More than a hundred people rallied at Emery Barnes Park on May 7, 2017, to protest a flyer campaign targeting NDP candidate and trans activist Morgane Oger, who is running for election in Vancouver-False Creek.
The flyers include Oger’s birth name and question the validity of her gender identity.
Oger says she was warned the flyers were coming, but that didn’t soften the blow. “They really did hurt. They were extremely mean,” she says, adding that she’s very lucky to be in a position that affords her both legal and emotional support.
“What really, really hurt in this is the terrible anxiety I felt; that I knew everyone in my community across Canada was going to experience this flyer as well, more or less unfiltered. And that, unlike me, with my resilience and my support, most people were going to experience this flyer alone,” she says.
“This will harm people,” Oger continues. “You read the poster, and you imagine yourself with that on your front door, and you think, ‘oh my god, what’s going to happen?’ That scares you, and if you’re not out, you’re not coming out for 10 years. It hit all the fear points for trans people.”
Rally organizer Clayre Sessoms says after January’s anti-trans posters in the Davie Village and now these flyers — she felt pushed into action.
“Morgane’s my friend. We go way back — we were two scared people having coffee three, four years ago before we ever came out. We just talked a lot about what the future would hold and how scary it was,” Sessoms explains. “She’s remained my close friend, and when this is happening to her and also happening in my neighborhood, I’ve got to stand up against that.”
Sessoms says the flyers do not reflect the neighbourhood where they were posted.
“There’s a lot of really good people here,” she says. “I know a lot of the parents because of the school here, and a lot of families — really good, open minded people. I haven’t had any problems with the residents of the neighborhood.”
Her plan was to create a positive event where the community could come together and resist transphobia through solidarity. Attendees heard speeches from community figures like teenage trans activist Tru Wilson, and Qmunity’s executive director CJ Rowe, who encouraged them to fight hate in their daily lives.
“This can no longer be something that we just turn away from,” Sessoms told the crowd. “We need to stand together and say ‘not here.’”
Attendee Dom Nasilowiski says the rally is an important show of visibility.
“It matters when there’s been something negative like this — transphobic, homophobic, hateful flyers — that the community responds and that we’re not silent,” she says.
“Elections come and go, but human rights are an everyday thing. It’s important to address incidents when they happen, but we have to continue community building every day,” she adds.
Sharon Valmont, a volunteer who DJ’d the rally, says the event meant a lot to her.
“Being the trans person that I am, I need to speak out for those who experience hate, and to be involved in that process,” she says.
“I felt it was good — we really spoke our minds and really focused on what happened in this part of the world, in Vancouver,” she says. “I think that was a good thing, that we were able to broadcast that, and get others to join us and share our feelings with each other and pump each other up because we are good people.”
Katherine Jenkins, who commuted from Surrey to attend the rally, also felt that it served an important purpose.
“This is an issue that was very dear to me. I want to stand up against transphobia,” she says. “People need to be focused on spreading positive words, and shaming those who do hate speech.”
When she heard about the flyers through social media, she says she was “disgusted.”
“I thought it was disgraceful. It was cowardice, really. If you’re going to attack a political opponent, rather than criticize their stances or platforms — to criticize their background is pathetic,” she says.
Bill Whatcott, who has handed out anti-gay pamphlets at Pride, previously been found guilty of hate speech and is now responsible for the flyers, says it’s “nothing personal.”
“If you’re in the public sphere and you’re promoting agendas that people disagree with, people are going to speak,” the Christian evangelist told Xtra by phone on May 6. “I believe I have the right to speak and, more than that, I believe I have a civic and a biblical responsibility to speak. People may or may not accept what I’m saying, but I think I have a valid voice.”
“I think most of those are screaming I’m transphobic are Whatcott-phobic, and they need to get over themselves,” he says, asked how he responds to accusations of hate speech. “I don’t go along with that — grow up, work harder to defeat my ideas. I’m not afraid of you so don’t be afraid of me.”
Editor’s note, May 9, 2017: An earlier version incorrectly spelled Sharon Valmont’s last name.