Close to 75 people gathered in Bancroft, Ontario’s Millennium Park Sept 29 in support of a local lesbian who claims the owners of the Eagle’s Nest Restaurant refused to serve her in August.
When Xtra and Toronto photographer Tammy Moreau entered the Eagle’s Nest to ask the owners what they thought of the event taking place just across the street, co-owner Sadie Creighton refused to answer any questions.
“You can leave now,” Creighton said. “I’ve got a big party coming and you can leave.”
Even after it was made clear that Xtra simply wanted to get her side of the story, Creighton still refused to comment on the picnic. “I’m sorry, I want you to leave. I’ve got a big party, I’ve got lots to do, and all my tables are reserved. I’m sorry. Bye.”
Bancroft Mayor Bernice Jenkins says she has not spoken to the Creightons about the incident nor the “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” poster that reportedly hung in their restaurant for 10 years.
Suzy Richter says she originally went to the Eagle’s Nest Aug 23 to order some food to take out and to see the poster but was promptly asked to leave by the owners.
Richter’s partner, Moxie Moxon, emceed the picnic, where several members of the local queer community and its allies expressed their solidarity with Richter. Moxon also presented Jenkins with a rainbow painting by artist Laurie Harris as a gift on behalf of the picnic’s organizers and volunteers.
Jenkins says she is “quite impressed” with the turnout at the picnic and hasn’t received any complaints about it. “I believe we have a large community of gay and lesbian people here. We all live together,” she says.
When Richter addressed the picnickers, she became visibly emotional and thanked all attendees from the “bottom of her queer, queer heart.”
“The recent event around discrimination in this area has led to many, many discussions around homophobia in rural Ontario. Has anyone ever claimed that everyone in Bancroft or rural Ontario is homophobic?” Richter asked. “No. Would most people agree that there is still homophobia? Yes, I’m afraid so.
“Discrimination still exists, and sadly, there’s a lot more of it than we wish there was. It happens every day to many people in many different ways all over the world. Sometimes it’s spoken of, sometimes it isn’t.
“Too often, the victims of discrimination are silenced,” she said. “They’re silenced through shaming, bullying and fear of reprisals, and I can speak to that personally. Everyone has a different response to discrimination; all are valid. This is ours: a big gay picnic.”
Bancroft resident Bill Killpatrick, who is straight, spoke of the importance of diversity.
Discriminatory laws in Russia and Uganda are sending the global human rights movement back to the Dark Ages, Killpatrick said. “But this is the time, when things look most dark, that we need to have examples to follow. Our children need to see progressive change and development take place through the work of their mothers, fathers, and brothers and sisters who must provide concrete hope through living examples of equality and practice.”
Those who attended the picnic are creating community, Killpatrick said.
As for a possible rift created among Bancroft’s citizens, Killpatrick said the divide predates the antigay poster and alleged refusal of service.
“If it is a rift, it already existed. It’s not like it all of a sudden got created because of one poster. I think it’s a deep rift that’s been in Canadian society for a long time, and it just happened to boil to the surface over this incident.”
Pride Toronto board member Lauryn Kronick made the journey to Bancroft because, she says, while it’s important to be mindful of global gay rights, Canadians should also remember that gays and lesbians in rural towns in Canada face an equally important struggle.
“It’s important to remember that there are really important issues happening in our own backyard, in rural communities that often get overlooked,” Kronick says. “Especially this year, when there have been a lot of rural Prides to raise further attention and awareness on homophobia that is going on in different communities such as Bancroft. This is such an amazing grassroots type of movement that is coming together, showing the town that we belong here just as much as everyone else.”
Picnic co-organizer Jacqie Lucas says the turnout was “better than expected.” She hopes the event will connect rural gays and lesbians and stoke the fires of a thriving community.
“This is their event, and they took great ownership of it today,” Lucas says. “They have the support of town council, and it can only get better from here.”
As an everlasting sign of the picnic, organizers encouraged attendees to help paint a “diversity banner” that will be displayed in Bancroft.
Judy Cudmore designed “I Support Adam and Steve" T-shirts, Willow Creek Design conceptualized shirts emblazoned with “Adam and Steve, Pride Without Borders,” and Kyla Miller knitted rainbow armbands. Proceeds from the sales of the T-shirts and armbands will benefit PFLAG Peterborough and Say Out Loud (SOL).
SOL is a support group for LGBT youth in Belleville and its surrounding areas, about an hour and a half south of Bancroft. The group, now in its 15th year, sees about 25 to 30 youth per week, says Eric Hargreaves, and recently added a trans group to its programming, .
Hargreaves says SOL’s profile increased significantly this summer when Belleville celebrated its first Pride celebration. “When the youth group first started, there were lots of young people who were being bullied at school,” he says. “There’s a perception, that I try to challenge wherever I am, that Belleville is still pretty redneck and not very open. I think there has been a major shift, certainly in the Belleville region.”
Hargreaves says that the majority of the bullying he heard about in the past occurred on the school bus. That situation is familiar to trans Bancroft teen Morgyn McDonald.
After experiencing discrimination in school and, especially, on the school bus to Lakefield High School — and finding little support from school administration — McDonald restarted the school’s gay-straight alliance.
McDonald was expecting protesters at the picnic. “This is a really homophobic area, but I think slowly but surely, it’s progressing,” he says.
“It doesn’t get better unless you want it to,” he says. “Don’t sit around and do nothing. That doesn’t help anyone.”
Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Mcneil thanked the picnic’s organizers. She says her classmates instantly labelled her a lesbian when she moved to Bancroft two years ago.
“I didn’t fight it; I didn’t care,” Mcneil says. “Nobody actually came up to me, until one day, this young man came up to me and he actually had the decency to ask me. So I explained that I love who I love without any borders of sexuality, genitals, anything. He said, ‘That’s cool and I appreciate that.’ It made my day.”
Eventually the discrimination stopped, Mcneil says, and now she holds a special sort of distinction amongst her peers.
“I guess people almost sort of look up to me now,” she says. “I try my best to speak out as much as I can.”
Mcneil hopes the picnic is the first step toward creating a more tolerant community in Bancroft.
Richter notes that a number of gay and lesbian people in the area did not attend the picnic. While she finds their absence disappointing, she says she is touched by how many people attended.
“I hope that when people hear about this they will realize that it was nothing but an absolutely beautiful celebration with a lot of different people coming together, because we’ve got a lot of queers here, we’ve got straight people, we’ve got every representation of gender and sexuality,” she says.
The big gay picnic might become an annual event, and Richter hopes that more local residents will attend next year.
“There will be people who are homophobic, whose minds are difficult to change, whose hearts are difficult to open, but I think there are more and more people who, I hope, can embrace openness, progress and diversity. We’re all human beings. We all want to feel good about who we are.”