LGBTQ+ advocates on the South Shore are asking that vandalism of the visitor information centre in Liverpool be investigated as a hate crime.
Steve Ellis is the chair of Lunenburg Pride said someone sent him a photo of the spray painted graffiti on the building, the day after the vandalism was discovered. The graffiti has since been painted over, although it’s still a bit visible.
“We’ve called out for the RCMP to investigate it as a hate crime,” Ellis said. “The words that were used as hate speech. There’s no way to avoid that.”
The word “groomers” was painted on the front of the building, while the words pedo, fags, groomers, and scum were painted on the rainbow stairs leading up to the building’s main door. The acronym GTFO meaning “get the fuck out” was also spraypainted on the stairs.
“If that’s not hate speech, I don’t know what it is,” Ellis said.
Ellis said they haven’t received an update from the RCMP about investigating the act as a hate crime. Ellis recorded a video from the visitor information centre a few days ago showing the temporary work that’s been done to cover the graffiti.
“This has to be investigated properly, not only as a deterrent to people who could do this any of those towns, but it’s the right thing to do,” Ellis said. “If they don’t investigate it properly, it’s going to feel like a slap in the face to our community. Them saying it’s mischief and graffiti is already diminishing the seriousness of what happened.”
Shocked and disheartened
Ellis said this is the first time they’ve heard about an incident like this happening on the South Shore. He said this act is harmful to the LGBTQ+ community, including to those who may not be out.
“It put them right back into the closet, that’s at a minimum, or it pushes them to suicide,” Ellis said. “That’s how serious this is. I think if it were treated more seriously by the RCMP it would reduce the hurt that a lot of people are feeling, A, by the fact that this happened in the first place, and B, that so far they’re not investigating it as they should.”
Ellis said he and other community members were shocked and disheartened that this happened. He said Lunenburg Pride has received vitriol after events it’s hosted in the community, including a drag queen story time at a local library.
“That was online trolls,” Ellis said. “This felt like it was taking it up a notch.”
Ellis said Lunenburg Pride made calls to all the mayors in towns on the South Shore, including in the Region of Queens and Mahone Bay, who put out statements of solidarity on social media.
“We felt that would be a way to heal and to show people that they’re living in supportive communities,” Ellis said. “We were very happy to know that all of them, within a week of the incident, put out a solidarity statement. We’re trying our best to turn the corner and we’re trying our best to make it something positive. But at the same time, we can’t ignore what has happened and how it’s being investigated.”
The Halifax Examiner reached out to the RCMP and Cpl. Chris Marshall replied, saying the incident is still being investigated and they’re following up on leads . A photo of a suspect was shared on the RCMP website and social media channels.
Support from the community
Ellis said there’s been a lot of support for the community. He said Five Girls Baking in Liverpool covered their shop window with pride flags and put up a sign that said, “All are welcome here.”
“I think businesses can do more like that. They can put a pride flag on their window and make it clear they welcome everybody,” Ellis said.
Ellis said others can offer support, too, by speaking out against homophobia, transphobia, biphobia when they hear it.
“The more people speak up about it, hopefully they’ll will be less of these events happening,” Ellis said.
Ellis said he believes people are more hateful because of what’s happening in the US.
“There are a lot of politicians saying horrendous things against the LGBTQ+ community,” Ellis said. “With the recent attacks on drag queens, for example, in the States. Unfortunately, that has creeped north of the border. A lot of the people who associated themselves with that freedom convoy have been spewing a lot of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. That’s the only thing I can think of timing wise as to why this is happening now … it seems people are getting bolder in what they do. That’s why organizations like ours are so important. Just because we can get married doesn’t mean we’re equal. Straight clubs aren’t being shot up.”
Julie Veinot, executive director and sex educator with South Shore Sexual Health in Bridgewater, agrees. Veinot sent along this statement by email to the Examiner:
With the rise of misinformation coming from the far right, we are seeing more and more extreme views here in Canada that are alarming, and becoming too frequent. The reality is that this rhetoric is dangerous to everyone, regardless of our gender or orientation, and we must speak out against it because it makes us all unsafe, and it profoundly traumatizes so many in our community including our youth, folks from the 2SLGBTQAIP* community, and the many people who have been victims of actual child abuse.
