A mother is seeing wearing a wide-brimmed, rainbow-hued hat


The Anti-Gay Hate Crimes in My Town That Inspired My Family To Wake Up

Jul 7, 2021

This past Pride, my small town, like other municipalities around the world, painted vibrant rainbows on two prominent crosswalks in the downtown core.

It was to celebrate and bring attention to Pride month, and people snapped photos, posting them with glowing captions highlighting the initiative. A Facebook friend’s photo went viral — she wore a stunning rainbow dress and stood in the middle of the matching crosswalk.

The reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

Or so we thought.

Within 24 hours, the crosswalks were defaced by lines of black spray-paint and hateful homophobic comments. The rainbows were left with ugly, menacing scars that hurt to see every time I passed those intersections.

Zehra Kamani has not always felt welcome in Canada. From childhood to adulthood, she has received comments about being a Pakistani Canadian Muslim. 

Same Old Song

This was just a year after a neighbouring town’s mayor made homophobic comments in a council meeting and declined to raise the Pride flag.

So while the painting of the crosswalks and the positive reaction to them initially felt like we were finally moving in the right direction, the defacement seemed to hint that little had changed.

The crosswalks were repainted quickly. And driving past them on more than one occasion provided the opportunity to talk about the issue with my kids, helped by the fact that we were in a car (it seems, at least for me, once kids reach a certain age, the only chance for any kind of meaningful conversation is in a vehicle).

We talked about the Pride crosswalks, and then I took a deep breath and explained what some individuals had done.

But Why?

My youngest couldn’t understand it. She has grown up seeing all types of love and can’t really conceive of why people take issue with something that is different from their idea of tradition. My eldest, a teen now, mentioned that it had been discussed among his circle of friends online, but no other details were forthcoming.

As we talked about the matter, I began to realize that I’m tired of words, and discussions, and endless finger-pointing and casting blame. As a family, we may not like a situation, so we’re going to have to take action to help create systemic change. It’s not enough to complain about a politician for not fixing issues or taking a harder stand. It’s not enough to have teachable moments (although those are great) and let someone else do the heavy lifting. The people organizing the rallies, creating the petitions and running for office to create change must be so very exhausted.

The crosswalk incident crystallized my goals for activism as they pertain to my family and the myriad causes that are so important to us.

"It’s not enough to complain about a politician for not fixing issues or taking a harder stand."

Here's what's real for me: I feel talked out.

Which is why I've set a goal to do more over the next year, including making donations to charities that are working tirelessly on these issues. I want to attend a sit-in, rally or demonstration. I want to write even more letters to politicians.

But what I don't want to do is sit around saying things are fine, when they are so clearly and abundantly not fine. 

If conversations about race don't come easily to your family, Ella Cooper has designed an activity to help make that transition easier.

The Outcome

Surveillance footage was eventually released of the people that defaced those Pride crosswalks.

It broke my heart to see that they were three fresh-faced youths.

Was I projecting an air of nervousness and reluctance onto them as they stood in a group, and then pulled the spray paint bottle out from the backpack?

Was I kidding myself that they could have just as easily aborted the mission and headed down to the convenience store instead for a sugar high?

Maybe. Maybe not.

"I know that, as parents, our work is far from being done."

Perhaps they would have carried out the vandalism no matter what.

But I like to think that they were a car ride conversation away from not doing what they did. Maybe a hug removed from hate, or an extra hour of activism away from a violent demonstration.

I know that, as parents, our work is far from being done. If anything, I think we have to kick it up a notch and do more, create more change — and love more.

Because it isn't always spray paint. 

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a writer who moved from the big city to Orangeville in 2014 and never looked back, claiming a need to take the scenic route through life. Her blended family includes five kids, a wildly overgrown garden and a whole lot of coffee. Janice cherishes creative writing as a treat, right up there with overstuffed tacos, '80s mixed tapes and walks on beaches scattered with dunes. She offers writing workshops for teens and adults at The Writing Nook.

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