On Saturday, Edmontonians will take part in the third annual from Hate to Hope March, an event focused on ending bullying, hate crimes and homophobia.
While the event focuses on hope, it has its roots in a dark time in the life of Chevi Rabbit. In July 2012, Rabbit, 28, was attacked in a Edmonton Safeway parking lot by a group of men who hurled homophobic slurs at him.
Little did he know back then that "From Hate to Hope" would become a slogan for his life.
Rabbit was only 12 when he came out to his mother while living in Ponoka County, Alta., near the Montana First Nation, his home reserve and one of the four nations of Maskwacis, the community formerly known as Hobbema. She responded nonchalantly and asked him if he was happy, to which he replied yes.
"When I look back on it, the whole coming out thing, there was no spotlight light on it, like I was not a freak. It was like an everyday casual thing, so it was normalized basically,” he says.
“My whole life I never really had to focus on my sexuality. I focused on my creativity, education, and self-development.”
When Rabbit was 14, he began experimenting with wearing eyeliner and foundation. He was never teased in school for being gay or for wearing makeup.
After high school, he studied hospitality and tourism management at Red Deer College and took esthetics at Marvel College. That’s when Rabbit began to incorporate women’s clothing into his wardrobe.
“It’s not really like I wear it to be a woman, I wear it to be androgynous,” he said. “Sometimes I wear a dress just to be avant garde. It’s more about fashion, because I love fashion. I find makeup and clothes are a really good way to express yourself as an individual.”
Never one to stand still, Rabbit decided to study First Nations economic development in Edmonton.
'I really found my own voice'
On July 19, 2012, Rabbit left his campus residence to go to the supermarket. He was crossing the parking lot when a group of young men began to yell derogatory names at him from their vehicle.
Rabbit said he decided to be the bigger person. He said “thank you” to his bullies and held his head high. That’s when things turned ugly. One of the men got out of the car and began to attack him. Thankfully, people were able to come to his rescue.
“It was pretty crazy,” Rabbit said. “I had never had anything like that happen to me.”
Rabbit finished his semester at school but suffered from severe anxiety that made it nearly impossible for him to attend class. He decided that he needed to take a year off.
In August 2012, Rabbit was joined by 200 others for the first Hate to Hope march which started in the same neighbourhood where he was attacked, and ended with a rally at the Alberta legislature.
In April, Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis presented Rabbit with the 2014 Hate Crime Awareness Youth Award, from the Alberta Hate Crime Committee.
Now he’s ready to ramp up for the third annual Hate to Hope march and rally and return to his educational pursuits this fall.
Despite his hardship, Rabbit has put away his anger and moved forward.
“When I fall in love with something, I usually go right into it,” he says. “That’s how Hate to Hope was too because at that time in my life I felt passionate about it because I really felt that what happened to me was really unfair.”
'“I really found my own voice, my own courage.' - Chevi Rabbit
Rabbit now has his sights on earning a law degree with a specialty in contract law and his heart set on politics, although he has yet to determine whether it will be for his First Nation, or at the municipal or provincial level.
“Basically I was meant to be a politician, I’m meeting all these politicians, I’m learning what they are doing, ….and I’m realizing that it’s difficult but it’s attainable,” Rabbit said.
He saw how support from politicians helped the Hate to Hope cause and it has inspired him to do the same for others.
“I really found my own voice, my own courage.”
The third annual Hate to Hope march and rally takes place in Edmonton on Saturday, July 19, at 6 p.m. MT.