Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Montreal Gazette: Quebec at the forefront of gay rights movement - Anti-homophobia day has spread around the world


Alexis Musanganya speaks at the annual anti-homophobia day gathering in Lafontaine Park yesterday.

Alexis Musanganya speaks at the annual anti-homophobia day gathering in Lafontaine Park yesterday.

Photograph by: ALLEN MCINNIS, THE GAZETTE, The Gazette

About 50 countries took part yesterday in a fête founded in Quebec to combat discrimination against gays.

"It makes me really happy to see how the idea has caught on," said Laurent McCutcheon, founder and president of Emergence Foundation, organizer of the International Day against Homophobia.

The group started the provincially funded event in 2003. It spread to Belgium in 2004 and to the rest of Canada and France the following year.

More than 150 people rallied in Lafontaine Park, where members of the Groupe de recherche et d'intervention social (GRIS) raised a rainbow flag symbolizing diversity.

It's not surprising the event started here; Quebecers tend to be liberal on social issues, McCutcheon said. "We are one of the most welcoming and open-minded societies," he said.

This year's theme, "Homosexuality knows no borders," counters the view in some cultures that homosexuality exists only in western countries.

Six groups representing gays and lesbians from different cultural communities took part in the local event.

"In our culture, homophobia is very present," said Rémy Nassar, president of Helem ("dream"), which represents gays and lesbians of Lebanese origin.

Homosexuality is a crime punishable by prison in Lebanon, Nassar noted. In some Muslim countries, it carries a death sentence, he added.

Homophobia is at least as prevalent in Montreal's Lebanese community as in Lebanon itself, Nassar said, noting that immigrant communities often tend to cling to conservative values.

"We hear comments like, 'You're the shame of your country,' " he said.

Nassar, 29, said he once heard an acquaintance who did not know he was gay remark that gays should be herded together and blown up.

Yesterday, a half dozen members of Helem handed out pamphlets at the Guy-Concordia métro station and last night it sponsored a film and a report on gays and lesbians in Lebanon.

The Emergence Foundation made public a survey by Léger Marketing that found the children of immigrants are much more favourable to homosexuality than their parents, with 48 per cent of the parents saying homosexuality is an illness vs. 24 per cent of the next generation.

The margin of error of the poll, based on 500 interviews, is 2.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Alexis Musanganya, president of Arc en ciel d'Afrique, said he barely escaped being beaten in a local African club three years ago for being gay. He said his brother stepped in to rescue him.

Musanganya, 35, who is from Rwanda, said he would not have dared to come out as a gay in his homeland.

"After having suffered and taken a lot of risks to get here, we should not go back into the closet," he said. "You are in a country where you can live your sexuality."

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