On July 21 last year, during a pro-choice street demonstration, a man approached the crowd of us at the corner and targeted a very pale, nervous-looking young guy for persistent badgering and antagonizing. I remember thinking to myself that the young man will just know when to walk away. I remember hearing the man who was badgering and antagonizing him, saying things like “Women don’t trust little faggots like you” and “Why don’t you just give up, faggot?” After a few minutes of this, the young man, who was very inexperienced in street protests in general and who struggles with a great deal of anxiety, started shouting back at the man who was antagonizing and badgering him. I took it upon myself to step in between them, facing the young man who clearly needed to be talked down, as I just so happened to have a copy of the criminal harassment section of the Criminal Code of Canada taped to my back, and simply advised the man who was badgering and antagonizing this younger man to read up on it. It took a couple of minutes to gain the young guy’s cooperation, and once he stopped responding to the guy trying to badger and antagonize him, the badgering and antagonizing was turned on me.
He said to me “Look at you and your fake tits!”
I said something to the effect of “I’m flattered that you think they are so fabulous that they must be fake, but I grew them myself!”
He then said “Could you get any more gay?”
“No, actually,” I said, chuckling a little, holding my sign up to block his view of the young man.
The next words out of his mouth were “If you touch me with that sign, I’ll smash your fucking head in.” Spit struck me in the face as he shouted it.
I didn’t know what to say, except “Somebody give me a phone, I need to call 9-1-1!” With that, he scowled a little longer at me before running across the street, where a friend took his picture with my camera:
When police arrived, it was just one officer. I described to the officer what happened, and someone showed him this picture of the man. The officer told us he would go looking for him, then quickly dashed off. I posted this photo on Facebook a couple of hours later, with a brief description of what the incident was, when it took place and on what date, and who else was involved but were not in the photo (i.e., myself — a white female-bodied trans person — and a young white guy). By just after dusk, he had been identified, police had been phoned, and the man taken into custody. I was told that I would be contacted to identify him out of a line-up of photos before charges could be pressed, but that the reason this was not taking place immediately is because the file from the 9-1-1 call I made had not yet been submitted.
That file, it turned out, was never submitted.
He returned two weeks later, and attempted to incite several dozen people into a fight with him by repeatedly threatening them. When the police were phoned, we had video tape of it this time. Police told us that we essentially give up the right to complain about criminal harassment when we’re in a street protest.
Since that time, nearly every time I have walked down that street when he happens to be there selling books — the street I now live on, just a couple of blocks away — and he spots me as I’m walking by, he’s been scowling and glaring at me. He knows who I am, even though half of my face is typically covered by sunglasses, even during night time hours, and most of my face was covered during the initial incident. Sometimes I have seen him begin mumbling as he scowls at me, but I am wearing headphones, and not inclined to stop and ask him what he just said, for fairly self-evident reasons. He also kicked one of my friend’s dogs one evening after the second incident, while she was alone on the very same street, just a couple of blocks north, minding her own business and walking her dogs. A couple of weeks ago, while one of my flatmates and I were on the bus to head to the beach, he got on the bus too. He sat just a few seats away, flipping through a local paper, staring and scowling at us as we enjoyed a fairly typical conversation that did not concern him in any way. I heard him mumbling, repeatedly letting the word “fags” out just loud enough for me to take notice, and I felt immediately incensed. He was trying to bait me into a fight with him again.
I pointed this out to my flatmate and asked her, “Am I still a fag even though I haven’t had sex in years?”
She responded by asking me, “Am I still a fag even though I’ve never been one?”
He got off the bus at the next stop.
This is when I realized I really needed to do something. At the risk of being bothered by the cops (who I was certain would be phoned by either him or me, no matter what I do), I needed to step out into the streets and hold this man publicly accountable for what he had done, because he’s made it personal. I decided I would make a sign that reads “This man is a homophobe” and follow him around while silently pointing at him. But first, I needed to be certain that what I was doing did not constitute a form of criminal harassment. So here’s the relevant section of the Criminal Code of Canada:
264. (1) No person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.
