June 17, 2010

Pride in the face of violence

Posted in Current Events, hate crimes, homophobia, Rape Culture, transphobia at 11:04 pm by sacetalks

Posters of Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard on the Womonspace float at Edmonton's 2010 Pride Parade.

The Womonspace float at Edmonton's 2010 Pride Parade included memorial posters for Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman (sacredsocialjustice.com).

It’s Pride Week in Edmonton, time to celebrate LGBTTIQQA people and culture. As sexual minority and gender variant people have become more and more accepted and as more legal gains have been made, Pride for many has become more about the party than the politics. However, it’s important for us to remember why Pride is such an important event for our communities and recognize that this celebration is still one part of the ongoing fight for all of us to live free of oppression and violence in a just and equal society.

According to Statistics Canada’s newly-released report, “Police-reported hate crime in Canada, 2008”, hate crimes in Canada in 2008 rose by 35% from the previous year. The largest increase was in hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, which rose by 124%. Although some of that increase may be related to better reporting, homophobic violence in Canada appears to be on the rise, with a 127% increase in hate crimes where the victim was identified as gay or lesbian. The most common targets for these crimes are gay men (although 15% of identified victims were female). Even more disturbing is the fact that 75% of these incidents were violent offenses. Although most of these were minor assaults, about half of all hate-crime homicides were motivated by “biases related to sexual orientation”.

However, incidents designated as hate crimes by police are not the only acts of violence against sexual minorities. According to another Statistics Canada report from 2008, this one on “Sexual Orientation and Victimization”, LGB people were more likely to be targets of violent crime than heterosexuals from similar demographic groups. Even controlling for other factors that affect a person’s likelihood of experiencing a crime, gays and lesbians were nearly twice as likely to be victims as their peers. For bisexuals, this rate was even higher at 4.5 times that of the comparable general population. Without controlling for issues such as age, income, living in an urban area, and other contributing risk factors, the numbers were even higher for gays and lesbians at 2.5 times the average, with bisexuals experiencing 4 times the average rate of violent victimization. Spousal violence risks are also higher for all groups, with rates of 15% for lesbians or gays and 28% for bisexuals (heterosexuals have a rate of 7%). Unfortunately, this report did not include other groups — the lack of information on violence against trans people is a glaring absence and a prime example of the erasure of trans experience from academic discourses — but it does illustrate that sexual orientation is a factor in the experience of violence, even when people are not marginalized in other ways as well.

Stats for hate crimes in Edmonton are a bit more positive. We have a lower than average rate of hate crimes overall in Canada (although we have a higher rate of racially-motivated crimes), and 2008 saw only four police-reported hate crimes related to sexual orientation. The Pride Centre’s Brendan Van Alstine commented to the Edmonton Sun that “Edmonton is a pretty tolerant city,” which may contribute to our lower rate. However, homophobic violence does occur in the city: the best-known incident in the last few months is the hate-motivated assault by a 14-year-old boy on Shannon Barry. Violence like this is a powerful reminder that we still need to fight homophobia and transphobia in Edmonton.

In the face of this violence, why does the carnival atmosphere of Pride matter? Some might suggest we should march the streets in anger, shouting our outrage as loudly as we can. And sometimes we should. However, the celebration of Pride is also a powerful force in standing up against homophobic and transphobic violence. By showing that we are unashamed to openly walk the downtown streets, we show that hate will not make us vanish or send us back to hide in the closet. By celebrating who we are, we show that we are a part of our communities and that we do not need to blend in to be equal citizens. And by taking joy in our many queer communities coming together, we show our city and our world that we are strong, resilient, and thriving. Pride can encompass both the partying and the politics, and at its best and most powerful, that mix is the heart of what Pride is all about.

The Womonspace float

Womonspace float. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman (sacredsocialjustice.com)

Queer Muslims and Allies in Edmonton's 2010 Pride Parade

Queer Muslims and Allies at the 2010 Edmonton Pride Parade. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman (sacredsocialjustice.com)

Trans Equality Society of Alberta, Edmonton Pride Parade 2010

Trans Equality Society of Alberta, Edmonton Pride Parade 2010. Photo courtesy of Paula Kirman (sacredsocialjustice.com).