Standing up against hate

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Ottawa Centre never ceases to amaze me. From hurricanes to massive floods, from bus crashes to a historic pandemic – I’ve seen our community rise in the face of adversity. In October, it happened again on Broadview Avenue.

A bigot from British Columbia arrived intent on protesting “gender ideology” in our public schools. The previous week he had filmed and photographed children outside Toronto schools while displaying transphobic messages.

These are acts of open violence against queer, transgender and gender non-conforming people. At least half of homeless youth in Ottawa were rejected by their families for their gender identity, and rates of suicide and suicidal ideation among transgender youth denied access to necessary health care are alarmingly high. As my colleague MPP Suze Morrison noted in a crucial private members bill on this issue, we have much more to do.

In this context, a bigot arrived on Broadview Avenue on October 18. He filmed, postured and displayed his hate outside public schools. He told his online followers he’d be back the next day.

But the next day, he wasn’t alone. Rainbow Carleton, a queer/transgender student group at Carleton University, put out a call for a counter-demonstration before and after school.

When I arrived at 8:30 a.m., the intersection of Broadview and Avondale was crammed with people – at least a hundred students, parents and neighbours. When the bigot appeared, we challenged him, told him he wasn’t welcome and asked him to leave.

When he refused, we turned our backs, still blocking his signs. We chanted queer-positive and transgender-positive slogans to drown out the hate. After an hour of this, and a memorable stand-off with Councillor Catherine McKenney (a trans non-binary elected official), the bigot left and pledged to come back after school with more people. Classic bully tactics.

But this time, the students were ready. Hundreds mobilized to insist the bigots leave, and after 20 minutes they did, but not before inciting violence and shoving at least one student to the ground. But, some might ask, was this the best community response? Why not ignore the bigotry and deprive it of attention?

Alas, history isn’t kind to those who suggest that strategy works. Ignoring hate is dangerous.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, “in the face of hate, silence is deadly. Apathy will be interpreted as acceptance – by the perpetrators, the public and, worse, the victims. If left unchallenged, hate persists and grows.”

Queer, transgender and gender non-conforming folks are proud of the response, and that is a victory in itself. Our community organized against hate, and I was proud to be there as your MPP.

Ignoring hate is dangerous.

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