Toronto Evangelicals Try to ’Pray’ Gay Couples Out of Their Homes?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 24, 2010

Members of a Toronto church preached outside the home of a gay couple on a quiet street in Leslieville, a neighborhood in that city, until they were asked by the neighborhood's residents to leave. It's alleged that members of this same church drove a lesbian couple out of their home with similar street preaching actions in the past.

In video posted at Torontoist.com on Aug. 23, the group--nine church members nicely dressed and carrying Bibles--were confronted by residents of the street who asked them firmly to stop yelling and leave the neighborhood.

"You're hateful people, that's what you are," one woman can be heard telling the group.

"Do you live here?" demands one man. "This is not your street. You want me to go and yell outside your [home]?"


The Torontoist article said that the church members did not confirm that the gay couple was the target of their street preaching action, but resident Geoffrey Skelding, who took the video footage, told the site, "Talking with my neighbors, I learned that a lesbian couple left the area because of this group." Added Skelding, "They do come to the area and knock on doors and tell people they are sinners."

In the case of the Aug. 22 confrontation, the neighborhood's residents seemed to have had enough. In the video, a man can be heard telling the church group, "You are yelling on a street that is shared by a bunch of neighbors who like each other."

"We have the authority to preach the gospel," responds a church member, who seems to be holding a Bible.

"The entire neighborhood is out here right now telling you to leave, so please--move along," answers another resident.

"We've been doing this for seven years," rejoins the church member.

"And we've hated it the whole time!" cries one resident. "Because we'll have a nice night and there'll be people yelling."

"That's your choice," replies the church member as he and the others in the group turn and begin to walk away. "And in the will of God, next year we'll be here."

As the church group leaves the neighborhood, residents can be heard yelling after them. "Get the hell out of our neighborhood!" calls one.

"You are not welcome!" advises another.

The Torontoist article says that the group belonged to Highfield Road Gospel Hall, which has been located a few blocks away since 1934. "What makes this incident noteworthy is its context within Toronto's relatively tolerant religious commixture: overzealous evangelism is uncommon here, and this type of interference is seen by many as a form of harassment," the Torontoist article reads. "Torontonians are known for welcoming people of all beliefs into the cultural fabric, but we're also protective of our citizens' right to live in peace."

Seattle-based writer Dan Savage offered his take on the incident at Slog, a blog run by newspaper The Stranger, on Aug. 23. "O They Will Know We Are Christians," Savage's article read, "by the people we intimidate and harass." Savage wrote that the church group had mounted its action "in front of the home of a gay couple-not because the couple did anything in particular to the church. But the [because] couple exists...

Savage expressed the opinion that if religious groups enjoy the freedom to create a disturbance on a quiet street where a gay couple lives, then GLBT equality advocates ought to enjoy similar rights in the vicinity of churches. "So when's the kiss-in?" Savage asked.

Canada has been hit by a rash of anti-gay violence in recent years. In Windsor, two episodes of gay bashing took place within two weeks last month. In mid-May, Chris Rabideau was set upon by two men who beat and robbed him; the men shouted anti-gay epithets during the attack. On May 31, two men were assaulted by an individual who, together with two others, hurled anti-gay abuse at them in a pizza restaurant. Though only one of the abusers physically attacked the men, he left one victim with facial injuries severe enough to require reconstructive surgery, reported Xtra! on May 31.

Last October, 27-year-old Christopher Skinner, an openly gay man, was beaten by a number of men who emerged from a black SUV. While Skinner lay on the ground, the men got back into the vehicle and deliberately drove over him. Skinner died later in the hospital. It was only hours later that Skinner's fiancée, Ryan Cooke, learned of Skinner's murder.

Last September, a gay Ontario man who met a prospective model was given a ride in the man's truck. The driver suddenly launched into an assault on the passenger, striking him repeatedly and saying, "Because you're gay you need to be punished, I'm going to fucking kill you, and you're a faggot." The victim leapt from the vehicle and was taken to the hospital with lacerations, bruises, and a dislocated shoulder.

Four days later, another Ontario man was attacked, this time by a mob of young men who was viciously beaten with a brick and suffered multiple facial contusions and fractures.

The trend has shown up in a recent study of violent crime rates in the nation. Hate crimes spiked by 35% in a one-year period, leaping up in number from 2007 to 2008, reported the Canadian Press on June 14. A little more than half of those crimes targeted victims because of their race; a quarter were motivated by the victim's religion; and around a sixth were driven by anti-gay animus. But the number of anti-gay hate crimes shot up 100% between 2007 and 2008, the article said, and of anti-gay hate crimes, three-quarters involved violence rather than vandalism or other forms of criminal activity; in contrast, only 38% of the hate crimes motivated by race were violent in nature, and only a quarter of hate crimes targeting religious minorities involved violence.

However, Toronto is also seen as a GLBT-accepting community. The openly gay former mayor of Winnipeg, Glen Murray, won a position as a Minister of the Provincial Parliament for Toronto last March. Murray was recently named to the position of minister of research and innovation, reported Xtra! on Aug. 19.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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