When Suzy Richter entered the Eagle’s Nest Restaurant in Bancroft, about 250 kilometres northeast of Toronto, on Aug 23, she was looking for a homophobic clipping; she didn’t expect the owners to ask her to leave.
The openly gay resident and business owner says she went to the restaurant looking for a news article about an anti-gay protest that the owners, Sadie and Doug Creighton, had reportedly displayed in the main eating area for 10 years. The clipping, which featured the slogan “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” was not visible, since the owners had recently removed it after some people objected and proposed a protest.
Richter claims she did not even mention the clipping, but within 10 seconds of entering the Eagle’s Nest the owners had asked her to leave.
“They said, ‘You need to get out of here.’ They were belligerent. It just went on and on and on. They told me, ‘We don’t serve your sort here,’” Richter alleges. “They looked me up and down, and [Sadie] said it’s their restaurant and they have the right. They started laughing and asked me if I was looking for Adam and Steve. I said, ‘If you are asking me to leave, I need to know why.’ I think I was a bit shocked. I knew that they had the poster up and they were probably homophobic. I never in one million years thought I’d be kicked out.”
Richter adds that she cannot discuss the entire exchange due to legal proceedings.
Micheal Vonn, policy director at the BC Civil Liberties Association, says that if Richter’s claim is true, the incident clearly infringes on the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The challenge, Vonn says, is proving that the action was discriminatory.
If Sadie used the phrase “your sort” as Richter alleges, that could bolster Richter’s case, Vonn says.
“Without giving legal advice, this seems like the exact kind of scenario where there is likelihood of a positive finding at tribunal. It does highlight that the onus on demonstrating this is on the challenger.”
Several queer Bancroft residents are planning a picnic at Millennium Park on Sept 29 to protest the clipping and the alleged discrimination.
When Xtra called the Eagle’s Nest to ask what the owners think of the upcoming picnic and alleged discrimination, a man answered the phone, interrupted the question, said, “Have a nice day” and hung up.
In an interview with the QMI Agency, the Creightons say they have no ill will toward the gay community but maintain they have the right to their own beliefs.
The couple reportedly admits that they took down the clipping when they learned of the original protest.
“It’s in the Bible,” Sadie said. “Our ancestors would be rolling over in their graves if they knew half of what was going on.”
Sadie added that if something offends someone, “you go home and deal with it. You don’t make a big to-do out of something.”
Bancroft town council recently approved a permit for the picnic and donated a Pride flag for the event.
Bancroft has a number of gay residents, and they are an integral part of the town’s fabric, Mayor Bernice Jenkins says.
“One incident does not change that. We value diversity. We work to build an inclusive, cohesive community. Not only for gays and lesbians, but for any other group,” she says.
She hopes the picnic will transform the negativity from the alleged homophobia into a positive representation of the Bancroft community.
“Instead of looking at that one particular incident, let us look at the rest of the community and say, You know what this is, who we are. I see it as a growth, and we will grow through this. It is my hope that it will be completely positive for all the visitors and the people of the town,” she says. “At the end of the day, I can tell you there are many folks that I want to feel welcome and valued.”
Emmeline Gray, who grew up in nearby Coe Hill, says she will attend the picnic to support her trans godson, who lives in the area, and because the alleged homophobia in Bancroft is not representative of the town she knows well.
“That’s not the way the people I know and grew up with behave,” Gray says. “When I heard about the picnic, I thought this is the perfect response. The response to an incident like that is to get together with the community, share food, share ideas and talk about it.”
Gray hopes the picnic will be educational for those who are unfamiliar with the gay community.
“Ignorance is not an excuse, but I think sometimes these things come from a place of ignorance,” Gray says. “Sometimes, when people don’t know, they react defensively. Instead of doing that, if you come up across a situation and somebody identifies that this caused discomfort for them, then you should go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know, tell me more’ as opposed to closing the door.”
Toronto activist Jacqie Lucas helped organize the picnic and is coordinating car pools to Bancroft from Toronto through the event’s Facebook page.
Many queer people leave small towns for urban settings to become part of a larger community, Lucas points out, but those in small-towns need to feel a sense of community as well.
“There are people in the community that are trying to build networks and build social activities so they don’t have to leave. People build their lives there, they go to school there, they own businesses, they pay taxes; they don’t want to leave,” Lucas says.
Although the picnic stems from a seemingly intolerant event, there are plenty of open-minded people in Bancroft, Lucas adds.
“They have started a rural community network for their area. That is really exciting. I hope that more people will be able to build contacts through this,” Lucas says.
Richter describes the last few weeks as “gruelling” but says she now feels optimistic about the picnic, although some gay people in Bancroft are entirely against the event; some wrote via social media that Richter was “asking for it” by walking into the Eagle’s Nest. Richter says that response “blindsided” her.
“We all expect people who are part of the religious right or the Christian right to have issues because we’re all sinners. I would never have expected it from fellow LGBTQ. Some of the most adamant opposition has come from them,” Richter says.
As long as there is such a deep resistance to pride and equality, then there is a need for a showing of pride and equality, Richter maintains.
“As long as discrimination is tolerated and enabled, there is a need to take a stand. That poster was up for 10 years. Not a week, not two months, not a year. Ten years.”