East Scarborough may be recognized for its diverse cultures and acceptance of different races, but tolerance for gay, lesbian and bisexual people is still lacking, say local residents.
Unlike downtown Toronto, homosexuals are less open about their sexuality in Scarborough because there is little support for them, creating an uncomfortable and, at times, aggressive environment, agree those who live here.
Alex MacLeod, 21, is bisexual, but he identifies himself as “straight acting” because he does not appear homosexual he said.
He first came out about his sexuality when he was 14 and subsequently he was met with verbal harassment and threats by fellow students, causing him to switch to a new school here in the neighbourhood.
Since then, very little has changed, he says.
“One woman jumped out of her house and shouted ‘faggots’ and there were people calling out of their cars at us when they drove by. It was pretty bizarre,” said MacLeod, recalling when he once held his partner’s hand in Scarborough.
Such reactions discourage other homosexual couples from publicly showing their affection for one another, said a local resident.
Xiaoping Li, 44, has been with his boyfriend for four years, but they have never held hands in the streets of east Scarborough. They are uncertain and hesitant about people’s reactions.
Li said keeping their relationship private has kept them from being harassed. Only Li’s family and close friends are aware of his sexuality and they have accepted it.
“I do not tell people in Scarborough about my sexual orientation because of the negative reputation it has and the lack of gay establishments,” Li said.
The fact that Scarborough has little support for homosexual organizations and events frustrates MacLeod and Li.
MacLeod says every year there is a Pride event held next to the Scarborough Civic Centre. They have tables set up and local performers, but everyone walks by. No one stops to pick up pamphlets or watch the shows.
The Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgendereds, Queers (LGBTQ) club at the University of Toronto Scarborough offers some positive space.
Jennifer Henderson, 23, is the political coordinator. She identifies herself as queer. She said that the LGBTQ has been helpful to her.
“Unfortunately, there is still a lot of ignorance and homophobia,” Henderson said. “On campus, people take down our posters and make homophobic comments.”
Scarborough needs more visible activities like the Pride Parade in downtown, Li said.
MacLeod pointed out that support is especially important in high schools, and that racism, sexism and homophobia should be attended to immediately.
“It has to be done on a high school to high school basis in order to identify the certain social aspects that make the high school that way [homophobic],” MacLeod said.
As well, education and awareness are the most important tools needed to increase tolerance and respect in Scarborough, Henderson said.