Activists demand end to homophobic violence

Nov 11, 2010

Activists demand end to homophobic violence

Activists committed to eliminating homophobic violence huddled over candles at the Human Rights Monument in downtown Ottawa before marching to Parliament on October 21. 

The candlelit vigil commemorated several US teenagers who took their own lives after being bullied by homophobic peers in recent weeks, in a disturbing trend that has attracted the attention of international media.

Members of Queer Faction, an Ottawa-based activist group that organized the vigil, suggested a radical rethinking of these deaths at the event. 

"There are no queer teen suicides," Nicole Matte told the crowd of about 50 people that had gathered in the cold wind. "Only queer teen murders."

"The young people are only doing to their bodies what other people have done to their souls," she said, quoting an artist whose name is unknown.

Kathryn Trevenen, who teaches at the University of Ottawa's Institute for Women's Studies, said that homophobic bullying dehumanizes people, making life unlivable for those who don't identify as straight.

"If you aren't represented as being among the living, and among humanity, that takes a huge toll on you," she said, as the crowd marched from the human rights monument to Parliament.

When the vigil reached the steps in front of the Peace Tower, Carleton student and activist Michelle Blackburn told the crowd about the homophobic violence that she endured since coming out of the closet at the age of 13.

"Since then, I've been assaulted. I was ganged up upon by a group of seven men when I was 17," she said.

"I've survived a lot of harsh things," she said.

Homophobic bullying is an increasing concern for people in the queer community.

A recent report by Statistics Canada indicated that police-reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation increased by more than 100 per cent between 2007 and 2008.

Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation were the most violent in nature, the report said.

And these numbers likely undercount the true number of hate crimes that occurred, since victims often choose not to report hate-crimes to police, for reasons including fear of retribution and feelings of humiliation, the report noted.

Following a series of suicides by queer youth, community organizers have responded by holding vigils across North America.

The suicides also prompted sex columnist and author Dan Savage to create a YouTube Channel aimed at queer youth entitled "It Gets Better."

On the YouTube channel Savage and his husband posted a video in which they shared personal stories about their struggles growing up as gay youth, and the improvements they saw throughout their lives.

Since then, more than 2000 videos have been added to It Gets Better, including one featuring US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But Georgeanne Blue, a member of Queer Faction, said that doesn't go far enough.

"We can also make it better, as so many communities and groups are working at," she said.