neighborhood watch

Did Toronto’s Neighborhood Parishioners Get Unfairly Tarred As Anti-Gay Street Preachers?

Did the anti-gay preachers from Toronto’s Highfield Road Gospel Hall, who supposedly showed up outside a gay couple’s home to pray their gay away, get a bad rap? Yes — says one of the men living in the targeted house.

Blair Chiasson says he and his partner Paul Collins aren’t victims of anti-gay preachers, as their neighbors (who tried running them out of town, or at least off the block), assumed. “I don’t like how the whole issue is being distorted,” says Chiasson, a civil servant. “Nothing happened. Nothing happened. … I just want this to stop. Stop discussing it. Stop talking about it. It’s really kind of spiralling out of control.”

Online, hundreds of others joined her in condemnation. Prominent U.S. sex writer Dan Savage, who is gay, called the parishioners “Christofascists.” Another gay blogger called them “Christian terrorists.” To Chiasson, however, they are the unthreatening “church people” — and they did not do anything wrong. Chiasson, 45, said he believes Highfield parishioners only choose to read the Bible from a spot near their house because a fire hydrant prevents cars from parking there.

He said the parishioners preached on the street long before he and Collins, 47, arrived 13 years ago. Moreover, he said, he and Collins have never felt personally targeted by the parishioners, have never heard them say anything homophobic, and have not even been present for three years on the summer Sundays when the infrequent sermons occur.

He said the parishioners are “a part of the neighbourhood” with the right to speak freely. The neighbours who confronted them, he said, “overreacted.” “We don’t even know the people that started this,” he said. “So the people who are apparently our defenders, we don’t even know who they are.”

Geoffrey Skelding, who taped the incident and uploaded it to YouTube, says he didn’t personally hear any anti-gay preaching. “I don’t know 100 per cent if it was targeted at the couple. I don’t think that that’s the issue anymore. I think it’s turned into, ‘You know what, I don’t think you need to be spreading whatever message you have the way you did on my street.'”

Levy Okinga and Esther Gordon, two of the parishioners, say their church never targets specific homes and never said anything anti-gay.

So rather than being anti-gay street preachers, this group of faithful are instead just a public nuisance, exercising their First Amendment rights. Fine! But could you at least help clean up all the dog poo the homeowners don’t pick up? That’d be a great help, thanks!