'Since Pride, I've just felt unsafe': LGBTQ rally goers talk what needs to happen now
The Hamilton for Who? rally was designed to be a healing moment after violence at a June Pride festival
Debbie Wooldridge has lived in Hamilton for 62 years, but lately, she says, it hasn't felt much like home.
Wooldridge is feeling the weight of the violence that happened at a Hamilton Pride event June 15. She's feeling what even city council has described as the rise of hate groups in Hamilton.
She worries so much, she said, that she's even thought about moving.
"Since Pride, I've just felt unsafe," said Wooldridge, a self-described "proud trans woman." "I don't feel like I'm part of the city anymore. I don't feel like I'm safe walking down the street. I don't feel like people are there to defend me, and I sure don't feel that the city's there to defend me."
Wooldridge was one of hundreds who gathered at the Hamilton for Who? rally Saturday, an event held by numerous community groups to counteract the unease many gathered in the city hall forecourt say they've felt since Pride.
The rally included booths, signs and music by the LGBTQ community and allies. Those in attendance described it as a good first step toward healing the wounds that have deepened since the Pride festival.
At that festival, religious protesters showed up with homophobic signs and clashed with Pride goers, and a group of anarchists in pink masks blocked the protesters with a large portable barrier. Several people were injured.
Pride Hamilton secretary-treasurer Cameron Kroetsch and others have also criticized police for arresting three people in pink masks and only one of the protesters. Police say they need more victims to come forward before they can make more arrests.
People have also criticized Mayor Fred Eisenberger for what they perceived as his silence on the issue, and what they call a slowness on the city's part to clamp down on yellow vest protests in front of city hall every Saturday.
The mayor has appointed two special advisors, Cole Gately and Deirdre Pike, to help mend wounds with the LGBTQ community. While some who were invited to meet the mayor and his advisors last week publicly declined, Wooldridge said she'd be happy to attend if she was invited. Those sorts of measures, she said, are exactly what need to happen.
"I need to see some action on behalf of this council," she said. "I need to see some action from this mayor. I think we all need to sit down and talk."
Eisenberger didn't attend Saturday, but several councillors did. That includes Brad Clark of Ward 9.
"It's important that we be seen, and we be seen together," Clark said.
"We have to do more. There has to be communication. We have to look at our consultations from the perspective of the person we're consulting … They want to feel safe, and in order for them to feel safe, we need to consult with them in smaller groups, away from audio and video cameras."
Cam Galindo is currently Hamilton's only openly LGBTQ politician. He's a trustee with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, and he was one of five people who accepted Eisenberger's invitation last week. It's "a step that's better than nothing," he said. But "it's the first of many steps that need to be taken."
"There needs to be almost a restructuring of our systemic and internal cultures both in the City of Hamilton and supporting organizations," he said.
"This has been a crisis in Hamilton, and how the city has dealt with it speaks to the mentality of the internal workings at city hall, and how ill equipped everyone has been to deal with a crisis like this. The community itself has been fantastic, but ultimately it falls on the city to take responsibility."
"There's a lot of learning that needs to take place."
Will Rowe, a transgender rights activist, was one of 27 people who signed a letter Friday calling for Eisenberger and Girt to resign. The letter said police should have arrested the religious protesters as they were leaving the festival that day.
He worries about how safe LGBTQ people are in Hamilton now.
"We're feeling that we don't really belong in this city," Rowe said, "and that we can't trust the powers that be to protect us."
A group of anarchists have set up an encampment in the city hall forecourt, and say they will be there all weekend. They're holding town hall meetings, karaoke and other events.
Two people wore black masks Saturday and used a loudspeaker to shout at about 10 yellow vest protesters across the street. The yellow vest protesters held signs with sayings like "Thank you to Hamilton Police," "Thank you to city councillors" and "Not against anything but the government."
Kroetsch said there were no incidents at the rally, which was held by the Hamilton and District Labour Council, Environment Hamilton, Extinction Rebellion, the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, the Hamilton Steelworkers Area Council, Pride Hamilton and OPSEU Local 240 (Mohawk College faculty).
The rally, he said, has "been everything we hoped it would be."