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Rising hate casts pall over Pride, spotlights need for protest along with celebration

Hate crime reports tied to transgender and sexual orientation are rising in Canada
Pride flags decorate a fence at the Stonewall National Monument with U.S. Park police present, Tuesday June 13, 2023, in New York. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Bebeto Matthews

Anna Murphy receives so many death threats, she’s become friends with the Calgary police officer she reports them to.

As a transgender woman in the public eye, she’s subjected to an avalanche of hate — one that she and other community members and experts say has intensified in recent years, underscoring the need for protest alongside celebration during Pride.

Murphy says that while many members of the LGBTQ community — herself included — have had negative experiences with police, she’s lucky to be able to rely on one of the officers who investigates hate crimes.

“I know that I can give him a call and be like, ‘Hey, guess what just happened on a Saturday morning while having my coffee?’” Murphy says. “Not only is he great about being a police officer, but he’s also a good friend.

“As morbid as it is, we find a way to laugh about it. He finds a way to take the pressure and the fear away.”

But despite the support she receives, Murphy, who is a community organizer, says the constant stream of vitriol is exhausting.

She has watched anti-transgender sentiment grow in tandem with the rise in institutional acceptance of LGBTQ people over the past few years.

The term “gender identity or expression” was added to the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2017, but since then, people who don’t fit into the heterosexual gender binary have faced an onslaught of hate.

In 2016 there were seven alleged hate crimes targeting transgender or agender people reported to police, according to Statistics Canada. In 2021, the last year with available data, there were 33.

There’s been a similar uptick in hate crimes targeting people for their sexual orientation: in 2021 there were 423 reported incidents, compared to 176 in 2016, StatCan data show.

But experts say those numbers paint an incomplete picture. The actual number of incidents is almost always higher than what’s been reported to police.

For example, the advocacy group Egale Canada recorded more than 6,400 anti-LGBTQ protests and instances of online hate in the country in the first three months of 2023.

Recently the Toronto Blue Jays cut ties with a pitcher who posted online in support of anti-LGBTQ boycotts and several municipalities and school boards have banned the raising of Pride flags on their property.

Just this week, a man at a school track meet in Kelowna, B.C., made headlines for wrongly suggesting a nine-year-old girl was transgender and demanding proof she was born biologically female. The girl’s mother says a woman who was with the man accused her of being a groomer and “genital mutilator.”

Murphy says the hatred is dehumanizing.

“It is hard for folks to understand what it is like to every day, in some way, shape or form have to wake up and deal with dysphoria — which myself and so many others do — but then also to have to debate and defend, justify, validate and otherwise quantify your existence to everyone around you,” she says.

In recent months, people holding anti-trans sentiment have targeted a number of events put on by the LGBTQ community, ranging from Pride flag raisings to drag performances.

In late April, protesters congregated outside a public library in downtown Toronto, bent on preventing a drag queen from reading stories to families.

Some carried signs emblazoned with baseless accusations that drag queens were predators, that exposure to their performances threatens children’s innocence.

Police were on scene, keeping the anti-drag protesters away from the library entrance. Behind the officers, a larger group of counter-protesters formed what they described as a human barrier to protect the event.

Gary Kinsman, a member of the No Pride In Policing Coalition, was among their ranks. There were roughly 35 anti-drag protesters there, he says, and at least twice as many counter-protesters.

“A number of speakers with megaphones denounced us all as groomers and as pedophiles,” he says. “They’re recycling language that the right wing used against gay and lesbian organizers in the ’70s and ’80s when they would denounce everyone as supposedly being a pedophile.”

In this case, he says, the event went on as scheduled and the drag queen and families were all able to leave safely once it was done. While Kinsman says one person reported being burned by a cigarette butt, nobody was badly hurt.

Having been on the front lines of Toronto’s bath house raids in the 1980s, Kinsman says these protests have echoes of bigotry past.

Travers, a professor of sociology at Simon Fraser University who goes by only one name, says that’s no coincidence.

The pervasive anti-transgender rhetoric is being promoted by the same people who protested gay and lesbian rights in the 1970s and ’80s, says Travers, whose pronouns are they and them.

“There’s a long, long history of the Christian right targeting queer and trans people,” they say. “And they’re very well-funded.”

That demographic wants the state to adhere to their reading of Bible’s teachings about gender, Travers says: that there are only men and women, that biological sex and gender are the same, that sex should only happen in the confines of marriage and that a marriage should be between two people of opposite genders.

Travers says that’s why homophobia and transphobia seem so closely linked, and why drag queens, whose gender and sexuality vary, are being uniformly targeted.

“Most of the homophobia that people experience tends to be directed at people who are gender non-conforming,” they say. For example, straight cisgender men who are deemed effeminate and straight cisgender women who present more masculine may face homophobic harassment.

Travers says there’s a great deal of harmful misinformation about transgender people out there. Contrary to fear-mongering, trans people are not more likely to commit crimes than their cisgender counterparts. In fact, they are far more likely to be the victims of crime.

But they say members of the far right on social media and politicians hoping to rally voters are spreading dangerous lies.

Murphy, back in Calgary, says she hopes people take the time to educate themselves and correct misinformation when they see it.

She says there are numerous credible resources people can reference from organizations such as Egale, Skipping Stone in Calgary and the 519 in Toronto.

But, she says, it can be even simpler than that: “One of the easiest things that a person can do is to first and foremost recognize that my existence as a transgender woman, and the existence of those like me who are transgender or nonbinary or gender diverse, is not a debate.

“It’s not an opinion, and it’s not an ideology.”

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