Transphobia gains ground in US Gender diverse people in Canada worry it could happen here

Amanda Jetté Knox doesn’t know who tried to throw a bottle at them from a vehicle last month while walking home in Ottawa, but remembers feeling like they barely missed their heads.

†[It] hit my fringe as it went by,” said Jetté Knox, who identifies as non-binary and uses she/she pronouns.”[They] called me an f-king freak and drove off.”

It was the first time Jetté Knox had witnessed something so violent, but the proud activist and author has endured a lot of snide remarks since they publicly shared their family’s story several years ago. One of Jetté Knox’s four children is non-binary and came out in 2014; the following year, Jetté Knox’s husband came out as a transgender woman.

Now they are closely monitoring anti-LGBTQ hatred in the United States, where gender diversity and gender expression have become popular targets for Republican politicians, far-right groups and online trolls.

Two women are standing next to each other and smiling.
Amanda Jetté Knox, seen on the right, and their wife Zoë, live in Ottawa with their four children. (Submitted by Amanda Jetté Knox)

Jetté Knox and other advocates and experts are also seeing it spread in Canada.

Threatening phone calls recently resulted in a family-friendly drag performance at cafe Victoria being cancelled, while other stories of drag queens in public libraries elsewhere in Canada are also subject to harassment. Pride flags are broken and/or destroyed in London, Dec.Delta, BCand Ottawa† In early June, a 17-year-old was arrested in Mississauga, Ontario threaten a mass shooting at a party in West Palm Beach, Florida, Pride.

“It feels like it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing more of this in our own backyard,” Jetté Knox told CBC News.

“I’m a pretty positive person, but I’m concerned now.”

Hate ‘spill over the border’, says professor

Anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ hatred is something that’s always “simmering,” including in Canada, said Prof. Barbara Perry, director of the Center on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa.

A study published in 2020 by Statistics Canada found that transgender people were more likely to experience physical or sexual violence than non-transgender people in Canada. They were also more likely to experience “inappropriate behavior” in public, at work, and online, which Statistics Canada defines as acts that “make people feel unsafe or uncomfortable” and have a lasting impact on mental and physical health. physical health.

But it seems far-right groups here are more encouraged by what Perry describes as the “horrific stories and policy shifts” seen in the US.

Since the beginning of this year, the US-based human rights campaign has documented more than 300 bills, filed in 36 states, directly targeting transgender rights, gender diversity and expression. These include efforts to research families that help affirm their child’s gender identity by downright restricting education and conversation about LGBTQ people, restricting strange children from participating in sports, and even going so far as to bar children from attending. of drag performances.

“That spreads across the border, of course, also in the Canadian story, and informs the far right here,” Perry told CBC News.

VIEW | Drag performances of all ages subject to online hate:

Drag events for all ages in Canadian libraries facing threats and hate speech

Alex Saunders, a drag artist who volunteers and hosts a drag storytime with the Saint John Free Public Library, says they have been the target of hate speech from right-wing groups.

Lawyers accused of ‘taking care’ of children

Malicious language aimed at smearing transgender people and those who support them, as preying on or indoctrinating children, is routinely used online and in right-wing media – particularly “grooming” or “groomer.”

It’s a trope that has long been used to discredit LGBTQ people who are seeing a surge in online use.

Jetté Knox said they are called a groomer “almost every day” because of their gender identity, because they are raising a non-binary child or because of their activism for transgender rights.

It also happened personally. They recently traveled across the United States and attended a school board meeting in Virginia, with friends and their children, to recognize Pride Month. Protesters threw insults at them.

“Some pretty awful things have been said,” recalls Jetté Knox. “We were told we were indoctrinating children.”

The Canadian anti-hate network has documented that story appearing in far-right political discourse in this country.

VIEW | A montage of the human rights campaign of language against transgender people:

They’re basically far-right groups that “groom” people, Perry said, slowly attracting new followers to their ideologies by holding onto their concerns and insecurities.

