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Oh Canada! Neighbors Drive Gay Married Couple Out of Ontario Town

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Nov 28, 2007

A gay married couple say that they were forced by anti-gay locals to flee their home in a small Canadian village.

Terry and Ryan Hamilton had only lived in Bothwell, an Ontario village, for six months when, they say, they were forced out by the antipathy of a group of villagers, The Chatham Daily News reported (link: www.chathamdailynews.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=794176&auth=ERICA+BAJER).

The story was also run in the London Free Press (lfpress.ca/newsstand/CityandRegion/2007/11/28/4691059-sun.html).

The couple say that their property suffered vandalism, including shrubs being uprooted in their yard and a decorative pond being destroyed, as well as the words, "Die fags" being spray-painted on their home.

During a 9-hour loss of power, they say, locals ran around their house shouting anti-gay threats and rapping on their windows as the couple took refuge inside with a rake and a hoe in their hands.

Said Ryan Hamilton, "There was no way we could stay, we were suffering such tremendous hate crimes."

Added Ryan, "They were doing everything they could to make our lives a living hell."

The Chatham Daily News reported that the couple, who were married in 2005 under Canada's legislation allowing gay and lesbian families access to marriage equaity, called in more than 30 incidents of vandalism, threats, and mischief to local police.

Police Chief Carl Herder said, "The phrase, 'Die fags' was spray painted on their front door."

Continued Herder, "That certainly would fall within the definition of a hate crime under the criminal code."

The couple's troubles began early last June and continued up until they finally abandoned their rented home this month, leaving Bothwell for Chantham.

The men said that in addition to the spray painted hate message and the vandalism to their yard, their vehicles also suffered damage.

The couple also said that they were subject to anti-gay slurs and threats; at one point, Ryan said, he was accosted while driving, being verbally abused by men occupying a pickup who then threatened him with a tire iron and pursued him down country byways until Ryan took refuge at a farm house and called for the police.

"He would have beaten me to death," said Ryan.

Continued Ryan, "He was a homophobic redneck."

The policeman who responded to Ryan's call followed after him to see him home safely, but the police were not always courteous or concerned, the couple said, citing the night of the power outage, when the responding officer dismissed the men's concerns, saying that he had the rest of the village to protect.

The memory of that night, late last month, has stayed with the couple.

Ryan characterized the experience as "the most horrible nightmare," saying, "It was like rabid dogs running around the house."

Said Terry, "We figured they were coming through the window that night."

Terry continued, "That was the scariest night of our lives."

That was the night on which the hate speech was painted on the couple's door. Terry said that the people attacking the house were also yelling threats and slurs, including the phrase, "Die, faggots!"

The Chatham Daily News interviewed various people around the village about the Hamiltons' claims, and heard unsympathetic reactions.

One woman told the newspaper, "I think they made a lot of their own problems" because, she said, "They didn't just stay there and live like a normal couple."

Added the woman, "Sure something did happen to them, but was it as bad as they said?"

Continued the woman, "I've lived here all my life and I don't know anybody who was treated as bad as they say they were."

The woman said that the men talked constantly about their woes, and cited a lesbian couple who have lived in Bothwell without any problems.

John Dingman was quoted by the article as saying of the Hamiltons, "They were a nice set of guys," but Dingman echoed the opinion that the couple invited problems.

Said Dingman, "They were all about their gay rights and that."

Added Dingman, "They didn't have to keep on harping on it."

Dingman continued, "They were trying to force themselves too much."

Another villager told the paper that he did not know the Hamiltons personally, and his opinion was that whatever their difficulties, the Hamiltons were not targeted for being gay.

The man said he thought the couple was trying to create a stir, and speculated that they were looking to create a situation and then exploit it with a lawsuit.

The couple said they were, in fact, thinking of pursuing a complaint against the local police. Said Terry, "We were being terrorized, and they did nothing."

Terry added that "the terror of not having the police there for you" was as acute as that created by the attacks against them, and said that he now suffers from nightmares and paranoia, and has had to go into counseling.

The couple had lodged a complaint with the mayor of the village in mid-October, which prompted the village police to action. Herder said that he had re-opened a number of the men's complaints, assigning an officer to look into them. However, said Herder, the police had not ignored the Hamiltons' calls; said the police chief, "We had done quite a bit prior to that complaint," such as watching over the Hamiltons' house, meeting with the men, and dealing with the incidents as hate crimes.

The force's media relations officer, Sgt. Gary Conn, told the paper that police kept an eye on the Hamiltons' home for two consecutive nights, and that every incident was reported, with suspects being interviewed. However, despite all these efforts, Conn said, a lack of evidence prevented any charges being brought.

Said Conn, "All citizens have the right to live free of any form of harassment."

Conn also told the paper that the investigations continue, and noted that the crimes have no statue of limitations.

The Hamiltons said that while they did not keep their married status a secret, they did not flaunt their sexual orientation. Said Ryan, "People just thought we were disgusting and wanted us out."

In the end, the couple did move out, with financial assistance both from government and from a private GLBT organization, the Chatham-Kent Gay Pride Association.

The paper reported that the men had expressed relief to be away from Botham and were finding life in Chatham to be much more pleasant for them.

Even with their experience behind them, the Hamiltons wanted their story known, the article said, so that the wider public would be aware, Terry said, "that this still goes on in this day and age."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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