Furthermore, the reality is that gendered violence disproportionately affects members of the 2SLGBTQAIP* community. To call folks from the 2LSBGTQAIP* community groomers or pedophiles is a further slap in the face, as they are often the targets of violence in our society, not the perpetrators.
Sadly, organizations like ours are trying our best to promote health and well-being for all genders and orientations, especially in the schools. Unfortunately, we struggle with funding just to keep the doors open, like so many non-profits tasked with educating away society’s ills. We have one staff member who tries to do everything in 28 hours a week when we could really use a whole team. There are over 20 schools I try to support. Because there are so few resources in our rural areas, I’m helping to educate people in other parts of the province. We just had a small class of youth drive from the other side of the province (Annapolis Valley) to access our programming even though I technically only cover Lunenburg and Queens Counties. Sometimes it feels like trying to put out a fire with a teaspoon of water.
‘We weren’t even remotely surprised’
Riley Nielson-Baker is with Gender Affirming Care Nova Scotia (GACNS) and learned about the vandalism earlier this when someone forwarded the social media post to them.
“We weren’t even remotely surprised,” Nielson-Baker said. “We find that in Canada, as compared to the United States and the UK currently, we’re a lot quieter about our bigotry. But we have found that in the last couple of years, since before the pandemic, people are starting to say the quiet parts loud and they are no longer worried there will be incredible backlash against what’s happening, or they just don’t care anymore. Whatever it is, they’re no longer afraid of what doing things like this.”
Nielson-Baker said acts like this are common in rural areas of the province and it creates a toxic environment.
“Being queer in a rural environment is incredibly isolating on a good day,” they said. “But it’s even more isolating when you know a significant chunk of people who are surrounding you are potentially people who would go out and vandalize a public space with words against you.”
Nielson-Baker said we all need to be visibly and actively engaged in fighting back against any form of homophobia or transphobia.
“We need to actively call it out when we see it in the environment. We need to stand up to people, whether that is correcting a family member or friend in an appropriate manner or directly standing up against discrimination at the highest levels of government. We have to stand.”
Nielson-Baker would like to see more funding provided to organizations that directly support the LGBTQ+ community.
“We need small option grants for people to run smaller rural programs,” Nielson-Baker said.
GACNS is currently in the process of organizing a Nova Scotia Queer Summit to address historic power imbalances across the queer community and encourage collaboration and communication among organizations.
“One, people will feel less isolated, two they can learn from each other, and three they can effectively mobilize to counter hate when it shows its face like this,” Nielson-Baker said.
Nielson-Baker said it’s important to reflect on this act, plus another incident in Lawrencetown, in which Pride flags were ripped down from a business.
“These are just the things that are visible,” they said. “They do not account for the things that do not make the news. Only allowing ourselves to reflect on what we’re seeing as ‘bad enough’ to make it into the news, for everyone one of those there are hundreds of other events that are either interpersonal, acts of hate, bigotry, systemic discrimination. We can’t just focus on the public ones. We need to be actively engaging in de-radicalizing people with anti-queer narratives.”
‘They can always reach out to us’
Last summer was the first time Lunenburg Pride had week’s worth of events, including a seniors’ social and a drag queen dance and performance. This summer, Ellis said they’ll host a parade as well, the first Pride parade on the South Shore.
“For the LGBTQ+ community, it’s about inclusion and visibility. That’s why Pride events are important,” Ellis said.
He said he wants people in the community, especially young people, to know there is support for them.
“I would tell them there is much more love and support in the community than there is hate,” Ellis said. “Unfortunately, the nature of the beast is one bad apple ruins the bunch, which is why we don’t want to focus on this incident too long. Our organization regularly receives emails and Facebook messages and Instagram messages from people who are in those situations, and they want advice. So, they can always reach out to us. The love and support is here. It may not be as visible, but it’s here.”
“I think it’s important for people to have kindness and compassion for each other, even if you don’t agree with who they are. We have no idea what the motivations were for this person or persons who did this, but if we could have a moment with them to talk they would think more positively about our community maybe instead of telling us to get the fuck out.”