Correction: A previous version of this story said comments made on the Caught In Guelph Facebook page were all moderated by its administrator, Thai Mac. That is not the case as Facebook does not allow blanket moderation of all comments. Mac said some efforts are made to identify offensive comments made on the page.
When politicians make comments perceived as being anti-LGBTQ, that worries Barry Moore, chair of Out on The Shelf.
“It’s definitely a concern,” he said. “It’s certainly of interest to us because of the way (that person holding a position of authority) would impact queer people in the community, because that’s who we serve.”
Out on The Shelf is a not-for-profit organization that offers services to the LGBTQ communities of Guelph and Wellington county. It hosts a queer library and resource centre, as well as running various monthly programs.
With an eye toward creating a more inclusive community, Moore recently met with Ward 1 candidate Thai Mac, who at that time had publicly withdrawn from running from council. Mac then announced the resumption of his campaign on Friday.
In a news release announcing those re-launched efforts, Mac made reference to his talk with Moore and, in the following paragraph, noted he felt encouraged to rejoin the race, but it’s not stated it was Moore who provided that encouragement.
The way it’s presented, Moore believes may have been interpreted by some people as Out on The Shelf being in support of Mac.
“We have no direct involvement in anything political,” the chair emphatically stated. “I wanted to hear what he had to say so that … should he (achieve) a position of power, I can at least feel like I did something to make recommendations so that hopefully if he’s in that position he’s learning more and pursuing more opportunities.”
In conversation with GuelphToday, Mac said he attempted to write the news release in such a way that it wouldn't be interpreted as an endorsement. The encouragement, he explained, came from “hundreds” of online posts and emails.
“When I had spoken with Barry, he was pretty clear that they can’t endorse, or not, anyone because of the organization,” Mac said. “I wasn’t trying to come off that they were endorsing me in any way, shape or form.”
During their meeting, Moore pointed Mac toward several educational resources on the queer community.
“These were the recommendations I would give anyone,” said Moore. “We stand by the way we handled the situation. We wanted to focus on recommending some resources so that he could pursue educational opportunities because ultimately, if he does (achieve) a position of power, the biggest concern for us would be is he learning the needs of the queer community and learning how to show that support.”
Faced with concerns about past online comments, Mac announced his withdrawal from the Ward 1 race on Sept. 9, though it came too late to be removed from ballots for the Oct. 24 election.
Mac indicated he and his family had been harassed and had received threats in response to his previous social media posts, which he pointed to as the reason for his withdrawal from the campaign.
Among the comments raised as concerns are numerous Google reviews by Mac which include references to stores having “lots of stuff for gay men,” “too many LGBTQ stores” and a lamenting the existence of “gender neutral” beverages.
"(The comments) may be viewed as offensive to the LGBTQ community,” his withdrawal notice stated. “I apologize and recognize that they were distasteful and please know that's not the person I am today.”
Moore said it was Mac who contacted Out on The Shelf.
“Ultimately, I felt safe and comfortable enough to have that meeting and at least hear out what he had to say,” said Moore. “In some situations, hearing statements like (those made by Mac in the past), it would be totally understandable if someone didn’t feel comfortable having that conversation.”
By putting a spotlight on some of his past social media comments, Mac feels he has been unfairly portrayed in a negative light.
“All I want to do is to be able to have a fair opportunity, like everybody else, in this election and give people their free vote,” he said, adding, “The Caught In Guelph group is a good extension of who I am as a person. We have a lot of great positive things that goes on there.”
Mac is the group’s creator and administrator.
Recent posts include people looking for home care and mobile veterinary service recommendations, promoting community events, as well as posting wildlife sightings and pet photos.
There are also comments posted referring to someone as a “tranny,” while others mention “crack whore LESBIAN prostitutes” and a post under a photo of a scantilly-clad woman that refers to her name being “Kevin” and she’s “transitioning” with her allegedly recently purchased breast implants.
Other posts feature comments about “meth zombies,” “crackheads,” “batshit crazy” people, “tweakers” and speculation about police-related activities, while others plea for compassion.
In a 2021 post, one group member stated Caught In Guelph is “like the Jerry Springer of Guelph Facebook groups. It has its reflective moments, but for the most part it’s a circus.”
Mac points out that Facebook does not permit moderation of all comments on posts, although they do use some tools to try to catch offensive comments from the thousands the page receives.
"Our group gets tens of thousands of comments every week and it’s impossible for any admin or team of moderators to see everything that isn’t alerted," Mac said.