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Police investigate alleged hate crime in Gay Village

Toronto Police are calling a recent late-night assault in the Gay Village a hate crime, stoking concerns the neighbourhood is no longer safe.

Ryan Lester, 30, was kicked in the face and called “faggot” while getting a post-bar snack at Mehran Restaurant on Church St. early Saturday Jan. 22. His 24-year-old brother, Ben, suffered has deep bruises on his back and had to go to the dentist to repair a broken molar.

The beating comes on the heels of allegations that local students have been hurling slushies, ice and homophobic slurs at residents in the Gay Village.

Lester said he used to have a sense of security in the Gay Village but the recent incidents have him on edge.

“I thought of it as an inherently safe space. If you have a problem with gay people, you just don’t go there,” Lester said.

Eoin McManus, 21, and Benjamin McCall, 21, both of Toronto, have each been charged with two counts of assault and one count of mischief after breaking the restaurant’s front window.

Toronto Police Det. Chu Chang categorized the attack as a hate crime.

“There were homophobic slurs and other derogatory comments being made. The victims did not provoke them in any way and all of a sudden they were assaulted,” Chang said, adding that in his year and a half at 51 Division, it’s the first time he has categorized a case as a hate crime.

Toronto Police recorded 174 hate crimes in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Twenty six of them were related to sexual orientation.

Lester said the taunts began as soon as he walked into the restaurant with his brother.

“I think they thought we were together and they started in with the usual homophobic slurs. It was definitely ‘faggot’ and ‘queer’ and ‘homo.’ They were laughing to themselves,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Paul Winsor was singled out by a group of students who soaked him with two slushies. The 49-year-old dodged a chunk of ice as he chased them toward the school in the Gay Village. Winsor ran into a friend shortly after the attack who had been targeted with ice and called ‘faggot.’

The “slushie facial” is a popular form of bullying on the musical TV series Glee. Winsor told the Star he thought the attack was “general hooliganism.”

However, Lester suggested the slushie attack could be a “gateway crime” to more violent attacks. Community activist Enza Anderson called the students “teens of terror” and has organized a Feb. 9 meeting to discuss what she describes as a rising number of homophobic attacks.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, Ward 27 councillor, said the attacks are alarming.

“It could be perhaps coincidental . . . But we should never take any of this lightly,” she said.

She encouraged victims to “speak up and report incidents when they take place” so that if there is a problem the community can craft a solution.

“Is (the Gay Village) a safe and welcoming place? Absolutely. Do we have a rampant problem or hate crime? I don’t think so,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t have isolated incidents . . . We can’t actually help unless we know.”

It’s a message Lester stands behind. He used to ignore homophobic taunts but after he was jumped he’s heard of other troubling homophobic incidents.

“People have told me things I can’t even believe that have happened to them in the village — that I think they just ignore too as, almost, common play.”

Tags: canada, crime, lgbtq / gender & sexual minorities

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