Toronto's LGBTQ community pushes to reclaim safe spaces following alleged hate crime

·3 min read
The last Pride parade in Toronto was on June 23, 2019, before the pandemic. The LGTBQ community is now feeling the impact of social isolation and a dwindling number of spaces that feel truly safe. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The last Pride parade in Toronto was on June 23, 2019, before the pandemic. The LGTBQ community is now feeling the impact of social isolation and a dwindling number of spaces that feel truly safe. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/The Canadian Press - image credit)

There's a dwindling number of places LGBTQ community members feel safe in Toronto following an alleged hate-motivated attack near a Toronto Island beach last weekend, advocates say.

Justin Khan of the 519, an agency dedicated to advocating for LGBTQ Torontonians, told CBC News that Hanlan's Point has been especially vital for the community during the pandemic. Other meeting places and bars have been closed since last fall and many are only beginning to reopen their patios this weekend.

Hanlan's Point "is a place where people go to have fun, where people feel accepted, where people feel safe," said Khan, the group's public interest and legal initiatives director.

"And the impact of losing these spaces — whether it's Hanlan's, whether it's bars that have closed in the pandemic that are queer-friendly — can't be measured in only dollars and cents. It's about losing the very fabric of who we are as a community."

Toronto's LGBTQ community is still reeling after police reported a man was assaulted while walking to the island's ferry docks last Saturday in what officers are investigating as a hate-motivated attack.

A crowdfunding campaign says the victim, David Gomez, was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken nose, cheekbone and orbital bone, as well as a hip injury and concussion.

The Ottawa Redblacks suspended defensive lineman Chris Larsen in relation to the incident.

Larsen's lawyer, Calvin Barry, told CBC News on Tuesday that his client is "no longer a suspect," and that he hopes the CFL lifts Larsen's suspension shortly to allow him to return to his life and career.

Meanwhile, Peel police are investigating the burning of a Pride flag at a Mississauga school as a hate-motivated incident.

"The fact that we're in Toronto in 2021 and folks are feeling unsafe and are feeling fearful is really disheartening," said Khan.

These incidents serve as a reminder that Pride Month began as a protest to fight for equal rights, he said.

In June 1969, New York City's LGTBQ community rioted against police discrimination and homophobia after the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, was raided, sparking Pride weeks across North America in the years that followed.

Hanlan's Point was where Toronto activists held the city's first "Gay Day Picnic" in 1971. The next year, the picnic became part of the city's first Gay Pride Week featuring a festival, rally and march to Queen's Park to demand equality.

"We're not afraid to fight back and to keep what's ours," Khan said. "History has taught us, present day has taught us that our communities are resilient."

Watch| The history of the Pride flag:

Pride Toronto's executive director Sherwin Modeste said he goes to Hanlan's Point a few times every summer, soaking in the welcoming atmosphere and sunset. Many times after dark he's walked to catch the ferry home, near where police said the attack happened.

"I could have been the victim," Modeste said.

The group was at Hanlan's Point Saturday, handing out goody bags, celebrating Pride and helping the LGBTQ community reclaim the space.

"Just being able to gather with like-minded individuals that love you for who you are, that see you for who you are, has been so important," Modeste said.

"And through the pandemic, we lost that."

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