By Darren Lum
About 80 people showed their support for Evan Natale who endured verbal homophobic harassment from a neighbour by joining the Walk with Evan on Wednesday July 22 in Harcourt.
Organized in a few days by his mother Debbie Natale as well as Wayne Beker the walk started at Evan’s home led by an ATV as a traffic escort followed by Evan wearing a rainbow mask friends and several horseback riders from South Algonquin Trails. Some people brought young children. Many in the group had small rainbow flags.
Debbie smiled as she looked at the group gathering for her 18-year-old son before the walk began. Some came from around the corner others from nearby communities of Highland Grove and Cardiff and others from as far away as Belleville. Barrie and Toronto.
“I’m loving this. The more people we can reach today the better and let this go viral because this is going to help so many people not just Evan” Debbie said. “This is going to help people far and wide.”
Ella van Gent of Cardiff who learned about the walk on Facebook compared Evan’s situation to bullying.
“Everybody should feel comfortable and accepted in a community. If you’re going to be out there and uncomfortable in your own surroundings that’s no life. Everybody has a right to enjoy their life and to be part of an embracing community” she said.
Debbie said she was happy about the support they received.
“We’ve never had to rally the troops like this so it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful to see that it’s not just our little community that’s come together. It’s everybody. Obviously this is a bigger problem for all these people than we knew. So this problem is much bigger and it needs to be stopped. It needs to be dealt with.”
“Yeah it’s 2020” Evan said. “We shouldn’t have to be doing this to prove a point … I’m extremely happy to know I have this much support if need be.”
Elite Canadian curler and Highlands East cottager John Epping was among the dozens who came to the walk commending Evan and Debbie for the effort.
“A lot of it is just about being educated more on LGBTQ [issues] and you know for me I’ve always been a big believer in spreading the message of kindness and I think that is so key … especially with everything we’re facing right now in the world” he said. “A little bit of kindness isn’t that hard. It goes a long way and I want to spread that message for Evan and show the kindness that this community [demonstrated]. It’s more about what this community did for him today and I feel awful and sorry he had to experience this.”
Epping who came out as gay to friends family and curling peers several years ago was with his husband for the walk wearing the same rainbow flag with a maple leaf in the centre as was held by participants leading the walk. He said he has faced harassment because of his sexual orientation. He said it could be the beginning of an annual event and could inspire other small communities to do something similar.
Epping said the importance of the event was greater than the impact in Harcourt.
“It’s not just big for this community. It’s big for Ontario. It’s big for Canada. It’s big for the world to see you know this happening. It doesn’t matter how big the size is of the [group of] people that show up it’s just important to see support and in a small town a small community to see so many people coming out that’s all that really matters. It doesn’t matter how big the area is or the city is” he said.