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Jamie Berardi and Bram Zeidenberg founded the Lakeshore Villages' LGBT Community to help create a queer-friendly neighbourhood.Vandals defaced one of the alliance's stickers on the window of Community Roots used bookstore. IMAGE 1 OF 2
Lakeshore Villages' LGBT Community hopes to create a friendlier neighbourhood
To say that Jamie Berardi and Bram Zeidenberg are proud of their bachelor pad in the Lakeshore Villages is an understatement. The small apartment is painted in bright yellows and purples, the walls adorned with prints of things they both love: the Toronto city skyline, Marilyn Monroe and a Lindsay Lohan movie poster. The space is small but cozy and affordable, and the young couple has fallen in love with it.

While their home is inviting, the area they reside in hasn’t been so welcoming.

When Berardi, 21, and Zeidenberg, 24, first moved into the building on Lake Shore Boulevard last August, they experienced an onslaught of what they believe to be homophobic attacks within the neighbourhood. After being pelted with eggs and a beer bottle, verbally harassed and told to take their “lifestyle” elsewhere, the couple was ready for a change.

“We didn’t love the area at first,” Berardi admits. “We were frustrated and we wanted to leave really badly, but with the money we both had, we really couldn’t afford anything else downtown.”

But Berardi says they weren’t ready to leave without a fight.

“We decided that instead of running away and letting these homophobic people win, we would just stay here,” he says. “We’re not going to let people push us out of our area, so we’d just stay here and try to make it better.

“There are gay people in Toronto — it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world — and people just have to get used to it,” Berardi says.

That’s when the couple founded the Lakeshore Villages’ LGBT Community. The alliance, modelled after the successes of Queer West and the Church Street Village, serves to provide a safe space for queer residents in the area through periodic events, open forums for discussion and a partnership with local supportive businesses.

“There are lots of gay people moving in, but there was no sense of community,” Zeidenberg says.

“We’re not interacting with each other,” Berardi adds. “We wanted to change that.”

While Lakeshore Villages has had a relatively large gay population dating back to the 1980s, the Lakeshore Villages’ LGBT Community is the first of its kind in the area. Lakeshore Villages comprises four neighbourhoods — Long Branch Village, Lakeshore Village, Mimico by the Lake and the Mimico Village — that line Lake Shore Boulevard from Twelfth Street to Dwight Avenue.

Established in December, the alliance has more than 100 followers on Facebook. The group’s first event, a meet-and-greet held in gay-owned art store Painty McGee’s, brought in more than 25 queer residents and allies rallying together to stop homophobia in the area.

Berardi and Zeidenberg have also begun to curate an online directory of queer-supportive local businesses.

The alliance has inspired both current and past residents of the area.

“I was truly moved by the passion of the young gay couple who have started this endeavor to break the isolation of the LGBTQ community who live in the west end of the city,” Michael Lamore wrote on the alliance’s official Facebook page. “Had there been a group to go to when I lived out there in the ’80s and ’90s, I may never have moved out of the area.”

Despite the positive feedback, the group has faced scrutiny. In late August, vandals defaced one of the alliance’s stickers on the window of local used bookstore Community Roots. Natalie Lochwin, the storeowner, says someone deliberately scratched the sticker off the window of her storefront.

“I found the incident to be upsetting because it was intentional,” Lochwin says. “Perhaps the vandalism illustrates exactly why the stickers are important.”

Some business owners have publicly denounced the alliance, though no formal investigations on the matter have been conducted.

“The Lakeshore has a lot to offer, but we need to grow and change and come into our own, and proudly supporting our LGBT is a vital part of this,” Lochwin adds.

Berardi and Zeidenberg have high hopes for the alliance, which is backed by Etobicoke-Lakeshore Councillor Mark Grimes, the Lakeshore Arts Council and more than 20 businesses in the area. They hope their next event, a picnic and dog walk along the lakeshore, will be a great success.

“I really believe in this area,” Berardi says. “We both feel like this is a place we can be really proud of. And we’re passionate about making a change.”
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Comments

correction
The neighbourhood is called and has been called since it was an independent town founded as an industrial streetcar suburb in the later 1800s, New Toronto, not Lakeshore Village. Lakeshore Village is the name of the local BIA, not the neighbourhood. I didn't much care for this area either when I first moved here a long time ago now but I've been here most of my adult life and have come to love it. Its my home now, I'm proud of the our history and the diversity of New Toronto. But for at least 2-3 decades now the local BIA has been working to sanitize that history and been fighting against the interests of those who actually live here. The vast majority of the local BIA just arrive in the mornings to work and leave as soon as they can at the end of their day yet they seem to be under the impression they should be deciding for the locals what is best for us. Too often I've heard local BIA members speak with contempt about the area and the people who live here. I've come to despise the local BIA more and more as their efforts focus mainly on their personal convenience driving to and from their stores for the wealthier parts of the city. Why on earth should people who live in area have less say in their day to day affairs than those who own stores in the area but don't live here or even spend their free time here? Of course not all are like that but there's now several stores I refuse to do business with after a friendly chat with the owner lead to their casual, open displays of contempt for the area and most of the locals as if everyone looked down upon us, even those of us who are locals. Yes its a bit of a rough around the edges working class area but I'm working class and a bit a rough around the edges too. I love it that this area and most of the locals lack the pretensions of wealthier parts of the city. Thankfully due to the close proximity of heavy industry it'll never be a condo haven like Mimico is becoming.
So Happy to Hear About This
The moment I saw this, I was so happy, because I live in this neighborhood.

I recently just finished studying at Lakeshore Collegiate, and have moved on to better things, but I'll definitely send this article to the GSA at the school, SQUASSH (Straights and Queers United Against Sexual Stereotyping). Hopefully youth involvement can happen!
West end is sizzling
Yep! The west end of the city is sizzling - Steve Ireson a Church & Wellesley dude, decided Queer West Toronto was a better location, than the Church Street Gay Village for his new restaurant (The Hogtown Cure deli-café). https://www.facebook.com/TheHogtownCure
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