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Anti-hate crime rally creates hope in the community

Hundreds of people gathered outside Vancouver City Hall to rally against hate crimes (Facebook)

Rain didn’t deter hundreds of people from gathering outside Vancouver City Hall on a stormy Saturday night to rally against hate crime. Mayor Gregor Robertson joined a diverse crowd of speakers and supporters to officially declare Oct. 23, 2010 as a day against hate crime.

Fatima Jaffer, who sits on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Advisory Committee to City Hall and helped organize the event, called it a good start to raise awareness and get the municipal government involved in anti-hate crime initiatives.

“I’m looking at this as the first step in building the movement,” she said. “There was a lot of conversation about diversity and all communities coming together to talk about goals and issues. It was a recognition that hate crime is not just a gay issue, not just a women’s issue or a racial issue, but everyone’s issue.”

Fatima Jaffer speaks at the anti-hate crime rally (Facebook)

Vancouver is one of the first municipal governments in Canada to welcome a gay and lesbian advisory committee to the conversation. For gay and lesbian rights groups, government support is a step in the right direction. Mark Robins, who sits on the advisory committee and is the owner and operator of gayvancouver.net, says that spreading the message is key to combating hate crimes.

“It’s about starting the first wave and creating awareness. To stop hate crime, part of it has to do with attitudes and how people are raised. It’s important to reach young people and teach them that it’s not acceptable,” he said.

Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks at the anti-hate crime rally (Facebook)

The rally also addressed racism in the community. For Jaffer, racism and homophobia are interconnected.

“As a South Asian lesbian, I face a double combination of racism and homophobia. So we’re dealing with racism from outside the community and homophobia from within -- it’s a double whammy,” she said.

Jaffer was inspired by the multi-cultural turnout at the rally, especially because she says many South Asian men fear racist backlash.

“Some South Asian men don’t even want to come downtown at all because of all the negative perceptions,” she said. “In Vancouver there is the image of our community that is not liked -- especially post 911. That is why this event was so important and I was pleased at how many people came from all communities. There were more people of colour than I expected.”

Indira Prahst, sociology professor at Langara University specializing in race and ethnic relations, said that the support from the city showed genuine conviction in honouring the importance of speaking out against the issue, but that the government can do even more.

"The city of Vancouver needs to wake up to the reality that the impact of hate crime has had a really negative impact on victims, people and groups on a sociological level and their ability to participate in society," she said. "In terms of racism, ethnic identity and hate crimes against women, courts and judges are afraid to highlight crimes motivated by hatred because as a city we have a responsibility to uphold this image of Vancouver as tolerant. Vancouver is pretty tolerant but the reality is that hate crimes are actually on the rise."

Prahst said that the rally was successful in humanizing the experience of victims. She said it was very moving to hear testimonials from people who live every day in fear for their lives because of their race, sexual orientation or sex.

"The rally also did a good job of clarifying that violence against women is also a hate crime and that includes women of the downtown eastside. The women Pickton murdered were all victims of hate crimes," she said.

Looking forward, Prahst recommends that the government becomes more involved in campaigns to deconstruct myths and stereotypes about specific groups that have become a target for hate crimes.

"Carving out space to acknowledge that hate crimes exist, hearing testimonials, statistics and trends of how hate crimes dehumanize and humiliate victims is extremely important," she said.

She suggests that more awareness surrounding the positive aspects of the gay and lesbian lifestyle or the South Asian community could help stop irrational homophobia and racist hate crimes.

"We need to stop seeing visible minorities as liabilities and start seeing them as assets," she said.

The next step for the LGBTQ advisory committee is to make the anti-hate crime day an annual event in order to expand awareness, educate the public and move towards making the community a safe place for all minorities.

Robins hopes that next year the weather will be on their side.

“The weather didn’t help things but it was encouraging the amount of people who showed up in the rain to say ‘enough is enough,’” he said.

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