Some far-right, religious, and other groups have portrayed gender-affirming concern for transgender youth as “child abuseand pushing to limit access to health care such as hormones to delay puberty and promote development consistent with a child’s gender identity.

Several medical groups, including the American Medical Associationsay such policies are ‘dangerous’ and that ‘lacking gender-affirming care can have tragic health consequences’.

It’s a means of “giving credibility and legitimacy” to extreme views, Perry explained, because they are presented as “protecting the vulnerable.”

Transphobia a ‘gateway’ to far-right ideology

Focusing on transgender and gender-diverse youth is one way to gain public approval for wider acceptance of anti-transgender policies and attitudes, said Florence Ashley, a doctoral student in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law and the Joint Center for Bioethics whose work revolves for trans rights.

“Transphobia is often a kind of gateway to the far right,” Ashley says, using she/she pronouns.

They noted how social media algorithms also play a role in this. For example, the American non-profit Media Matters For America investigated how anti-trans content on TikTok served as a gateway to far-right and white supremacist content, conspiracy theories, and even calls for violence.

Ashley also highlighted similarities that the current climate of transphobia has with what is known as the “great replacement” conspiracy theory disseminated by far-right and white nationalist movements, and in some conservative media. It is a racist claim that whites are systematically replaced by immigrants.

The sense of “losing power in society,” they explained, makes it easier to blame the people you see as “trying to replace you.”

It’s something that happens “in times of crisis and great fear as we’ve seen in recent years,” Perry said. “We are always looking for scapegoats, looking for a place to direct our anger or fears or worries.”

A red-haired woman, dressed in a blue and white dress, stands outside with brick buildings and trees in the background behind her.
Florence Ashley is a PhD student at the University of Toronto Law School and the Joint Center for Bioethics, whose work revolves around trans rights. (Submitted by Florence Ashley)

The political balance of power can change in the blink of an eye

While gender identity and expression are protected by Canada’s Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, Jetté Knox is alarmed by the rise of “more far-right parties,” some of which have candidates criticizing gender diversity and expression.

They worry that voters might not pay close attention to the comments and promises such candidates make on gender diversity issues, because it doesn’t affect their lives the way it affects Jetté Knox’s LGBTQ family.

Ashley warned that it only takes a “shift in political power for groups to really exert their will on a population” and that is why people in Canada need to watch closely what is happening in the US.

They noted how the recent US Supreme Court, crammed with conservative judges during Donald Trump’s only term in office, overturned Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old decision that enshrined the right to access abortion. That ruling could set a precedent for overturning decisions on same-sex marriage and same-sex intimacy for consenting adults, something Justice Clarence Thomas has alluded to. his unanimous opinion on the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Jetté Knox urged those who care to vote for the rights and freedoms of gender diverse people.

“Looking at how those rights are being attacked elsewhere worries me a lot, because it means they could be attacked in Canada too,” they said. “I think those things will be challenged and I think we need to prepare for it.”

Creating a positive online space for transgender people

Despite the apparent rise of online defamation and hatred of LGBTQ people, young transgender people like Vancouver’s Noah Yang help maintain positivity in online spaces and educate others about transgender experiences.

Yang, who uses the pronouns he and him, shares his journey towards gender affirmation on Instagram. He said he’s been lucky to have experienced only “a handful of times” negativity and has been largely encouraged.

“It was unexpected that showing the physical scars and the physical changes would inspire people and, you know, open people’s eyes to… what can really happen during someone’s transition.”

A man in a shirt and ties is sitting in a chair.
Noah Yang, who has been documenting his medical transition for nearly four years, said it started as something personal to him, but later he felt a responsibility to share his story and be open about his experience. (Submitted by Noah Yang)

He recognizes that not everyone has the ability to drown out the negativity aimed at gender diverse people. But for Yang, the importance of visibility outweighs any hatred.

“I think it’s helpful because I feel that, you know, it’s not just transgender people who see the page,” he said.

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