A neighbourhood is banding together this Pride Month to stand with a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) resident who says he's been the target of homophobic attacks — both verbal and physical — for more than a year.
Dean Will, who is visually impaired, has lived in the area of Danforth Avenue and Main Street for 30 years. He said the incidents began last June when someone stole his Pride flags hung outside his home and wrote a homophobic slur on his door.
It happened again earlier this month.
"It's a badge of honour to be able to fly that flag," Will told CBC Toronto. "A lot of people have lost their lives to fly that flag."
"It's something that symbolizes all of us, and I'm proud to fly it."
Will also said he was assaulted in May by a man who lives in the area. He said the man continually makes homophobic remarks and tries to physically intimidate him.
He has reported the incidents to both Toronto police and TCH. Const. Jon Morrice, crime prevention officer with 55 Division, said the investigation started June 8 and is ongoing.
'Tenants deserve to feel safe'
No arrests have been made, but Morrice said officers have canvassed the area for video surveillance and witness information.
As for whether or not police are investigating this as a hate crime, Morrice said the appropriate officers have been notified.
"When things like a pride flag or words like that [homophobic slur] are mentioned, it's definitely heightened in the sense that we notify certain individuals," he said.
TCH emailed CBC Toronto a statement saying the agency was also looking into the incidents, but could not share specifics about the investigation without Will's consent.
"We're deeply sorry to hear of Mr. Will's assault and the theft of his property," TCH senior communications adviser Brayden Akers wrote.
"All our tenants deserve to feel safe in their homes and we take these allegations very seriously." the statement reads.
"We encourage all tenants to immediately contact police if they are a victim of a crime, on or off our property. If a tenant is charged with a crime against another tenant, we would immediately apply to the Landlord Tenant Board for eviction against the accused."
Akers also confirmed TCH is looking at installing more security cameras at the site.
"It's been a tough haul," Will told CBC Toronto while fighting back tears.
"This has my name on it this time, but it could be anybody's name — and it could be anybody in the community that this happens to," he said.
"This kind of thing has got to stop. It's not right."
TCH had offered Will the option of moving, which he turned down. He said he's lived in the community for decades, and because he's visually-impaired, he's comfortable getting around the area.
"I haven't done anything wrong except be myself, and I will continue to be myself."
Community rallies around one of their own
On Friday, members of the community gathered together for a rally in support of Will.
Michael Rusek, coordinator of the Danforth and Woodbine Community Group, brought Will a Pride flag to replace the one which was stolen earlier this month.
A gay man himself, Rusek said Will's story resonates with him.
"This is not something that happens in this part of town," he said. "One of the things we're doing as a community is we want to stand with Dean. We want to show him he's not alone — that there's a lot of people who care about him and are concerned about his safety."
A representative for Arthur Potts, MPP for Beaches-East York, was also at Friday's rally.
"There is a disproportionate amount of hate crimes in our neighbourhood, and it's unfortunate that it keeps happening, but it has to stop," Potts told CBC Toronto after the event.
He said he doesn't know why it's happening in Beaches-East York, but said "people seem more emboldened lately."
The Liberal MPP said he thinks the Ontario government can take a more active role in prosecuting people who commit hate crimes. That's something that can be done through the attorney general's office, he said.
Karen Boyd doesn't live in the neighbourhood but said she felt it was necessary to attend Friday's show of support.
"This is all so very wrong," she said. "I don't care whether Dean is gay, whether he's black, whether he's Muslim — it doesn't matter. This is bullying no matter which way you look at it, and it has to be stamped out," she said.
"I just want [Will] to know that people care."