Some Quebec health professionals and researchers are worried about the creation of a new government committee to weigh in on gender identity issues, raising concerns about who will make up the committee and whether they will be able to adequately represent the interests of trans and non-binary people.
"I'm not sure of the intention," said Françoise Susset, a psychologist who has specialized in trans health and LGBTQ+ issues for more than 25 years.
She says it's imperative that the future committee, proposed by Education Minister Bernard Drainville earlier this month and mentioned by Premier François Legault last week, be made up of people with informed perspectives on gender identity.
"Otherwise, what will happen is that people will get lost [...] in discussions that would be settled in three seconds if we knew the basics," said Susset.
The proposed committee was announced by Drainville after he asked a school in Abitibi to back down on its decision to adopt gender neutral washrooms.
Legault said he does not believe Quebecers are deeply divided over issues around LGBTQ+ rights, but he wants to prevent any extremism from settling in.
He said his government will form a committee to look into issues surrounding gender identity, including the rights of parents and children, adding he understands the concerns on both sides of the issue.
Speaking to journalists last Thursday, Legault was careful about using the word "experts" to define who will make up the committee.
"[It] will be made up of knowledgeable people," he said.
Hundreds of people crowded downtown Montreal last week to make their disapproval or support of sex education and LGBTQ+ rights in Quebec known. (Charles Contant/CBC/Radio-Canada)
In so doing, he strayed from the vocabulary used a few days earlier by Drainville, who said he wanted a scientific committee on issues of gender identity.
This ambiguity is starting to worry some members of the Professional Order of Sexologists of Quebec (OPSQ).
"The sole fear we have is that the committee [...] won't represent the real interests of these people, who are quite vulnerable: we're talking about trans children, non-binary children," said OPSQ president Joanie Heppell.
"When we talk about knowledgeable people rather than experts, we can ask ourselves the following question: what qualities do [they] have that can surpass those of the people who work with this clientele every day?"
Quebec's Families Minister Suzanne Roy announced she would be leading the committee Wednesday morning.
She says the committee will be made up of "credible" people based on their experience and who they are.
"Different perspectives will be analyzed and no one will be forgotten," she said. "Our goal isn't to take away rights from anyone but to make sure that as a society we look at these issues in a serene and respectful manner."
Roy says details around the committee's mandate and who will sit on it still need to be ironed out, but will be revealed in December before the holidays.
Groups, committees already exist
In the face of this new proposed committee, many are wondering why the Legault government isn't simply turning to its own Bureau de lutte contre l'homophobie et la transphobie (BLCHT), in place since 2011, to lead the reflection on gender identity.
When questioned by Radio-Canada, the government would not say whether the BLCHT was consulted before announcing the creation of the committee of wise people.
In 2020, the Legault government also set up the Comité national sur l'adaptation et l'accès aux services de santé et aux services sociaux pour les personnes de la diversité sexuelle et de genre.
Made up of more than 20 medical, academic and community experts, among others, this committee delivered its report last April to make Quebec's health-care network more inclusive for LGBTQ+ people.
Francoise Susset, a psychologist who has specialized in trans health and LGBTQ+ issues for more than 25 years, says it's imperative that the future committee be made up of people with informed perspectives on gender identity. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)
Two e-mails received by Radio-Canada confirm that this group of experts is still active and scheduled to meet again this fall.
According to psychologist Susset, who is a member of the committee, the task of reflecting on gender identity could easily have been entrusted to her group.
"We have the knowledge to put forward information that will help to tone down the issue. What I've been seeing for some time is a lot of misinformation … that's going to alarm families and parents," she said.
A possible setback
Contrary to the discourse conveyed last week by demonstrators from the "1 Million March 4 Children," schools are managing the issue of gender identity very well, according to Susset.
A guide for schools, Pour une meilleure prise en compte de la diversité sexuelle et de genre, has been available in Quebec since 2021.
Susset says schools must remain supportive spaces for young people, whether they are exploring their career choices or their gender identity.
To parents who worry about being belatedly informed about their child's questions about their identity, Susset says this process is normal, even though the feeling can be "distressing."
"Young people will often go through the process of discovering themselves, and then be able to talk to their parents about it, knowing [who they are]. At that point, they're ready to risk those relationships that are most important," she said, adding parental support is vital.
As for fears about the health care offered to trans and non-binary young people, Heppell notes it's closely supervised.
The standards of practice are public in nature, as they are collected in a document from the World Association of Transgender Health Professionals, accessible online.
Heppell is therefore all the more concerned that Legault is not using the word "experts" to refer to his future committee, since many of the issues of concern seem to fall within the scope of sexology, psychology or medicine.
"If a committee were to go against recognized standards of care for trans patients, then we could be faced with something a little troubling, and it would be a step backwards in care, a step backwards in services," she said.
Heppell said the Legault government has been a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community in recent years, citing the adoption of a bill to ban conversion therapies in the province.
If the government wants to continue along this path, it must not seek to open a debate on gender identity, says Heppell, noting the realities of trans and non-binary people is nothing new.
"If there's one additional thing the committee can do, it would be to educate the public more about the experiences of trans children and trans people," she said.