Hamilton’s Portuguese community leaders were quick to make apologies following an ugly incident during that city’s Pride day when parade participants were jeered at by fans celebrating a World Cup soccer win.
The Portuguese National Congress and other Portuguese groups joined the Hamilton Pride Committee in a press conference on Jun 23 to condemn the actions of those who harassed parade participants on James St the previous Saturday.
“This group of individuals does not reflect the attitudes of the majority of those in the Portuguese-Canadian community, who hold the values of respect, tolerance and acceptance toward those with different cultural or sexual orientations,” reads an English language statement from the Congress. “They also do not reflect the majority of Portuguese celebrants of the World Cup, who value their ability to commemorate Portugal’s success in the World Cup in a celebratory fashion, within the multicultural and diverse society in which we live.”
For one Portuguese critic, the statement wasn’t enough.
“How about issuing a press release in basic Portuguese and putting this press release in the sports newspapers?” former Torontonian Katherine da Motta Ponte wrote the congress. “How about going to those bars and speaking to those tough guys to deal with their homosexual issues, latent or otherwise?”
Particularly taunted during the incident were members of the AIDS Network who were yelled at during the ringing of the bells at Christ Church Cathedral to honour the group’s 20 years of service to people living with HIV/AIDS in Hamilton.
Joe Whelan, Pride’s parade and rally coordinator, says that nearly 50 spectators gathered to hear the speakers which included representatives from Hamilton Pride, the Portuguese community and the AIDS Network.
Whelan says that councillor Bob Bratina, who represents the area where the incident occurred, asked the two communities to come together, but not make a big deal out of it.
“He blamed the incidents on alcohol which seemed quite ignorant of the facts,” says Whelan. “A lot of us were quite upset with that.”
Whelan points out that many of the people involved in the harassment of Pride participants were kids and teenagers who were unlikely to have been under the influence.
Whelan says that overall the Hamilton Pride board was pleased to have had the incident taken so seriously by the police and Portuguese community. He says it showed that the queer community was able to stand up and clearly state that it would not tolerate homophobia.
Several initiatives are now underway as a result of the incident. The James Street North Business Improvement Association has requested a meeting to discuss how they might better support local Pride celebrations next year, and to help address issues of homophobia. The Hamilton Police Service has also indicated that it will develop a plan for policing Pride next year to prevent further incidents. Hamilton’s new GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans] community wellness centre, which is just getting started, will also be undertaking antihomophobia education in the community.
“I know that the World Cup only happens every four years but I don’t believe that homophobia is only going to happen every four years,” says Whelan. “I don’t believe it’s not going to happen next year just because it’s not a World Cup event.”