Recognizing relationships

Public forums on two vital national social policy issues – same-sex marriage and parental rights – will take place Oct. 11 and 18 at York University.

Hosted by documentary filmmaker and York visual arts Professor Nancy Nicol, the forums will feature screenings of Nicol’s most recent productions: The End of Second Class (2006) and Politics of the Heart (2005). Each film will be followed by a panel discussion with distinguished academics, lawyers and activists who are at the forefront of the struggle to win equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Canada.

Right: A scene from Nicol’s documentary The End of Second Class

“With the federal government threatening to re-open the marriage debate and its recent decision to cut the Court Challenges Program, there couldn’t be a better time to shed light on the long, arduous battle the queer community waged to win relationship recognition, same-sex marriage and parenting rights,” said Nicol.

The End of Second Class traces the debate about same-sex marriage in Canada over the past decade, up to the passage into law of Bill C-38, governing same-sex marriage, on July 20, 2005. The film tells the story from the perspective of three couples from Quebec, BC and Ontario, and the lawyers and activists who sought to uphold their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The End of Second Class premiered earlier this year at Toronto’s Inside Out Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival, where it won the Elle Flanders Award for best feature documentary as well as critical acclaim. Eye magazine hailed it as “powerful …an engaging human-rights polemic”. “It is Nicol’s breadth of material and her subjects’ depth of insight that makes this documentary such compelling viewing,” wrote XTRA.

Politics of the Heart is a portrait of lesbian and gay families in Quebec who fought for recognition of their relationships, families and parental rights, leading to the Quebec government’s landmark equal marriage law. Passed by unanimous vote in the Quebec National Assembly in 2002, Bill 84 extended the same rights to homoparental families as heterosexual parents, putting Quebec at the forefront of LGBT parental rights internationally.

Left: Nicol’s Politics of the Heart portrays lesbian and gay families in Quebec who fought for recognition of their relationships, families and parental rights

Both films are gaining national and international attention. Recent screenings include the International Human Rights Forum at the first World Out Games in Montreal and the Lisbon Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Portugal. Upcoming presentations include Image + Nation in Montreal and OutTakes in Dallas, Texas in November, and the International Human Rights in Film Festival of the Helsinki Foundation in Warsaw, Poland in December.

Nicol’s research and creative work span video art, documentary, the intersection between activism and art, human rights and equality, and the history and politics of movements for social change. Following on The End of Second Class, Politics of the Heart, and her 2002 film Stand Together (on lesbian and gay activism in Ontario from 1967 to 1987), she is currently working on a fourth documentary to complete her film series on LGBT rights history in Canada. She is also working on an oral history and book titled Politics of the Heart in collaboration with Miriam Smith of Trent University

The forum on same-sex marriage will take place Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 4:30 to 7:30pm in Room 001, Accolade East Building. The forum will begin with a screening of The End of Second Class (90 min.) followed by a panel discussion moderated by Kathryn McPherson, Chair of the School of Women’s Studies at York.


  • Bettina Bradbury, a professor of history and women’s studies at York, is a feminist, family historian and an expert witness in the case Halpern et al. vs. Canada on the right of same-sex couples to marry.
  • Cynthia Petersen, a partner with the Toronto law firm of Sack, Goldblatt, Mitchell LLP, is the lawyer acting for Egale Canada in the case Egale vs. Canada and Halpern et al. vs. Canada in the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • Miriam Smith is a professor of politics at Trent University. She specializes in Canadian and American politics and the LGBT movements in Canada. She recently received the prestigious Bora Laskin Special Research Fellowship for her work on LGBT rights and the Charter of Rights.

The forum on gay and lesbian parental rights will take place Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 4:30 to 7:30pm in Room 001, Accolade East Building. The forum will begin with a screening of Politics of the Heart (68 min.), followed by a panel moderated by Dorothy de Val, associate dean in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York.


Rachel Epstein is the coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Parenting Network and the Family Service Association of Toronto. Epstein, her parenting partner, Lois Fine, and their 14-year-old daughter, Sadie, were litigants in Rutherford vs. Ontario, the case of lesbian mothers and their children seeking immediate recognition through the process of birth registration.

Mona Greenbaum is the coordinator and founder of the Quebec Lesbian Mothers Association. She and her partner, Nicole, have been at the forefront in winning the most extensive legislation on same-sex parenting rights in the world. In 2002, they were awarded the 2002 Prix-Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow Award) in honour of their contribution.

Andrea O’Reilly is a professor of women’s studies and director of the Centre for Research on Mothering at York. She has written and edited numerous books on motherhood, including Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering (2006).

Joanna Radbord is a lawyer with the Toronto law firm of Epstein, Cole LLP. She represented the families in the case Rutherford vs. Ontario, as well as serving as counsel to a lesbian father in Forrester vs. Saliba, which states that trans-sexuality is irrelevant to a child’s best interests. She was also co-counsel in the case Halpern et al. and the Supreme Court of Canada Reference on Same-Sex Marriage.

These forums are free and open to the public. They are part of the Visual Arts Speakers Series presented by the Visual Arts Department and are co-sponsored by the Centre for Feminist Research and the Sexuality Studies program at York.

For more information on Nancy Nicol and her films, visit