A west-end Toronto community is coming together to fight back after vandals targeted three homes displaying rainbow flags.
On Aug 29, Sarah Harrison and her partner, Pascal Murphy, discovered that the rear tires on their vehicle had been slashed overnight. Constable Tony Vella says Toronto police are investigating the matter but did not comment further.
Harrison and Murphy say they have been the target of anti-gay attacks for the past two years, since they mounted rainbow flags on their porch. They say such attacks in the neighbourhood around Runnymede and Jane have escalated recently.
“We are very passionate allies. This vandalism is not a reflection of the whole community,” Harrison says. “We have called police throughout this whole thing. They don’t know who it is, and they don’t have any suspects. I think that will be a pretty difficult thing to determine.”
Undaunted, Harrison has now ordered 200 rainbow flags, and she is organizing a community barbecue with other neighbours. She plans to distribute a rainbow flag to any family that wants one. “We are encouraging people to come out, get a flag, talk about why this is happening in our neighbourhood and what we can do to stop it.”
Harrison says the attacks began about two years ago, when the couple found their "Celebrate Diversity" bumper sticker had been ripped off their car and torn up. “Then our first rainbow flag was torn off our front porch,” she says.
The couple replaced the flag, but it was removed again and the pole destroyed. “So we decided to put up two rainbow flags and mount them higher this time, up on the second floor, so they are now pretty inaccessible,” she says.
That’s when the attacks got worse. “There was dog feces left on our car and in our front yard.”
Then last year, the couple found spray paint on the sidewalk in front of their home saying, “Be happy, not gay.”
“We asked the city to remove it, but they didn’t come,” she says. “So we changed it to ‘Be happy and gay.’”
About a month ago, the spray paint returned. “Someone tried to redo the ‘Be happy, not gay,’ but they only got a few letters painted before they stopped, so now we have ‘Be h’ on the sidewalk.”
After vandals slashed their tires on Aug 29, the couple discovered they aren’t the only ones in the neighbourhood being targeted by homophobes. Two other homeowners who display rainbow flags have come forward to report similar incidents.
“A neighbour sent us a letter to say they lost two Pride flags and someone spray painted, ‘Be happy not gay’ in front of their home,” Harrison says. “Then we found out another house a couple streets over had the same graffiti on the sidewalk.”
Michael Erickson, CEO of Glad Day Bookshop on Yonge Street, has offered to help by launching a crowd-funding page to raise money to buy rainbow flags for homeowners who are allies. "I think it's really inspiring that they have taken a hate crime and their response is to throw a party and galvanize a community," he says.
“This can’t go on in our neighbourhood,” Harrison says. “We need to be very vocal and make sure this is a safe space and a positive space. On one hand, this has been very frustrating for us, but on the other hand, it’s been exciting to see the community’s positive response to it.”
Harrison says she hopes the people responsible for the vandalism attend the barbecue and take the opportunity to learn about the LGBT community. “There’s no reason for hate. I’d like to see this result in some changed ideas.”