(2) The conduct mentioned in subsection (1) consists of
(a) repeatedly following from place to place the other person or anyone known to them;
(b) repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them;
(c) besetting or watching the dwelling-house, or place where the other person, or anyone known to them, resides, works, carries on business or happens to be; or
(d) engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family.
So in other words, I would have to be speaking directly to him or otherwise uttering threats without speaking directly to him, and he would have to prove that he had imminent reason to fear for his safety (or someone known to him), in order for him to establish that I was criminally harassing him. I would also have to be doing this repeatedly over the course of several incidents. So my plan was completely crime-free with respect to section 264 of the Criminal Code, so in the extremely unlikely event that I was addressed by a cop who was having a bad day, and put in handcuffs and/or taken to the station, there would be absolutely no reason why the charges would stick. So there would really be literally zero reason why I should be concerned about this taking place, unless I had reason to believe that the statement “This man is a homophobe” somehow represented a form of criminal defamation.
Yeah. Uhh, not bloody likely. I learned plenty about that, care of Jim Brown and Grant Wakefield, thanks.
So I spent a couple of hours on it, and a single piece of posterboard became a sign that could be clearly read from both sides. I waited until I had the time to commit and confirmed that he was out there again, selling books. It took a few days, but that day was today.
I saw him mucking around in the suitcase he uses to carry all of the books he’s selling, and I couldn’t tell if he had just gotten there or if he was leaving. I decided it didn’t matter, because the reason I was doing this was to inform other people of the kind of person he is. If he’s just leaving, then this won’t be particularly painful for him, and he might even be gone by the time I come back. If he just got there, then the opposite is true. By the time I came back, he was still there.
He said to me (repeatedly), “What’s your problem?” Clearly, he was able to read the sign, because he started speaking to someone else when he realized he’s not going to get an answer out of me. He compared himself being called a homophobe to someone being accused of killing kittens. Well, I see his understanding of the problem is certainly somewhere in the range of realizing that hating on people for who they fuck (or how) is inherently violent, but he’s got some proportionality issues there.
After a few minutes, he decided he couldn’t take me standing a foot or two away, silently pointing at him. He tried to convince me I’m not going to last long. Then he figured that taking a walk about a half a block away to get a paper would fix his problem. I followed him. He tried to tell a fellow street vendor that he finds my armpit hair offensive, and that he couldn’t tell what my gender was, even though I completely fill up a D-cup bra and clearly do not have a conspicuous lump in my pants where one would expect external genital organs to be, suggesting that perhaps my gender isn’t as confusing as he is pretending it is (this time). Then he started telling people at random that I’m mentally unstable, that he doesn’t know me, and that he has never seen me before in his life. He asked somebody for fifty cents to use a pay phone. When they didn’t have it, he tried to get transit police involved. They didn’t do a thing. He became very agitated.
He said to me, “I wonder if you’ll follow me into a parking lot around the corner, where no one else is.”
He stepped into the street, as if to cross, and I stepped around him so that it was clear who I was pointing at. He started trying to convince me that somehow now it’s criminal harassment.
He said other things to me, too, like “What a life you must have,” and “How much time did you spend doing this?” As if the quality of his life is so much better. Instead of all the things to be legitimately terrified of, he prioritizes running his mouth off about people he secretly wants to fuck him in the ass.
Finally, he gave up trying to convince me to fear for my own safety, or to convince other people that I’m mentally unstable, and resorted to calling 9-1-1 from a pay phone. I followed him. Still a couple of feet away. Still pointing at him. He tried to hide behind the telephone itself, which was actually inside the train station, but transit police just stood and watched. One of them took my picture while I told passersby that he was phoning 9-1-1 because I’m pointing at him. In total, he spent the greater part of a half hour trying to convince the person who answered his call that he fears for his safety, even though I hadn’t said a word to him, the only gesture I had made was pointing (I did not touch him or even come close, except when he closed the gap between us), and I hadn’t flashed any weapons or uttered threats either directly or indirectly.
