Oxford Pride said community feels ‘unsafe’ after anti-2SLGBTQAI+ rant at council meeting

Rainbow and transgender flags waving in a close-up abstract view during a Pride parade. Getty Images

Oxford County Pride said a business owner’s 30-minute speech at a Norwich Township Council meeting that compared the 2SLGBTQAI+ community with Nazis and people who prey on children is a “slap in the face.”

“(It is) a slap in the face to our very existence as human beings,” said Elizabeth Quinto, a board member of the Oxford County Pride Committee, which represents the 2SLGBTQAI+ community.

Quinto spoke to Global News about how the community feels after a man previously charged with stealing Pride flags gave a 30-minute rant at a Norwich Township council meeting about the 2SLGBTQAI+ community.

“For a very long time, we felt threatened and unsafe to be in that space and unaccepted based on this gentleman’s words,” Quinto said.

Jacob Dey, 47, of Tillsonburg, was charged with theft under $5,000 after a number of Pride flags were reported stolen or vandalized between May 20 and 24 on Stover Street in Norwich Township.

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Read more: Tillsonburg, Ont. man charged after Pride flags stolen or vandalized: OPP

Dey had applied for a citizen delegation to speak at the meeting, arguing against the display of Pride flags by the Township. Each delegate is only allowed 10 minutes to speak, but Dey went on for just over 30 minutes, according to a recording of the meeting posted online.

During what became a 30-minute rant, Dey recited Bible verses and tried to argue against the education of gender inclusivity and sexual identity in schools and Drag Queen Storytime.

“What I’m saying is, this is extremely, extremely destructive to our society. We prey on children,” Dey said.

Among the most inflammatory comments, Dey made during the meeting, which was not stopped, was comparing the support of Pride and the Pride flag to Nazi Germany.

“We can think of the Napoleonic time and also think of the 1930s where artists stood up and started a social movement and got into politics,” Dey said, referring to Adolf Hitler’s rise in Nazi Germany.

“I’m not saying that compares totally to what is happening today, but a movement is extremely, extremely dangerous, and a movement works strictly on a person’s demands.”

Read more: Oxford OPP investigating after Pride crosswalk defaced in Ingersoll, Ont.

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In an email to Global New Oxford, OPP has said it is aware of the meeting and information is being reviewed.

For what they want to see happen, Quinto said the change needs to be seen at the next election.

“The message that we are spreading around the community, that we need to have a plan of action, that that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion,” Quinto said.

“We need to promote in the upcoming municipal elections the progressive city councillors, so that this type of inappropriate town hall scenario doesn’t happen again to give a voice and platform to homophobic opinions.”

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Response from Mayor

Norwich’s township’s mayor is apologizing for how this transpired and said it is “troubling” that it made some people at the meeting feel unsafe.

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“I have to apologize to everybody within the area. I just really feel bad about everything that happened, and it’s done. I can’t undo what’s done, but I can do my best to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Larry Martin said.

“There are some people that went away from that meeting feeling that we’re not safe in our own community now, and that’s very troubling when you can’t be safe, feel safe in your own community.”

Read more: Pride Toronto to conduct weapons checks after ‘increase’ in security risks

Martin said that Dey had made multiple requests to speak to the council and that after consulting with the Township’s legal counsel, it was determined council had no grounds to stop him, so long as he did not discuss his current court case.

When asked why Dey was permitted to speak for triple the allotted time, Martin said it is not uncommon.

“To my knowledge, I have not cut anybody off as a delegation in eight years as the mayor,” Martin said.

“We have a fairly relaxed policy because we’ve never had any problem before. So what we’re going to more than likely have to do is sit down and redefine the policy, I think, and be a little bit more specific as to what is permitted and what isn’t permitted.”

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Another factor Martin said was the overall “tension” in the council chamber at the time.

“There was a very large crowd there, and my fear was what might happen if I decided to curtail the presentation. I was trying to put the health and safety of everybody in the room first and foremost, and it’s quite obvious a lot of them took exception to that, and I understand that.”

Citizen’s group responds to meeting

After the council meeting, Norwich resident Brian Kennedy and around 45 other community members gathered Wednesday night, with others joining online, to discuss what happened and how to move forward.

Kennedy is a part of the Facebook group called Norwich Residents for Love and Acceptance and said some of the members from that group formed a citizens group in response to what happened.

“There was one thing that we could all agree on is that the events on Tuesday were horrific, that we were shocked, that we were angry, saddened by the council’s inability to control the room and to mitigate what was said and to prevent him from the delegate from spewing his hate speech,” Kennedy said.

Read more: Corporates should do more than just ‘rainbow washing’ during Pride: LGBTQ+ advocates

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Having just moved to the community a year ago, Kennedy was a bit surprised at the level of hatred on display.

“I’m privileged, you know. I can say that growing up, the first 32 years of my life, up until this year, I have not had to face many people with these opinions and views,” Kennedy said.

“I was horrified and disheartened to know so intimately that there was this mentality not only in this room, but, of course, in our community. I don’t think I was aware of just how deep-rooted a lot of these myths, this misinformation, and this guidance was in some individuals in our community.”

Moving forward, Kennedy said that the group is working on some things to show how the community can come together to support the LGBTQ2 community and look at how to ensure something like this is not allowed to happen again.

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