Quebec government funding group promoting anti-trans views
WARNING: This story contains transphobic language which some may find disturbing
Fae Johnstone is no stranger to seeing hateful anti-trans messages online, but she was shocked to discover the Quebec government was funding a group that targeted her on Twitter.
The Ottawa-based activist, who appeared in a Hershey’s ad to mark International Women’s Day, was described as a “violent man” in a series of now-deleted tweets by Pour les droits des femmes du Quebec (PDF Quebec)s account.
Other tweets took jokes between Johnstone and her spouse out of context and repeatedly referred to her as a man.
“It hurts. I’ve been exposed to a bit of thousands and thousands of hateful tweets over the past week,” Johnstone said.
“I was encouraged to commit suicide in my own inbox. I’ve been labeled a freak, deviant, pedophile, and groomer. Then to see PDF Québec … to depict myself as dangerous or violent or a threat to anyone is heinous, it is insidious and it should be categorically denounced.”
CBC checked PDF Québec’s Twitter account and confirmed that there had been a number of personal attacks on trans activists. PDF Québec also shares resources encouraging transgender people to detransition and refers to gender surgeries as “mutilations”.
The Quebec Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family confirmed that the provincial government has provided PDF Québec with US$143,000 for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The funds come from the funding program for state orientation in the community and voluntary action to promote rights.
Organizations must meet strict criteria to receive these funds, according to a ministry spokesman.
Criteria include: a non-profit organization or cooperative established for social needs, community-based, promotes democratic living, has consulted the community it represents, has a mission for social change, demonstrates civic practices, has an independent board of directors has the directors and implementation of folk education.
PDF Québec meets the criteria for independent community action and collective defense of rights, said Catherine Poulin, spokeswoman for the Labor Department.
The ministry did not respond to specific requests from CBC regarding the PDF Québec tweets targeting trans activists.
A spokesman for the Quebec minister responsible for fighting homophobia and transphobia said, “Quebec is an open and welcoming society where homophobia and transphobia have no place” and that funding PDF Québec “is not a sign of support of all their positions”.
PDF Quebec Lobby Efforts
PDF Québec is one of the few women’s groups in the province to have endorsed Bill 21, which among other things prevents civil servants and teachers from wearing religious symbols.
She also submitted a letter to the federal government in 2015, demanding that trans people who have not had sex surgery cannot change their gender identification on government ID cards.
In 2017, she submitted a brief to amend Act C-16 — which aims to protect people of opposite sexes from discrimination — to exclude some trans people, as granting protection would undermine women’s rights .
The organization denies the proliferation of anti-trans views on its platforms.
“PDF Québec does not attack people in their lives or in their choices of sexual orientation or gender identity. On the contrary, we want everyone to live with dignity and without discrimination,” they said in a statement.
“Two transgender people [SIC] were even among the founding members when PDF Québec was born. Our mission as an organization is to defend the rights and interests of women in relation to their dignity and security, thereby contributing to the debates of ideas that take place in a democratic society like Quebec.”
But for the trans activists personally attacked by PDF Québec’s Twitter account, the statement seems hollow.
“I find it terrible. Our feminist siblings and feminist organizations across Canada support transgender rights. This is not a controversy,” Johnstone said.
“To see an organization that calls itself a feminist amplifying misinformation … it’s such a disappointment and should really call into question their funding from the Quebec government.”
She says government funding gives organizations legitimacy and more resources to further their agendas. At a time when attacks on the LGBT community are increasing, being attacked personally makes Johnstone unsafe, she said.
Johnstone pointed to American lawmakers forcing trans people to detransition, blocking access to gender-affirming health care (including hormones and surgery), and banning drag performances.
Montreal’s drag story lessons in libraries have also been the subject of protests and controversy.
“What they’re doing here is they’re portraying trans people as a threat or as if we’re embracing feminism. […] When they try to coerce us, it’s an attempt to dehumanize us, separate us from other women and allow violence and vile rhetoric to be used against us,” Johnstone said.
“Now is the time for every government, especially the Quebec government, to support trans communities, otherwise we will advance agendas that will harm our entire community.”
Montreal transgender activist Celeste Trianon, who runs a legal aid clinic that helps transgender women, was also targeted by PDF Québec.
She says PDF Québec is picking up on anti-trans talk, popular in the US and UK, which further encourages policymakers to introduce anti-trans legislation.
“There needs to be additional protections for trans people as a group and to ensure that people who parrot hate speech are held accountable for their actions,” Trianon said.
“These tweets perpetuate the false stereotype that trans women are predators and that trans women are not women.”
She says this type of online discourse has material consequences, leading her to worry that anti-trans legislation could find its way into Canada.
“Even if there is no problem, people will make a problem out of it. And people are being attacked because people have chosen to make a problem out of it,” she said.