by Jarrah Hodge
Last week the Government of Quebec launched their first campaign aimed at raising awareness of and reducing homophobia. The first part of the five-year, $7.1 million campaign consists of two French-language TV commercials (clips below) and an English-language radio ad (transcript). In all three ads the audience is presented with a recognizable relationship situation, for example in the radio ad a man tells his partner that he doesn’t want to go to the in-laws’ house for dinner. It isn’t until the partner replies that we know it’s a gay couple.
The ads target straight people and ask them to confront their attitudes and explore how open they really are to LGBT people. What I like most about the TV ads is how positive the tone is. They make it very clear that there’s nothing wrong or abnormal about simply being gay.
However, there are a couple aspects of the campaign that might be questionable. The first thing I noticed was that almost all of the people featured in the ads and the complementary website: fighthomophobia.gouv.qc.ca are white and professional-looking, which leads to a general tone of saying it’s okay to be gay as long as you meet the standards of white, middle-class relationship normalcy.
The website takes readers through a list of scenarios that include a positive representation of an LGBT person. For example, one scenario starts with a picture of a woman shopping at the grocery store and a voice-over saying “Lucy has always been a happy, smiley person”. The picture changes to a close-up of her face while the voice explains that “Lucy used to be Luke” and asks the reader to click on an option to say whether or not this bothers them. Another asks whether the reader is bothered by the fact that their physician, who is “beloved by their patients” is bisexual. It made me wonder whether it was really necessary to put in those positive qualifiers. Surely a less-smiley trans woman or a doctor who’s merely average deserves the same respect.
The other thing I find odd is that you get different narrators and scenarios based on whether you say you are a man, a woman, or “anonymous” and based on age. It seemed a little off for a campaign trying to end homophobia and transphobia to start off asking readers to identify with one side of a gender binary, and I don’t really get why readers would need different content or a narrator that matched their identified gender (if you picked “anonymous” you get a man’s voice narrating). For example in the scenario with the bisexual physician, if you go in to the site and identify as a woman, you get a scenario with a woman physician. If you identify as a man, you get a man physician in your story. I’m just not sure why it’s necessary.
Finally, while I think the site exercise will likely be effective at reaching people who already believe homophobia is wrong but may have lingering personal attitudes to work on, it doesn’t offer a lot of help or suggestions. I went through several times providing different answers. One time I identified as a man under 24 and said that I was a little bit bothered by everything, and a lot bothered by the idea that trans woman Lucy was my teacher. I’m not sure what kind of rebuke I expected but I definitely didn’t expect this:
“You seem to be on the right track for your openness to sexual diversity to become an example for your friends, family, and society at large. However, even in Quebec too many people are still victims of homophobia.”
Again, I’m not sure what would be a more effective answer to someone who did express misgivings about LGBT people, but maybe having some personal stories about the negative impacts of homophobia might be a starting point.
At any rate, I do like the positive tone of the TV ads and despite my quibbles I’ll give the Government of Quebec credit for investing in tackling this very serious issue head-on – not just through these ads but also through funding community-based programs – something I wish we’d see in BC.