Uptown rally confronts issue of intolerance

“The specific acts of discrimination are not what we’re here to discuss,” Krysta Williams stressed to the large crowd assembled in Uptown Waterloo on Saturday afternoon. “That we feel discriminated against is enough to bring us here.”

Williams, a local aboriginal woman was among those who spoke about the struggles that groups such as queer individuals face as more than 100 members of the community gathered for a rally on local issues of discrimination.

The rally was organized as a response to the recent allegations of homophobia against two student patrons at Café 1842 at the Heuther Hotel on King Street.

Laurier student Jenny Kirby and her girlfriend Zoey Heath were asked to leave the café after the owner deemed a kiss between the two inappropriate. Though the owner, Sonia Adly, has stated that asking Kirby and Heath to leave had nothing to do with their sexual orientation, the queer community saw a need for greater understanding between themselves as well as other minority groups, and other Waterloo residents and businesses.

“We were quite appalled that this kind of discrimination continues to exist in our community,” said Evan Coole, one of the event co-ordinators. “So we decided to take the issue up and provide a unified voice against homophobia, discrimination and hate.”

Though the rally was initially meant to draw attention to homosexual, queer and transsexual issues, other marginalized groups were present as well and left the impression that the rally was intended to promote acceptance in a broad sense, rather than simply for a single group.

Among the others addressing the crowd was Tahbit Chowdhury, who spoke about recent attacks on a nearby mosque, and the intolerance that local Muslims can face. Len Carter, a member of Waterloo’s labour council, also discussed employment discrimination against queer individuals.

“I’m impressed with the turnout … it’s a nice crowd and a large, supportive crowd as well,” said event organizer Terre Chartrand.

Chartrand noted what those assembled meant to accomplish and stated, “The way I’ve put it is that things in [the] Waterloo Region are swept under a carpet; it’s gotten to the point where the sides of that carpet don’t touch the floor anymore, there’s so much that’s been swept under it.”

“Between homophobia, racism or any kind of hate speech, that sort of thing happens a lot in this community and nobody talks about it openly,” she said.

“This event is about taking that carpet and getting all the dirt from underneath it so it can lay flat again and we can start clean.”

Before the group separated and marched north up both sides of King Street towards the Heuther Hotel, where the issue of intolerance recently emerged and sparked protest and discussion leading to the rally, Kirby and Heath, the couple at the center of those events, addressed the crowd.

“Emotions have been running high on both sides. All we have to say out of this is that we experience homophobia on a daily basis,” said Heath, when she explained the situation the couple has faced.

“We were never angry, and I don’t see this as an angry crowd,” she added.

After marching along the street chanting, the group reassembled on the sidewalk in front of the Heuther and engaged in a ‘kiss-off’.

As the crowd dispersed, Heath noted, “I was really frightened about what would happen today. [The response online] was a little shocking but the turnout today was awesome so it doesn’t matter now.

“It’s not just necessarily continuing the momentum on what specifically happened to us but just being visible.”

Despite everything that has occurred during the past two weeks, Kirby looked back on the events in a positive light.

“It was positive in the sense that it got people talking and made people realize that these issues do still exist and it’s time to stop ignoring it and do something about it.”