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Victory on Church Street: Love not hate makes our city great

By: 
Carolyn Egan

September 30, 2019

With the rise of right wing groups in many areas of the country the LGBTQ community in Toronto  showed exactly how to confront them and win. An evangelical preacher, David Lynn, who is known for his homophobia, called a demonstration to march through the heart of the community with slogans emblazoned on t shirts “Make Canada Righteous and Godly Again”.

He had previously been arrested for shouting out his bigotry on the corner of Church and Wellesley Streets provoking strong reactions from local residents and passers-by. The intent of the march was to intimidate a community that has been fighting against oppression for decades and has won many battles in the past. This attempt to drive people back into the closest and to create a climate of fear was not going to go unanswered.

The call went out and hundreds gathered on a rainy Saturday and marched south on Church taking up the entire roadway. With large numbers coming out, the intent was to block the street and not allow the bigots to enter the “gay village”.

For years it has been seen as a safe place where people could come together in bars, restaurants, clubs and a community centre. Many young people travelled to Toronto wanting to live their lives as they will, and saw it as destination where they could connect with others to find services and camaraderie.

Gathered on the street were veterans of the bath raids demonstrations in 1981, the fights for same sex benefits and equal marriage along with trans and queer youth, some of whom were on their first march. As one older activist said to me, “They march. We march. It’s the only way to defeat them!”. These are lessons learned from many years of fighting back against oppression. 

Union flags were in the midst of the confrontation which lasted for hours. Trade union activists have been on side for years bringing the weight of the labour movement to the fight for liberation.  As the hours went by more reinforcements came and there was a clear resolve that “they will not pass”. The mood was upbeat and determined. There was a strong sense of the power of many and the fact that allies joined the stand off was very well received.

The placards created for the event stated, “Liberation in Our Time-We Are All in This Together” a strong message for collective action and a vision of what is possible if we fight back as one. Banners stating “Stop the Hate” and “Unite Against Hate:  Not in Our City” lead the way. As the afternoon wore on, finally the bigots knelt, prayed and walked away. Victory was ours and a huge cheer went up.

The rally turned and triumphantly marched back up Church Street to the cheers and applause of those In the apartments that lined the route. Service workers in restaurants and bars came out and congratulated those who had rallied to defend the Church and Wellesley community. The action built real solidarity.

The lesson is clear, when one community is under attack everyone must be there to defend it. Those who participated gained real confidence that in unity there is strength. This is the type of broad action that is required when right wing bigots show their faces and try to divide us one from another. It was an important victory.

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