Transgender politician faces death threats

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Transgender politician faces death threats

A transgender woman running for municipal council in St. John's is facing death threats. Hang in there against these haters. 

A St. John's candidate running in the upcoming municipal election is speaking out after facing harassment and "direct, graphic death threats" related to her gender identity.

Ophelia Ravencroft, a transgender woman, is running in Ward 2, looking to gain momentum after running for council in 2020. Among the first candidates to put their name forward in 2021, she said her campaign slowed down in recent weeks due to "personal reasons."

Now, after filing a report with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, Ravencroft says she has faced sustained harassment from a select group of individuals, including threats to her life and the trans community as a whole.

"It's been an incredibly rattling time," Ravencroft told CBC Radio's On The Go Tuesday. "Knowing there's a transphobic slant on it, and knowing that the call was made that animatedly at trans people in general, it really puts a disturbing twist on it."

In an interview with The St. John's Morning Show, campaign manager Shaye Murray said the harassment goes back months through emails, phone calls, and near-physical altercations. Murray said Ravencroft and her team have received five threats by email in the last 10 days.

"People have showed up at my door. It's a real thing," Murray said.

In a statement to CBC News, police say they are unable to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Ravencroft said that while she expected criticism as a potential elected official, she said the extent of how far some people have gone is somewhat surprising. While it has caused her to run more of a low-key campaign due to safety concerns, she said it hasn't shaken her resolve.

"It's rough to think that these are choices that we have to make…. But at a certain point, we thought it's probably right that people understand what's happening, and I'm very overwhelmed by the community support on it," she said.

"We're going to do our best to adapt going forward and be as visible and positive as we can and do everything we can to win this."

Both Ravencroft and Murray say they hope their experiences won't deter other queer and trans people from running in future elections. ...

"Unfortunately, harassment and abuse are something that trans people face everyday, because transphobia and queerphobia are realities in our society. That's something that we really need to ensure that we fix," Ravencroft said. "We have to call this out when we see it, actually challenge it, and create a safe society."

"Our communities need us," Murray said. "The more people doing it, the better the idea is and the more your elected officials will reflect you and your priorities." ...

Meanwhile, Courtney Clarke of Equal Voice NL — an organization committed to supporting and electing more women at all levels of government — told CBC News what Ravencroft is going through is "absolutely repulsive." 

Clarke said there's no room on the campaign trail for harassment of any kind, and says her organization is standing behind Ravencroft and her campaign team. "I think people really need to remember that there are real people with real feelings behind these campaigns. If you don't support someone because of their lived experience, their lifestyle choices, their policies, fine, don't vote for them," said Clarke.  "But how miserable must you be to have to take that time and effort to be so vile toward someone."

Clarke is asking community members as a whole to call out harassment and hatred when they see it, and educate other community members and children on the importance of people in leadership positions having diverse perspectives.


Non-binary politicians are speaking up for Ophelia Ravencroft, a transgender woman, is running in St. John's Ward 2, as she campaigns for election in the September 28th election after she received numerous death threats.

Non-binary Canadian politicians past and present are speaking out against death threats and harassment faced by a transgender woman running in the St. John's, N.L., municipal election who, if elected, will make provincial history.

Ophelia Ravencroft is running in the downtown St. John's electoral district of Ward 2, after finishing second in a byelection last October for the same seat. But this time, her campaign looks much different.

Though she had been widely known for her social media posts about policy, accessibility, affordability and inclusion in the city, Ravencroft's Twitter and Facebook presence has been muted in the past months. And unlike in October, there are few of her signature purple-and-black lawn signs around the city.

On Monday, she and her campaign manager, Shaye Murray, made a post on Twitter explaining why. Ravencroft, her campaign and the larger transgender community had been the target of "very graphic" death threats, both online and in person, to the degree that she was worried her supporters would be targeted, too, she said.

"We felt that our current and prospective supporters deserve to have a sense of what was going on," Ravencroft said in a recent interview. "It's been a couple of months of this now. I'm trying to take my life back, and I'm trying to take my campaign back, and I'm here for the people of the ward. I'm committed to this the same way that I was when I declared for the byelection, that dedication hasn't gone away."

A spokesperson for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary confirmed Wednesday that an investigation into the threats is ongoing.

Ravencroft works in public policy and said she first decided to run for municipal politics because she wants the city to better serve its residents. "I was annoyed that I couldn't walk around in the winter," she said. "I was annoyed that my friends who have accessibility needs, not having those needs met, I was annoyed that we had an affordable housing crisis."

She lost a byelection for the Ward 2 seat in October by 306 votes to Shawn Skinner, a former cabinet minister with the provincial Progressive Conservatives. Skinner isn't running again. If Ravencroft wins on Sept. 28, she'll be the first openly transgender and openly non-binary elected official in the province, and one of just a few openly non-binary people elected to public office across Canada.

Uzoma Asagwara, an openly non-binary elected official in the Manitoba legislature for the NDP, says people from marginalized communities and genders need to be supported by those around them who have more power and privilege. Elected officials in Newfoundland and Labrador -- at the municipal or provincial level -- need to speak up and condemn what's happening to Ravencroft, Asagwara said.

"These situations are a literal matter of life and death," Asagwara said in an interview Wednesday. "When people -- especially people in positions of power and privilege and platform -- are silent, that is clearly communicating permission for those who are inflicting violence on others to continue doing so. Silence actually sends a very clear message."

Estefan Cortes-Vargas was elected to the Alberta legislature in 2015 with the NDP and came out as non-binary after winning.

"We as trans and non-binary individuals belong in a political space just as much as everyone else," Cortes-Vargas said in an interview Wednesday. "We are here, and we will continue to be here and every political level should affirm that."

The City of St. John's posted a statement to its social media platforms on Wednesday condemning the harassment. "We need people to run for council and they should feel safe in doing so," the statement said. "We must all stand together to end this behaviour."

Mayor Danny Breen did not respond to a request for comment. Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary said she responded to Ravencroft's social media post, offering support. ...

Ravencroft said though the harassment has impacted how she has chosen to run her campaign, she said she hopes things will change, especially after the massive swell of community support that arose when she went public....

"Please don't let this dissuade you," she said to queer, transgender and non-binary people hoping to follow in her footsteps. Look at how many people spoke out in support of me when they realized what was happening, and then understand that no matter where you are, you will have an army like that behind you, too."