Last Updated: 23rd June 2009, 11:33pm
When Kim O’Neil left her home for work last Wednesday, she didn’t look back.
If she had, she would have seen the ugly images and obscenities that had been spray-painted across her car and along the wooden fence in front of her Guy Street home in Kingscourt.
It was a few hours later, when O’Neil’s partner, Laurie Wagar, contacted her at work to tell her what had occurred, that they realized they may have been targeted because of their sexuality.
O’Neil and Wagar are a lesbian couple. The crude drawings of penises, O’Neil is certain, were meant to demean them.
“We both were upset,” said O’Neil. “I was angry. I was out here freaking out, screaming.”
A Kingston police report confirms that the incident is being investigated as possibly hate-crime related. Insp. Brian Begbie told the Whig-Standard yesterday, however, the motivation remains unclear since similar graffiti turned up on nearby First Avenue Public School a couple of days later.
A crime analyst with the city police has matched the paint with other graffiti around the city, and has compared the painting styles and the signatures. Police are hoping to make an arrest soon and determine the motive.
“We won’t know until we speak to the parties that did it,” said Begbie. “We have no idea why they picked the target they did.
“Whether it’s a hate crime, that’s certainly something we will consider.”
Several times over the past few years O’Neil and Wagar have called police to complain about verbal abuse from neighbours but, apart from issuing warnings to stop, no charges were ever laid. Other incidents, such as the time someone threw raw eggs at their house, weren’t even reported by the couple.
“There’s a lot of homophobic stuff,” O'Neil said. “It seems like we’ve been targeted.
“The police said because we’re a lesbian couple, the penises and stuff, it seems like we’ve been targeted.”
O’Neil and Wagar are also considering going a step further and hiring a lawyer to file a complaint with the provincial Human Rights Commission.
Members of Kingston’s gay and lesbian community say that, for the most part, the city is a safe place but that homophobia is a daily reality they face.
“I have felt that it is one of the safer communities in eastern Ontario,” said John MacTavish, executive director at HIV/AIDS Regional Services, “but we are still hearing stories like this.
“It means we have to pay attention to homophobia because it is there.”
MacTavish said the Guy Street incident is of concern because it involved an invasion of personal space.
“I can’t imagine being these two women and having this happen at my home,” he said. “I would tell the police to do your job — if it’s hate, charge them.”
MacTavish said it may be time for Kingston Police to bring on board a worker to act as a liaison with the local gay community.
O’Neil said it’s partly because of police ineffectiveness in being able to deal with their years of complaints that they’ve contemplated going to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Begbie said Kingston police “certainly take any complaints that are hate-motivated very seriously.”
Marney McDiarmid co-authored a recent study, the Kingston Area Men’s Project, that backs the notion that the city is mostly tolerant of homosexuality but she said the focus group discussions with gay men made it clear that people also expected a certain amount of homophobia. “Sometimes you are going to get yelled at going down the street.”
O’Neil said she’s never had problems in her daily life.
“A lot of my friends have been bashed since they were younger. I never really experienced that. I guess I don’t look the type. It’s either the feminine males or butchy females who get targeted,” she said.
McDiarmid said that public acts of aggression and hatred can sometimes be the catalyst for change, citing an incident several years ago when the neighbours in the McBurney Park area rallied in support of a man targeted by racist taunts.
At a high school in Nova Scotia students put on pink shirts to rally behind a boy who was called gay for wearing a pink shirt to class.
“That’s really where all the gay pride parades came from,” said McDiarmid. “People took to the streets and said we’re not ashamed and we’re going to advocate for ourselves.”
She said the Guy Street incident could touch off a similar show of support.
“Something like that response (would be) really good. They should show solidarity with that couple,” said McDiarmid.
This week, the fence markings are painted over. O’Neil said they were too offensive to stay there any longer.
“With this graffiti it’s not only us it’s hurting. There are kids all around who have to walk by. Kids are seeing this,” said O’Neil.
“This is not good for the neighbourhood.”