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  • Judging Homosexuals: A History of Gay Persecution in Quebec and France by Patrice Corriveau
  • Heather Shipley (bio)
Patrice Corriveau, Judging Homosexuals: A History of Gay Persecution in Quebec and France (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011)

Patrice Corriveau’s Judging Homosexuals offers a unique examination of the history of persecution in Québec and France, starting with Greek philosophies regarding sexuality and homosexuality and the influence of those philosophies in Western cultures. Corriveau begins his volume recounting the personal experience of witnessing a young man being violently assaulted by a group of “arrogant youth” who hurl homophobic insults at him, while a crowd of onlookers watches. This starting place, the personal experience of violence against the sexual “other” (whether real or perceived) seems to be increasingly the roots for examining why: why the animosity? Why the violence? And in reference to Corriveau’s book: what has been used as the bedrock to justify gay persecution and criminal sanctions based on homosexuality, here in Québec and France.

Dividing the book into different historical periods, Corriveau provides an overview of homosexual treatment from Ancient Greece to the seventeenth century. He traces the creation of “the homosexual” as a personality developed in response to other regulatory discourses, such as medicine. As Corriveau outlines, Greek and Roman culture did not make clear distinctions between homosexual and heterosexual, stating that “what was frowned upon was an overly pronounced interest in sexuality, either homosexual or heterosexual.”1 While relationships between two men or between a man and a boy varied, homoerotic practices did not violate any laws, and punishment for sexual violence was often tied to social status. Power relations figured most prominently in the determination of a violation, where passivity was associated with femininity and was suppressed. 342 CE saw the official institutionalization of capital punishment for “passive homoerotic behaviours,” although Corriveau states that there is no trace of anyone actually being found guilty of this charge.2 The bubonic plague and the need to increase the Roman population, coupled with increasing influence of the Old Testament, resulted in more formal impositions on homosexuality and the repression of homoerotic lifestyles (though often mostly associated with foreigners and child abusers). [End Page 468]

The second historical period that Corriveau examines begins with the Grande Ordonnance of 1670 to the British Conquest. Increasingly religious discourse and its condemnation of homoerotic customs began to take hold, and the result was that sodomists arrested by the police were sent to one of three places: (1) Parisian prisons; (2) medical institutions; or (3) religious establishments.3 Corriveau and historian Pascal Bastien discovered three possible sentences for cases of sodomy (the sodomist is sued; incarceration by order of banishment; sentencing on appeal). In the final scenario, the sodomist could be sent to a hospital for a prison sentence, enlist in the king’s army, or be sentenced to the guillotine or the gallows. Corriveau notes that although this third option “was rarely used, it was the one that captured the public’s imagination.”4 Corriveau also states that sodomists in France received the death penalty only when they were also convicted of a violent crime or murder, crimes that would have been sufficient for the death sentence on their own.5

Correspondingly, in New France, although there was an increased presence of the church in settler’s lives and with the extension of the system in France, the repression of homoerotic behaviours dropped in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Corriveau argues that this is less an indication of the sentiments of the criminal system or society regarding homosexuality and more likely indicates the difficulty with which police forces and legal systems operated at the time.6 Although public opinion about homosexuality as “despicable” seemed common place, there is an absence of convictions in New France in the eighteenth century.

Important shifts in both France and Québec saw changes in the construction of “the homosexual” (sodomist to invert to homosexual), where increasing laicization in France, in particular, shifted the discourse about sexual identity from medical approaches to personality. With the British Conquest in Canada, the changing legal system also influenced the legal implications of homosexuality. Corriveau provides an overview of...


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pp. 468-470
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