Last July, Chevi Rabbit was walking from his dorm at the University of Alberta to Safeway on Whyte Ave to get some food. A car pulled up and three men started calling him a fag. Rabbit was shocked and didn’t know what to do, so he said, “Thank you,” and kept walking. A group of people who had been playing volleyball nearby told him what happened next: one of the men jumped out of the car, ran after Rabbit, put him in a headlock and started beating him. Rabbit was thrown on the ground and watched as bystanders ran to help him and chase the attacker away. Someone got a licence plate number. Others, including Rabbit, noticed the men didn’t seem to fit the university neighbourhood by their style of dress, their actions and their accents.
The police arrived within 10 minutes and someone lent Rabbit a phone to call his mom since the attacker had stolen his. “Then I really comprehended what just happened. ‘Oh, I did get attacked and I got attacked because I was gay. And I started bawling to my mom.'”
Rabbit describes himself as a gay man who loves fashion and makeup. He’s in his 20s and has never once been bullied, despite wearing makeup since his early teens. “When I got attacked I was super embarrassed because I’m so comfortable with myself. I wear makeup and just do my own thing. I’m not hurting anybody. I think it’s artful.”
After the attack, Rabbit became anxious when he would see groups of men, wondering if they would call him a fag, too. His friends noticed that he was quieter and he’d ask their opinion to see if his outfits were OK, which he never used to do. Even his supportive mother suggested he stop wearing makeup because she was afraid for his safety.
“I really had to do some soul searching. And I came to the conclusion that I am actually really comfortable with myself. And I think it was their uncomfortableness with how comfortable I was. I think for the most part people—if you’re from Canada, if you’re born and raised here—I think we’re kind of tolerant and we do like gay and lesbian people. I just think it was their problem. It’s not my problem.”
It was a story from a friend about how her gay friend in Montréal was beaten into a coma that gave Rabbit the courage to go public with his story. “I realized that bullying is actually really common and I’ve lived in a bubble and it kind of burst my bubble. It’s a shared story. A lot of people have been bullied, not just gay, but anybody who’s a little bit different gets bullied a lot … and my friend’s story of her friend almost being beaten to death made me think that could have been me.”
On February 15, Rabbit will share his story with Edmonton high school students at the #YEGrights Youth Forum, a project by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.
“When I go there, I’m going to be different and I’m going to promote that you can be different and you can be a productive member of society,” he says. “You can go to school, you can follow your dreams of makeup artistry, you can do anything you want being different and there’s nothing really holding you back. So although I hate public speaking, I’m going to do it because I know there’s probably a little me somewhere in there who will get inspired.”
Bitterness and hate haven’t gained a foothold in Rabbit’s life since the attack and he’s been donating his time and skills as a makeup artist to underprivileged women.
“I just basically show them that somebody cares because it’s not just the makeup. When I do makeup, I’m conversing with them. It’s almost like therapy, too, because they were telling me about their life and I was sharing mine. It’s a give and take. And they walk away feeling good.”
Rabbit says that by traveling around the province working as a makeup artist for different shows and projects, he’s promoting the normalization of gay behaviour.
“Yes there are differences in cultures, there are differences in personalities, there are differences in characteristics, but I think if you promote some kind of tolerance it makes everything peaceful because you can’t change anybody and everybody is allowed to be who they are. … We are quite tolerant and when you come from another country, you have to be tolerant as well. I don’t think I should feel that just because the government is trying to fill the workforce with foreigners I should have to feel like I’m going to get beat up going to the grocery store.”
To sign up for the #YEGrights Youth Forum visit jhcentre.org/news-blog/yegrights-youth-forum.