'Always speak up': 6th annual diversity rally has message of love in wake of Charlottesville attack

Going into its sixth year, the Hate to Hope awareness campaign is set to take place in Edmonton just one week after protests between white nationalists and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Va., turned violent.

Hate to Hope march runs Saturday in Edmonton

Chevi Rabbit addresses the crowd at the Hate to Hope rally in 2016. (Chevi Rabbit/Facebook)

Now more than ever, the creator of Hate to Hope knows making space for diversity is important. 

The sixth annual Hate To Hope Diversity Walk/Rally will be held in Edmonton Saturday.

Organizer Chevi Rabbit said it's a chance to stand up for tolerance in the shadow of last week's violence between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va. 

"We want to create an inclusive, tolerant society and we're standing in solidarity with the victims of Charlottesville," Rabbit told CBC News.  
Chevi Rabbit is the creator of Hate to Hope. (Chevi Rabbit/CBC)

"The way to combat hate is to not tolerate hateful behaviour. People who bully are upset about their own lives and victimize others, unknowingly or knowingly, out of anger. Always speak up and never remain silent when you're the target or when you see others being victimized."

Violence and hate were foreign concepts to Rabbit until four years ago, when she was attacked for being gay. 

After moving to Edmonton to attend university in 2013, Rabbit was soon singled out for being different. 

Attacked, called 'faggot'

One evening while walking on Whyte Avenue, a busy street full of cafes and shops, she was randomly attacked by four men. 

"They called me a faggot," Rabbit recalled. "Punched me and shoved me to the ground."

Startled, crying and then angry, Rabbit said she tried to comprehend what had happened because she had never been bullied before. 

Rabbit said she's always felt at home in her own skin. 

Although she was born male she says she carried strong feminine traits for as long as she can remember. She didn't feel different than others or see herself as being wrong for being male and wearing feminine clothes.

She was raised in a loving family in Maskwacis and Ponoka, Alta., and learned the ways of her First Nations heritage, intermingling those values with western societal culture. 

I didn't experience homophobia where I come from — I'm very blessed to have that.- Rabbit

Rabbit said being two-spirit was a normal expression and was respected in traditional Cree culture. 

There were no labels back then that people refer to today such as "gay, transgender or gender fluid," she said, and she was free to experiment role-playing between the two genders. This was due mostly to the support of her parents, she said, who encouraged her to freely express who she was. 

Chevi Rabbit and her mother at the first Hate to Hope rally and march, 2012. (Provided by Chevi Rabbit)
At age 13 she revealed to her mother that she was attracted to boys. Rabbit said it didn't shatter her mother's world, rather, it was just something she wholly accepted. 

"It's been a non-issue my whole life," Rabbit said. "I didn't experience homophobia where I come from — I'm very blessed to have that. [I was raised to be] confident and comfortable in who I am."

After the attack police conducted an investigation but were unable to locate the perpetrators. 

First rally 2 weeks later

Rabbit said the experience was traumatizing, leading to anxiety attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. So she set out to create her own type of closure from the incident by doing the opposite of what had been done to her — spreading a message of love and tolerance. 

The first Hate to Hope rally, held two weeks after Rabbit was attacked, saw hundreds of people from all walks of life join in support. 

It's OK to be vulnerable, yes. But start by getting out of bed. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Make your own way in this life.- Rabbit

Since then the campaign has grown and become as a major social justice event in Edmonton every year. Funds are collected for different charities during the event.

"People say I've inspired them, but I'm a work in progress," Rabbit laughed. 

Rabbit, now a well-known social justice advocate, hopes the ripples of love from Hate to Hope will be felt for generations to come. 

Edmonton's annual Hate to Hope rally takes participants on a march across the High Level Bridge and onto the legislature grounds, as seen here in 2016. (Zoe Todd/CBC)
Her advice for victims of hate crimes is to not give in, even when it causes depression or anxiety. 

"It's OK to be vulnerable, yes," she said. "But start by getting out of bed. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Make your own way in this life."

The campaign is taking on a broader flavour since the Charlottesville events, said Rabbit, who expects a larger than normal crowd to gather Saturday evening for the event at the Alberta legislature building. 

To donate to support the homeless charity Mustard Seed Edmonton, text Hope to 39333 from now until Aug. 31.