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Runnymede Community Bands Together Against Anti-Gay Vandalism

After homophobic graffiti and tire slashings, a neighbourhood barbecue aims to send a message of inclusivity.

A rainbow flag flies in Nathan Phillips Square  Photo by Victor Magdic, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

A rainbow flag flies in Nathan Phillips Square. Photo by Victor Magdic, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Mayor Rob Ford has been invited to attend a Runnymede community barbecue being held in response to anti-gay vandalism in the area.

Hatched by concerned neighbours around a kitchen table, the Neighbours United for Inclusion Community BBQ, taking place at Runnymede Collegiate Institute this Saturday at 11:30 a.m., comes after two years of “hate crime” incidents in the west-end neighbourhood.

Sarah Jean Harrison and her partner Pascal Murphy had their tires slashed, dog feces thrown on their front lawn, and their sidewalk defaced with graffiti that said, “Be Happy Not Gay.” They believe they were targeted because they fly rainbow flags outside their home.

(Rainbow flags are, of course, emblems of gay pride, though the couple has said that their flags were meant to symbolize inclusivity in general.)

The couple banded together with other concerned neighbours, all of whom want to demonstrate that hate is not welcome in their ‘hood.

The organizers are asking Torontonians to show solidarity by flying rainbow flags on Saturday.

“We felt what had happened could not go without being responded to,” said Harrison.

“We didn’t want to respond in anger. I know it sounds clichéd, but you can’t fight hate with hate. The feedback we’ve received from our neighbours, friends, and strangers has been overwhelming and positive. The neighbourhood is coming together quickly and strongly to support us in demonstrating that our community is an inclusive community.”

Although the barbecue started out as a small affair, it quickly mushroomed into something more symbolic than just a regular cook-out.

“Originally we thought it would be 20 or 30 people in our front garden, but now it looks like there’ll be about 200 people from across the city, and other cities,” Harrison said.

“Thanks to another neighbour who works at the high school, it’ll be held there. There’ll be music, and people who’ve experienced similar problems in their community are coming. We’ll take a brief moment to talk about what the day means—why we are all there.”

The whole community is pitching in, with businesses from Loblaws to Camp Restaurant stepping up to provide food. There will be live music, thanks to The Woodshed Orchestra.

“It’s just going to be a place where people can meet. We’ll have rainbow flags to hand out,” Harrison said.

As for Mayor Ford, given the fact that he rarely shows up for LGBT events, it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll lend support. The mayor famously snubbed Toronto’s Pride events until this year, when he helped raise the rainbow flag at the start of the week-long festival. Harrison said she “would love if the mayor attended. He’s very welcome to join us.”

“Our local councillor Sarah Doucette [Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park] is coming, [Parkdale-High Park MP] Peggy Nash is coming, and others. We’ve invited 11 Division, our local police, too.”

Harrison said the mayor’s office has yet to respond to the invitation.

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