A Pride crosswalk defaced in small-town Ingersoll, east of London.
Several Pride flags stolen or vandalized days earlier in the rural township of Norwich, about 30 minutes southeast of there.
Are the recent incidents in Oxford County a reflection of a broader anti-LGBTQ+ issue in the region?
“It does set a foundation, I think, for people to support that type of rhetoric and propaganda, unfortunately,” said Tami Murray, president of Oxford County Pride Committee. “But in all rural communities, these are some of the challenges that we face.”
If anything, she added, the Oxford community has come out stronger in support of Pride because of it. “It has mobilized more positivity for the 2SLGBTQ+ community — certainly, for Oxford County.”
The events spurred a similar response from the mayor of Ingersoll, whose town of nearly 14,000 was subject to vandalism at a newly completed Pride crosswalk downtown overnight Saturday.
“Every town has graffiti. I don’t think this is as much a hate directed towards it, except for maybe a lack of something to do and a lack of responsibility at that moment,” Ted Comiskey said.
He added he doesn’t believe the actions of a few individuals reflect the spirit of the community. “I just feel that it’s someone who’s decided that they would cowardly deface something and feel that they’ve made a point.”
Oxford OPP are investigating after the vandalism at the rainbow crosswalk — an emblem of inclusivity for members of the LGBTQ+ community — at King and Thames streets in Ingersoll about 1 a.m. Sunday, police said. No arrests have been made as of Wednesday.
A surveillance video released by police shows a person exiting the passenger side of a dark red vehicle parked at the intersection, just moments after two cars pass from the opposite direction. The individual runs onto the road, dumps what is believed to be white paint onto the crosswalk and re-enters the vehicle to flee the scene.
“Sickening” was the word Comiskey used to describe his reaction to the incident. “I’m so disappointed in something like that happening.”
The incident came days after a 16-year-old Norwich resident was charged with two counts of theft under $5,000 after police said several Pride flags were stolen and vandalized in the township from May 20 to 24. Investigators are looking to identify others involved in the offences.
“The OPP’s priority is public safety and want everyone to know that we take all investigations seriously and will follow up on any leads that we obtain,” Oxford OPP Const. Patti Cote said in an email Wednesday. She added that police are increasing “officer visibility” in the Norwich community to reduce criminal activity.
When news broke of the incidents, an outpouring of community support came flooding in for Murray, with hundreds of emails and stories of gratitude, she said.
A solidarity walk of about 50 people in Norwich was held Monday, while donations to help replace the Pride flags continued to roll in as Pride month kicked off Wednesday.
While some Oxford politicians have spoken out against the recent acts of hatred, Murray said she hopes more will continue to be a voice and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.
With diversity, equity and inclusion expanding across the county, she’s encouraging “leaders to use their voice appropriately and accordingly to make sure that our communities are safe for everyone.”
Echoing that sentiment, Comiskey said, “Everyone has the right to become the best version of themselves.
“That’s what we have to bring home,” he said.
Anyone with information about the incidents is asked to call OPP at 1-888-310-1122.
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press