The first time I saw an organized, aggressive anti-LGBTQ2 presence at a rally in person was last year — at a demonstration that I helped organize. We were there to protest Doug Ford’s repeal of Ontario’s inclusive 2015 sex-ed curriculum. A fascist group made themselves known at the event, filming our speakers and pushing and shoving our peaceful protesters.
I am used to non-violent counter-protesters, homophobes and bigots with pro-life and anti-gay signs at our events. But across the country, other organizers and I are noticing something new: The far right has become more organized, more visible and more aggressive than we’re used to, showing up in swaths willing to physically fight us.
Over the past month alone, we’ve seen organized white supremacist and homophobic violence pop up across Canada. At Hamilton Pride, individuals from religious groups and alleged affiliates of the yellow-vest movement sparked acts of violence that left numerous LGBTQ2 community members and allies harmed. Just a few days later in Toronto, during the Dyke March, far-right groups rallied at a nearby mall and violently clashed with counter-protesters. Meanwhile, an anti-LGBTQ2 group showed up to jeer a rainbow flag raising at the RCMP headquarters in Surrey, BC.
These are not isolated incidents but part of a broader global trend where homophobic, transphobic, racist and other bigotry is gaining traction and credibility. Even if we’d rather not admit it, Canadians are not immune to the same forces that helped put Donald Trump in the Oval Office, and have shown themselves willing to latch onto the alt-right.
In the past two years alone, many Canadian political leaders have endorsed this behaviour. The explicitly anti-LGBTQ2 People’s Party of Canada, led by former Conservative Party cabinet minister Maxime Bernier, has candidates running in riding across the country; the party even tapped anti-trans candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson to run in February’s Burnaby-South by-election against Jagmeet Singh. In Ontario, Doug Ford was elected premier in part on an anti-LGBTQ2 agenda that led to the repeal of first queer- and trans- inclusive sex-ed curriculum. Ford has also met with controversial and prominent figures in Canada’s far-right movement, including Jordan Peterson, former Rebel commentator and Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy, and anti-sex-ed critic Charles McVety, whose Christmas celebrations he attends. Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, has a long history of anti-LGBTQ2 advocacy — he’s anti-same-sex marriage (though he claims he won’t bring that into his role if elected PM) and he’s opposed to trans rights. Scheer also spoke at February’s “United We Roll” event, a rally of Albertan oil workers — as well as alt-right groups with homophobic, racist and xenophobic ideologies.
Too many right-wing politicians, building on the success of Trump, have clung to the dog-whistle rhetoric of the alt-right movement as an opportunity to fuel their political futures and further their electoral success. This catering to the alt-right has emboldened what were once considered fringe groups to step more firmly into the spotlight and organize more aggressively and publicly against rights-based groups, including immigrants, racialized people and LGBTQ2 communities.
While I see pushback and resistance at every turn from LGBTQ2 organizers and others working toward social justice, those outside of our marginalized communities have remained ambivalent. Even amid bigoted militancy at Pride parades and a growing normalization of far-right figures, those outside of our communities have been painfully complacent — as if the threat to our fundamental rights and basic safety isn’t happening right in front of them. We need those with privilege — who have access to people in institutional positions of power — to help denounce the bigotry of the alt-right and to lend visibility to our causes. Tangibly, that means showing up to the ballot box when far-right figures run for office, supporting the organizations that protect our rights and even physically standing with us at events like Pride.
Our movements have not been built by those with privilege but by those at the intersections of violence and oppression. The most marginalized among us have always been at the forefront of our organizing for justice. But while our rights have been won by the most marginalized, their survival is often, and unfortunately, dependent on the more privileged among us: it is often straight, cisgender politicians who enshrine our rights into law, after all.
As our communities reel from the implications of violent assaults at our community gatherings, we need a wake-up call to those who call themselves our allies. We need not just their voices but their labour and their resources now more than ever. We need allies to donate to our LGBTQ2 organizations and speak out not just against the alt-right but against the everyday homophobia and transphobia that allows the alt-right to thrive. Alt-right organizing — just like what I saw at the sex-ed rally I organized in August — is only possible in a society where those bigotted perspectives are normalized, if not justified.
We have come a long way since the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago. We now have same-sex marriage and federal trans rights, and our country protects us on the basis of our sexual and gender identities. But we undoubtedly have a long journey ahead of us for true equality — and we desperately need our allies to join us in that journey.