St. John's election candidate facing death threats, harassment due to transgender identity

Ophelia Ravencroft, a transgender woman, says she has faced sustained harassment from a select group of individuals, including threats to her life and the trans community as a whole.

Experience has been 'rattling,' says Ophelia Ravencroft

A person with dark hair in a dark dress stands next to a shrub.
St. John's municipal election candidate Ophelia Ravencroft says she has faced sustained harassment and death threats against her and the trans community during her campaign. (Vote Ophelia for Ward 2/Facebook)

A St. John's candidate running in the upcoming municipal election is speaking out after facing harassment and "direct, graphic death threats" related to her gender identity.

Ophelia Ravencroft, a transgender woman, is running in Ward 2, looking to gain momentum after running for council in 2020. Among the first candidates to put their name forward in 2021, she said her campaign has slowed down in recent weeks due to "personal reasons."

Now, after filing a report with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, Ravencroft says she has faced sustained harassment from a select group of individuals, including threats to her life and the trans community as a whole.

"It's been an incredibly rattling time," Ravencroft told CBC Radio's On The Go on Tuesday. "Knowing there's a transphobic slant on it, and knowing that the call was made that animatedly at trans people in general, it really puts a disturbing twist on it."

In an interview with The St. John's Morning Show, campaign manager Shaye Murray said the harassment goes back months through emails, phone calls, and near-physical altercations. Murray said Ravencroft and her team have received five threats by email in the last 10 days.

"People have showed up at my door. It's a real thing," Murray said.

In a statement to CBC News, police say they are unable to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Ravencroft said that while she expected criticism as a potential elected official, the extent of how far some people have gone is somewhat surprising. She said that while it has caused her to run more of a low-key campaign due to safety concerns, it hasn't shaken her resolve.

"It's rough to think that these are choices that we have to make.… But at a certain point, we thought it's probably right that people understand what's happening, and I'm very overwhelmed by the community support on it," she said.

"We're going to do our best to adapt going forward and be as visible and positive as we can and do everything we can to win this."

Both Ravencroft and Murray say they hope their experiences won't deter other queer and trans people from running in future elections.

"Unfortunately, harassment and abuse are something that trans people face everyday, because transphobia and queerphobia are realities in our society. That's something that we really need to ensure that we fix," Ravencroft said. "We have to call this out when we see it, actually challenge it, and create a safe society."

"Our communities need us," Murray said. "The more people doing it, the better the idea is and the more your elected officials will reflect you and your priorities."

'Absolutely repulsive'

Meanwhile, Courtney Clarke of Equal Voice N.L. — an organization committed to supporting and electing more women at all levels of government — told CBC News what Ravencroft is going through is "absolutely repulsive."

Clarke said there's no room on the campaign trail for harassment of any kind, and says her organization is standing behind Ravencroft and her campaign team.

"I think people really need to remember that there are real people with real feelings behind these campaigns. If you don't support someone because of their lived experience, their lifestyle choices, their policies, fine, don't vote for them," said Clarke. 

"But how miserable must you be to have to take that time and effort to be so vile toward someone."

Clarke is asking community members as a whole to call out harassment and hatred when they see it, and educate other community members and children on the importance of people in leadership positions having diverse perspectives.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go and The St. John's Morning Show