Saint John Mayor Don Darling is being lauded by a local couple who led the fight for same-sex marriage in New Brunswick over his clap back against LGBT discrimination on the weekend.
Darling used social media and a speech after Saturday's Saint John Pride parade to make his views on intolerance clear — even if it costs him votes.
When a constituent told Darling via Facebook he wouldn't vote for him again because he participated in the parade, Darling called it "bullshit" and told the voter neither his hatred nor his political support were welcome.
Carl Trickey and Jim Crooks, who celebrated their same sex union in a covenant ceremony at Centenary Queen Square United Church in 1996 and were part of a court action in 2005 that forced New Brunswick to recognize same-sex marriage, say Darling's words carried weight and provided some comfort.
"I think there's significance to that because you know he's taking a stand and he's saying that you know, 'Maybe there is some risk related to this and people may choose not to vote for me because I embrace inclusiveness and I support the LGBTQ community,'" Trickey said on Monday.
"I think that that moved it from being a, 'Oh yes, well I've walked in the parade,' to actually putting words to something and saying, 'I'm taking a stand here. To me this is important.'
"So I was really pleased that he stood up and said, 'Hey, I'm not going to tolerate this.'"
But Trickey and Crooks, who spent years fighting harassment and discrimination, said the fiery exchange between Darling and the constituent about the parade is also a sad reminder that while society is more tolerant today, many people still don't feel free to be themselves.
"There are still so many within our community that can't march there," Trickey said. "They still have fear about their employer, or concern about what their family might say, or do."
"And that's very real," Crooks said. "That's very real."
'Not going to let intolerance get me down'
Darling ignited a firestorm on social media on Friday night with a Facebook post saying he was looking forward to the 15th annual Saint John Pride parade on Saturday afternoon.
"Not going to let intolerance get me down," he wrote on the heels of media reports about a red SUV towing an anti-pride sign quoting the Bible being spotted in the uptown.
City resident Russell Douthwright criticized Darling for his participation. "I for one, and I trust thousands more, will not vote for you in the next election," he wrote.
"I find it [offensive] that you or any other [dignitary] would take part in a gay pride parade. Why? Because 'gay' people are not like a community of say a religion, language or culture, they are a 'un-natural sexual practices' community."
"They are a group that needs [spiritual] deliverance and not your praise. You should follow the lead of our past great mayor, Mrs. Elsie Wayne and decline."
Wayne, who died last summer, was well-known for her stand against gay rights, telling the House of Commons in 2003 that homosexuals shouldn't be dressing up for pride parades and should "shut up" about wanting to get married.
Darling, who served as the marshal of the Saint John Pride parade last year, was quick to fire back at Douthwright.
"I can't believe you posted this bullshit. Do not vote for me please. I don't want to be supported by haters and I will fight against hate day and night."
Darling reiterated those sentiments during a post-parade speech.
"I don't want people who are ignorant and intolerant and who spread hatred to support me in any way because it's the absolute opposite of what I stand for," he said.
"I'm not responding as the father of a daughter who has a beautiful girlfriend. I'm responding as a human being, because it's the right thing to do."
Swell of support
Tim Hayes posted that Darling may have lost Douthwright's vote. "But you just gained mine."
Jenna Lyn Albert thanked the mayor for his comments. "Your clap back will go down in SJ history," she wrote.
Saint John Pride said they are proud to have Darling as mayor.
"Thanks for your support, not just at pride but every day."
Carla Wilkins said she is moving back to Saint John after living in Toronto for 16 years.
"It's posts like yours Don that make me hopeful about my family's future in SJ," she said. "I am hoping SJ is changing to become a more vibrant and accepting city. It's already great in so many ways but its closed mindedness has always bothered me."
Trickey and Crooks have vivid memories of the prejudice they have faced.
During their covenant ceremony on Aug. 10, 1996, someone spray-painted "666" on the church's front door and some of the onlookers gathered outside carried signs with slogans such as: "God hates fags," and "You're going to die of AIDS."
Two months later, Trickey said, he was attacked inside his bar Bogart's by a person wielding a pool cue.
And for several years, on their anniversary, the couple received a package in the mail or on their doorstep full of hateful messages, they said.
In 2005, Court of Queen's Bench judge ruled in favour of Trickey and Crooks and three other gay couples who argued the province's definition of marriage violated their rights.
'I am much more than a sexual being.' - Carl Trickey
Justice Judy Clendening said the definition of civil marriage would have to be changed from a lawful union between a man and a woman to a lawful union "between two persons."
Trickey said he was "completely offended" by Douthright's Facebook postings.
"I mean, he wasn't referring to me specifically, but he was looking at all gay persons and he's brought them down to a single component. And that component is our sexual action.
"Well, I am much more than a sexual being. And my sexual actions are not obscene. They're not offensive."
"I'm also a father and grandfather and a business owner and a good friend to people and I do things in this community."
Still,Trickey and Crooks both said they are impressed by the changes they have seen at the Saint John Pride parade over the years.
"We saw now companies coming in numbers, we saw politicians," Trickey said. "You know, our church was walking proudly in the parade with representatives of our congregation. You know the Sea Dogs were there, our police force was there, our firefighters were there. Like I mean, to me, that was just a huge step forward."
"Some of the businesses are there because they finally recognize their employees and need to acknowledge and be part of their lives," agreed Crooks.
'More work to do'
Darling said the social media exchange was "a real eye opener" for him.
'I look forward to the day that we no longer need the parade. A day when love is love, is fully embraced.' - Don Darling, Saint John mayor
"I am really troubled that in 2017, people feel like it's OK to hate, judge, be ignorant and believe that the next group of people, race or culture have more or less rights than another," Darling wrote.
He supports the rights of people to an opinion, he said, "but not when it spreads hate and intolerance."
He said he has many family members and friends who are part of the LGBT community.
"I support and love them, not because they're part of a special group," he wrote. "I love and support them, because they are living their lives and being authentic human beings.
"I look forward to the day that we no longer need the parade. A day when love is love, is fully embraced."