Vancouver’s queer community was shaken by a horrific gaybashing at the edge of the Davie Village over the Pride weekend. My research on homophobic and transphobic violence in Canada has shown that, while Vancouver indeed has much to celebrate, the violence is an unfortunate reality. Inhabitants need to work together to prevent it, while at the same time keeping themselves safe.
I was asked to discuss the best way for Vancouverites to “react” to this violence, and therein lies the problem: we have allowed the events to overtake us.
Instead of developing proactive strategies, we wait until unspeakable events occur-Aaron Webster’s killing for example-and then we “react” with marches, speeches and indignation. In a few months, after the furore dies down, the pledges to work against the violence-while given sincerely-fall by the wayside as people get on with their busy lives.
What’s worse, queerbashing has a corrosive effect: people don’t just block it out, they often internalize it, which causes them to become increasingly fearful, cynical and fatalistic. What can be done to reverse this?
Support local organizations: The Centre’s LGBT Anti-Violence Pilot Project addresses the issue across BC with limited staffing and resources. Instead of splintering into several different movements and organizations, take a common-front approach: instead of asking what “they” can do for “me,” ask what you can do them. See Lgtbcentrevancouver.com.
Study other communities: Egale Canada has spearheaded the Canadian Anti-Violence Project, which provides an overview of how organizations in different cities respond to homophobic and transphobic violence, the services they offer, and the ways they engage victims, the community and the criminal justice system. See www.antiviolence.ca.
Engage constructively: Vancouver’s queer community needs to clearly articulate their concerns and demand that this violence be taken seriously. Demonstrations and finger-pointing make good sound bites, but how many people are ready to roll up their sleeves and do the less glamourous volunteer work?
Take personal/shared responsibility: Although there is sometimes the urge to pick up a pitchfork and take the law into your own hands, you may be putting yourself at risk while trying to help others. On a personal level, hanging out with people you trust can often protect you in vulnerable situations.
Some would call this approach, “blaming the victim,” but until we’ve done more work to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in our society, I call it, “keeping yourself safe.”