Several hundred people showed up at a Nov 14 rally to support the two Oshawa women who were assaulted in front of their six-year-old son by a man who repeatedly called them "fucking dykes."
In an interview before the rally Anji Dimitriou, one of the women who was attacked, said the number of people who showed up for the event and the support the two received from strangers has been a tremendous boost.
"I feel excited, happy, completely loved and supported," she said. "All the people who are coming out, we're just at a loss for words."
Currie said she refused to change her life because of the attack.
"I came to Oshawa in 1988 and I've never been afraid to go anywhere," she said. "I'm still not afraid."
The women said their children, however, are still recovering from the trauma of witnessing the attack and its aftermath.
"They're still afraid," said Dimitriou.
"They're afraid of the what if," added Currie.
Speakers at the rally said homophobia would not be tolerated in Oshawa and vowed to stop any future attacks.
"Hatred does not define who we are," said Oshawa mayor John Gray. "We will not sit back and allow any act of hate to sully the name of our city."
City councillor April Cullen said people have to learn to welcome the increasing diversity of the area.
"We have to face the fact that Oshawa and Durham Region are changing," she said. "It's up to us to ensure that diversity is not just tolerated but welcomed. Sadly we have to educate people. We must first recognize where dignity is lacking then find ways to rectify that."
Brent Hawkes, the pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, told the crowd that openly gay couples are now a fact of life.
"If we value our relationships we will create a more accepting society," he said. "Those days when gays and lesbians had to hide their relationships, those days are over. We need to ensure safe spaces not just at Church and Wellesley but in other towns and cities."
A lesbian couple in Oshawa say they were brutally assaulted in front of their six-year-old son and his classmates on Nov 3.
Anji Dimitriou — who is recovering from a broken spine suffered in a car accident — and Jane Currie were picking their three children up from Gordon B Attersley Elementary School when a fellow parent allegedly attacked them.
Currie says they had just parked their truck and Dimitriou had gotten out when she saw the man — who they say has verbally harassed them in the past — approaching.
"Out of the corner of my eye I saw this man whom we've had run-ins with in the past," she says. "He made a beeline straight for Anji. I can see him getting him angrier and angrier. He said to Anji, 'Which of you two men spoke to my kid? Fucking dyke lesbians.' I jump out and just as I come around he spits right in her face. She wiped the spit off and he punched her in the face and hit her again in the back of the head.
"She was yelling obscenities and another father tried to shoulder him out of the way. Then he smacks me. My cheek burst with the force of the impact. He's about 6'4" or 6'5" and 250 pounds and we're both about 5'2". His fist was probably half the size of my head.
"My face is bleeding profusely everywhere. All these children who had just finished school had to see all this blood. They were screaming, including my own son who was up close and personal. They were devastated, hysterical. His own child saw this."
Currie says their two daughters, six and seven, came out in time to see their parents' bloody faces.
"They were terrified," she says. "They didn't know where to go."
Currie says the man was collecting his children and preparing to leave when the principal came out and told him to wait in her office until the police arrived.
"He said, 'Fine,'" she says. "He didn't think he had done anything wrong."
Currie says she and Dimitriou were taken to the hospital and the man was arrested by Durham Regional police based on eyewitness testimony.
"The right side of my face is swollen," she says. "There's stitches in my eye. My face is bruised up and down. With Anji we're waiting to see if the spots in front of here eyes go away. Her sight doubles when she looks up or down. He hit her so hard she bounced off the truckand reinjured the muscles around her spine. We've contacted the Criminal Compensation Board."
"But the worst is the mental side and the children. We took them to see a therapist on the Wednesday."
Dimitriou says the children are terrified.
"We have to show them every night how the alarm will go off," she says. "We went to Zellers and they didn't want to get out of the truck. 'What if he's in Zellers?' they asked. 'What if he comes back to the school and comes after us?'"
Dimitriou says the assault has also been devastating for other children at the school and parents.
"The principal says he's done more damage than just beating us," she says. "Parents and students are terrified."
The school has placed the man under a no-trespass order which requires him to stay 200 metres away from the facility. The police have also obtained an order requiring him to stay 500 metres from Dimitriou and Currie.
Dimitriou says she and Currie have each had a previous encounter with the man, in which he has blocked their access to a handicapped parking spot and called them "fucking dykes." She says the man has also been verbally abusive to other parents, but that everybody has let it slide.
"Teachers know about him," she says. "Nobody wants to talk to him because he's a psycho. This is a town of soccer moms and nobody wants to open their mouths."
Andrea Pidwerbecki, the communications manager for the Durham District School Board, says the school and the board will not comment on the man's history at the school.
"It's just not appropriate for them to discuss that," she says. "I couldn't comment on any specifics with regard to this as there's an ongoing police investigation."
Dimitriou says the police will be treating the case as a hate crime, but she says she had to push them into it, even though Durham police do have a hate crimes section.
"The officer said he wasn't really familiar with the hate crimes division. It's new," she says.
Dimitriou says she called the Toronto police hate crimes unit and was told it definitely was a hate crime.
She says she's pleased the Durham police have agreed to treat the assaults as a hate crime, but doesn't sound confident.
"I don't know how good or how bad the Durham police are," she says. "In Toronto I know they don't take this lightly. I hope it's the same here."
Sgt Paul McCurbin, the media relations officer for Durham regional police, says the police will ask the Crown attorney to approach the case as a hate crime if the investigation shows it's warranted.
"If the evidence shows that the only reason these two ladies were attacked was because of their gender or sexual orientation that evidence will come forward," he says. "We don't appreciate anybody being assaulted in our community. The police did what they're supposed to do, we arrested the bad guy."
Mark Scott, 43, of Oshawa has been charged with two counts of assault causing bodily harm. He was released and is scheduled to appear in court on Dec 16.
Scott's lawyer, Mark Jacula, issued a press release saying his client was the one who was attacked.
"Mr Scott, a visible minority, is outraged at the racial and physical abuse that he has suffered at the hands of Ms Dimitriou and Ms Currie," the release states. "Mr Scott is eagerly looking forward to his day in court when he will no longer have to be a victim anymore. The truth surrounding this incident will come to light and the parties responsible will be held accountable for the racially motivated and unprovoked attack he suffered."
Area residents say the police have been useless in helping to stop homophobic incidents in Durham region.
"My partner and I actually had to sell our house because we were being discriminated against so much," says Udana Muldoon, the chair of Durham Queer Parenting. "We had poo thrown at our house, water in our gas tank, we were called names all the time. The police officers said, 'If it's such a big deal, you should probably stay in your backyard."
Muldoon says she, her partner and their three-year-old are moving from Oshawa to a smaller town on the outskirts.
Peter Richtig, the executive director of the AIDS Committee of Durham Region, says the assault is not isolated. He says there have been homophobic assaults in the past.
"There have been other incidents, some even more violent," he says. "We have clients who have been forced to move out of the region, who have lost their housing after they were outed. Some have been outed by the police, some have ended up in psychiatric wards because of psychological harassment.
"Because of situations like this people are very closeted. They're afraid to be out."
Muldoon says she hopes the assaults will motivate people to stand up.
"It's made people come out of the woodwork and say, 'I wasn't out before but I am not. This is not okay."
Dimitriou says the main emotion she's feeling at the moment is rage.
"I'm angry," she says. "I just moved up here two years ago. I lived in Toronto my whole life. I never had anybody call me a dyke or make remarks to my children."
She says the couple is considering a civil suit against their assailant.