Ontario NDP urges legal protections for drag shows

Ontario’s NDP urged the government Tuesday to create community safety zones that would protect drag artists and LGBTQ communities from harassment and intimidation at their performances.

Drag performances have been targeted by organized protests across the United States but also here at home, said Kristyn Wong-Tam, who is putting forward a private member’s bill to designate 100-metre zones around show venues.

“The topic that brings us here is deadly serious,” Wong-Tam said at a press conference. “The rise of hate and violence facing the 2SLGBTQI-plus communities, including the drag artists, happening across Ontario and right (across) the nation has been alarming.”

Statistics Canada figures show a 64 per cent rise in police-reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, jumping from 258 in 2020 to 423 in 2021.

Wong-Tam, the NDP’s critic on 2SLGBTQ+ issues and who uses them/them pronouns, said their bill is designed to keep the community safe.

“Drag artists, their audiences, the businesses and the facilities that host those drag performances have been put at risk,” they said.

“Unless we put forward a strategy to protect them, Ontario’s social, economic and cultural richness is under attack. We have to protect that.”

Drag artist reports hate crimes, speeches

The bill would allow the attorney general to temporarily designate addresses — such as where a show is taking place — as community safety zones, and anti-LGBTQ harassment, intimidation and hate speech within 100 meters would be subject to a $25,000 fine.

Scarlett Bobo, a drag artist who has competed on Canada’s Drag Race, said she has been the subject of hate crimes and hate speech in recent weeks.

“Apart from the glamorous, dazzling and wacky characters I play on television or in venues around the world, I also deal with the very real struggles of homophobia, hate crimes, and acts of purposeful intent to intimidate and now disqualify who I am as a person and what I do as a job,” she said at a press conference with Wong-Tam and other artists.

“Drag is all about spreading love and acceptance and allows people to feel empowered and special. Drag artists and trans people have an inherent right to live freely and authentically in their truth. Everyone wants and deserves to feel safe and valued in their work. That is why these recent acts of organized protests and hate speech need to be halted and condemned immediately.”

Crystal Quartz, a drag artist based in Guelph, Ont., said she primarily does shows for ages 19 and up, but after doing a few all-ages shows she was targeted for harassment, first online then in person, by what she describes as an organized campaign.

“They then started showing up to all of my events, screaming at parents and myself saying they were groomers, pedophiles and a bunch of other homophobic slurs to make everyone there feel unsafe to attend,” Quartz said.

“These acts of intimidation now made our safe spaces feel unsafe. Unfortunately, all these venues decided not to rebook leaving a huge loss of revenue for me and these businesses. And to be honest, I don’t blame them. It was very scary for everyone involved as they just came to have a good time.”

Quartz said it negatively affected her ability to earn a living.

House to consider bill

Responding to questions from the NDP in the legislature, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said once Wong-Tam has tabled the bill, the house will give it due consideration.

“I think members on all sides of the house understand how important it is that everybody feels safe in the province of Ontario and that we honor everybody’s right to live and prosper in Ontario, regardless of who you are, who you love and what god you are worship,” he said.

Ontario, under the former Liberal government, created safe access zones around abortion sites, and NDP Leader Marit Stiles called on Premier Doug Ford’s government to offer the LGBTQ community the same protections.

“The sad truth is that this government has done nothing to recognize the growing violence against the queer community and even less to help stop it,” she said.

“New Democrats have been calling on Ford to act for months, but the premier hasn’t lifted a finger.”

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