Com­mu­nity ral­lies against ho­mo­pho­bia

When Dean Will felt un­safe in his own home, his neigh­bours showed him he’s not alone

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO AREA - LAURA HOW­ELLS STAFF RE­PORTER

Dean Will fears for his life.

A gay man liv­ing with AIDS who is also legally blind, Will has faced a year of ho­mo­pho­bic ha­rass­ment, van­dal­ism and an as­sault.

“This shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing,” said Will, who lives in a Toronto Com­mu­nity Hous­ing build­ing near Dan­forth Ave. and Main St. in Toronto’s east end.

“What I worry about is my phys­i­cal safety, be­cause I can’t see if some­one’s com­ing at me. I’m vul­ner­a­ble, par­tic­u­larly at night.”

Will said his trou­bles be­gan last sum­mer, when an un­known per­son re­peat­edly took down his Pride flags and wrote “f-g” on his front door.

Later, he said, a neigh­bour be­gan ha­rass­ing him by re­peat­edly call­ing Will “f----t,” as well as throw­ing garbage and cig­a­rette butts on his steps.

Will was at­tacked last month when an uniden­ti­fied man as­saulted him, punch­ing his face as he walked down the street. His Pride flags were taken down again this month. “There’s no other explanation for this,” he said. “It’s be­cause of my sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.”

Will has filed mul­ti­ple com­plaints with Toronto Com­mu­nity Hous­ing. It of­fered him other places to live, but he doesn’t want to leave. “This is my home,” he said. “Why should I leave? I haven’t done any­thing wrong here.”

Bray­den Ak­ers, com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­viser with the hous­ing cor­po­ra­tion, said they are do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to help Will.

“All our tenants de­serve to feel safe in their homes and we take these al­le­ga­tions very se­ri­ously,” he said in a state­ment, adding they are look­ing at in­creas­ing the num­ber of se­cu­rity cam­eras on the site.

Will ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with how long it has taken Toronto po­lice to follow up af­ter the as­sault. Af­ter po­lice re­sponded to the al­leged May 18 at­tack, Will said he didn’t see a de­tec­tive un­til June 9.

“I feel it wasn’t taken all that se­ri­ously,” he said. “You al­most feel like this guy’s ex­pend­able, like I don’t mat­ter.”

De­spite this, Will says he is grate­ful for the sup­port of com­mu­nity mem­bers. There was a rally to show sup­port last sum­mer, and Mayor John Tory gave Will a call to ex­press con­cern.

When news of Will’s con­tin­u­ing or­deal spread to Face­book last week, a flood of neigh­bours and com­mu­nity mem­bers rushed to ex­press anger, of­fer sup­port and pledge money. Michael Rusek quickly or­ga­nized a small rally on Fri­day, where he pre­sented Will with a new rain­bow flag on be­half of the com­mu­nity. “We just want to make Dean know that he’s not alone,” said Rusek, co­or­di­na­tor of the Dan­forth-Wood­bine Com­mu­nity Group.

Rob MacNeill has never met Will but came to the rally with his part­ner, David Ri­ley, to meet their neigh­bour and show sol­i­dar­ity.

“We were fight­ing these things 40 years ago,” said MacNeill, 59. “It’s re­ally kind of dis­heart­en­ing that I’m still do­ing this 40 years later.”

Roughly a dozen peo­ple at­tended Fri­day’s event, in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Toronto po­lice and the prov­ince. “I wish ev­ery gay per­son had this, be­cause not ev­ery­body does,” Will said. “There are peo­ple out there who have it much worse than me, and I think about them.”

Const. Jon Morrice, a crime pre­ven­tion of­fi­cer with Toronto po­lice 55 Di­vi­sion, con­firmed in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the al­leged as­sault and theft of the flags re­main open. The hate crime unit has been no­ti­fied. Po­lice are ap­peal­ing to the pub­lic for in­for­ma­tion.

A flood of neigh­bours and com­mu­nity mem­bers rushed to ex­press anger, of­fer sup­port and pledge money

RENÉ JOHN­STON/TORONTO STAR

Dean Will says he has been a vic­tim of ho­mo­pho­bic ha­rass­ment and van­dal­ism for the past year.

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