NORWICH — Residents in this small township are rallying to support the local LGBT-plus community in wake of recent anti-Pride incidents here and across rural Southwestern Ontario.
The Oxford County township was the target of vandalism and theft in late May when several Pride flags were stolen or vandalized. Oxford OPP recently charged a 16-year-old from Norwich with two counts of theft valued at less than $5,000 in connection to the incident.
Since then, some community members have lined the main street and the front of their homes with rainbow Pride flags. The Oxford County Pride Committee has also raised nearly $1,000 to help replace the Pride Progress banners.
When Kevin Keegan learned of the late May incidents, the Norwich resident didn’t hesitate to show his support and hang a Pride flag in the window of his apartment door. “I just thought it was a bit bogus the other flags came down so soon,” he said.
Since someone offered the free Pride flags to members of the township, they have multiplied, Keegan said. “There are several flags around town now. My kids shout ‘Rainbow’ every time they see one now.”
Acts of hated toward Pride and those who identify as part of the LGBTQ-plus community in Norwich are nothing new, said Alisha Stubbs, a resident who helped organize a solidarity walk at the end of May. “This keeps happening,” she wrote in an email to The Free Press. “Hate is rampant in our community.”
In an interview, Stubbs pointed to various anti-Pride incidents during the last few weeks, some of which she and her family experienced.
Just last weekend, she said, a group of teens were captured on her home surveillance video speaking about ripping down the Progress Pride flag on their front porch. One of the teens had attempted to intimidate Stubbs’ husband, Clayton, Stubbs added.
A few days later, a few people showed up at her doorstep — and then took to social media — to voice their opposition to the LGBTQ-plus community, she said, adding they described Stubbs as “an angry lady.”
“I’m super angry,” Stubbs said. “I’m angry that people don’t feel safe in our community … and, one can imagine, that they have not felt included in this community.”
Like Stubbs, her two young daughters — ages 7 and 5 — have difficulty understanding why others in the community are not inclusive. “Quinn, our youngest, said, ‘Why do they hate in their hearts? Why are they taking down the flags?”
Stubbs, a social worker who teaches at the university level, hopes to get others on board to combat the hatred through education and kindness. She’s helping to organize a “kindness and compassion tent” on July 8 and 9 at the annual Norwich Nostalgia Days festival, where volunteers will sell “hate has no home here” signs.
Norwich is one of several Southwestern Ontario towns that has become the target of anti-LGBT-plus hate in recent weeks.
Oxford OPP are investigating after a rainbow crosswalk in downtown Ingersoll was vandalized at the end of May. Police have not made any arrests in connection to the incident.
Perth County provincial police also are investigating after several Pride decorations recently were damaged or removed in North Perth and Wellington County between June 4 and 12.
Friday, an Oxford police spokesperson said officers are probing an incident in Tillsonburg, where thieves slashed the pride flags at a local business and left the owners a hateful letter. “When I came into work on Tuesday, the pride flags were not in the places they were put on the fence,” said Kelly Spencer, owner of Indigo Lounge and Wellness Centre.
The flags had been slashed, punctured with holes and defaced with what Spencer believes was mud, she said. Even more alarming, though, was the letter left behind in a sealed plastic bag that was tied to the fence.
“It said awful homophobic slurs and told me, ‘If you continue to support these (people), what happens to these flags will be an allegory of what will be my home.’”
“I was heartbroken,” said Spencer. “I’ve been open for 11 years. I’ve always made it well known that I welcome all walks of life,” she said.
But in the last few days, the community — from Mayor Stephen Molnar to residents and other businesses — has rallied behind her. “It’s just been an outpouring of love and support.”
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press