Hating the hater

I gave up my post-Pride bliss to protest a lunatic

It seemed like a good idea beforehand. I mean, who wouldn’t want to catch the bus to protest Kansas-based hate-monger Fred Phelps in Ottawa the day after Toronto Pride?

Maybe I hadn’t fully understood how exhausting it was going to be to take part in both the Dyke March and the Pride parade, but stumbling back towards the pick-up point at 4am, I was having second thoughts.

Was it really necessary to haul ourselves out of our post-Pride bliss to protest someone sick enough to picket slain gay student Matthew Shepard’s funeral. Would the calm rational people of Canada be persuaded by his rantings and religious rhetoric? Was this raving lunatic really worth losing sleep over?

Luckily the group of students that had gathered at Church and Wellesely seemed more enthusiastic. The trip was practically an extension of Pride! We were just moving the party.

And besides, we looked fabulous. Those of us who hadn’t made it home yet were still decked out in our Pride Sunday best. While we waited for our big yellow school bus to arrive, we took a minute to readjust our costumes and touch up our make-up. Drag queen Rebecca Lee McQueen fussed over her fabulous blue wig while I aligned my rainbow butterfly wings.

But the street was scheduled to remain closed until 7am and despite the request of the organizers that the bus be allowed through to pick up its passengers, the police wouldn’t budge.

So off we went through the remains of the Pride party to meet it. Bonte Minnema, acting coordinator of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual And Transgender People Of University Of Toronto (LGBTOUT), lead the way, announcing our departure over the megaphone to the deserted street.

“Come take the homosexualist bus to Ottawa to protest Fred fucking asshole Phelps,” he droned. It was so quiet that the sound echoed off the empty clubs that just hours ago had been packed with celebrating queers.

Six hours later, we arrived on the steps of the Supreme Court Of Canada with time to kill. And much to the alarm of the roughly 30 OPP officers standing by, we were on the wrong side of the fence. Police had divided the area to give the bigots a spot right in front of the building, while we got the run of the lawn. The media was stuck in the middle to act as a buffer.

The rain let loose just as we were making a break for the Rideau mall, leaving wigs and wings soggy and washing away a flood of sparkles and body paint into the Ottawa sewer system.

By the time we regrouped at noon, a crowd of 500 had taken over the lawn. We were immediately handed song sheets and fliers that welcomed us to the “peaceful community vigil.”


“Fred Phelps is looking for a confrontation,” the flier warned. “Don’t give him what he wants!” But a quick glance towards his designated corner showed that Phelps wasn’t there to confront.

The vigil went on without him.

As the Ottawa Gay Men’s chorus led us through a series of hymns including a queer version of “Glory Glory Hallelujah,” we stood banner in one hand, songsheet in the other, trying to read the words with bleary eyes.

From the microphone, Gay Ottawa Regional Councillor Alex Munter told us to ignore Phelps’s antics should he arrive midway through the service. He encouraged us to join in a celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision to extend the definition of ex-spouse to include same-sex partners in the M versus H case, instead of meeting anger with anger, and hate with hate.

But the truth is that many of us were there in anger.

And the M versus H decision, as important as it is in the struggle for the legal recognition of our relationships, was a painfully long time coming. No alternative outlet provided for the anger and frustration that Phelps’s planned attack on this hard-earned victory had aroused.

Next, British Columbia’s gay MP Svend Robinson called for the amendment of the hate speech legislation to make public ranting about homos illegal.

The obvious truth – that it took the threat of Phelps’s brand of rabid homophobia to bring the community together that day, let alone to carry us 430 km to oppose it – went unspoken.

Local religious leaders had a chance to counter the Baptist pastor’s religious arguments against homosexuality. The Reverend Peter Coffin, the Anglican bishop of Ottawa reassured the crowd that God does not hate fags despite what the fundamentalists had to say. And when the last of the songs had been sung and Phelps was still nowhere to be seen, the chorus led us in a second helping of the national anthem as the crowd evaporated into the heat of the afternoon.

Heavy on nationalism and religion, weak on discussion, the vigil left me feeling empty, exhausted and unsatisfied. We fell into the trap of taking Phelps far more seriously than he deserved to be taken, and failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity to share our frustration and inspiration for the battles ahead.

Phelps’s website says he is planning again to protest in Ottawa – on Jul 18 at local churches and then Jul 19 at the Supreme Court. He’s also scheduled to picket at the Canadian consulate in Chicago the same weekend.

My suggestion for his next proposed assault: Let’s stay home and let his wacko nature speak for itself.

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