them, to try to reshape it," he said.

Professional hockey

Montrealer Andrea Barone, a professional hockey referee in the ECHL, came out publicly last December, "hoping it would be a stepping stone for a player or official...or coach for the NHL," he said. 

NHL hockey is the only sport of the big five sports in North America in which no one has come out yet, Barone said.

In the meantime, he still hears homophobic slurs regularly.

Andrea Barone, a referee with the ECHL, came out publicly last December. (Submitted by Andrea Barone)

He says hearing those words pushes closeted players deeper into the closet.

"When the word fag has the same reaction as someone calling someone the N-word, that's when I guess it'll be kind of on an even playing field. We're not even remotely close to that," Barone said. 

Changing culture 

There has been a "massive change in culture" over the past decade according Paulo Senra, the Canadian Football League communications director.

Senra is an openly gay athlete who plays soccer internationally and has also worked with the Canadian Olympic Committee. 

"Definitely, there is work to do in our arenas on our fields in our locker rooms," he said.

But there is progress, he adds.

Senra says the CFL has zero tolerance policy and points to an example of one player who used a homophobic slur before or during a game.

The player was fined then he matched the fine with a donation to an LGBT charity.

Paulo Senra, communications director for the CFL, says there's still work to do, but athletes know homophobic language is not acceptable. (Submitted by Paulo Senra)

"We've come to a point where it's just not acceptable to use that word," Senra said.

Senra also points to the Edmonton Oilers recently taking part in an event to support LGBT youth in which the Oilers put "pride tape" on their hockey sticks.

"Ten, 15 years ago, the fact that a hockey team would be using rainbow-coloured tape around their hockey sticks or an athlete like Michael Sam signing with the Montreal Alouettes and the entire league and their staff and athletes publicly welcoming them into the fold, that stuff just wouldn't happen." he said.

That said, Senra welcomes the campaign in Quebec and says it's another step toward making people more aware of the power of their words.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, an award-winning CBC original podcast.

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