More than 2,000 queers marched up Davie St Oct 12 holding hands in solidarity
with Jordan Smith, who was gaybashed last month in the gay village.
Smith could not attend the Join Hands for Justice rally since he was out of town and his jaw is still wired shut.
But his friend Greg Chute appeared on his behalf, bearing a message.
“This event has shaken me to the core and it has opened my eyes,” Smith says in his statement, referring to the Sep 27 attack in which he sustained a broken jaw after his alleged assailant found him holding hands with another man.
“I was scared to be completely open prior to this event. I preferred the status quo,” he continues. “I no longer want to be silent, I no longer want to live a lie.
“I’m proud to be gay. I’m proud to hold my friend’s hand in public,” he says.
“I was walking down Robson St the other day and I counted 150 straight people holding hands,” he adds. “Why is this not okay for gay and lesbian people to enjoy the same freedom?”
According to police, Smith, 27, was walking along Davie St hand-in-hand with another man when a group of four young men allegedly approached them, screamed obscenities about their sexual orientation, then knocked Smith unconscious with a blow to the head at the corner of Davie and Hornby Sts.
Smith’s jaw was broken in three places.
Michael Kandola, 20, has now been charged with aggravated assault in connection with the incident. He was originally charged with simple assault but the Crown upgraded the charge Oct 14 (see Briefs page 7).
Police say they want the incident prosecuted as a hate crime because of the obscenities allegedly uttered before the attack.
“I was on a radio program a few weeks ago and the host said to me, ‘Vancouver is one of the most tolerant cities in the world for lesbian and gay people,'” Smith recalls in his statement.
“My response was, ‘Why do we have to be tolerated?’
“I want to be accepted, not tolerated,” he says, adding he doesn’t simply want to be “put up with.”
The Join Hands for Justice rally, co-organized by The Centre and Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva, made its way under a canopy of rainbow flags from the corner of Denman and Davie Sts up Davie to Hornby. There, on an improvised stage backed by glitter-enhanced rainbow colours, speakers from several cultural, religious and community-based organizations took turns expressing their support for Smith and condemning violence against queers.
“Some two weeks ago, Jordan Smith was brutally attacked on this very corner,” Deva shouted through a temperamental megaphone. “He was attacked by his assailants for the simple act of holding hands —that beautiful act that we showed today.
“This brutal attack has shook our community. It is time that we stood as a community in solidarity and said, ‘Stop the violence!'” he declared, a chant quickly picked up by the crowd.
“We want everyone to know that Jordan Smith has a community behind him as he goes through this legal process,” Deva added.
“I was thinking earlier about people saying why do we have to have a gay Pride parade,” Leigh Cousins of Flygirl Productions told Xtra West before the march headed up Davie St.
“When instances like this still happen, clearly we have to have these rallies, these protests. It’s still necessary,” said Cousins, who was also punched in the jaw by a man who allegedly screamed homophobic slurs at her in the breezeway outside Little Sister’s in April.
“We’ve got to follow it [Smith’s case] and make sure that we put pressure, for sure,” she said. “They can’t get away with it. There’s just no way.”
Holding on to one of the several rainbow flags near the front of the march, rally participant Jen Mani said she feels it’s important to come down to support the queer community and to stand up for justice.
“The lack of result in the court system is a large part of why I’m here,” Mani said, adding that she hopes the rally sends a message to”the gentleman that punched the fellow in the jaw.”
“With another kick or another punch, we might have had another Aaron Webster on our hands,” drag queen Joan-E told Xtra West also before the march got underway.
“We are not victims. We are witnesses for the prosecution,” Joan-E said when it was her turn to speak on the Davie and Hornby stage.
But first she held up her cell phone. “We are now all members of the media,” she said. “When we’re out, I think we all need to program 911 into our speed dial.
It could be evidence.”
She revealed that she and some of her drag sisters have not been immune to homophobic slurs and near-physical confrontations as they’ve made their way between gay village clubs for performances.
“I worry that I’m not going to make it from Celebrities to the Odyssey.”
Fatima Jaffer of Trikone, a queer South Asian network, said she applauds Smith for speaking out about the attack “because so many gaybashings in our neigbourhood don’t go reported.”
But Jaffer said she was surprised when her phone “rang off the hook” after the attack with questions from media asking whether there is a culture of homophobia in the South Asian community.
“It seemed very quickly it became a case not so much about what happened to Jordan Smith, but who committed it,” Jaffer noted.
“I think it needs to be said that the homophobia we’ve all faced is coming from every front,” she added.
“There have been other high-profile attacks against gay people in Vancouver that were not initiated by East Indians,” noted Alex Sangha in a statement on behalf of Sher Vancouver, a support group for queer Punjabi.
“We’re here today to march together in solidarity and unity to show our strength. We hope you see us as allies,” Sangha added.
Vancouver Police Department (VPD) chief Jim Chu, accompanied by several officers, also addressed the crowd.
“You have my assurance that the Vancouver police will continue to take your safety seriously, and we will do all we can to preserve it and protect it,” he promised.
When asked if the VPD will revisit the idea of assigning a dedicated liaison to the queer community, Insp John deHaas of the Diversity and Aboriginal Policing Section said it’s still being discussed.
“I know that the chief has told me if there is an overwhelming case that supports a dedicated person as a business strategy — [that] that’s going to be the most successful way of doing business — then it’s on the table again. But we need to know whether it’s the best way to approach the issues,” deHaas told Xtra West after the rally.
He added that the VPD is collaborating with The Centre to hold a number of community forums in November about public safety issues.
The Centre’s executive director, Jennifer Breakspear, says the forums, dubbed the Aaron Webster community forums, are meant to get to the heart of the underreporting of gaybashings.
Check out Xtra.ca and OutTV’s video report below: