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Community creates rainbow of support and love in face of anti-gay church message

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Father’s Day was all about love for some 500 sons and daughters from Prince Edward County and beyond who filled the street in front of St. Gregory Catholic Church in Picton Sunday morning. But it was also about inclusion, equality and pride.

The harmonious demonstration in support of the LGBTQ2S+ community was sparked by circulation late last week on social media of the recent church bulletin reminding Catholics and all other Christians not to attend LGBTQ2 Pride Month events “as they promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to the Christian faith and morals. This is especially harmful to children because it could lead them away from God’s revealed Truth…”

The message didn’t sit well with many and sparked Curtis Jeffrey, of Picton, with the idea to hold a peaceful gathering to show the community’s love, support and demand for inclusion for every person.

They wanted to let the church’s priest, Father Robert Chisholm, know that his message was unacceptable and they wanted to let the LGBTQ2 community know it is loved, and supported.

Duarte Da Silva felt the turnout to the last-minute demonstration was amazing.

“Everyone’s showing up, all choked up and teary-eyed and it’s so good to see it,” he said. “It’s important to show support for members of the community and the LGBTQ community in Prince Edward County,” he said. “A lot of people are very touched and feeling verklempt and emotional because of it, and I think that’s what it is living in a small community. We love and support everyone and this is a perfect example of that support here,” said Da Silva.

“We work alongside people in the LGBTQ2 community. They are our friends, they are our neighbours, they are our sons and daughters, and I think there is no place here or anywhere else for any hate speech towards any member of any community, and I think we are showing the support in the turnout we have today.”

Due to the large crowd gathered, it spilled well out onto the street, but Prince Edward OPP, who were asked to attend the event by organizers, blocked traffic to allow the peaceful demonstration to continue safely.

As parishioners entered the church for the morning service, the crowd quickly cleared a pathway, as there was no intent to interfere with anyone entering, or leaving the building. Some parishioners also arrived to church wearing rainbow clothing.

Chalk messages focused on love, were left on the sidewalk in front of the church.

“The biggest thing for me is I don’t want religion to ever be used as an excuse for discrimination,” said Carson Arthur. “Growing up, I wish somebody had stood up for me as a kid, so that’s why I’m here. I’m doing the same and leading by example. I am here, this is my life, my family and I am going to live it in a way that I am proud of.”

The LGBTQ2 community and allies were well represented, standing united alongside straight friends, family and community; every age, sex and gender represented, along with a number of canine friends, several draped with pride flags.

As their numbers swelled, the crowd was vocal but quiet, and polite, and broke into gentle song at one point, while carrying their messages on placards and boards.

Vanessa Pandos created simple, meaningful bracelets from multi-coloured wool.

The colourful event, held under a glorious sunny sky, soon became a sea of rainbow flags, head gear, umbrellas, garlands, capes and T-shirts. Many carried the new ‘Proud in PEC’ poster created by artist Marc Keelan-Bishop. Artist Vanessa Pandos was handing out pieces of multi-coloured wool, and wrapping wrists with the simple, but meaningful bracelets.

Mayor Steve Ferguson, also in attendance, had issued a statement Friday noting disappointment with the critical remarks made by Chisholm.

“We aspire to foster an inclusive and diverse community,” he said, adding full support to the Picton BIA’s installation of ‘Pride’ banners along Main Street, “in order to make the community more visibly inclusive to all visitors, as well as the growing LGBTQ2S+ community in Prince Edward County. Pride Week gives all of us an opportunity to recognize the human rights and dignity of all persons in our community,” he said.

The bulletin was subsequently removed from the church’s website. A few parishioners noted later that Chisholm had “offered a form of apology” at mass, but “without sounding heartfelt, or like he really meant it.”

Friday, Michael Mulhall, the Archbishop of Kingston issued a statement in response to the many telephone calls, emails and messages about the message in the bulletin.

He stated “It does not reflect the spirit of accompanying charity and compassion that should always characterize our faith.”

Meanwhile Chishold had confirmed to media “We’re just promoting Catholic teaching” and he wrote the message “Because as a shepherd, it’s my duty to keep my flock safe.”

Kevin Lockwood said his motivation to attend the gathering was the part in the message that Pride events could be harmful to children.

As a child growing up Catholic, Lockwood heard many shameful messages.

“I heard them from my family, from everybody else in the congregation, from the church, from the Pope, from everybody at the time back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I had to grow up with shame a lot at that time – shame that I still live with today.”

Now that ‘Pride’ is more widely understood, Lockwood feels people “now have a voice to say, ‘that is not right, and ‘this isn’t right’, and that’s why I came down today.”

“I hope kids today will see this and know they are supported and loved. What he [Chisholm] said isn’t right because words affect kids when they are that young and impressionable.”

After several peaceful hours, and a short parade down Church Street, the demonstration ended outside Macaulay Heritage Park as participants hugged, and slowly dispersed.

Lockwood described the outpouring of support as heartfelt.

“This is huge for a small community and there are a ton of straight allies, and that’s what I love. It wasn’t just people who are gay that were here. I did this 30 years ago when it wasn’t cool to be gay and I felt a little awkward about it, but I knew it was right, and just seeing this today makes it. Yes, this is the way things should be.”

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  1. Marc says:

    Thanks to County Live for the most accurate description of what this event was like. It was a joyful occasion.

  2. Maty says:

    I live in the United States but when I visit family I have attended St. Gregorys church. I am so proud of Picton for tbeir Christanity and love. God certainly had a smile on His face!

  3. Richard Carruthers says:

    A beautiful peaceful event brought together by Curtis Jeffery. Thank you to everyone who attended in body or in spirit for your support, making PEC inclusive to everyone who calls The County home.

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