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Opening of LGBTQ+ bar in downtown Barrie marred by controversy

Lakeside Upper Deck officially opened for business Friday night

A night of pride, joy and confusion launched the opening of a new LGBTQ+ club in downtown Barrie Friday evening, but it wasn't without some controversy. 

Lakeside Upper Deck officially opened for business at 22 Dunlop St. W., as patrons from all walks of life came to support what is described as a safe place for the LGBTQ+ community in Simcoe County.

However, the new business saw some potential backlash when a petition went public recently, stating opposition to the Lakeside Upper Deck opening and possible violence against its patrons.

A person going by the name Jessie Michelle posted the petition on Change.org: “Downtown Barrie at 2 a.m. is not a place where this is going to be accepted by drunk immature people. This is a safety concern and should be removed from downtown Barrie immediately.”

BarrieToday tried repeatedly to meet with Michelle this week, but a reporter was told she would “not be giving phone nor in-person interviews currently out of safety concerns at the moment at least until the night of the 14th.”

Michelle, who told BarrieToday she has been living in Barrie for almost 20 years since moving to Canada from Poland, said she has received threats of violence and "hate-filled comments" since launching the petition Sept. 10. 

BarrieToday has not been able to independently verify Michelle's identity and it's unclear who is behind the Facebook account, which has since been deleted. 

Michelle's petition had 182 supporters as of Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, a petition in response to Michelle's, entitled 'Prevent Jessie Michelle from Closing Lakeside Bar', has 1,794 supporters as of Saturday morning.  

Michelle has said she wanted the bar removed from downtown Barrie due to her religious beliefs as well as the safety of patrons frequenting the establishment. 

On Friday night, many people were not only in line to get into the bar at the 9 p.m. opening, but they were also discussing the potential of an anti-gay group showing up and the likelihood of confrontation.

Lakeside Upper Deck opened without any protesting incidents.

However, everything was turned upside-down Friday evening. 

At 8:59 p.m., just one minute before the new bar opened, BarrieToday received a message from Michelle on Facebook stating the entire protest was a ploy to boost business.

In Michelle's Facebook message, she stated she didn't want to see the new business fail, even though she had no direct affiliation with the new business. 

“Two weeks ago, I learned about a bar opening here in downtown Barrie, a very special bar, one that Barrie hasn't seen in years,” Michelle wrote. “Yet, no one knew about it there was very little promotion of the bar and most haven't even heard about it.

"At this point, I could not and would not see this place fail within our community for something that is so vital and so important to those who feel excluded and like they have no where to turn to," she added. "So I thought long and hard about how I could help, how could I raise awareness in the community about this wonderful spot which will bring so much joy to those out there. 

"I thought back to my work of being in marketing for years, just simply promoting has a hard time working; you can reach out to different radio and news stations and may or may not get a small one-minute segment on the news or radio, what is the one thing in 2018 that brings out all the love and community togetherness, hate against social injustice."

Michelle said she had no reservations with how thing have unfolded. 

"Now I'm sure many of you will disagree with the way I went about this to get this business promotion and I do not apologize for having to be the person that people hate to bring such a large (gathering) and such promotion for something that is so needed within our community," she said. 

On Saturday morning, Lakeside Upper Deck manager Vanessa Lewis said no one from the bar had anything to do with the Michelle petition to drum up business. 

"We are confused by this girl's motives," Lewis told BarrieToday on Saturday. "If she really did have good intentions about making the bar busier, it was a very dangerous way of going about it. She's completely out of line.

"The community wanted this for so many years to begin with," Lewis added. "Something like this was unnecessary we have full belief that this bar was going to do well just with Facebook, Instagram and handing out flyers and word-of-mouth. If Jesse Michelle had bad intentions, this could have been away to have people look badly at us.

"Either way, we find her extreme and this behaviour is just confusing," Lewis said. "We are looking forward to tonight and hopefully this girl is out of the picture for good."

As more patrons started to hear about the story around the petition, the reactions were mixed.

Courtney Chapell was out to enjoy the night and show support when she was asked on her thoughts on the petition and its origin.

“I’m more wondering where are the facts and the evidence are coming from,” Chapell said. “I would want to make sure it is actually true, because if it is true it is going to cause an uproar just for the fact that it is going to hurt a lot of individuals.”

Colin Tytler said he believed that using people’s emotions as a way to get business for an establishment, whether you are involved with the business or not, would be terrible if true.

“That would be too bad if anyone was trying to take advantage, because it is a really great place to have,” Tytler said. “Everyone out here is so friendly, supportive and caring and if you have a bar and get the turnout like tonight you’re just taking advantage of your own crowd. That’s frustrating for sure. I’m hesitant to react emotionally, but that would be not good.”

On Friday night, the Dunlop Street bar had music, drink and entertainment to go along with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Coun. Rose Romita.

Mitchell Laframboise, whose stage name is Justine D’as, was one of the drag queens who were there to entertain the many that came for a night out of love and fun. He says he has seen change in the city he grew up in and hopes that a big crowd will show everyone that as well.

“We’re hoping for a very large turnout tonight and have great entertainment in myself and Carmen Del Rea as we entertain our guests tonight,” Laframboise said.

Lamframboise said the city wasn't very tolerant when he was younger. 

“Growing up here, it was a little rough as I was one of the only out-gay people in my high school back in 1998 and 1999," he told BarrieToday. "I had left Barrie for a little while and coming back 10 years later there was a little bit more of a transition and an awakening in the local community.

"I feel Barrie is still a very conservative community, but it’s a little more open and accepting to other people and cultures.”