In Ottawa’s ByWard Market, cryptic messages are showing up; posted on poles and garbage bins.
They are signs with anti-trans messages, and Charlotte Helen Robertson is making it her mission to tear them down.
“Since this past Saturday walking home, I’ve now pulled down, I believe it’s 60 so far,” Robertson, who works in the market, said.
A trans-woman, Robertson says she has noticed the signs appearing in the downtown for more than a year now, but the frequency, and the messages themselves, have changed since the announcement of the upcoming election.
“A lot of these stickers explicitly reference elections; they’ve really started putting them up a lot more,” Robertson said.
Some display messages that read, “If you don’t respect my sex, don’t expect my ex,” with the title “Canada Election 2021.”
Others call to “keep prisons single sex”, while some simply read, “Woman. Noun. Adult human female.”
Although some messages may appear subtle or subversive, Robertson says the signs are clear dog whistles.
“It’s coded in such a way that it’s not very visible to people who don’t necessarily know about the issues,” Robertson said.
“We need to be aware of the dog-whistles that are being used by the people who are organizing these campaigns and attacking these demographics,” she added.
Advocates say the hateful message behind the stickers is clear.
“:It sends a message to every trans person who sees that that there are folks in this city who just don’t want them to be here, that feel like our presence in public space should be contested,” Fae Johnstone, Executive Director of Wisdom2Action said.
It’s unclear who is putting up the stickers in the ByWard Market. CTV News reached out to one company whose website is listed on some of the stickers and is selling them on their website, but did not receive a response.
Advocates say the increase in anti-trans signage is concerning, particularly as anti-trans rhetoric is on the rise in the United States and the United Kingdom. Johnstone says there are fears similar anti-trans movements could become more vocal in Canada.
“They look at what’s happening in the U.S., they look at what’s happening in the U.K. and they say, ‘Oh that looked like it succeeded, let’s bring that here too,'” Johnstone says.
The Ontario NDP says it has already received backlash over a promise to fund transition drugs and make gender-affirming surgeries more accessible.
“There has been a vocal pushback from, like I said, that growing anti-LGBTQ movement in the Anglosphere about how the LGBTQ community is attacking kids and we saw very similar arguments 30 years ago when gay rights were coming to the front,” Ottawa-Vanier NDP candidate Lyra Evans said.
In a statement, Ottawa Police say they’ve not had any complaints about the signage, but are encouraging anyone witnesses to contact them.
“Marriage equality didn’t end homophobia, trans-rights didn’t get rid of transphobia. We need all of our governments, all of non-profits, all of our policymakers to wake up to the crisis happening in communities today,” Johnstone said.
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