A young man walked up, asking us what was going on. The man I was pointing at insisted that he doesn’t know me, has never seen me before, and that I’m clearly mentally unstable. The young man, not having any input from me, decided it would be fun to meddle in what I was doing. When he repeatedly stepped in between us while the homophobic man exploited him as his own personal accountability shield, I finally asked him why he was getting involved.
“I like to fuck with people,” he said.
“This man repeatedly called myself and several other people fags, and threatened me with violence when I told him my tits aren’t fake,” I said.
The young man was instantly disgusted, and moved on. Then a police cruiser slowed down as it was passing us. Then a second police cruiser (an undercover vehicle) finally pulled up a couple of minutes later. Two white male cops stepped out, and as one was asking me questions, several people interrupted him to defend what I was doing. The officer informed me that he was basically there to warn me that what I am doing “borders on harassment”. I asked him in what way. We began to discuss what I know of the criminal harassment law, and of the proceedings of the justice system. I asked him how this man would prove in court that I was threatening him, or that he had a legitimate reason to feel unsafe. I told him that the previous year, a police officer informed me that when you are in a public place, you effectively relinquish the right to claim criminal harassment.
He said “Is that so?”
I told him about the initial incident, and he asked me the same question in multiple different ways, about what I meant when I said the 9-1-1 call was never filed. He then asked me if I would like to give a written statement. I said sure. He wrote down my contact information. After some further discussion, he informed me that if I provide a written statement, even if it is some time later this week, that if the harassment continues, then the proceedings will begin, starting with a letter informing the homophobe to not ever speak to me again. The officer told me that the letter can’t exactly tell him to keep his shitty ideas to himself, but it can tell him to stop talking about it around me.
The officer then asked the homophobe if he had a permit to sell his books, and immediately told him to pack them all up and leave. It was already taking an exorbitant amount of time for him to even start packing up the books before the officer asked me if he is there frequently (he is). While the two officers sat in their vehicle, watching from the rear view mirror as the homophobe dawdled picking up his books as slowly and inefficiently as possible, I kept pointing at him. The homophobe repeatedly walked back up to the police vehicle and attempted to antagonize police into some sort of conflict over whether or not I should have the right to continue pointing at him. Then he started walking up to me while he was going back to retrieve more books.
“I’ve been called worse names than this in my life,” he said.
“That’s nice. I don’t care,” I said.
He made another couple of passes before he said “You better not follow me when I leave.” He repeated this sentiment several times. Then he accused me of slandering him, when I told him to stop talking to me.
I finally decided to speak directly to him, and I immediately started in at “You think this is slander, but you spitting all over my face while you threaten to smash my fucking head in isn’t?”
He pretended to be surprised and not know what I’m talking about. “What?!” he said, as if attempting to make a convincing show of being oblivious to what I was talking about. “I don’t even know you,” he repeatedly said.
“All the more reason to stop talking to me,” I said. Repeatedly.
I was outside for about two hours in my underwear, a cape, a clown wig, yoga pants, and rainbow striped socks. It was bright and sunny. When he finally left, he just so happened to go unnecessarily for an extra half a block in the same direction I had to go in order to get home (he went into the train station, but he walked right past two separate entrances to same the train station). A few people I know saw me, both before and after the cops showed up. Several people who were complete strangers to me gave me fist-bumps, thanks, and praise for what I was doing. Even people in their cars were honking. Also, a couple of people complimented my rad socks.
Apparently, in Vancouver, and very likely elsewhere, this is how you get shit done. Easily thousands of people saw me out there, and even if many of them buy the homophobe’s only attempt at a counterargument, which consisted of “But how do you know it’s true?” I think I can say with confidence that I made an effective display there. Maybe three or four men tried to shield him from my finger (really, guys?), but hundreds of people supported my decision to step out into the street and take a stand. I hope to see more people get up as well.