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Police kick off antiviolence campaign

Working with community groups to help youth

FIGHTING HOMOPHOBIC VIOLENCE. One of the posters in the police's new campaign targets witnesses to attacks.

Toronto police areusing Pride to launch a campaign aimed at getting youth to report homophobic violence.

The campaign — called Report Homophobic Violence, Period — will use video, postcards, radio spots, the internet and posters to try to reach victims, perpetrators and bystanders. The campaign is being run in conjunction with a number of community organizations including the 519 Community Centre, Supporting Our Youth and the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line.

“By police making a statement it’s clear that nobody should be subjected to violence and harassment,” says Const Tom Decker, the force’s LGBT liaison officer, who has spearheaded the campaign. “If you nip homophobic and transphobic violence in the bud with young people that’s the best chance of preventing hate crimes from happening down the road.”

The campaign will hand out more than 200,000 postcards during Pride. There are three sets of cards, one aimed at victims, one at perpetrators and one at witnesses. There will also be 200,000 stickers and 150,000 brochures containing information about hate crimes, the police and about community organizations youth can turn to for help. A public service announcement (PSA) video will play during Pride and on the police website. The video stars Adamo Ruggiero of Degrassi: The Next Generation, who came out earlier this year.

Decker says Pride will play the PSA on its three giant video screens throughout the weekend and it will be featured in the Pride webcast.

“What Pride is doing, if we had to pay for it, would probably cost several hundred thousand dollars,” says Decker. “The PSA will be showing about 100 times a day and it’s going to be webcast live. It’s also going to be playing on the Pride website. It should reach about 25 million people; that’s the number of hits they expect in June.”

Decker says queer service organizations have taken the lead in the campaign.

“The community really provided the knowledge and the resources,” he says. “All the compassion and goodwill.”

Jennifer Fodden, the executive director of the Youth Line, says being part of the campaign will benefit community organizations. She says the campaign may help convince victims of homophobic attacks to call the police or a community group.

“People who may not have known about us will hopefully learn that we exist and how to call us,” she says. “It’s one of those cases of be careful what you wish for. I would be ecstatic if there were so few cases that we don’t get any more calls. The reality is that there are probably far more cases of violence that aren’t reported.”

Decker says that having the Youth Line and The 519’s anti-violence program and bashing hotline involved, along with the police hate crimes unit, will allow the campaign to see if there is an increase in reports of attacks.

Decker says he is talking to the Ontario ministry of education about getting materials into schools, at least in Toronto.

“If you look at the hate crimes reports over the past two years, educational institutions are the number two location,” he says, “outnumbered, and just by a smidgen, by domestic settings.”

Janet Rowe, the program director of The 519, says schools are a crucial venue for the campaign.

“What is great is if it’s launched in schools it does send a message that homophobic and transphobic violence are not tolerated and the police want to hear about it.”

Decker says the police are paying for the brochures. The postcards are being printed by Eva’s Inititative, a charity for homeless youth, which runs a print shop as part of its job training program.