Canadian LGBTQ2 community members and advocates say the past year has been difficult and scary amid a notable rise in hate crimes, threats and protests against drag queens and transgender people in particular.
The solution, they say, is education and support from allies to counter homophobia and anti-trans hate — particularly baseless accusations of pedophilia and “grooming” children, which they say only feeds threats and acts of violence.
“We are seeing some really great changes in terms of acceptance in society, but most queer and trans people I know are still worried about their safety,” said Fae Johnstone, executive director of Wisdom2Action, in an interview with Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block Sunday.
“I’ve been doing this work as a queer and trans advocate for a decade. It’s never been as scary out there as it is right now.”
Kyne, a drag queen who competed on the first season of Canada’s Drag Race, told Stephenson that although she’s seen more acceptance as drag becomes more mainstream, she has also faced a rise in hate over the past “weird year.”
“It’s been a year that I’ve been able to thrive as a drag queen,” said Kyne, who also teaches math online — while fully decked out in drag — to millions of followers and speaks at universities and schools across Canada and the U.S.
But “pretty much every time I do that, there’s always some sort of backlash online. I get called a groomer, a pedophile. Every organization that brings me, there’s calls to fire them. … And I’m just talking about math.”
Anti-LGBTQ2 hate has been particularly prominent in the U.S., where lawmakers are actively working to limit gender expression and discussion of queer identity in schools and hateful rhetoric has spiked in conservative media channels.
Last November, a gunman killed five people and wounded 25 others at a LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., shining a new light on the dangers queer people face.
Hate has been rising in Canada too. Police-reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation rose nearly 60 per cent between 2019 and 2021 to the highest level in five years, Statistics Canada reported last month.
Transgender Canadians are generally far more likely to experience violence than cisgender people, studies have found. A majority have also experienced sexual violence at least one time in their lives.
Protests against drag shows have also become a regular occurrence, particularly at those aimed at family audiences like “drag brunches” and “drag queen story time.” Some have led to threats of violence: in December, a bomb threat was called in at an event at a library in Brockville, Ont., and a protester even gained access to the roof and set fire to the building’s HVAC system.
Both Johnstone and Kyne believe the rise in such protests and rhetoric are a reaction to the wider acceptance of drag, partially thanks to shows like Canada’s Drag Race and the Emmy-winning hit RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Experts have pointed out that drag itself is not inherently sexual, especially not at events geared towards family-friendly audiences and children.
“Every time I do these events … I’m always met with so much positive feedback,” Kyne said. “Then I go online and there’s all these trolls threatening to bring guns. And it’s very scary.”
The backlash against trans people, Johnstone said, goes back even further.
“We’re seeing a revival of the anti-gay hysteria from the 1970s,” she said. “I think former (U.S.) president (Donald) Trump, the far right in North America, are surging in ways that many of us didn’t predict. I think that’s a lot of what’s driving this.
“They’re recognizing that most people don’t know a trans person. There’s less of us than there are gay folks. And so, it’s easy to paint a picture and easier to drive a wedge when at the end of the day, trans folks are just other people in our communities … (who) deserve the same rights and safety as everyone else.”
Being trans and being a drag queen is not the same thing either, Johnstone and Kyne said, although some trans people do perform drag.
Kyne said parents, rather than fighting discussions on LGBTQ2 issues and gender identity in schools, should instead embrace those talks.
“In adulthood, you’re going to come across trans people,” she said. “You’re going to come across gay people, you’re going to come across people of all walks of life. And I think schools should prepare students for that.”
Johnstone says it’s important for those parents to understand trans people “are not dangerous — we’re just a different kind of human being” who deserve “the same support, the same inclusion, the same acceptance that every other child or adult deserves.”
Until more people recognize that, she said she believes the fear and hatred will only continue — and possibly get worse.
“I worry every time I do an engagement that something horrible could happen, that there is a risk that somebody will show up and that hate will shift from a virtual context to an in-person, horrifying and terrifying experience,” she said.
“I have never been as worried as I am right now about the future of trans rights and acceptance in this country.”