Tim O’Connor and John Dolman are reeling, not from the homophobic posters someone recently put up near their Salt Spring Island video store, but from the way their straight neighbors leaped to their defense.
The posters were only the latest in a string of homophobic incidents aimed at the gay couple.
Last August, O’Connor and Dolman found a homophobic slur written in pink eyeliner on their store’s back door. A surveillance camera caught several youth in the act and charges of mischief were laid.
Four youth were diverted to an alternative measures committee and three completed the terms of their punishment in the community justice proceedings; the fourth did not “complete his contract,” says Crown spokesperson Stan Lowe. That youth has since pleaded guilty and will be sentenced Sep 11.
“Without a doubt he is the rudest young person I have ever met and look at him now, he’s laughing,” Judge Jeanne Harvey reportedly told the court at the youth’s pre-sentencing hearing. “He seems absolutely void of all manners. I’ve never seen anyone with such poor social skills.”
The youth, who can’t be named because he’s under 18, has been ordered to stay away from the couple’s store. O’Connor says he called the police after the youth allegedly threatened him.
“I’m gonna slit your motherfucking throat,” the youth allegedly whispered to O’Connor as he walked by him, Jul 2.
Later that month, homophobic posters referring to the “sacrilegious pagan sect of depraved same-sex oxymoronic perverts” appeared around town on hydro poles.
A second poster accusing the couple of stocking “hardcore pornography in their unlocked backroom den of iniquity” soon followed.
Dolman remembers “people came in crying, feeling so bad for us.” They got e-mails of support and on the street people stopped them to talk.
Unbeknownst to them, their straight neighbours, Carol and Dick Grier, had also swung into action.
With “people’s good will” and a few donations, the Griers designed and created stickers featuring rainbow-coloured shapes of people holding hands and the words Justice, Equality, Respect, that people promptly affixed to windows throughout the downtown area.
The Griers also set up a website for island residents, businesses and organizations to support Dolman and O’Connor.
“There were [homophobic] posters all over town,” Carol Grier cringes. “I thought, ‘I have to do something.'”
Self-described “refugees from the militarist, homophobic, fundy US,” the Griers moved to Salt Spring four years ago “because of the awareness and activism of the wonderful people who live here.”
Dolman and O’Connor are “giant characters” in the community,” Carol says. “They are really well loved and respected members of the community. They’re always there for other people. They donate and give their time to support numerous causes.”
O’Connor and Dolman have lived on the island as an openly gay couple for 12 years; this is the first time they’ve been targeted for their sexuality. The local chamber of commerce named them citizens of the year last year, and when they were married two years ago they were pictured on the cover of the local newspaper and received many letters of support and even a congratulatory message from a Roman Catholic priest on the island.
“From that to being called perverts,” Dolman sighs. “Then I calmed down and realized it doesn’t represent the island at all.”
The queer community on the island was surprised at “how fast and broad the scope of the response was,” says David Rumsey, president of Gays and Lesbians on Salt Spring Island (GLOSSI). “The speed of the reaction of the greater community, and all these bumper stickers everywhere, are very reassuring.”
“We found out the straight people will support us and that’s really great,” he says.
The Griers’ response is “really heartening,” agrees Caffyn Kelley, another queer resident on the island.
“It really makes you reflect on what it’s like living in a small place, and what’s the difference if straight people come forward to combat homophobia,” she adds.
Though she admits the homophobic attacks “make us all feel a bit nervous,” Kelley says the atmosphere on Salt Spring is generally not homophobic.
O’Connor and Dolman say they were flabbergasted when they got to work and found “a dozen floral arrangements in support of us. Our counter was covered. It looked like a floral shop,” Dolman recalls with a laugh. The bouquets carried messages such as: “stay strong” and “your community stands behind you.”
“We want the LGBT community to know they’re not alone in battling discrimination,” Dick Grier says. “It was a great opportunity for us to stand up and say so.
“We are all in this together,” he adds, “all part of the community.”
“The love that poured out of our community was incredible,” says O’Connor. “We could not be more overwhelmed by how much our community loves us. We truly love this island and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”