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HomeWorld NewsCanada newsSpate of homophobic vandalism puts southern Manitoba LGBTQ community on edge

Spate of homophobic vandalism puts southern Manitoba LGBTQ community on edge

For Jessi Ingalls, this weekend’s Pride parade in the southern Manitoba city of Morden was supposed to be a celebration. 

But after having a Pride flag ripped from the home she shares with her partner and two children last weekend, she says she’s now going to Saturday’s parade as an act of defiance. 

“It’s definitely more of a protest. It’s not so much a celebration,” she said Friday. 

“It’s more of ‘we’re here and we’re not going away, and you need to either learn to love and accept that or be quiet.'”

The tearing down of Ingalls’s flag overnight last Saturday is one of several acts of homophobic vandalism in the Pembina Valley region, as Morden — a city of just over 9,000 — prepares for its second ever Pride parade, following one in 2019.

A person holds a white grommet for a flag.
Jessi Ingalls says this is all that is left of the Pride flag that was hanging outside her home in Morden. (Submitted by Jessi Ingalls )

A van, two Pride flags, and a church have all been vandalized recently in Morden and the nearby city of Winkler.

The day before her flag was torn down, Ingalls said she was having a yard sale when someone working for a political campaign showed up and tried to start a debate.

“I asked him to leave after explaining that they’re hurting people. And then that night, overnight, our flag was ripped off.” 

The following day, a van that belonged to a friend in Winkler, which had been decorated for Pride, was spray-painted with a homophobic slur, Ingalls said.

A van decorated with colourful handprints in rainbow colours.
This van, decorated for Pride celebrations, was vandalized with a homophobic slur in Winkler. The van is pictured here before it was vandalized. (Submitted by Jessi Ingalls)

“She’s got five kids, and they have to drive around with that van like that, when it’s supposed to be spreading love and kindness and acceptance.”

And on Wednesday, rainbow-coloured decorations outside St. Paul’s United Church in Morden were torn down and left in the street. 

The church’s minister, Carrie Martens, said she was expecting something like that to happen — so the church bought extra supplies.

The exterior of a church with rainbow coloured ribbons taped along two columns by the entrance.
The Pride decorations at St Paul’s United Church in Morden were also torn down shortly after they went up earlier this week. However, the church’s minister, Carrie Martens, said in anticipation of that, she bought extra supplies. (Submitted by Carrie Martens)

Red, purple, yellow and green plastic ribbons are crumpled in a ball on the ground.
Rainbow coloured decorations outside St Paul’s United Church in Morden were torn down and thrown in the street. (Submitted by Carrie Martens)

Unfortunately, these acts of hostility aren’t new to Martens, who identifies as part of the queer community. During Pride month last year, Martens says she fielded an angry phone call over a rainbow flag in the church’s window “indicating that I was leading my congregation to hell.”

But in recent months, it feels like that anger is growing, Martens said. 

“We’ve been just noticing that there’s this gradual incline in anti-rainbow [LGBTQ] rhetoric going around the community.”

Acts of hostility 

CBC News has contacted the Morden Police Service to find out whether it is investigating any of the incidents but did not receive a response before deadline on Friday.

CBC has also contacted the Manitoba RCMP for the same information.

Morden Mayor Brandon Burley said he’s aware of the incidents, and he and his council have extended their support to the local LGBTQ community.

He’s planning on walking in Saturday’s parade along with other members of city council. 

“We’re not going to allow our rainbow community to suffer that intimidation,” said Burley. “Council is squarely in the corner of the rainbow community, and we have their backs.”

The incidents in Morden come on the heels of other acts of homophobic vandalism in Manitoba and beyond in recent months. 

There have been various reports across Canada of LGBTQ and transgender flags being stolen, damaged and even burned. 

Last month, a Pride flag was stolen from a Winnipeg school just days after several books that covered LGBTQ and Indigenous themes were taken from a teacher’s classroom.

A woman is walking among a crowd of people holding a rainbow coloured fan and waving.
People march in the Winnipeg Pride Parade last Sunday. Amid reports of increased hate, the federal government said this year it would provide emergency funding to help Pride festivals across Canada ensure security for their events. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Amid reports of increased hate — including 2021 Statistics Canada data that found a 64 per cent rise in hate crimes related to sexual orientation from the year before — the federal government said this year it would provide emergency funding to help Pride festivals across Canada ensure security.

People who talked with CBC about the latest incidents said they worry the current political climate could be contributing to hostility against the LGBTQ community in southern Manitoba, especially with a byelection this month in Portage-Lisgar — the federal riding that includes Morden and Winkler.

It’s all left some members of the community feeling on edge, said Peter Wohlgemut, president of Pembina Valley Pride, which supports LGBTQ people in the region.

“Some people quite obviously are feeling unsafe or feeling rather targeted,” Wohlgemut said. 

“It’s violence directed against our community.… That is very concerning and makes people wonder, ‘am I safe in my community?'”

Feeling unsafe 

Ingalls said the vandalism at her home has left her shaken. 

“I moved here and I expected this to be, like, my forever home. I have two kids and we raise our kids here. They go to school here. We contribute to society the same way everybody else does,” she said. 

“To not feel safe because somebody came onto my property and took something while my kids were sleeping in the middle of the night, it doesn’t give us a lot of security anymore.”

Still, she said she feels encouraged by the level of support she’s seen in the community. 

“If you drive through Morden and Winkler right now, there’s more Pride flags hanging from houses than we’ve ever seen,” she said. 

“People are going out and buying it specifically just to show support and show that this isn’t how our community normally is. This is not how we raise our kids. This is not the community that we want for each other.”

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