A walk to the grocery store four years ago turned into a brutal attack. It ended up changing his life for the better.
Today, Chevi Rabbit hopes an annual community walk established since then is helping to change the way some Albertans think about each other — less hate, more caring.
“I identify myself as a gay man, but gender fluid … breaking traditional gender norms and gender expressions. … So it is to say you can be straight or gay, but the traditional norms of what it looks like to be a masculine man or a feminine woman, you kind of blur those boundaries.
“Some days I wear lipstick and some days I wear heels, some days I feel like a man and I’ll want to wear a suit. I feel like I shouldn’t have to be restricted.” He’s not big on using pronouns to describe himself.
Chevi, 28, grew up in Ponoka. He said he lived in a bit of a protective “bubble.”
“I was openly gay since I was 12. That’s why I think I like Ponoka. … You’re one of the community members and they really do take care of you.
“Ponoka has a surprisingly high LGBT rate. … I never got bullied in Ponoka.”
Chevi would learn later that when he was a child his mother thought he might be gay. Unbeknownst to him, “She went to my family … she said ‘I don’t want you guys to wreck his development, and if you guys don’t accept his being gay you’re not welcome in our family.’” So no one ever said anything to him about being gay.
Then one day when he told his mother he thought he was gay, “She said, ‘Oh, that’s good. Do you want anything for breakfast?’”
Chevi came to Red Deer first for post-secondary education. He earned a diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management from 2006 to 2008 at Red Deer College. His natural and colourful artistic ability led him to an interest in doing makeup, and so he also studied makeup artistry at Marvel College in the evenings. Now he’s a professional makeup artist.
Chevi’s mother, Lavenia Schug, grew up on the Montana First Nation, north of Ponoka. Chevi’s father, who died when he was three, was French. His mother and stepfather raised him in Ponoka.
Because he knew little about his aboriginal heritage, Chevi decided to study Native Studies and Economics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton after he left Red Deer.
On July 19, 2012, he was living on campus in his fourth year of university when he decided to walk to a store two blocks away to get some groceries.
As he passed in front of a vehicle containing three men, “This guy thought I was a female at first then said ‘Oh you’re just a fake.’ They weren’t from the (university) neighbourhood. They started calling me a faggot. … I was really embarrassed.” He had not encountered anything like this before.
One of the men got out of the vehicle and attacked Chevi from behind, put him in a headlock, punched him and pushed him to the ground. At this point, six students Chevi did not know — two women and four men — rushed to his rescue. The attackers sped off, stealing Chevi’s cellphone.
Police were called and Edmonton’s hate crime unit took over the investigation. No one has ever been charged.
“It was really a shock to my system. … My comfort level of being myself in public went way down. First I was really embarrassed and I didn’t want to share anything.” But then his Native Studies classmates started sharing their stories with him of people they knew who had been beaten and even killed, elsewhere in Canada. He decided to speak out. “I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed.”
Two weeks after the attack, on Aug. 2, 2012, he founded the first From Hate to Hope Walk in Edmonton. Over 300 supporters — among them numerous high-profile politicians including the deputy premier and minister of justice — walked from campus to the legislature.
Chevi said before the attack he was somewhat self-absorbed, living in the university and makeup artist worlds where he felt safe and never worried about not being accepted.
He went through a difficult time after the attack. He suffered extreme anxiety, and ended up seeking psychiatric help, counselling and taking medication. He took time off school. He dressed plain so he wouldn’t stand out. He lost his confidence.
But he’s turned it around. He is off medication and finishing his classes at the U of A this fall. He intends to study law next. He has his confidence back.
Recently Chevi and other advocates helped the Edmonton Catholic School Board write a policy pertaining to transgender students.
He’s a member of the Edmonton Sexual Minorities Liaison Committee, which promote understanding and mutual respect between people, police and the sexual minority community. He’s been busy working with others to create a more inclusive Alberta. In 2014, Chevi received the Justice Minister’s Award for Hate Crime Awareness.
“I’m OK now. A little bit more wary now about where I go and what I do but I’m very comfortable with myself.”
The fourth annual From Hate to Hope Walk is Aug. 2, starting at 6 p.m. at 110th Street and 85th Avenue on the U of A campus and arriving at the legislature about 6:30 p.m. People are encourage to wear blue in support of Edmonton police officer Const. Daniel Woodall, who served on the hate crime unit until he was killed earlier this year trying to make an arrest. Money raised from this year’s walk will be donated to the Pride Centre of Edmonton.
“I think ignorance comes from a lack of education, so in my way, Hate to Hope is a free platform for people to come, educate themselves,” Chevi says.
“There is hope in Alberta and we won’t tolerate hate.”