Starting a conversation about hope, not hate, at UBC Okanagan

Chevi Rabbit is a striking new addition to the UBC Okanagan campus.

Chevi Rabbit is a striking new addition to the UBC Okanagan campus.

Dark bob, perfect makeup and impressive posture make the 27-year-old a stand-out.

That and the fact he is “gender fluid” in a city that is only starting to appreciate  its LGBTQ community.

Rabbit, who moved to the Okanagan in September, currently identifies himself as a gay male, although his appearance is distinctly feminine. One day he hopes to make the transition to be a woman because, in his words, he can’t see himself ever being an old man.

“That’s why I like the term gender fluid best… because I think you could be straight and gender fluid, or gay and gender fluid. It just means that you don’t get stuck to any gender norms,” he said.

Discussing gender appears to be easy and uncomplicated for Rabbit, who through personal strife became a spokesperson for Alberta’s trans community—something he sees himself doing in Kelowna one day, too, if his voice is wanted.

“I was gay bashed,” he said. “I used to not be able to say it … I was in therapy for almost a year and on different medications for anxiety, but now I’m off and I can talk about it.”

Rabbit was a University of Alberta student in 2012, when he says he was targeted in an attack near his campus dorm.

“They were yelling at me, cat-calling me, I think, and I turned around and said, ‘thank you,”’ he said, echoing words laid out in countless Albertan news stories.

That’s when Rabbit thinks the three men who were harassing him realized he wasn’t a woman.

They shouted some homophobic slurs at him and then one assaulted him.

Students nearby ran to his aid, and the men got in their car and drove away.

The Hate Crimes Unit of the Edmonton Police Service investigated the attack, but after a year nothing came of it.

What has happened since the attack, said Rabbit, was an open conversation about homophobia and forced new view of the world.

Although he grew up in Ponoka County, Alta, a small-town near the Montana First Nation, his home reserve, his sexual orientation was never an issue.

His mother, he said, went about ensuring that anyone who ever had any negativity didn’t express it to him, so he grew up blissfully unaware of any prejudice.

When he was attacked, the wool was ripped from his eyes, and he became an activist.

“I found my voice,” he said.

In August 2012, Rabbit was joined by 200 others for the first Hate to Hope march, an event focused on ending bullying, hate crimes and homophobia.

The march started in the neighbourhood he was attacked and ended with a rally at the Alberta legislature. It’s continued every year since its inception  in 2014

Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis presented Rabbit with the 2014 Hate Crime Awareness Youth Award, from the Alberta Hate Crime Committee.

Now Rabbit wants to bring the essence of that walk to Kelowna, while he completes his undergrad with a focus on Aboriginal studies.

“I feel while I’m here I can bring the momentum gained in Alberta and help build a (vibrant)  LGBTQ community,” he said.

He’s just figuring out where to start, but he hopes that his presence will add something to the community he’s already found to be welcoming.

Although he missed it by a month, the Okanagan Pride Society started to turn its focus to trans inclusivity with a trans march, that gathered a surprising number of participants.

The Okanagan Pride Society held its first Trans Pride March and also appointed a director for transgender community development.

“For many years the rights of the transgender community have largely been ignored with most of the focus and advocacy being for gay and lesbian equality,” Okanagan Pride president Wilbur Turner stated in a news release.

“It is time for us all to come together and create visibility and to provide education and awareness around transgender equality, rights and freedoms.

“While there are protections in the law against discrimination, unfortunately for the trans community it has little effect.”