I grew up in that neighbourhood in the sixties and seventies, in a building not 500 yards from where the rally and march began. The cluster of high- and low-rise apartment buildings, perched above the Don Valley, is home to tens of thousands of people many of whose children attend the largest K-5 school in North America. Many locals worship at a nearby mosque nestled amongst numerous stores and restaurants that serve Halal products.
Languages most commonly spoken other than English at home are Urdu and Gurarati in the predominantly South Asian community. The neighbourhood has been at the centre of controversy over Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, back in 2012. I've blogged previously about Jawed Anwar, an area journalist and activist, who has since founded an independent masjid, an Islamic school.
One of the first things I noticed was the now-familiar messaging. At the urging of a man with a megaphone, periodic chants of "We Say No!" rose up from the crowd. This was also the refrain February 24th parent protest at Queen's Park, and at ill-fated information session held on March 14th at Agincourt Collegiate in Toronto's northeast, which was hosted by area Liberal MPPS Bas Balkissoon and Soo Wong.
As I took up a position near the library and watched the crowd swell, a man approached me. "Are you here with us?" he asked. I explained that I was there to observe; whereupon he began to explain the purpose of the protest. He looked at me expectantly as he pronounced the curriculum unsuitable for children.
"I actually agree with the curriculum," I began, "but I'm here to get a sense of why some parents object to it."
Thus began the first of a few awkward silences silences between us.
He told me he believed the government was trying to legalize homosexuality and same-sex marriage, prompting me to ask the obvious: "How would they go about legalizing something that's already legal, and why?" He went on to explain that this curriculum would cause more people to act upon homosexual impulses.
He expounded upon his belief that homosexuals were "born that way" -- something I had not expected to hear. But then, he continued, because they are sick -- something I had expected -- their rights should be protected, and the government should do everything it can to cure them. He pronounced that homosexuals were born with a hormonal abnormality which they must be taught not to act upon. Thus the curriculum would prompt people to act upon an illness they cannot control.
It was my turn to stand in stunned silence as his analysis had no legitimate scientific basis and -- I'm almost certain -- no Quranic basis either.
He asked if I had children.
"One grown son," I answered, knowing we were warming for the big question:
"What would you think if your son told you that he liked boys?"
I told him I would be fine with it because I love my son. Then I explained that my late father had come out as a gay man in seventies -- this was in 2004 -- having known since he was a little boy. My then thirteen-year-old son was unaffected by his grandfather's announcement. "We both loved my father just the same. Is there something wrong with that?"
Yes, at this point I was challenging him.
Ignoring my question, he shifted awkwardly from his "born that way" argument to talking about "choice" and the "homosexual lifestyle." I was starting to blow a little hot but kept my voice even when I said this:
My father was born in 1930 when no one even talked about homosexuals, and there was certainly no sex education, let alone gay rights. But he figured out very quickly that if anyone found he was gay, he could face violence or even death, unemployment, loss of family, criminal prosecution and forced psychiatric treatment. Who would actually choose that?
We stubbed out our cigarettes, and he strolled over to chat with an organizer who was about do a live segment with a reporter from CP24. He seemed to glower at the reporter, arms folded, as she questioned the spokesperson. The reporter Tracy Tong's report is here, with files from Joshua Freedman.