Store owners at the Village of Fenelon Falls, Ont. are making it known that there is no place for hate and bigotry in their community.
Along with a message on the mandatory use of masks inside Fenelon Falls stores, the sign reads “this establishment does not accept racism, homophobia, or any form of hatred towards others.”
“I think it’s a really positive stance that a lot of businesses are behind, because of the things that are going on in Fenelon,” said Robyn Barton, co-founder and marketing specialist at Barton Creative Co., and the person who designed the sign.
The signs were requested to be made by owner of Country Cupboard Health Food Store Julia Taylor, following an incident that shook the Fenelon Falls community on Tuesday.
On Tuesday around noon, staff at Grr8 Finds Market on 27 Colborne Street welcomed a man into their antique and collectibles store, who began to ask about the Pride shirts displayed at the front of the store.
After store owner Randy Meredith offered the man an array of sizes and colours, things took a turn for the worse.
“That’s when he started saying that a gay lifestyle was a sin, and that we’re all going to hell,” said Meredith.
Meredith and another member of his staff are openly gay. Their shop flies the rainbow flag 365 days a year. When Meredith informed the man of this, he says the man uttered an an extremely derogatory anti-LGTBQ2 slur over and over again.
“To myself, and to a lot of people within the gay community, it’s one of the baddest words that you can be called, and it does start with an ‘F,'” said Meredith.
“Its something that cuts deep like a knife, when somebody actually says it to you.”
Meredith said the incident continued to escalate, and the man was asked to leave the store several times before he finally did.
Hours later as the store neared closing time, Meredith said three pickup trucks pulled up at the front. The drivers stood outside, Meredith said, in what he says was an effort to intimidate the staff.
According to Meredith, when one of the employees left the store, one of the pickup trucks followed her for blocks. Meredith said the police were called, and by the time they arrived, the trucks had left.
“It literally broke my heart,” said Barton. “I couldn’t believe that something so disgusting was happening in our community. It literally brought me to tears.”
The City of Kawartha Lakes OPP confirmed in a Friday press release that it was investigating allegations of slurs being subjected to employees at a Fenelon Falls business based on their sexual orientation.
OPP could not confirm to Global Peterborough whether the incident was being investigated as a hate crime, a hate incident, or a bias-motivated crime. However, a member of the OPP detachment did say an offence has to have taken place for it to be deemed hate/bias.
According to the Department of Justice, OPP defines a hate/bias crime as “A criminal act against a person(s) or property that is based solely, or in part, upon the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.”
Meanwhile, a Facebook post detailing the incident was posted by the store’s page, and has received 1,900 reactions.
The following day, a rally of support was organized by the local community outside of the store.
“There was about 70 of us, just circled around, waving flags, and trying to make sure that they knew they were loved,” said Ashleigh Leonard, a Fenelon local who brought along her four kids, with a chalk board that says “Love is Grr8”.
Leonard’s children are regulars at Meredith’s store, always looking to buy candy from the store. She said she learned about the rally through a text message from a friend.
She originally thought it was just a regular Pride parade, but when she arrived, she found out what happened.
“We just want (the LGBTQ2 community) to know that they’re loved and welcomed, and that hate is not welcome in our town, and we just want them to feel safe here,” said Leonard
“We came to (Meredith’s store) because we didn’t want him to feel sad because people were bullying him,” said one of Leonard’s children.”We want him to know that we love him just the way he is.”
“It was heartwarming, and I fully expected it,” said Taylor. “I think that’s how Fenelon Falls rolls. We show up,”
Now, Taylor is giving out the anti-bigotry sign to stores who want to display it. She said the demand’s been high.
“We’re giving out that sign so everybody that visits out establishments knows that we don’t tolerate racism or homophobia,” said Taylor. “We’re not gonna have that kind of business in Fenelon Falls. You’re safe and welcome here, and if anybody messes with the Fenelon Falls vibe, we’ll show up.”
Barton said that storefronts displaying the sign are “a really clear platform” that show how shop owners “feel people should be treated.”
“Myself, my business partner, and our business are 100 per cent behind (Meredith),” said Barton. “We don’t support any form of hatred, whether it be gender, race, whatever it might be.”
Meredith said he’s been ‘very overwhelmed’ with the positive response from the community. While he said he and his staff can never fully let their guard down, he said they will continue to be ‘loud and proud’ about their identity.
“We have to be in a point where we don’t live in fear, because that is not living,” said Meredith.
OPP said they are working to identify the man from the incident on Tuesday, and are asking anyone with information to contact police or Crime Stoppers.