Retrouver sa langue: How 2S/LGBTQIA+ Community Services Can Better Meet the Needs of Francophone Minorities

March has always been a special month for me. As a young queer and non-binary person from a small town in Eastern Ontario, it took a lot of time for me to understand how the multiple aspects of my identity influence one another. It will come as no surprise, then, that I am eager to celebrate the days that reflect different parts of myself: both the Day of la Francophonie on March 20 and Trans Day of Visibility on March 31.

But as I got older, my springtime celebrations became more and more critical. It was especially difficult for me to realize that the queer and trans spaces so dear to my heart are rarely, if ever, developed with my intersecting identities in mind. In fact, it can be difficult for Francophone minorities to express the challenges we face when accessing queer and trans services, often out of fear of making the job harder for community service providers that are already overloaded with work.

However, the lack of discussion about the experiences of queer and trans Francophones in minority settings only serves to limit our ability to improve the types of support that we need. To set the record straight and kick off le Mois de la Francophonie on the right foot, I wanted to share some key insights to help make 2S/LGBTQIA+ community services more accessible, representative, and accountable for us all.

Contextualizing the Experiences of Queer and Trans Francophone Minorities

Although most Francophones in Canada live in Québec, roughly 13% live in provinces with Anglophone majorities. That’s over one million people, about the same size as the 2S/LGBTQIA+ community. According to data from the 2021 federal census, Ontario accounts for more than half of all Francophone minorities, with almost 592 000 people indicating French as their first language. That’s not nothing! Although this number has slightly increased since the 2016 census, the promotion of the French language has stagnated. Outside of Québec, the rate of English-French bilingualism has fallen. It is therefore up to Francophone minorities to undertake the hard but necessary work of ensuring our own community’s development. Otherwise, the threat of linguistic assimilation will continue to gain momentum.

To be truthful, this reality is neither new nor surprising. Francophone minorities have always been self-sufficient out of necessity. Since the time of the Conquest of New France, North America became hostile to the French language. Historically, this hostility was expressed, among other ways, through official policies that sought to eliminate la Francophonie from Turtle Island, whether it be the deportation of the Acadians in the 18th century, the colonial Act of Union of 1840, Ontario’s Regulation 17 in 1912, or many others. While the French language has undeniably benefited from greater governmental support over the past five decades, largely thanks to the Canadian Charter and provincial legislation governing access to French-language services, we nonetheless have had to continue our struggle against a Francophobic colonial heritage in order to secure our place within the “Rest of Canada.” Just look at what happened in Ontario in 2018, when the provincial government tried to slash funding for the Université de l’Ontario français (UOF) and dismantle the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner (OFLSC). The government reversed course only after a massive wave of public protests across the province, demonstrating the lengths that Francophone minorities will go to in order to preserve the advances we have made.

A picture of Francesco from 2018, in Ottawa, at the protest against the provincial government’s decision to eliminate funding for the UOF and abolish the OFLSC.A picture of Francesco from 2018, in Ottawa, at the protest against the provincial government’s decision to eliminate funding for the UOF and abolish the OFLSC.

This fierce energy of resistance has long inspired Francophone minorities to create the support networks we have needed to survive and thrive in French. Where the provision of services was insufficient, advocacy groups cropped up to demand better. In many ways, this tendency towards advocacy also reflects the realities of queer and trans people, who have also been systemically ignored by the governments that are supposed to represent us. In this sense, the motto “by, for, and with” carries profound implications for both communities. But what happens when those located at their intersections—queer and trans Francophones living outside Québec—lack proper resources? When we are so used to doing everything on our own, it can be exhausting (if not entirely debilitating) to always have to carve out space for ourselves without external support. Thankfully, it is possible for us to create an environment where mutual aid can lead to important and lasting change.

Call for Solidarity: Let’s Build Closer Ties between 2S/LGBTQIA+ Community Organizations and Francophone Minorities

For too long, there has been a lack of dialogue and solidarity between 2S/LGBTQIA+ communities and Francophone minorities, largely because our identities are often presented in silos — we are either a sexual or gender minority, or a Francophone minority, but rarely both. Since the early 2010s, the walls separating both groups have slowly but surely come down, especially in Francophone circles. More and more initiatives seek to meet the needs of queer and trans people in Francophone minority communities. I’m thinking here of examples from my own province, where organizations adorned with the green and white of the Franco-Ontarian flag have given more attention to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. What’s more, many non-profit organizations in the province have been working hard to offer resources and programming explicitly created with queer and trans Francophone minorities in mind, such as FrancoQueer and Action Positive VIH/sida.

