Steven Townsend was walking his dog along 118 Avenue when he saw the first one: ”Repent! The sin of homosexuality will destroy Canada.”
It was a leaflet posted at a bus shelter, filled with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric backed up with selective Bible verses.
Townsend, a Parkdale resident, immediately tore it down. “I guess I was just surprised to see it up in the neighbourhood, considering I’ve only had good experiences,” he said. “In itself it isn’t a hate crime, but it could incite people and it’s a symptom of a bigger problem.”
Janis Irwin, another Parkdale resident, saw these leaflets at bus stops all along 118 Avenue, and a few on 95 Street. She also heard of some placed on Jasper Avenue.
She spoke with the police. “They asked [me] to file a police report for evidence in case it does escalate.”
She said she worries how these messages affect vulnerable young people.
“I’m glad that I came across them first, and not some young kid struggling with [his or her] identity. It would just be another punch in the gut. It’s only words, but it’s not acceptable in our neighbourhood.”
Townsend’s concern is that LGBTQ people who need help might be reluctant to reach out.
“I sit on the Sexual and Gender Minority Police Liaison: we work to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and the police force. Mediators say sometimes people aren’t comfortable going to police, especially if they come from another country, or is one of the older gay guys who went through bathhouse raids. They have a big distrust of the police.”
Rev. Canon Travis Enright of St. Faith’s Anglican Church was made aware of the materials.
“The first thing is: [this person] is misinformed. The imperial Christianity is a very moralistic way of looking at the world. When we look at people and say that Jesus said we can hate them because of Scripture, that’s missing the point. When I see that, I don’t see incarnate love.”
The anti-gay messages that refer to those Bible verses also don’t take into account the context of those passages. If you were to read further down, it isn’t as much a condemnation of particular sex acts as it is of using the body in a demeaning way. Certainly, it isn’t a justification for bigotry or discrimination, and he said that the history of doing so is something all Christians need to reckon with.
“I think hate is still pervasive, since the Crusades, since the residential schools. We have a desire to make idols of ourselves. Residential schools is an example of morality gone awry, that we tried to define the image of God. We need to keep reading: we are not to judge. I don’t think that’s the way the Bible should be used.”
Enright said he hopes the person responsible for these posters does some soul-searching and finds help.
“I would tell them, stop! Go on your own healing journey. Self-righteousness is the biggest challenge. There’s a call to be more. Do an examination of your own sexuality.”
Cheryl Sheppard, spokesperson for EPS, confirms that the hate crimes unit is aware of the posters. If anyone sees anything out of the ordinary, call the EPS complaint line at 780.423.4567 or #377 on mobile, and an officer will follow up.
Featured Image: Steven Townsend found one of these pamphlets on 118 Avenue. | Steven Townsend