Community shows support for hate-targeted shop

Around 200 people gather in solidarity after businesses suffered homophobic attacks.

THUNDER BAY — About 200 people rallied at sunrise Friday in an outpouring of support for a Thunder Bay cafe that reported two homophobic attacks on its business.

Attendees sang, waved signs and rainbow flags, and enjoyed rainbow donuts and coffee while mingling for over an hour.

It’s a display that Bay Village Coffee owners Gary Mack and Alan Forbes called overwhelming — and a positive sign of how far the community has come in supporting the LGBTQ community.

“I think that makes a really strong statement that we’re not going to tolerate that kind of hate in our community,” Mack said. “It’s hard enough in these times – let’s just love and support each other.”

The rally came in response to a letter the company received condemning homosexuality, pointing to biblical passages and suggesting a stone thrown through the store window earlier this year was an expected consequence.

Forbes said he was personally moved by the love expressed for the couple and their business on Friday, but more concerned about sending a message to others facing homophobia.

“What’s important is to show anyone who might be in trouble that this behavior exists, but it’s not accepted by this community,” he said. “This community says no.”

Mack called the letter “abusive and hurtful,” but said feelings were clearly dominated by community support.

“It just shows that these people are very much in the minority and…it sucks to be them, sorry,” Mack said.

Christian leaders including Bishop Fred Colli of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Thunder Bay and Archdeacon Deborah Kraft of St. Paul’s Anglican Church have expressed support for the store, with Kraft challenging the Christian community to present on Friday.

That call was heard by attendee Elisabeth Gesch, who said the letter received by Bay Village Coffee “goes against everything Christianity stands for.”

“I’m here today to show my support and just to let it be known that not all Christians hate homosexuals,” Elisabeth Gesch said. “Many, many Christians are very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and we absolutely do not support the hate letter that was sent.”

Political leaders, including Mayor Bill Mauro and MPP Judith Monteith-Farrell, were also present Friday.

For Mack, the outpouring of love and support is proof of a real change in the culture of Thunder Bay.

“We grew up in Thunder Bay and it was not a gay-friendly city at all,” Mack said. “For us to have a successful business, to be celebrated by the community, to have people contacting us like that from all walks of life – Thunder Bay, I think, has changed dramatically.”

That doesn’t mean the community can rest on its laurels, he said.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” he said. “If people can shoot us like that, what about people who have less social power?”

“We want to be able to stand here so the kids watching, the people trying to figure each other out can say, you know what? It’s okay to be who we really are, just be ourselves. If everyone were themselves, what a beautiful world it would be.

A number of young people and children in the Friday crowd seemed to appreciate that message.

Rowan Fawcett, 12, woke up at 6.30am on a PA day to attend the rally.

“I’m transgender and this stuff means a lot to me, so I wanted to come support it,” they said. “I think it’s really great that they’ve turned something that was very negative into something positive where the community can come together.”

With files from Leigh Nunan, TBT News.

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