As tens of thousands participate in Pride parades, community meals, church services and family events across Atlantic Canada, a single anti-LGBT protester has reappeared in uptown Saint John.
The red SUV towing a trailer with a large sign with Biblical quotes and anti-pride slogans was spotted on King Street on Thursday evening.
Saint John Pride president Michael Cummings said this is “at least the third year” the individual has towed the sign during Pride events. In previous years, “the police were involved and told him to go home,” Cummings said.
“Neighbours were yelling out their second-storey windows at him to get off their block, and his views were not welcome here.”
On Thursday, John Hanson shot a video of the vehicle that was shared widely on Facebook.
The driver “was an older white man in his 50s or 60s,” said Hanson. “His windows were kind of tinted. He looked straight ahead the whole time.”
Hanson said he watched the vehicle circle around Charlotte Street and King Street before posting the video to social media. Although there’s a danger of giving anti-LGBT rhetoric “more attention than it deserves, this kind of thing needs to be called out whenever we see it,” he said.
“I can see it inciting violence against somebody. Anti-gay people might come out and say, ‘well this guy is doing it, so I can do something too.’ On the other side, people who are upset about it might also lash out.”
Not hate speech
Sgt. Jim Flemming of the Saint John Police Department said the wording of the sign is sufficiently vague that it does not violate the law.
“The only time that it crosses over into what we commonly call hate speech is where there’s a public incitement of hatred,” said Flemming. “It really comes down to whether they are going out and inciting people to take action on those beliefs.
“We’ve dealt with [the protester] before, and typically it’s such a small group or just one individual that nothing is said, the parade goes on, and that’s the end of it.”
Flemming said Saint John police have been working with Pride organizers to intercede “in case of any arguments or breaches of the peace.”
Members of the Saint John Police will also be marching in the parade as private citizens, he said.
According to police, the mayor’s office received a complaint requesting that police keep vehicles with that type of signage off the street.
“While we can’t do that, if anyone wishes to lodge a formal complaint we would certainly accept that,” Flemming said.
‘Love is love’
The protest, Cummings said, has “zero effect” on the community.
“He’s kind of like that oddball distant relative who may or may not show up at the annual family picnic — but everyone’s so focused on their own kids and their happiness that he just comes and goes in the background, mostly unnoticed.”
The LGBT community is winning, he said.
“People who share his views are dwindling,” Cummings said of the lone protester. “There is room for God in the LGBTQ+ community. Love is love.”