Edmonton

Edmonton police investigating blog posts targeting LGBTQ gym

An Edmonton LGBTQ gym has temporarily closed after it was the target of a series of blog posts, prompting an investigation from the Edmonton Police Hate Crimes Unit.

Queerflex temporarily closed after blog posts identify staff, location

Queerflex says its closing temporarily after members of its team were maliciously targeted in blog posts this week. (Queerflex/Facebook)

An Edmonton LGBTQ gym has temporarily closed after it was the target of a series of blog posts, prompting an investigation from the Edmonton Police Hate Crimes Unit.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Thursday, Queerflex board members said their team had been maliciously identified in posts by Patriot Pride Canada Wide, a far right organization which has been described as a hate group. 

The blog published two posts targeting Queerflex to its site on Tuesday. The posts claim Queerflex is a breeding ground for domestic terrorism, while saying people who use the gym are "gender confused unicorns."

The gym has closed indefinitely while police investigate and the gym tightens security at the property. 

'Scary and terrifying'

A Queerflex spokesperson spoke to CBC News but asked not to be identified out of concern for their safety.

The vitriol has only occurred online but they are concerned the attacks could escalate into physical threats or harassment. 

"We were the subject of a doxing attack which is the practice of publishing people's personal information online with malicious intent," the spokesperson said in an interview with CBC News.

"This incident has shaken Queerflex staff, patrons and volunteers. 

"We take this threat very seriously ... Queerflex is designed to be a safe place." 

The gym became aware of the threats after one of their trainers found their name, photo and the gym's address included in the blog, the spokesperson said. 

"It's unimaginable to think about what it would feel like to have your name and your photo and your place of business broadcast by a group that is doing so with malicious intent ... it's really scary and terrifying. 

"Targeted attacks like these are really heartbreaking and tragic but unfortunately, for a lot of people in the queer community, this isn't the first time it's happened and it's unfortunate but it likely won't be the last." 

Queerflex was founded in 2016 as Canada's first gym dedicated to serving LGBTQ people. The non-profit provides fitness training in a safe and inclusive environment for trans, queer and non-binary people. 

Queerflex did not say when the gym is expected to reopen. When it does, the spokesperson is hopeful that patrons will feel safe to return. 

"This incident has highlighted why we need to keep doing what we're doing but unfortunately, at this moment, has made it not safe for us to continue so we have to take this pause." 

READ: Queerflex issues statement on temporary closure

An Edmonton Police spokesperson said the Hate Crimes Unit was aware of Patriot Pride Canada Wide, but the group was not the subject of any other investigations. 

Patriot Pride Canada Wide has repeatedly targeted human rights groups and advocates in Edmonton, including HateFreeYEG, which enlists businesses to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for hate groups, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. 

"I would describe them as a hate group," said HateFreeYeg co-founder Bridget Stirling, who previously had her personal information and photo posted to the blog. 

"I think we've seen some escalation from this group with targeting the LGBTQ community in particular for some time. So, I think it was a matter of time before they went after an organization of that nature." 

Stirling said the group disrupted a rally at the Alberta Legislature in July in support of gay-straight alliances. The group later posted about the rally, calling it a form of child abuse. 

Patriot Pride Canada Wide affiliates itself with The Clann, a group that made headlines for staking out the Al-Rashid mosque in Edmonton earlier this year. The incident prompted calls for the better education and community awareness to combat the rise of hate groups in the city. 

The posts targeting Queerflex are part of a strategy adopted by local hate groups to paint all anti-hate and LGBTQ organizing efforts as an example of dangerous, radical activity, Stirling said.

"It's a way to be able to target and harass people and to marginalize them," she said. 

"Many of the people, when you look through the blog, that are targeted by this organization are people who are simply doing human rights work in the community. The reason that they're targeted is not because they're dangerous terrorist, but because they oppose the work that hate groups like this try to do."