Contradictory messages from “anti-bullying” car rally in Mission, BC

On January 17th, many hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Mission to protest the recent hate crime against a queer, trans youth. In addition to plenty of pink balloons, there were lesbian, pride, and trans flags as well as flags from the electrical workers union, the IBEW. There were pick-up trucks, 4x4s, station wagons, and coupes, along with a handful of airplanes that periodically flew overhead in formation, one of them painted in rainbows

The overwhelming turnout indicates that public opinion has turned against the worst expressions of homophobia and transphobia. But the parade also demonstrated the limitations of this aversion. The dominant message of the action was against bullying, rather than against homophobia or transphobia.

Hundreds of vehicles, including IBEW union representatives, protest the hate crime

Over the intercom, from speakers posted high atop the announcer tower in the racetrack oval, a man’s voice recognized the major show of support gathered around, saying, “If you’re a bully, look at how many people came out from one incident. If you’re a bully, look at how many people are mad at you.”

Two members of the Queer Youth Defense Network, a small, newly-formed group of queer youth living in suburbs outside of Vancouver, attended the rally and handed out a letter of support for the youth. They walked through the maze of cars to the announcer tower to challenge the announcer’s exclusive “anti-bullying” message.

Jessie Notton, a 15-year-old founder of the Queer Youth Defense Network, called up to the middle aged white man in the tower, who leaned out the window far enough for his pink suspenders to be seen. Jessie shouted up, “Hey! Can you announce: Honk if you oppose transphobia! Honk if you oppose homophobia!”

The man said no, that there were horses nearby and they didn’t want to encourage honking and other noise. Katie, a 13-year-old member of the Queer Youth Defense Network, later wondered about this. “When the rainbow plane flies over he says to honk, and he’s playing straight mom music all the time.”

Jessie shouted back, “Can you at least say something about homophobia and transphobia? Just say the words?” He nodded and said, “Sure thing!”

Back at the car, Jessie and Katie listened for how he’d change his announcement.

Then he said, “We are for love and against homophob – homophobic activities. Whether you’re gay, transgenders, or… dress funny. We want to love everybody!”

And then later he expanded, “We want to get rid of the bullying in the world, and homophobic tendencies. We want to decrease negativity.”

“They’re treating this like a straight kid got bullied. But it’s 100% different. They’re depoliticizing a hate crime.

Jessie explained, “They’re treating this like a straight kid got bullied. But it’s 100% different. They’re depoliticizing a hate crime. A better slogan would be ‘stop hate crimes,’ not ‘stop bullying.’ This wasn’t a random act of violence – it was about targeting somebody because of their gender.”

The car rally in Mission highlights the contradictions of liberal understandings of hate crimes, which are depoliticized as the problem of “mean” or “hateful” individuals. By localizing the problem of homophobia and transphobia in individual bullies, liberal messaging sanitizes the rest of society, as well as the compulsory heterosexuality that structures Canada. 

While we should celebrate the outpour of support from people who attended the rally to support a trans and queer youth, ending cis and heterosupremacy means recognizing that hate crimes are not isolated incidents, caused by a few bad apples: they are the expression of a hatred woven into the social fabric of Mission, the suburb over the edge of Metro Vancouver, and throughout all of Canada.

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