How residents on a quiet Corktown street banded together to help a lesbian couple being harassed by a homophobic neighbour.
Located in Corktown, Bright Street is a narrow, bending block made up almost entirely up of row houses, many of which date back to the 1870s. The dense little street, which connects Queen to King Street East, binds neighbours close together. But while that closeness has led to a sense of neighbourhood intimacy—residents throw “Annex the Alleyway” parties in the laneway three times a year and the owners of the cute, incongruous worker’s cottage even got married in front of their home—proximity can also cause discord.
A lesbian couple who has called Bright Street home for a number of years has been facing a tense relationship with one of their neighbours for roughly a year.
It started with noise complaints, says Carmen*, with loud music blaring next door at 3 a.m.—something hard to ignore in an attached home. The couple tried to be low-key about their complaints and initiated conversations with their neighbour, a renter new to Bright Street.
But the situation worsened. Carmen says their neighbour started regularly hurling homophobic insults at her and her partner unprovoked, shouting insults over their fence, and playing music so loudly glasses in their home shook. The couple initially contacted police last November, however, their insistence that the situation amounted to be more than just a common dispute between neighbours fell on deaf ears.
A few weeks ago, when the pair was walking to their car, Carmen says the man was “standing on the street and screaming—I don’t want to say exactly what it was, but obscenities, and making obscene gestures and threats of violence towards my partner specifically.”
After Carmen captured an especially unruly incident on video recently and brought it to police, the neighbour was issued a warning.
“When you’re bullied or harassed, it’s very isolating and has a huge impact. You don’t feel safe in your home and you never know when it’s going to happen. It’s really unsettling and it was just escalating and escalating. We hadn’t talked about it much to our neighbours except for Daphne [Bonar], because she had seen it.”
Wanting to show her support, Bonar—who has lived on Bright Street for 12 years—got together with Carmen’s partner and reached out to their neighbours. They bought miniature pride flags and printed out posters of rainbow-coloured row houses and made them available to Bright Street residents.
Each of the 20 or so people she approached were happy to put up the flags and posters on their homes over Victoria Day weekend. (Their efforts are captured in the video above; mobile and tablet users can view it here.) Even neighbours Bonar didn’t personally know showed up on her door stop, asking for a rainbow flag.
A week later, some residents found their flags missing; one appeared to be burned and several torn up.
This problem isn’t limited to Corktown. Last summer, homes flying Pride flags in the Runnymede-area were hit by vandals, with many of the flags stolen and car tires along the street slashed.
(According to the 2013 Toronto Police Service Annual Hate/Bias Crime Statistical Report, the number of reported hate/bias crimes averaged 144 per year between 2004 and 2013. In 2013, there was a decrease in the number of total hate/bias crime occurrences reported, the numbers dropping from 142 in 2012 to 131 last year. Altogether, the Jewish community, followed by the LGBTQ community and the Black community were the most victimized groups last year. But the total percentage of hate/bias occurrences in the LGBTQ community increased in 2013 to 17 per cent of all incidents, up from 13 per cent in 2012. The Jewish community and the Black community were the most victimized group for mischief to property occurrences, according to the report, while the LGBTQ community was the most victimized group for assault and criminal harassment occurrences.)
In light of the removed flags, Bonar is hoping to offer residents a more permanent alternative to the flags and posters; she says two of her fellow neighbours are looking into printing decals for residents to put up in their windows.
Anthony Stokan, who has lived on Bright Street with his partner for four and a half years, was not surprised by how the community immediately rallied.
“People are so embracing of the diversity of people who live here—straight, gay, young, old,” he says. “If the behaviour were to become more aggressive, it would just make us ramp up our efforts.”
Carmen says the signs of pride have had a huge impact on her and her partner. “Just walking down the street, we’re like, ‘I feel it, I feel the support,’” she says.
The issue is still ongoing, but Carmen feels they’re making progress. She no longer feels the need to leave her home to stay in a hotel and is touched by the outpouring of support from her neighbours.
“A gesture completely transformed that. It’s fantastic.”
* Not her real name. Interviewee asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.