Two Orillia Fairgrounds Farmers’ Market vendors have decided to withdraw from the weekly ODAS Park gathering following experiences described as “discrimination” and “hate speech” against the LGBTQ+ community at the market earlier this summer.
Alyssa La Plume, who owns Cap & Stalk Gourmet Mushrooms and identifies as a queer person, said she overheard discriminatory comments from a fellow vendor at the market in Severn Township on July 15.
The vendor allegedly raised concerns about LGBTQ+ people bringing family members or children to Pride events as a means of “grooming them” during a discussion with a customer.
“They were having a conversation about family members going to Pride and bringing kids, and (asking), ‘Why would they do that?’” La Plume told OrilliaMatters. “The tone was starting to sound in bad faith, so I stopped what I was doing to listen, and (the vendor) said, ‘I think that gay people want kids at Pride because they’re grooming them.’”
“I understood right away that what (he) is saying is not only an act of violence and hate speech, but this kind of conversation isn’t appropriate in a public space open to the general public,” she said.
At that point, La Plume said, she confronted the man about his statements before approaching market manager Sophia Siachos about the incident.
“I said, ‘(He) is over there accusing gay people of grooming children by bringing them to Pride, and in this social environment we’ve got going on right now, that exact sentiment is what is galvanizing people to commit acts of violence against the queer community,’” she said.
Initially, La Plume said, a decision was made to move the vendor’s booth farther from hers, which she did not find to be an appropriate solution, and she requested a board meeting to address the issue.
“The problem is not me hearing it; the problem is (him) committing hate speech at the market,” she said.
On July 22, a board meeting took place to address the issue and, after discussion, La Plume said, a decision was made to suspend the vendor for the rest of the season and to prepare a zero-tolerance anti-discrimination policy for vendors to sign.
While the board agreed, La Plume said Jim Jones, who was chair of the board at the time, had strong reservations about the idea. Despite those reservations, she felt good about the board’s decision at the time.
“I thought, ‘Holy crap. We did it. We got them to enact a zero-tolerance policy ... and to write up new paperwork to get the vendors to sign. This is an incredible win. This is great for the queer community,’” she said.
In the following weeks, however, she said paperwork was handed out to market vendors, informing them of the upcoming policy, which sparked anger among some of the vendors.
“They were mad that this market was going ‘woke.’ They were worried that all of this was going to get shoved down their throats,” she said.
La Plume said she received an inappropriate phone call from one of the vendors on Aug. 11.
“He used derogatory statements about queer people, and he told me that he was organizing vendors who want to see (the suspended vendor) come back and for me to be punished for this,” she said.
Three weeks after the board’s decision, La Plume said, the vendor’s company was reinstated, though market officials told OrilliaMatters the man who made the comments was not permitted back on the fairgrounds as part of the reinstatement.
La Plume said some vendors have taken actions against her, including circulating a petition to get the vendor reinstated, and to ensure only certain members run for re-election on the board.
The board election takes place this Saturday.
La Plume and her partner have decided to withdraw from the market.
“It hurts my heart to see this level of opposition,” she said. “We can’t claim to be queer advocates and, as a queer person myself, I cannot in good spirit and in good faith stay in a space that allows this kind of discrimination against my community. We don’t want to be associated with this.”
La Plume is not alone in withdrawing from the market. Jim Clay, from Pivot Coffee, said he is leaving, as well, following the events that unfolded.
“As much as we do really well as a coffee business there, we just ethically couldn’t stay. We just couldn’t do it,” he told OrilliaMatters. “We have a sign on our front arm that says, ‘Hate has no home here,’ and that’s how we feel as a family and as a business.”
Clay confirmed a petition was circulated asking that the vendor be reinstated, and that certain vendors were approaching others to garner votes in the upcoming election following the events.
Orillia Coun. Janet-Lynne Durnford recently went to the market to show support for La Plume.
“I went out of allyship more than anything, and as a human being rather than a councillor, because … we have no jurisdiction as a city council because it’s not only not in the city, but it’s also an independently operated market,” Durnford said.
“I was really disturbed by what I had heard and really upset that something like that is going on in 2023. I was saddened to hear that the vendor has decided to leave the market, but I also understand it’s not a safe space.”
The vendor in question did not respond to a request for comment.
Market board members and Jones declined to comment for this article, though Jones said, “There are two sides to this story.”
An anonymous source with the market confirmed La Plume’s account of the incident — that a petition to reinstate the vendor was circulated and that one individual was trying to ensure members of “his community” ran for the board in the upcoming election.