News
2 min

Toronto neighbourhood fights hate with rainbows

Homophobic vandalism sparks outpouring of community support in city's west end

Mike and Heidi Hunter with their daughter, Emily. They also had Pride flags stolen and messages spray painted on the sidewalk in front of their house. Credit: Andrea Houston
After homophobic vandals targeted homes in a west-end neighbourhood, some homeowners decided the best response was to throw a party and blanket the community in rainbows.
 
In Toronto's Runnymede and Jane area on Sept 14, about 200 people, many with their children and dogs, packed into the parking lot at Runnymede Collegiate Institute to show the community they will not tolerate anti-gay hatred. 

They also raised more than $500, with the help of Glad Day Bookshop, to buy rainbow flags for those neighbours who want one.

 
Sarah Harrison and Pascal Murphy, who organized the event, were overcome with emotion when they took the stage. The couple, who are both Ryerson instructors, call themselves "passionate allies."
 
For the past two years, vandals have targeted Harrison and Murphy's home. Rainbow flags they mounted outside their home have been ripped down, their car tires have been slashed and dog feces has been smeared on their property. 
 
The school at which activists hosted the barbecue is directly across the street from the couple’s home. In fact, the high school is the reason Harrison and Murphy put up a rainbow flag in the first place.
 
Harrison says they wanted to send a positive message to any queer students who look out the window. “We know there are many youth in that school who are struggling with their identity,” she says. “We want them to know there’s people out there that support them."
 
After the first rainbow flag was torn off their front porch two years ago, Harrison and Murphy replaced it. It was quickly removed. They responded by putting up two more, mounting them high up on the second floor to make them inaccessible.
 
That’s when the attacks got worse. The vandal, or vandals, left dog feces on the family car and in the front yard. Then, last year, the couple found spray paint on the sidewalk in front of their home saying, “Be happy, not gay.”
 
On Aug 29, the couple discovered that the rear tires on their vehicle had been slashed. They also learned theirs isn't the only home in the neighbourhood being targeted. Mike and Heidi Hunter, who live nearby, also had their rainbow flags torn down and similar messages spray painted on the sidewalk in front of their house.
 
“I think we all feel that we don’t want hatred in our neighbourhood, and we value inclusion here,” Heidi Hunter says, holding her five-month-old daughter, Emily. “Look at all the families here today. This is the message kids should see.”
 
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo joined Ward 13 Councillor Sarah Doucette and NDP MP Peggy Nash onstage to applaud the community for its creative response to hatred. 
 
DiNovo says she suspects the vandals may actually be youth from Runnymede Collegiate Institute.
 
“This is a school where there are many first-generation kids whose parents have come from other places and maybe brought some of the attitudes and prejudices that has permeated other communities,” she says. “We want to be able to talk to them about what it means to be Canadian, what it means to be a part of this community and what it means to be inclusive.”
 
Glad Day CEO Michael Erickson says he hopes to work with the school to create anti-homophobia workshops or even provide resources through Glad Day.
 
“Now that school has started, a number of us are looking forward to reaching out to the [Toronto District School Board] to see how we can take this amazing community moment and build partnership, build understanding and work with students, parents and neighbours,” he says. “Hopefully that builds a stronger community relationship with the school.”