All Karen Dubinsky is worried about are two pieces of paper and the threats they carry with them.
The letters were found in a pile of mail waiting for Dubinsky, a Queen’s professor, and her partner Susan Belyea after a family getaway to the cottage that ended July 17.
Labelled by the Kingston Police as a “hate crime” the letters contain physical threats towards the couple, telling them to move out of Kingston or be subject to “deadly serious action.” The letters claimed affiliation with a Christian group based in the “Deep South.”
It’s not the first time that homophobia has affected the queer community in Kingston.
On May 31, anti-gay posters were put up downtown to coincide with the city’s flag-raising ceremony, the opening of Pride Month.
At this year’s Pride Parade, a woman blocked the procession and refused to move when asked by police.
For Dubinsky, however, this is the first time she’s faced homophobic behaviour on a personal level.
The second letter, addressed to “lesbos”, began by describing a meeting the group had “on how to best deal with [Dubinsky and Belyea].”
“Some of our younger members want to have fun chasing some “lesbos,” the letter read. “We have brought them BB guns and today they are doing target practice, so that they can hunt you down.”
According to Steven Koopman, Kingston Police media relations officer, the case has been assigned to the major crimes unit.
Koopman couldn’t comment on the details of the investigation since the police report was filed last Wednesday, but said the police have “multiple avenues of investigation.”
“We are doing both old school detective work in regards to tips and comments and anything that may come in terms of statements and follow-ups to be made, and we’re also looking into the more forensic and scientific aspect of it.”
According to Koopman, the individual or group responsible for the letters could face up to ten years for criminal harassment and up to five years for uttering threats.
The hate crime is defined as such because of its target: a same-sex couple that’s part of a larger demographic.
“The complainants … have stated publically that they are gay, they are a lesbian couple, and we feel this is hate-based towards them and towards the gay community,” Koopman said.
It was an obvious connection that Dubinsky made once she opened the letter.
“All of a sudden, I realize I’m reading a hate letter,” she said. “I’m reading a hate letter that’s about me.”
Dubinsky’s tone becomes more incredulous here, like she can’t fully grasp what’s happened — even days after the fact.
She describes the tone as “mimicking Hollywood speak or a bad TV movie.”
Dubinsky relates it to the letters, whose author(s) claim they “are primarily non-violent, but use violence surgically to persuade people”, making them ludicrous and unbelievable.
“And yet … the threats were clearly very real at the same time,” Dubinsky said.
The danger, a difficult truth, is not lost on her family.
While Dubinsky continues to try to prepare for the upcoming academic year, people like her son, a 13-year-old adopted from Guatemala as a six-month-old baby, are acutely aware of the danger.
“We talk about it a lot,” she said. “He’s taken to bringing up his mattress up and sleeping in our room, which he hasn’t done for two years.”
He’s savvy kid, Dubinsky says.
“He’s got a framework for understanding this. This is not the first time he’s learned that people hate gay people,” she said.
In the wake of the letters being published on social media, people have moved to support Dubinsky and Belyea.
Kingston Loves the Queer Community, a Facebook group made in response to the letters, has garnered over 4,500 likes since its creation on July 20.
The group features photos of Kingston community members holding large cut-out hearts in solidarity with the queer community. The effort has spread to other social media avenues, such as Twitter.
It’s a response that she describes as a part of a large wake-up call.
“It can be easy to forget, I suppose, to be lulled into a false sense of security,” Dubinsky said. “Everybody knows homophobia is out there … it’s only when we all get kind of collectively whomped … like this that everybody goes, ‘Wow. That still exists.’”
And as a professor who’s been at Queen’s for just under 20 years, students have been reaching out to Dubinsky as well. Some have written letters and emails. Some have taken to sharing their own stories.
“[A former student wrote], ‘you may not have known this, but I was struggling with my sexuality when I was taking your class and you provided such a positive role model in terms of being an out gay professor,’” she said. “That’s always music to a teacher’s ears, in any situation.”
Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions with the case, ones that still sit with her, yet to be answered by the ongoing police investigation.
“I don’t know why we were targeted. I don’t know why anybody would or wouldn’t be,” Dubinsky said.
— With files from Sebastian Leck