In 1991, Canada became one of the first Western countries to grant refugee status on the basis of sexual orientation. And 30 years later, Canada continues to be a place where the LGBTQ2S+ community can be themselves. Born in Paris, Joris Benariac had been a hair stylist in France for 15 years when his thirst for adventure brought him to Quebec in 2019. He began a new career at Desjardins in downtown Montreal as a personal finance advisor. He also found the love of his life.
La Belle Province: Gateway to America
Why Quebec? “I knew some people in Montreal and it felt like a good place to start exploring Canada and the northern US,” recalls Joris. Being able to live and work in French made the move much less stressful and made it easier to find a job.
A different vibe
The vibe in Montreal was completely different from anything Joris had ever experienced. He felt safe. His friends showed him around the Village: stores, restaurants and some of the liveliest bars in Montreal’s most inclusive neighbourhood. He tried karaoke, and revealed his hidden talent as a singer.
Joris’s integration went swimmingly and so did the immigration process. He quickly decided to change his working holiday visa to a closed work permit. At first, he befriended Europeans and newcomers to Canada, like himself. As time went on, his circle of friends grew to include more and more Quebecers.
When he returned to Paris for the holidays that first year, he came to a startling realization. He couldn’t imagine living in the City of Light anymore. “I realized that Quebec had become my home,” he explains. In June 2022, he became a permanent resident of Canada.
An exciting career move
With so many employers hiring, Joris had lots of options to choose from. “In Europe, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like your job. You stick with it, because you may not find another one,” he explains. After 15 years cutting hair, Joris wanted to try something different, to prove to himself that he could.
A friend told him about an opening at Desjardins. Joris applied, hoping his knowledge of the economy and personal finance would get him an interview. He used his experience in retail, where he learned about social media, advertising, customer service, working under pressure and lots more, to get the job.
Joris settled in quickly in his new role in Desjardins’s diverse and inclusive environment. Thanks to the efforts of the LGBTQ+ committee—in place for almost 15 years—and to partnerships with organizations like Fondation Émergence and Pride at Work Canada, Joris was welcomed to the team for who he is. Some of his co-workers were also part of the LGBTQ+ community. “I found lifelong friends at Desjardins. They’re like family,” he says.
In addition to the LGBTQ+ committee, Desjardins recently created the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office made up of 17 people working full-time on creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable Desjardins for its employees, members and clients and for the communities it serves.
Role-playing and romance
In his spare time, Joris loves playing tabletop role-playing games—the ones with those 20-sided dice. When Joris joined a local role-playing group, he was delighted to see a familiar face. He had already met the game master a few years back at an intro event to the game.
When Joris was sick, the game master brought him a gift basket of treats from a French épicerie. That’s when the game master became Joris’s knight in shining armour.
LGBTQ+ rights protected in Canada since 1969
It’s easy to forget that only 50 years ago in Canada, homosexuality was considered a crime, punishable by imprisonment. On May 14, 1969, Canada passed a bill decriminalizing sexual acts between 2 consenting adults of ages 21 or older.
In 1977, Quebec was the first Canadian jurisdiction to amend its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community to work and housing.
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Joris Benariac is a Mutual Funds Representative for Desjardins Financial Services Firm Inc.