This article accompanies a June 2023/ Pride season letter sent to all ministries in Northern Spirit, Living Skies, and Prairie to Pine Regional Councils. In light of vandalism and angry communications sent to2SLGBTQIA+ Affirming ministries, the letter invites vigilance and courage through the summer Pride season, and offers resources on dealing with harassment. The article below offers some context.

What’s happening and who is involved?

A curving wooden footbridge with a rainbow flag painted on the deck. Since the “Freedom Convoy” in early 2022 and even before, there has been an associated increase in hate directed at 2SLGBTQIA+ people. There is a close and well-documented relationship between extreme anti-vaccination movements, white supremacist movements, and anti 2SLGBTQIA+ movements, as documented in detail by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and others. In February 2022, the United Church released a statement on the racism associated with the Freedom Convoy; in February 2023, Prairie to Pine Regional Council and a wider community partnership did the same.

The movement’s strategies often follow the lead of similar movements in the US, but we stress this is equally a homegrown Canadian movement that is opposed to equal rights for 2SLGBTQIA+ people.

It has a particular focus on anyone who does not conform to a narrow understanding of gender and what gender should look like. This is why this movement specifically targets trans, non binary, and Two Spirit people, and drag artists. Harassment consists of continuous online threats, slurs, and accusations; physical violence; vandalism; death threats; targeted presence outside libraries, schools, churches, and other public places, and inside school trustees’ or municipal council meetings.

“Protecting children” is a common justification, which ties into very old slurs about gays, lesbians and bisexual people being predators. Accusations that all 2SLGBTQIA+ people are sexual abusers who target children are very common, with a particular focus on trans women. Similar, rapidly-changing memes and talking points show up constantly and circulate across the country, including in our own families and congregations; you have likely already encountered some of these without knowing their origin. All of these strategies aim to make extreme claims more palatable and believable. A compilation of just a few of these comments and threats is available here through Egale, but be aware it’s a very difficult read.

Why is this happening?

Paul Dechene, a journalist with Prairie Dog magazine, described a nine and a half hour meeting of Regina City Council in April 2021, concerning a proposal to ban “conversion therapy” that was supported by a number of local United Churches.  He wrote, “… what we learned (at that meeting) is that the same people who fought same-sex marriage, Pride parades, Pride flags, same-sex couple adoption; who fought to keep homosexuality a criminalized mental illness; and who for decades now have fought at every turn to block rights and protections for LGBTQ2S+ people, are still fighting.”

When we witness lies about drag artists and gender-diverse people, or about sex education materials in schools, we are seeing a continuation of this fight. It’s important to understand that a minority has always been very opposed to human rights and any public visibility for 2SLGBTQIA+ people. Many, though by no means all, use Christianity to justify their positions. That’s why a Christian response is also important. And it’s important that cisgender and heterosexual people be aware of the often-vicious targeting that’s happening, because this has an immensely negative impact on 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and their supportive family member and friends.

Do we need to take them seriously?

This is a common question, expressed along with surprise that the harassment is as widespread as it is. Because most of the slurs and accusations are spread on both open and closed social media, some in your ministry may be unaware of their pervasiveness. It’s easy to dismiss online comments in particular as being the work of a handful of cranks, and to think that ignoring them will make them go away. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. This letter includes a few suggested strategies and more extensive resources.

As for taking it seriously: 2SLGBTQIA+ people have no choice. Cisgender and heterosexual people do have the privilege of ignoring these hate movements, but be aware that the United Church has been targeted simply because of striving to be affirming. Most churches will likely not experience anything out of the usual, but some may, and some have already. You’re asked to practice solidarity and take these hateful comments and stereotypes seriously and with courage. Your actions make a difference!

For more resources and strategies, and an expression of gratitude for your Affirming work, again: please see this Regional Council letter, released at the start of the Pride festival season in June 2023.