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Pan Am LGBT mural vandalized with homophobic graffiti

Toronto hate crime unit now investigating incidents on Pan Am Path near Humber River

Homophobic graffiti was scrawled on a Pan Am Path LGBT mural just days after it was unveiled. Credit: Courtesy Tristan R Whiston

Anna Camilleri and Tristan R Whiston’s mural for the Pan Am Path was only up for a week before it had been vandalized with homophobic graffiti — twice.

An elementary school educator had brought his students down the Humber Path and to the secluded area under the Dundas West span over the Humber River to show them the murals — instead, they found them vandalized. The Humber Path is part of the Pan Am Path during the duration of the games.

There, on three columns supporting the bridge, a series of murals celebrating the contributions of LGBT people in sport and diverse families was unveiled on June 10. Long, skinny rainbow figures link together, some with hearts on their chest. Aside from a sign about 20 metres from the artwork indicating that the busy commuter trail is part of the Pan Am Path, there is no explicit indication of the mural’s connection to the games or its meaning.

After the artwork was repaired, vandals struck a third time — local residents reported seeing new homophobic graffiti on July 2, says Camilleri.

Toronto Police Service’s hate crime unit is now investigating the incidents according to Staff Sergeant Devin Kealey.

Pictures provided to Daily Xtra by Camilleri show several of the columns vandalized with phrases written in white spray paint. “Heterosexual only,” “heterosexual pride day,” and “a dick and a asshole is not a family,” are among the phrases shown in the photos. Camilleri also told Daily Xtra in a previous article about the mural that the phrase “Be happy NOT gay” was written on the artwork.

In an email, Kealey says that the damage was significant and likely would have taken a noticeable period of time to deface the artwork. “Police believe there is a very good chance that someone in the area might have seen some suspicious activity when the crime was committed,” Kealey says.

“We would like to talk to anyone who may have more information as to a possible suspect(s).”

Camilleri, who has worked on several pieces of public art including one of the murals that is part of the Church Street Mural project, has never had any of her work vandalized before.

“When we think about engagement with the public, this isn’t certainly the thing that we hope for,” Camilleri says. “But you know whoever this person is — or persons — who have been vandalizing the work, they are speaking their feelings directly on the artwork by damaging it and I guess that is one of the risks you run with public artwork.”

Camilleri says it felt awful to see the work damaged. “It wasn’t random,” she says, noting that there is an abundance of graffiti tags in the area. “It was targeted, and it was hate target, and that was upsetting.”

Ann Molson, who Daily Xtra spoke to as she was walking her dog past the mural on July 13, says she was surprised to see the graffiti in the neighbourhood, noting that she didn’t initially realize it was an LGBT-themed mural. “I thought it was a strange reaction.”

Last year, Trove — a store in nearby Bloor West Village — was also targeted with homophobic graffiti. A vandal or vandals wrote “be happy not gay” in white spray paint on the back of the store and spray painted over a small rainbow flag sticker displayed in its window.

And in 2013, a couple who displayed two rainbow flags outside their home near Jane Street and Dundas West were also the targets of homophobic graffiti, sprayed in white spray paint outside of their home.

Kealey says that as part of the hate crime unit’s normal investigative procedures, they will look at similar events in the area to see if there is a connection.