Hamilton

'We are going to do better,' says mayor over hate incidents and friction with LGBTQ community

Hamilton's mayor has broken days of silence over violence at the city's Pride festivities by saying the city is going to do better.

Fred Eisenberger says he's arranging a meeting and recognizes the city needs to change

Fred Eisenberger says that Hamiltonians need to stand up against hatred, after Statistics Canada released numbers that show that the city has the highest rate of police reported hate crime in Canada. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Hamilton's mayor has broken days of silence over violence at the city's Pride festivities by saying the city is going to do better.

Fred Eisenberger issued a statement late Tuesday saying he wants to meet with Hamilton's queer community to hear its concerns. He's also organizing a broader meeting on hate and hate crimes to "develop a collaborative strategy to address racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and discrimination against indigenous and 2SLGBTQ communities in our city."

"We are going to do better," he said. "We are committed to open dialogue. We are committed to listening and developing an action plan to fight those who promote hate and division."

The statement comes after a string of events that have drawn criticism from many of Hamilton's LGBTQ residents. Here are some of them, most cited by members of its LGBTQ advisory committee:

  • The city developed a transgender and gender non-conforming protocol two years ago. This came after a human rights ruling in favour of a transgender woman who tried to use the women's washroom at the Macnab bus terminal. The city, the committee says, has been too slow to implement the protocol.
  • The city employs the former head of a white supremacist organization in its IT department.
  • The city appointed the retired president of a sign company to the Hamilton Police Services board, which critics said was a missed opportunity for diversity. Other potential appointees included an assistant professor from McMaster University's school of social work and a queer rights activist. The city has also faced criticism over how it appointed people to other boards.
  • A controversial group known as the yellow vests demonstrates in front of city hall every Saturday.
  • The committee told the city it didn't want the Pride flag raised, and instead of a flag-raising ceremony, wanted a community conversation. The city raised the flag anyway, minus the ceremony. The committee held a community conversation, which Eisenberger didn't attend, nor did he attend the June 15 Pride festivities in Gage Park. 

Then at the Pride festivities, violence broke out when a Christian extremist group attended to protest and clashed with a group that erected a mobile barrier to hide the homophobic signs. Pride Hamilton said police took too long to break it up. Eisenberger, who chairs the police board, called that "a false narrative" on Twitter.

Eisenberger said he's always been committed to inclusion, and he still is. 

"Inclusivity must be much more than an aspiration," he said. "We must work together to make it a reality in our day-to-day lives. We need to accept criticism and feedback and change where needed. We need to listen and learn from all communities in Hamilton."

He also called on victims of the Pride violence to contact and work with police. "I remain committed to a safe #HamiltonForAll."

At least three letters will be discussed at a city council meeting Wednesday. Darren Stewart-Jones, a theatre producer and real estate agent, wrote one of them. He said he's disheartened by police and the city. 

"Are you truthfully, fully supportive of Hamilton's LGBTQ community?" he wrote. "I need to know. I need to feel safe again in the city that I call home."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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