By Jenn Watt
Published June 22 2016
Prettypaws Pet Boutique and Spa owner Christopher O’Mara has been feeling the warm support of the community following news that his downtown Haliburton business was vandalized with an anti-gay slur on Tuesday evening.
By lunchtime on June 22 O’Mara had received 122 comments and more than 13000 people viewing his Facebook post about the graffiti – all offering kind words and solidarity.
“I’ve had more clients and friends in the last six hours [call me]” said O’Mara on Wednesday morning as he continued with the job he loves trimming the fur of one of his client’s dogs. “I definitely appreciate the number of people who have stopped in and called.”
Whoever decided to deface the building did so in broad daylight on Haliburton’s busiest street.
“I left work at 4 o’clock yesterday and I went to my parents’ house for dinner. I came back to bath my own dog at seven and I’ve got ‘fag’ spray painted on my window” O’Mara said.
He called his mother to ask for her advice on how to get paint off a building and she came to help him clean up. He also called the police to have them document the incident.
“This actually caught me off guard because I never had a problem like this in Haliburton before” he said. “Overwhelmingly Haliburton is a very inclusive community and the LGBT community here is very strong so it kind of surprised me when I got here last night.”
Passionate responses have been rolling in steadily since O’Mara posted online.
“Love wins. Everyday. Everytime. No matter what” one post says.
“ I’m so sorry you have encountered the ugliness of bigotry in this way. But I’m also heartened by the outpouring of love and support” writes another.
Fellow business owner and neighbour Colby Marcellus of Baked and Battered came over first thing Wednesday morning with a coffee for O’Mara.
“I’m proud of our community for the way it rallied around Chris and I hope the individual or group who are responsible for the vandalism know just how angry and offended so many folks are” Marcellus said in an email to the Echo. “The response demonstrates just how caring and supportive our community really is. We are much bigger and kinder and braver than a bit of spray painted bigotry.”
“That’s what Haliburton actually is” O’Mara said. “That’s what our business community actually is.”
And the business community has continued to react to the vandalism.
The BIA executive committee voted last week to provide Safe Zone stickers and posters to businesses to display in their windows. BIA president Luke Schell says there will be plenty available to pick up starting Tuesday June 28.
The posters declare the business a safe space for those who visit.
Marg Cox executive director of Point In Time in Haliburton has been doing work in the community to increase awareness of LGBTQ issues and to cultivate acceptance and inclusiveness.
She said she was saddened by the news and thinks it indicates that more work needs to be done.
“It makes … our organization more committed than ever to continue to promote greater understanding and inclusion particularly for the LGBTQ+ people in our community” she said.
She called on local community leaders politicians members of the faith community and others to take a stand against homophobia and towards inclusion in general.
Cox pointed out that the more inclusive a community is to all people the stronger it will be.
“The more we’re supportive of everybody the healthier everybody is” she said.
Point In Time has worked with other groups in the county to organize several LGBTQ events including the most recent Kate Reid concert held at the Haliburton Curling Club. The fundraiser drew a large crowd and provided an example to young people of the support network that exists.
A partnership with the Haliburton County Public Library has led to the Rainbow Collection of materials which can be found on the library’s homepage.
And this summer Paddling With Pride a dragon boating group made up of members of the LGBTQ community and allies will be meeting on Thursday evenings to have fun and build community.
To get involved with any of those activities Cox encourages people to call Point In Time at 705-457-5345 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
O’Mara said he hopes his experience can reignite discussion around inclusion and acceptance.
“I think it’s really important to keep having a conversation about inclusiveness. When we stop having that conversation this is what happens” he said.
O’Mara has owned Prettypaws for nearly three years and said this is the first time he’s ever had a situation like this in Haliburton.
“I refuse to let one bad thing affect me [after] having three years of awesome fun here. We really do come to work and have fun” he said.