A huge crowd is expected to gather in Thunder Bay on Fri, Sep 11 to denounce a vicious gaybashing that happened in the Northern Ontario city last weekend.
“This is an opportunity to say we don’t tolerate this in our city,” says Michael Sobota, one of the organizers of the rally, which is scheduled to start at 6pm in Waverly Park. Demonstrators will march through downtown Thunder Bay, past the bar where the gaybashing occurred, and return to the park for music and speeches.
“There’s a lot of passion and hype fueling people,” says Sobota. “The outpouring of support for Jake has been incredible.”
Early last Saturday morning, Jake Raynard and two friends left a gay-friendly bar called Pier 61 and stood outside for a smoke. They were approached by a trio of young men who started pushing them around.
“We’re not interested in fighting,” Raynard told them. “Take it somewhere else.”
Suddenly, more men showed up. They chased Raynard and his friends down the street, shouting “fags” and “fairies” at them. Raynard’s two friends managed to flee in a cab, but the attackers prevented Raynard from escaping.
When he ran down an alley, they threw bricks at him. Raynard was knocked unconscious and woke up later with a shattered skull. Throughout the long weekend, he endured reconstructive surgery to fix a crushed cheekbone, a broken jaw and damage to his eye.
After four nights in hospital, Raynard is recovering at his sister’s house. “I’m terrified, especially when it gets dark,” he says. “I wake up every ten minutes and imagine things hitting my face.”
The police still haven’t made any arrests. “I’m not sure how it’s being investigated,” says Raynard. “If I have my way, it will be investigated and pursued as a hate crime.”
The 30-year-old is an instructor at Haliburton School of the Arts, and was supposed to start classes this week. “This should never happen anywhere in the world to anyone,” he says. “I’m not the one who has to stop being the way I am. They’re the ones who have to leave the community.”
The response to Raynard’s attack has been remarkable. His friend, Juan Anderson, set up a Facebook group that has attracted over 3,000 members, and Raynard is receiving more flowers and visits from well-wishers than he can count.
“This is one of the reasons I call Thunder Bay home,” Raynard says. “The community is so closely knit and supportive.”
Raynard will speak at tomorrow evening’s rally, which Sobota calls “a tremendously important decision.”
Sobota, the founding executive director of AIDS Thunder Bay, retired last week after 24 years with the organization. He says Raynard’s gaybashing is similar to one that happened to a friend in 1989. “I used to think this was so last century,” says Sobota. “Do these incidences stop? It’s scandalous and shameful that they don’t. There’s a new generation of individuals who think it’s cool to prey on someone because of a difference in sexual orientation.”
Sobota says he’s heartened by the fact that a broad range of community members are denouncing Raynard’s attack. “This issue crosses orientations, genders and family status,” he says, pointing out that the man who started the Facebook group, Juan Anderson, is a heterosexual father.
Anderson, who has known Raynard since high school, cried when Xtra.ca called to ask him how his friend was doing. “Seeing him lying in the hospital,” Anderson says, “was not easy.”
He hopes that the whole city comes out to show their support at the rally. “We need to make a bold statement that we reject hate crimes in our community,” he says.
Sobota says the rally is only a first step in the community’s response. In the coming weeks, Raynard’s supporters plan to advocate for better security at Pier 61 and more visible policing around the bar, which is located in the heart of Thunder Bay’s entertainment district. Sobota says people are already making plans for community policing, including safe walks and warning whistles.
Raynard is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries, but the healing will take months. A trust fund has been established to pay for prescriptions, legal costs, lost wages, and financial assistance for Raynard’s sister, a single mother who is caring for her brother full-time.
To make a donation, contact the Bay Credit Union, 142 South Algoma Street, Thunder Bay, 807-345-7612, Baycreditunion.com.