Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montreal, November 14, 2011 --- “Sexual orientation is part of your private life and any regular employer is entitled to ask their staff not to share their private life with the clients... this is considered management’s rights.” One may think that this is the United States Army’s “Don't Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; in fact, it is a written response of the Quebec human rights commission to a complaint filed last March by a gay Black man.

Mr. MT, a social service student from a local institution whose field internship was abruptly terminated by an organization where he had been doing his placement, is Black. During his internship, he was told by his supervisor not to disclose his homosexuality to clients. The institutions involved have no clear policy on the disclosure of sexual orientation in a social service setting.

In addition to the abrupt termination of his field placement (two months after receiving a positive evaluation), Mr. MT had to extend his studies for one month to catch up with an alternative placement. There was no procedure to enable to review or appeal the termination, and Mr. MT received no assistance from the educational institution and students' associations.

The human rights commission also stated that verbal instructions and comments made by his supervisor and work colleagues regarding the prevention of disclosure of his sexual orientation, which he deemed to be discriminatory, is part of their “freedom of speech.”

Based on these two grounds, the Commission rejected his complaint. He had to make additional arguments to explain why his sexual orientation, being integral to his identity, cannot and should not be hidden, especially in a helping relationship where trust and transparency between a social work professional and his client are essential.

“Sexual orientation is different from sexual practice because it refers to emotional and romantic attraction to another person as well as one's self-concept. Whereas my sexual practice is private in the workplace, my sexual orientation is not private because it is more than just my sexual behavior…”, Mr. MT wrote.

“The commission's classification of my sexual orientation as private limits my ability to talk about my family or spouse in the work place … If employers have the right to prevent employees from discussing their sexual orientation or family membership, can employers also prevent employees from displaying pictures of their families and spouses in the office?… This interpretation may function to perpetuate discrimination against sexual minorities in Quebec”, he added.

The human rights commission eventually changed its position and accepted his complaint. The case is now submitted to mediation.

“To qualify sexual orientation as part of one's private life and therefore not to be disclosed at work is, as a general policy, a most disturbing position on antigay discrimination in 2011, especially after Quebec has proclaimed a policy and a plan of action against homophobia,” states CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi.

“To further describe it as management's right to free speech and to prohibit disclosure of sexual orientation at work begs the question as to what civil rights gay men and lesbian really have today, and whether gays and lesbians of color truly enjoy equal protection against homophobic discrimination at work and in education,” he added.

Mr. MT is claiming damages and changes to the organization's stand on sexual orientation.