Rising violence against 2SLGBTQ+ community has N.L. activists on alert — but not discouraged

Gemma Hickey said they have seen an increase in hate aimed at transgender people but has also seen people push back which gives them hope.
Gemma Hickey says they have seen an increase in hate aimed at transgender people. But they've also seen people push back, which gives them hope. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Despite rising concerns of violence aimed at the 2SLGBTQ+ community, Newfoundland and Labrador activists are hopeful about the future.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of advocacy organization Egale Canada, says they've known for years that the threat of violence is increasing.

"The rhetoric has increased. People seem to be emboldened more, I think, because of the political climate here in Canada but also in the U.S.," Kennedy told CBC News in a recent interview.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service issued a warning that extremists could "inspire and encourage" serious violence against the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

A year ago, a man walked into a University of Waterloo gender-studies class and stabbed two students and an associate professor. Police have called the attack "a hate-motivated incident related to gender expression and gender identity."

There have also been contentious debates over education and health care for transgender youth in other provinces.

Kennedy pointed to an increase in anti-trans rhetoric and violence against the community in the United States that she said is creeping into Canada.

According to a recent Statistics Canada report, in 2018 there were 186 hate crimes based on sexual orientation reported to police. In 2022, there were 496 — a 266 per cent increase.

Hope for path forward

Gemma Hickey, an advocate and past president of Egale Canada, has seen public opinion on the 2SLGBTQ+ community change over time.

Feeling it was unfair that same sex-couples couldn't get married, Hickey said, they launched a court challenge, finding a couple who wanted to get married and a lawyer from Halifax, as well as other support organizations.

"We had a case. We went to court here and we won," said Hickey. In late 2004, Newfoundland and Labrador became the eighth province to legalize same-sex marriage.

Twenty years after that legal victory, Hickey said, it feels like hostility to the 2SLGBTQ+ community has increased, particularly toward transgender people.But they're also seeing people express their support for their community.

"I'm seeing communities mobilizing. I'm seeing politicians being more vocal. I'm seeing students march in the streets."

There is reason to be hopeful, they added, as a lot of people are speaking out against the rise in hate.

"I've never seen anything like that before either. So although the world is polarized right now, I'm still seeing a lot of potential to move forward."

A queer teenager living in Gambo recently spoke to CBC News about harassment and intolerance they had experienced. Pride events at the United Church in the community were also cancelled. The church's pro-Pride minister, Dianne Crewe, resigned shortly afterward.

A way to go

Though N.L. doesn't have legislation on gender-affirming care or 2SLGBTQ+ education in schools, there have been protests.

Last September, more than a hundred people attended what was called the One Million March for Children, a Canada-wide series of protests. Those who participated in Newfoundland and Labrador said they were against what they say is the sexualization of children in classrooms, despite educators noting protesters' claims were unfounded.

When she heard about the march, Sarah Worthman of St. John's decided to organize a counter-protest to take place at the same time to push back against increasing anti-Pride sentiment, particularly in schools.

Sarah Worthman, an LGBTQ historian and researcher, said anti-LGBTQ hate is on the rise.
Sarah Worthman, who started No Place for Hate a year ago, says she has seen it embraced across Canada. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

The group she formed is called No Space for Hate. Worthman said the group's icon — an image of the province overlapped with the Pride flag — has been embraced locally and across the country.

"It's gone pretty national," she said, "which has been amazing. We still have a far, far way to go with it. But yeah, I'm very proud of what we've done in the province and our collective."

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