Earlier in the year, The Centre secured $30,000 in surprise funding from the provincial government for a six-month pilot project to combat violence against queer people in BC. The money was left over in the province’s coffers at the end of last year.
“During this time,” says the project’s coordinator Cameron Murdock, “we’re looking to establish that there is an ongoing need. We’re looking at how we can gather information, bring that together and demonstrate to the government that we have a need for a specialized victim services team at some point.”
The Anti-Violence Project is a province-wide initiative and Murdock says he’s providing consultation and sensitivity training across the province to anyone who will listen.
He’s also about to launch a support group for men who have just exited abusive relationships and he’s helping some people with the court process.
How does the Anti-Violence Project fit into the queer community in Vancouver?
“What I’m doing is a combination of victims’ services and education,” says Murdock. The West End Integrated Neighbourhood Network (WEINN) is already running some outreach and education about violent crimes in the West End. West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE) is collecting its own data about queer-bashings. Murdock sees his work as bringing the resources of all these organizations together.
Murdock says he’s compiling some loose data on gaybashing in Vancouver, but that there really is very little solid data on the frequency or precise nature of violent crimes against queers.
“Because my first concern is for people’s privacy, what we’re counting is just very basic information.
“Certainly, I’m very interested in talking with folks that have experienced violence in the past that are willing to share their stories because that can help us in getting the word out that we need more support and understanding to be able to continue this work,” he adds.
But pinning down and analyzing violent crimes against queer people with any precision can be difficult, he continues.
“The really key problem is under-reporting,” says Murdock. “In a 1997 study here in Canada of 1,200 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, over a quarter of them had experienced violence.
“Of those 25 percent,” he continues, “only 25 percent of them had reported the violence to police. So there’s rampant under-reporting for a number of reasons.”
What are those reasons?
“Sometimes it’s just that we have a long standing history, not just here in BC but nationally, of a negative relationship with law enforcement,” says Murdock.
“I think that law enforcement has made some really great strides. Especially here in Vancouver,” he continues. “But I don’t think that perception has gone away.”
Murdock points to internalized homophobia in queer people as another root factor in under-reporting.
“I think in a lot of ways we’re conditioned to expect that violence will happen because homophobia is out there and the internalized aspect of that is saying, ‘that’s just the way that it is and I have to live with that and accept that,'” he says. “Folks are not necessarily doing all that they can to be safe.”
Connected to that internalized homophobia is the concern that closeted queers may not report crimes against them because they fear being outed.
Violent criminals “target, say, Stanley Park,” says Murdock. “Where a lot of married men, or men that are not out, are their targets. Even if it’s not hate-motivated, they know that these are individuals who are not likely to report if they beat them up and rob them because they don’t want anyone to know that they were there.”
Wouldn’t it be best to encourage those who are afraid to report crimes because they fear being outed to just come out?
“There’s so much evidence anecdotally, and in my own experience coming out is one of the healthiest things psychologically a person can do for himself,” says Murdock. “But when somebody’s been bashed it may not be the right time for them to do that.
“It’s about reporting and people feeling comfortable and feeling safe to do that.”
The reason they don’t feel safe is because of homophobic attitudes, he notes. The shame is inflicted from the outside, not from within the queer community.
“Where you can see that very clearly is the justified outrage over the sentences and the court proceedings around Aaron Webster’s murderers,” says Murdock. “The court completely straight-washed that incident. They didn’t even talk about that it happened in a predominantly gay access area, that Aaron was a gay man. There are lots of ways they straightened up the story to our detriment.
The problem with that is bashing victims say, ‘they don’t care about us anyway, why should we report it? All we’re going to experience is another type of bashing.’ That’s part of what I’m here to do, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The Anti-Violence Pilot Project is funded to run until September.