I felt it in my gut. Like a big metal ball sinking inside.
On my cellphone was one of the two contractors whose companies deliver Xtra Vancouver throughout the region.
At least a dozen of our boxes have been vandalized, he said, targeted in a line from Tinseltown in Gastown to the Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.
In some cases, the clip that holds the papers against the display window had been ripped right out.
And the adjacent newspaper boxes were left alone.
In one or two of the city-owned multiple-publication boxes that hold six or eight different papers, only Xtra and the gay LOV magazine’s clips were damaged.
It’s not easy to rip out those well-anchored clips. It takes a bit of strength and, I’d say, a certain amount of rage, fanaticism, psychic disturbance —whatever you want to call it.
I imagine someone walking across town, singling out boxes carrying gay publications, damaging the boxes and sometimes pouring their energy into ripping out a clip.
But who are they really targeting? Not Xtra; we’re just the stand-in. The Xtra box is merely the clearly visible, big purple expression of gay pride standing on the intersection.
It’s our readers, members of the gay and lesbian, bisexual and trans communities, who are the real targets here.
They’re after you, dear reader, but we’re more obvious. Or at least we were at the time the boxes were hit, probably on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. (I wonder if the timing offers any clue?)
They hit us, and LOV, this time. What next? Or should I say whom next?
This is why I felt the news in my gut. I’m worried about this clearly angry, disturbed person’s next expression of hate and rage.
We’ve gone through a year of gaybashing trials, of innocent people being physically, mentally and emotionally damaged for being gay. We have many unsolved gaybashings on the books. And now we have another angry person walking our streets. Police understood this when I reported what happened. And the hate-crime unit is working on it. Mainstream media gave it great coverage, and I’m hoping the attention will trigger someone’s memory of seeing something strange at the boxes that will help us catch the culprit before they strike again.
A couple of people have suggested the vandalism may have been triggered by the cover photo of a half-naked cute couple. Not good enough. Here’s why: first, LOV magazine was also targeted. Second, the targeting of Xtra continued into the following issue, which had a very different cover.
Third, the cover photo was far from provocative — similar photos of gay guys have adorned big billboards in Vancouver in recent years, and we’re constantly exposed to semi-dressed models in advertising aimed at heterosexuals.
Finally, this line of argument is getting awfully close to the blame-the-victim assertion that a woman in a sexy dress is at least partially to blame if someone rapes her; I’d like to think we’ve moved beyond such nastiness.
Just as the perpetrator of a sexual assault is responsible for not controlling his actions, so someone trashing a box because they dislike a photo is the only one to blame.
We’ve been down this path before, though never so profoundly in Vancouver.
In Ottawa in 2006, someone targeted our boxes too. The hate-crime unit got involved and undercover detectives caught the person, who said his god made him do it.
Luckily, we caught him before he did more than damage boxes. The Crown and the judge agreed it was a hate crime and sentenced him to house arrest with a bunch of conditions, including psychiatric care and medication and staying away from gays and the gay neighbourhood.
I think we caught him in time not only to prevent physical assaults on our community, but also in time to save his own rapidly disintegrating life.
Let’s hope we can do the same here. Let’s not be victims. If you see something strange at one of our boxes, please call 911.
If you recall seeing something over the holidays that can help police find the perpetrator, please call the Vancouver Police Department or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
Gareth Kirkby oversees community relations for Pink Triangle Press, publisher of Xtra.