Wednesday, 23 October 2019
featured Inclusion

Community strikes back after transphobic attack on Venus Envy

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Last week Venus Envy, a beloved downtown Halifax book store and sex shop, came under attack. Transphobic radicals shut down a book launch scheduled in the store for May 17th.

How the Halifax community responded is the story that still needs telling.  

Photo Lara Lewis

Directly targeted in the threats was cartoonist Sophie Labelle, a transgender woman who was set to launch her new book, Dating Tips for Trans and Queer Weirdos.

According to a May 17th Facebook post by Venus Envy, the event was cancelled because “[T]he safety of our guests, staff, and customers is our highest priority.” Along with death threats and use of nazi imagery, Labelle’s home address was disclosed online and her Facebook and website were hacked.

But this isn’t that story. As a result of the attacks Venus Envy was defamed as well. The downtown Halifax book store and sex shop received numerous posts on their facebook page attempting to lower its online reputation, including, ironically, one instance of someone accusing them of “bigotry” for hosting the event.

Venus Envy is an employer of several trans people and people of colour. Arielle is one of its employees, and the first person to notice the hate — as the social media moderator, all the vitriol went directly to her phone.

“It’s more about Sophie,” she said in a telephone interview about the treatment of the cartoonist. But what about Venus Envy?

As news of the attacks spread online, Haligonians mobilized to counter the online defamation with their own five-star reviews of the shop, sharing stories of acceptance and love in their reviews.

The store was praised as a place of community education, a safe queer space, and a staple of downtown Halifax.

None of this is surprising — most of the negative reviews and threats were coming internationally, mainly from the United States. Year after year and seemingly forever Venus Envy has been voted Best Sex Shop by Coast readers.

The Coast itself, suffered from the same digital defamation following a March 23rd article co-written by three trans and non-binary femmes. Like Venus Envy’s, The Coast’s patrons rushed to its defense and uplifted the publication from a swamp of transphobic hate.

As of May 22nd, Venus Envy has disabled the option to read reviews until Facebook takes action allowing them to remove the hate speech. For Venus Envy’s employees like Arielle, the community’s actions speak volumes.

“As a Venus Envy staff member I feel super upheld by the community, and I think that everyone else has,” she said. “And I’m super happy that the community was willing to stand up for Sophie.”

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