That said, beyond the feelings of isolation that accompany the need to always be self-sufficient, queer and trans Francophone minorities experience other challenges that prevent us from fully embracing our diverse identities, most notably linguistic insecurity. For Francophone minorities, this phenomenon can be summed up as the feeling that our ability to express ourselves in French is not sufficient and does not meet the expectations of Francophones in majority contexts. This often results in us abandoning the French language entirely, preferring instead to live in English than to feel like we are not worthy or able to speak “good” French.

While Francophone minorities have long sought to limit the impacts of linguistic insecurity, the assimilation of our communities continues. It is therefore crucial that 2S/LGBTQIA+ service providers outside of Québec show their solidarity with Francophone members of their communities by creating spaces where they can fully express themselves in their native language without judgement or worry. Without such efforts, 2S/LGBTQIA+ community organizations may involuntarily contribute to the gradual disappearance of the French language in minority contexts. Although certainly easier said than done, we can take specific actions today to ensure the sustainability of queer and trans Francophone minority communities, without necessarily having to entirely restructure the services we depend on.

Focusing on Intersectionality to Improve French-Language 2S/LGBTQIA+ Community Services: Cultural Competency and Active Offer

Those who work in the field of 2S/LGBTQIA+ health and wellness will be well-acquainted with the term “cultural competency.” This refers to service provision that is adapted to the specific realities of the groups we serve. Cultural competency is especially important when we talk about marginalized communities, like racialized people or immigrants, as without it, we risk perpetuating ignorant, racist, or xenophobic standards and practices. By talking to people in a language that is familiar to them and by offering services that suit their unique needs, we can ensure better standards of care.

In addition to cultural competency, there is another core concept that can help us improve our services, this time better known by Francophone minorities: that of an “active offer.” This practice boils down to an invitation to access services in the official language of our choice, without having to request it. Whether it be a simple “bonjour, hello!” or a sign that indicates a frontline employee’s bilingualism, the concept of active offer lets Francophone minorities know that we don’t have to leave our language at the door to benefit from the supports and services that we need. Of course, active offer is not only a question of linguistic justice — it is also about racial and immigrant justice. According to Statistics Canada, of the almost 270 000 Francophone immigrants settled in Ontario, only roughly 26% indicated speaking French at work. Other research shows that, in Ottawa, immigrants who only speak French face multiple sources of stigmatization, especially as a result of the disadvantage they experience working in a job market that is predominantly Anglophone.

Even if 2S/LGBTQIA+ service providers don’t have the power to reverse this trend on their own, they are well-positioned to limit its alienating effects within queer and trans spaces, either by engaging in active offer or by providing resources in French where a lack of resources prevents them from hiring bilingual employees. What’s more, it is clear that there is a pressing need for this type of initiative. Take Manitoba for example, where a recent study found that queer and trans Francophone minorities often feel rejected by both groups they belong to. One of the study participants sums up this feeling: “Generally, as a pansexual and polysexual person, I feel like I’m at the border of a border, as though I don’t fit in either the Francophone or 2SLGBTQ communities” (Prada et al. 2022, p. 10). To put it bluntly, if 2S/LGBTQIA+ community services outside Québec truly wish to adopt an intersectional approach to their work, it is critical that they improve the active offer of services in French, the sharing of French-language resources, and the cultural competency towards Francophone minorities, granting special attention to the needs of racialized and newly-settled Francophones in Canada.

“Nous sommes, nous serons”: Let’s Ensure the Longevity of All Our Communities

Queer and trans people, just like Francophone minorities, know all too well that our place in society is not guaranteed, and that we must continuously fight to preserve the advances we have made. By joining our forces and showing solidarity for each other’s struggles, it will not only be easier to ensure access to the services we are owed in our language, but also to adapt our practices to ensure that no one is left behind within our respective communities. Although this expanded inclusion requires more resources and effort to achieve, we have already demonstrated that we are able to meet the needs of many groups at once, without limiting our ability to accomplish great things. We see this determination in the popular slogans of our two communities. Whether it be “we’re here, we’re queer” or “nous sommes, nous serons,” we don’t have to look far to find the inspiration we need to continue moving forward together.

By Francesco MacAllister-Caruso

Disponible en français.


About CBRC

Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) promotes the health of people of diverse sexualities and genders through research and intervention development.
Retrouver sa langue: How 2S/LGBTQIA+ Community Services Can Better Meet the Needs of Francophone Minorities
Retrouver sa langue: How 2S/LGBTQIA+ Community Services Can Better Meet the Needs of Francophone Minorities
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