Community rallies against homophobia
When Dean Will felt unsafe in his own home, his neighbours showed him he’s not alone
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
Dean Will says he has been a victim of homophobic harassment and vandalism for the past year.