To say that Jamie Berardi and Bram Zeidenberg are proud of their bachelor pad in the Lakeshore Villages is an understatement. The small apartment is painted in bright yellows and purples, the walls adorned with prints of things they both love: the Toronto city skyline, Marilyn Monroe and a Lindsay Lohan movie poster. The space is small but cozy and affordable, and the young couple has fallen in love with it.
While their home is inviting, the area they reside in hasn’t been so welcoming.
When Berardi, 21, and Zeidenberg, 24, first moved into the building on Lake Shore Boulevard last August, they experienced an onslaught of what they believe to be homophobic attacks within the neighbourhood. After being pelted with eggs and a beer bottle, verbally harassed and told to take their “lifestyle” elsewhere, the couple was ready for a change.
“We didn’t love the area at first,” Berardi admits. “We were frustrated and we wanted to leave really badly, but with the money we both had, we really couldn’t afford anything else downtown.”
But Berardi says they weren’t ready to leave without a fight.
“We decided that instead of running away and letting these homophobic people win, we would just stay here,” he says. “We’re not going to let people push us out of our area, so we’d just stay here and try to make it better.
“There are gay people in Toronto — it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world — and people just have to get used to it,” Berardi says.
That’s when the couple founded the Lakeshore Villages’ LGBT Community. The alliance, modelled after the successes of Queer West and the Church Street Village, serves to provide a safe space for queer residents in the area through periodic events, open forums for discussion and a partnership with local supportive businesses.
“There are lots of gay people moving in, but there was no sense of community,” Zeidenberg says.
“We’re not interacting with each other,” Berardi adds. “We wanted to change that.”
While Lakeshore Villages has had a relatively large gay population dating back to the 1980s, the Lakeshore Villages’ LGBT Community is the first of its kind in the area. Lakeshore Villages comprises four neighbourhoods — Long Branch Village, Lakeshore Village, Mimico by the Lake and the Mimico Village — that line Lake Shore Boulevard from Twelfth Street to Dwight Avenue.
Established in December, the alliance has more than 100 followers on Facebook. The group’s first event, a meet-and-greet held in gay-owned art store Painty McGee’s, brought in more than 25 queer residents and allies rallying together to stop homophobia in the area.
Berardi and Zeidenberg have also begun to curate an online directory of queer-supportive local businesses.
The alliance has inspired both current and past residents of the area.
“I was truly moved by the passion of the young gay couple who have started this endeavor to break the isolation of the LGBTQ community who live in the west end of the city,” Michael Lamore wrote on the alliance’s official Facebook page. “Had there been a group to go to when I lived out there in the ’80s and ’90s, I may never have moved out of the area.”
Despite the positive feedback, the group has faced scrutiny. In late August, vandals defaced one of the alliance’s stickers on the window of local used bookstore Community Roots. Natalie Lochwin, the storeowner, says someone deliberately scratched the sticker off the window of her storefront.
“I found the incident to be upsetting because it was intentional,” Lochwin says. “Perhaps the vandalism illustrates exactly why the stickers are important.”
Some business owners have publicly denounced the alliance, though no formal investigations on the matter have been conducted.
“The Lakeshore has a lot to offer, but we need to grow and change and come into our own, and proudly supporting our LGBT is a vital part of this,” Lochwin adds.
Berardi and Zeidenberg have high hopes for the alliance, which is backed by Etobicoke-Lakeshore Councillor Mark Grimes, the Lakeshore Arts Council and more than 20 businesses in the area. They hope their next event, a picnic and dog walk along the lakeshore, will be a great success.
“I really believe in this area,” Berardi says. “We both feel like this is a place we can be really proud of. And we’re passionate about making a change.”