Crimes against LGBT citizens increase, activists and experts urge further education
Almost a quarter of all “hate crimes” committed in Calgary, Alta. are identified as “motivated by sexual orientation” according to Calgary Police Service statistics. The City of Calgary defines “hate crime” as “a criminal occurrence committed against person or property” based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
There were only two such crimes in 2009, and 14 in 2013. Even though the number of discriminatory events seem to be increasing, experts feel the city is addressing this issue in 2015.
Constable Andy Buck is the liaison to the LGBT Community for the Calgary Police Service. He says the numbers are perhaps a “reflection of their confidence in coming forward and reporting such incidents,” explaining the increase in 2013 could be a byproduct of that.
“A lot of hard work has been done by the Calgary Police Service to develop a positive relationship with the community,” says Buck.
Discriminatory incidents in the city
But how are Calgary LGBT members surviving discrimination in the city?
Ron Eberly, 58, explains while the city might have improved in some ways, it’s still not entirely safe or gay-friendly.
“Male couples have it hard in this city, we cannot hold hands, as we only get looks and people may out loud make nasty comments,” he says.
He considers himself a trendy dresser and says this sometimes gets him negative attention in the city.
“I carry a man bag and people clue in that I must be gay. If they are with someone they point and say things. I am good at reading lips, I know that are saying that I am gay,” explains Eberly.
“My husband-to-be at the moment and I were picking our engagement rings. I liked the one in the showcase, but the clerk refused to show it to me. A complaint was made (to the store) but nothing happened.”
Eberly says he has suffered from homophobia many times in Calgary. He describes his experience with discrimination as ranging from a physical attack outside a gay bar, and being "left for dead," to social marginalization. He says that even a family member has physically assaulted him because of his sexual orientation.
Stop the madness campaign
But behind Eberly’s story there is a profound desire for him to speak out. In 2012, Eberly launched “Stop the Madness” in efforts to raise awareness of homophobia in Calgary. He continues to give speeches under the drag persona Mz. Rhonda.
As a result of his experiences, Eberly explains Calgary is only a gay-friendly city when the gay community “plays it is safe,” and keeps its lifestyle private. “We need to speak out. Just because we have gay marriage in Canada does not mean that we’ve taken over homophobia,” says Eberly.
And that’s exactly what Nolan Hill did. When a cab driver called Hill “disgusting” when he saw Hill kissing a male friend in July 2015, he went public and took his experience to social media. However, unlike Eberly, 21-year-old Hill believes that there have been great advances in Calgary.
“We had the 25th anniversary of Pride this year and two of the three first openly LGBT MLAs in Alberta were elected in Calgary ridings,” Hill says.
A long way to go
However, Hill confesses that it’s hard to ignore what’s really happening on the ground with the LGBT community and what they face day-to-day in Calgary.
“I think that advances at the high levels are great and can give the image of progress, but the reality is that there is still a long way to go in order to see a city-wide change in attitudes,” says Hill.
But what seems to be direct homophobia appears to be the just the tip of the iceberg. While other discrete forms of discrimination arise, Hill says there are other forms of marginalization, “homophobic jokes and slurs are still heard in schools and in our streets.”
When Hill compares other Canadian cities to Calgary, he explains Vancouver, B.C. or Toronto, Ont. have recognized and established gay villages.
Hill thinks daily routine facts should be “corrected” in order to make small but solid changes towards the gay community. “We need to change what is excused and tolerated by our own families and friends. Don't excuse those little things in your networks; educate yourself and others. If we can shift the way people speak, we can make the city more accepting and affirming of them in the long run,” he says.
But human sexuality sociologist David Aveline agrees with the fact that Calgary being a conservative city might be a reason why the LGBT community has a hard time “coming out.”
“I’d say Calgary is more tolerant than years ago, but it’s not a gay-friendly city,” explains Aveline, who also agrees with both Eberly and Hill that more education is needed in order to reduce homophobia in the city.
Correction: A previous version of this story indicated Ron Eberly was born and raised in Calgary. He was born in Ireland. The Calgary Journal regrets the error.
- By Ingrid Mir