The Toronto Tran-sit Commission (TTC) is investigating an incident last weekend in which transit workers are alleged to have made homophobic comments aimed at two men who were holding hands as they exited Spadina station.
“The actions of these employees are disgraceful,” wrote Pamela Detlor in a letter she sent to TTC commissioners. “Their discriminatory behaviour is something I can’t imagine the TTC wanting their uniformed employees to represent.”
According to Detlor, she and a group of friends were passing through Spadina station on May 6 when a uniformed TTC employee struck a limp-wristed pose and, in a high-pitched lisp, asked a coworker, “Oh, Larry, why don’t you hold my hand in public? Why can’t we, Larry? Why?” In the same manner, the coworker allegedly responded, “I don’t know. We just can’t.”
The couple — 25-year-old Josh Denny and 19-year-old Nick Detlor, who is Pamela’s nephew — was out of earshot of the comments, but friend Joey Wargachuk, 24, heard the remarks and confronted the workers.
According to Detlor, the employee who made the initial comments told Wargachuk that it was “none of [his] fucking business.” Wargachuk — a slight 115 pounds compared to the much larger TTC employee — then told the worker, “It is my business because I can hear you. You have no business talking to people like that.” The worker allegedly responded, “Get the fuck out of here.”
Fearing the incident could escalate, Detlor coaxed Wargachuk to back down. She says the workers laughed as they joined their friends across the street.
In addition to writing to TTC commissioners about the incident, Detlor has launched an on-line discussion group titled “Torontonians And Friends Against Publicly Funded Homophobia”on the social networking site Facebook.com.
“Perhaps the TTC needs to invest some of our transit fees into sensitivity training,” writes Detlor on the website. “Better yet — save the money and don’t hire workers who bully, victimize and discriminate.”
Kevin Beaulieu, executive assistant to Toronto City Councilor and TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, says the commission is taking reports of the incident seriously.
“As described, the behaviour of these employees is intolerable under TTC policy,” says Beaulieu. “An investigation is pending to determine if the employees in question should be disciplined per the collective bargaining agreement.”
Beaulieu notes that all employees receive antidiscrimination training when they join the TTC, and then again every two to five years.
In an e-mail response to Detlor, Giambrone wrote, “TTC customers deserve to be treated professionally and with respect by employees on the system. Threats or discrimination of any kind are simply unacceptable.”
Wargachuk, however, says he doesn’t care if the workers get to keep their jobs; he wants their identities revealed and brought to the attention of TTC riders using venues such as Facebook.
“Humiliation is the ultimate lesson,” says Wargachuk. “Whether you work for the TTC or not, if you make fun of people in public, especially complete strangers, you should reap the consequences.”
Denny says he hopes drawing attention to the incident will prevent others from acting in the same way.
“The TTC is a workplace. In my workplace, I act professionally. No one should be able to get away with what these guys did. After all, this wasn’t just aimed at me and Nick, but at all gay people.”