A symbol of pride destroyed in Canada’s “most beautiful little town”


Paris, Ontario street scene

Paris, Ontario is proud to be one of Canada’s most beautiful cities.

A pride rainbow crosswalk that crosses the busiest streets of Paris, a small Canadian town just over an hour’s drive from Toronto, took one night to be painted with charred rubber. Was the rainbow a bridge too far for the town, or did a new era of progressive politics force Paris to change its stripes?

Dotted with Carolinian foliage, church stees and cobblestone buildings, Paris proudly wears the informal tagline “Canada’s Most Beautiful Little Town.”

It’s one of dozens of smaller Canadian communities that are gaining in popularity as people abandon big cities during a pandemic.

Nathan Esalington, 39, who leads the festival of pride in Paris, calls the city “literally the epitome of Canada.” It is a rural area near the city center and is close to a large indigenous sanctuary.

He was excited when the rainbow crossing passed 10-1 before the council.

However, his uplifting feeling was short-lived. There are several reports of vandalism at rainbow intersections elsewhere in Canada.

Damaged pride pedestrian crossing in Paris

Damaged pride pedestrian crossing in Paris

Last year, in Elgin County, about 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Paris, two young men were charged with mischief after spinning their tires across a rainbow intersection.

In Aurora, 160 km north, police have committed mischief for vandalism (including spray painting) at another intersection.

So Etherington says he knew something might happen to the people in his town.

“I had already passed it [the vandalism] It even happened, “he says.

Placing an intersection on one of the busiest roads in Paris was risky, says Etherington, but he says “symbolism is important.”

“It’s really a pedestrian crossing-it’s a symbol of the debate that needs to happen,” he says.

Police have confirmed that they are treating the vandalism in Paris as a “mischief” and are seeking some clues.

The intersection has been destroyed and repaired twice since it was installed last month.

The idea for a pedestrian crossing came from David Bailey, Mayor of Brandt County, who publicly campaigned for gays.

Bailey, a lifelong resident of the municipality, says he still remembers his teenage years, “when we were hiding, we went to the club through the back door and threw eggs at us.” ..

Nathan Etherrington

Nathan Esalington Leads the Paris Pride Celebration

In Canada, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969.

“When I was 16 and I was” illegal “in my country, I was trying to understand life in a small town. I really wanted to stay there, but I knew it unless you left. , You couldn’t be yourself, “Remembers Bailey.

“And now I’m the first publicly elected gay mayor in Ontario,” he says.

(Jim Watson, mayor of Canada’s capital Ottawa, revealed that he was gay in 2019 after spending much of his adulthood in public office. Canada’s first openly gay parliamentarian was in the 1980s. It went public in the second half.)

Bailey says he is wondering if he was elected 10 years before his appointment in 2019. “My time was now,” he says.

But today he says, “There is no homophobia about Brandt County.”

“Few people always throw rocks at everything and don’t like change, but Paris and Brandt County have come a long way.”

Paris is tackling a new blood influx, exacerbating the decades-long gap between long-time locals and those who want to change.

Bailey says his municipality sees changes in diversity among residents beyond sexual orientation.

“The faces of Paris and the county will change dramatically over the next few years,” he says.

He says it won’t be easy for the municipality to accept all the changes. “But they will accept it … because they are healthy, healthy and friendly people.”

Esalington was born and raised in Paris in a “very right-wing Christian, Pentecostal” family, and when he was a kid, “I didn’t have a place to support or feel comfortable.”

When he was working at a fast-food restaurant at the age of 20, customers called him a homophobic slur.

“I went to the back room and cried for about 30 seconds. Then my anger was taken over and I returned to the front window. I said, to you.”

“And that was when he got out of the car and threatened to beat the sunlight from me. His wife stopped him.”

However, Etherington has felt a change in the tide of Paris since the incident almost 20 years ago.

Recently, he feels openly fully supported as gay. This is something about Brandt County, “it’s worth preserving and protecting,” he says.

Rainbow flag of a house in Paris

Local support for Parisian pride

In the aftermath of vandalism, the Facebook community group (a pandemic answer to the city hall) has become a hot topic.

One person posted that the children they care for, who equate with the LGBT community, said that seeing the rainbow crossroads “made their day.”

“It has an overwhelming effect on all hatred because one young man knows that he has something that you have never grown up with,” says Etherington.

He contacted about 18 people who commented that their pride sign had been stolen from outside the house.

“We had to develop a vandalism strategy … so far, I was able to replace all the signs people reported,” he says.

The reaction in Paris was overwhelmingly one of the sympathies. Some local churches, businesses and individuals have already volunteered enough to repair the pedestrian crossing many times.

No one liked the idea of ​​a pride-colored pedestrian crossing on a busy street.

Local mechanic Justin Quarters, 29, claims that “the easiest place to destroy was just looking for trouble.”

The principal of the elementary school, Ronda Garnier (52 years old), lives in Paris with her partner Kathy Garnier (55 years old).

Initially, Ronda also questioned having rainbow crossing, thinking it was just a look when compared to something like helping a underfunded helpline or support group.

But after the vandalism, Ronda changed her mind.

“It served as a really great barometer for Paris, which allowed hatred to appear on the surface and be beaten, and to draw lines in the sand,” she says.

Ronda and Kathy Garnier

Rhonda and Cathy Garnier were initially skeptical of the intersection, but now support it.

Ronda says the Parisian community has been welcoming her with open arms for the past decade, but she “every day wonders if something will happen when she leaves home.”

Kathy says every morning she checks to see if their “love is love” sign is still in their yard, or if someone has destroyed their property.

In 2019, police reported 263 hate crimes targeting sexual orientation across the country, according to Statistics Canada, the Federal Bureau of Statistics. This is an increase of 41% from 2018.

This was the largest number of hate crimes targeting sexual orientation dating back to 2009.

However, Kathy describes the perpetrators in Paris as follows:

Bailey says the person in charge is probably uneducated and stressed by the pressure of the Covid blockade in the state.

Ronda agrees.

“Do you hate those who pollute it? No-I think they are stupid,” she says. “It’s no longer who we are.”

“Sometimes I think the last dying breath of hatred comes out at these moments, and I choose to believe it is this.”

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