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Saturday, July 13, 2024
Pride and prejudice sparks anger: Flag vandalism turns Virgil woman into advocate
Liz Pilzecker, left, stands with Sheri Durksen outside her home in Virgil. The pair are speaking out after Pride flags were vandalized on Durksen's property. RICHARD WRIGHT
Liz Pilzecker, left, with Sheri Durksen at her home in Virgil. The pair are speaking out after Pride flags were vandalized on Durksen's property. RICHARD WRIGHT
Sheri Durksen of Virgil can't believe someone would remove and destroy a Pride flag she had in her front yard. The 60-year-old has doubled down and will fight the hate with increased exposure. She's ordered several new flags for her property. RICHARD WRIGHT

Sheri Durksen says she won’t be silenced.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake resident is speaking out with a message of solidarity, love and acceptance after vandals repeatedly damaged and removed Pride flags from the lawn of her Virgil home over the span of a few days.

“You can’t just be quiet, watch or give lip service but not do anything,” said the 60-year-old grandmother and retired social worker, who lives at the corner of Homestead Drive and Line 1.

“It is up to us, who aren’t directly involved (in the LGBTQ+ movement), to check the other people in our lives or in our communities who are perpetuating this and say, ‘It’s not OK.’ ”

The story begins with Durksen waking up on the morning of July 1 to a knock on her door from someone she didn’t know.

Liz Pilzecker, a professional pet sitter from Old Town, told Durksen that she had been driving past her home the night before after feeding a client’s cat in Virgil and noticed someone had damaged the small Pride flag on her front lawn and thrown it into the middle of the street.

Pilzecker picked up the flag and attempted to return it, but with Dursken and her husband out that evening, no one answered the door.

While explaining this Durksen the following day, Pilzecker pulled out a new Pride flag that she had personally ordered on Amazon and offered it as a replacement for the one that was vandalized.

That was so kind and nice, said Durksen, because she hadn’t yet noticed it was missing.

Upon inspecting the damaged flag, it appeared to her that someone put it on the pavement and spun the tires of a bicycle over it repeatedly.

“Which is kind of consistent with what a neighbour had told me, that a bunch of teenagers had been hanging around near the corner (of her street and Line 1),” she said.

Pilzecker, who moved to NOTL eight years ago from the GTA, said she was motivated to inform Durksen of the vandalized flag and replace it because she didn’t want the residents of the home to think Niagara-on-the-Lake is a hateful place.

“I wanted to show them that there is love in this town,” she said.

“I don’t get it. I just don’t,” she added.

“For me, it has never been an issue that someone’s orientation would cause that much hate. I don’t fathom it. I wasn’t raised that way.”

Durksen put the new flag on the original flag’s stand and returned it to the small flower bed at the end of her driveway, hoping that was the end of the story.

It lasted a couple of days.

On the evening of July 5, vandals returned and removed the new flag, stand and all.

A neighbour then pointed out the stand near the sidewalk across the street, but the flag that had been replaced by Pilzecker was gone. 

Furious and determined not to have her beliefs and support of the LGBTQ+ community censored, Durksen doubled down.

“So when the flag was destroyed originally a few days earlier, I thought, ‘Well, if people have an issue with a small Pride flag, I guess I just have to give them more exposure.’ ”

The second incident put her into full-on Pride exposure mode.

Durksen fired up her computer and began ordering several small pride flags and one large flag for her porch and adorned the front of her house in the bright colours of the rainbow.

But her efforts will not stop there, she said.

“I have a couple more flags with stands coming from Amazon and I have some solar spotlights,” she said.

She is going to group several small flags together and shine lights on them, “so people can see them at all times, day or night.”

“I am hoping that this will make it harder for people to come and vandalize or steal them. And it will also make them more visible 24 hours a day because apparently that is what we need.”

Dursken said she has seen first-hand how hate and intolerance can hurt those it is directed at.

She knows people who suffered in silence and feared speaking out, enduring incredible sorrow and feelings of isolation as a result.

“I have some older family members who, well after they were into their 40s and after they had children and had been married, their whole lives had been destroyed because they were never allowed to be who they were when they were younger,” Durksen said.

“We have put the onus on the gay community to be the ones to advocate for themselves and to fight all of these prejudices and for the creation of laws so they can have equality in our society.”

“I don’t think that is fair.”

Yes, she added, people do need to fight for themselves.

“But people around them who aren’t directly affected by these inequalities, we need to step up and fight on their behalf — to fight with them.”

She didn’t report the incident to police but hopes that speaking out will make a difference.

This was the first year Durksen decided to become so vocal and visible in her support of the gay community, co-ordinating her efforts with Pride Month, which is held in June every year.

But it won’t be her last and it’s likely she won’t only limit her efforts to Pride Month.

She’s not one to put signs of any kind on her lawn, including political ones, “but this year I thought it was time.”

“I just hear people talking, even just anecdotally, and I feel there is a backlash,” she added, recalling the rash of vandalism incidents perpetrated against the Pride crosswalk in Old Town last summer.

“I just feel we are moving in the wrong direction. I feel people need to stand up and step up.”

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