Homophile Association centre targeted
By Michelle Demeyere
Gay-bashing may have reared its ugly head in London last Thursday as a handful of men vandalized the community centre for the Homophile Association of London Ontario.
"It was 3 a.m. when some neighbours heard yelling and the sound of things breaking," said Dan Wilson, chair of the political action committee for HALO. "They saw five big guys throwing rocks and waving sticks."
The damage of the vandalism is estimated at $10,000. Five windows were broken on the upper floor, the lattice kicked in, electrical panels damaged and air conditioners were ripped out and overturned, Wilson said.
"Considering we have bullet proof glass windows, they must really have been using a lot of force," he added.
Sgt. John O'Flaherty with the London police, said the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.
"London is pretty conservative. We have very few of these hate crimes, but that doesn't mean we're not immune. We have to be vigilant to make sure these kind of crimes do not happen again."
According to Wilson, the recent vandalism was not an isolated case of homophobia. HALO has rocks tossed at the club once every few months. However, this has been the worst assault in ten years.
"It's like we live in a beautiful suburban town with everyone politely cutting their lawns and yet there's a darker undercurrent here," Wilson said. "We have to accept we're a city of diverse people and we need opportunities to spread a message of tolerance not hate."
One such opportunity is scheduled for July 3-12, London's Gay Pride Week. Along with some speeches and entertainment, the annual pride march is set for July 12. HALO has staged Gay Pride Week in the past but the organization is waiting for an official proclamation from the city for this year's events.
"I suspect mayor Haskett will declare the proclamation a conflict of interest, as she has done in the past, and remove herself from the decision-making process. But I don't think we'll have any problems with Council. They'll grant us the civic recognition as a gesture of good will," said Wilson.
Russ Monteith, a member of London's Board of Control said a meeting on Wednesday saw the Board of Control make a unanimous recommendation to council to make the proclamation official.
"Ultimately the decision rests with the council. I heard some mixed feelings this afternoon but I anticipate it will pass. For some councillors it will mean carrying out the Human Rights Commission's ruling, for others it will be the start of a healing process. Personally, I think we should put the past behind us and recognize HALO as part of the community," he said.