Why spitting on a rainbow crosswalk is so worrisome
Caution: This article contains mentions of graphic sexual violence and hate crimes
My grandmother died when I was young; she was buried in Belvedere Cemetery, a large Catholic graveyard not far from downtown St. John's, and every summer, my family would go to outdoor mass to remember her and pray for her soul.
In 2000, when I was 12 years old, a teenage boy was dragged by four other boys into that cemetery and endured a violent sexual assault so horrible, officials considered it torture.
He had been sodomized with a piece of wood and left for dead. The perpetrators thought he was gay.
Eighteen years later, it's Pride Week in St. John's, and a video has been circulating of a man in Corner Brook spitting on a rainbow crosswalk.
Some people are upset. Some people are wondering why they are upset. His identity and motivations are unknown. Even if it was expressly meant to degrade the queer community, spitting isn't a big deal — right?
Our news cycle goes by so quickly now, it's easy to forget that some events hit others harder than they hit us. Remember the parents protesting the course on inclusion and acceptance in Middle Arm? Understandable if you don't; it's been months, and so much news has happened since then.
But for the queer child in Middle Arm, that's a critical moment. They will never forget the time all their friends' parents pulled them out of class because they were going to learn about the differences of others.
A few weeks before that, in Springdale, students of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance petitioned for a rainbow crosswalk in their town, which was denied; I wrote about them in an essay on the value and symbolism of such crosswalks.
I wonder how they and any other queer kids might be affected by that video — to see their symbol of hope and acceptance treated with such casual disdain.
Vandalism against symbols is never in isolation
Of course, rainbow crosswalks have been vandalized before; here are five Canadian examples from this year alone.
Anything important to one group is a target for those who oppose it.
But vandalism against the symbols of a marginalized group never exists in isolation. In Alberta, GSAs like the one in Springdale have been taken to court by conservative coalitions.
In Ontario, the new progressive sex-education program, which includes discussion of queer issues such as gender identity, has been clawed back. And Jordan Peterson, one of Canada's current leading voices, built his reputation on refusing to use preferred pronouns.
And that's in Canada, where members of the LGBTQ community have fought for decades to obtain basic government protections. Think of Chechnya, where gay men are being systematically jailed and tortured by the government.
Think of Russia, where "gay propaganda" is a federal crime. The trans military bans in the U.S. Police arresting people at Pride in Turkey.
In some 74 countries, homosexuality is still illegal, sometimes punishable by death.
Even in progressive places, personal opinions often lag far behind government regulation.
The LGBTQ community is not unique in this targeting: Ask people of colour, disabled people, immigrants and other marginalized groups, and they would surely share their own stories of attempts to degrade them through violence or humiliation, because being on the fringe of society made them easy to exploit.
A searing memory
It's all the same hatred, in different doses.
It's been 18 years since that horrible assault in Belvedere Cemetery. My grandfather has since died as well; I still go there to pay my respects.
I wish I could visit my grandparents' grave and remember them without also thinking about that boy — but I can't. It is seared into my being.
It's nothing compared to the impact on him and his family, but it still affects me and mine.
Every person in the LGBTQ community has that moment, when they realized they weren't safe in their communities. So many people have worked hard to make this country a safer place for us, and I'm grateful. But that doesn't erase the memories, and the struggle is ongoing.
Next time, think twice about where you spit.