Hundreds of people gathered in front of Hamilton city hall on Saturday for a peaceful rally in support of the city’s LGBTQ2 community.
The “Hamilton For Who?” rally was organized by Pride Hamilton and a number of other community groups in response to violence at Hamilton’s Pride event last month, as well as alleged hate groups gathering in the city hall forecourt every Saturday.
Cameron Kroetsch, secretary-treasurer of Pride Hamilton and chair of the city’s LGBTQ2 advisory committee, said there was a wide range of people taking part in Saturday’s rally.
“It’s a demonstration of what it means to take up space,” said Kroetsch. “This is a wide coalition. It’s not just Pride. It’s Environment Hamilton, it’s the Hamilton and District Labour Council, it’s organized labour, and all kinds of other allies coming together to say, ‘Hey, this space is a public space, and it’s a space that should be safe and everyone should feel happy to be here and celebrate who they are.'”
The atmosphere in the forecourt during the event was peaceful, with musical and spoken word performances, a kids’ activity area, and a social media selfie station.
Another group called “Camp Chaos Gays” set up tents in the forecourt for the duration of the weekend as a separate and more politically-focused presence alongside the other event. The group calls for the release of activist Cedar Hopperton, who was arrested for allegedly violating parole with anti-police remarks at an LGBTQ2 community discussion days after Hamilton Pride’s June 15 event.
Several Hamilton city councillors attended Saturday’s rally, including Ward 1’s Maureen Wilson, Ward 3’s Nrinder Nann, Ward 8’s John-Paul Danko, and Ward 9’s Brad Clark.
Clark acknowledged that there’s been a rocky relationship between the city and its LGBTQ2 community since the violence at Hamilton Pride.
“What I’ve been saying to my colleagues is that we need to acknowledge that there’s a different perspective,” said Clark. “We’re seeing it as governors of a city, and we’re not experiencing that hatred. And we’re not experiencing the things that the LGBTQ community were upset about.”
“So we have to sit down with people and hear their perspectives on what’s been happening in their lives. And we have to do it in a safe way. So it has to be done away from cameras, away from audio equipment. There doesn’t need to be the police present. We can consult in a neutral area and hear what’s really going on, and from that, we’ll start to get a better perspective as to what’s happening in our city and how we can start to mend it and move forward together.”
Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko echoed those sentiments.
“I think communication’s certainly been a problem. I think as a council, we need to learn from this,” said Danko. “I think we need to dig deeper and learn about some of the long-standing sensitivities that vulnerable communities that are in our neighbourhoods, that are in our cities have, and learn from this.”
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Hamilton police directed the handful of Yellow Vest protesters who showed up on Saturday to stand on the north side of Main Street.
Although there were no physical confrontations, there were some verbal remarks exchanged between Pride supporters standing on the city hall side and the group on the north side.
Clark said he’s received emails from people involved in the Yellow Vest movement who claim they are not members of a hate group, but said the record shows otherwise.
“The Nationalist party has been there. The of Odin have been there. All of them are white supremacists. And even the Facebook pages and social media show that the Yellow Vests have veered into hatred and veered into racism, and we can’t allow that.”
Lena Wiklund, who was among the allies standing along Main Street holding signs in support of the LGBTQ2 community at Saturday’s event, said she is new to Hamilton and wanted to get involved when she saw how vocal the hate groups were in the city.
“When we moved here, it was definitely eye-opening,” said Wiklund, who has lived in Toronto and Winnipeg. “I haven’t seen so many people coming out and being so against people’s equality. I mean, it happens in Toronto, it happens in Winnipeg, but this was a big thing and it really opened our eyes. And we were going, yeah, we need to become involved in the community here, because clearly there’s not enough support.”
Hamilton-West-Ancaster-Dundas MP Filomena Tassi was also on hand and said she wanted to show her support for the LGBTQ2 community.
“We want to ensure that Hamilton is a city where people feel safe and secure, and people need to know that everyone is welcome,” said Tassi.
“People have the ability to make their views and opinions known, that’s what a democratic process is, as long as it doesn’t involve hate. But it’s important that everything is done peacefully.”
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