It takes a tragedy
While I was off Facebook and Twitter, I still managed to get notifications from both, including any group I belong to. A few days into my break, I found out that there was a beating death on Gottingen Street in Halifax; it’s a familiar location to me, and any visits to the city usually involved stopping by one of the bars there. The victim was a well-known gay activist, Raymond Taavel. I never met the man but his name was familiar due to his tireless advocacy for the LGBTQ community in the Maritimes. Some are on the fence as to whether it was a hate crime or not: while a witness mentioned hearing homophobic slurs while Taavel was being beaten, the man accused in the killing was a psychiatric patient who failed to return to custody while out on a day pass. I don’t doubt that he may have targeted whoever he saw coming out of Menz Bar based on a predisposition against gays, but it just seems like an isolated, yet horrific, incident that greater illustrates a failure of the mental health system than any animosity against LGBTQ people in the city, as much as both are illuminated.
The outpouring of grief, emotion and love has been tremendous. Halifax poet laureate Tanya Davis poured her grief into words she shared not long after Taavel’s death, not far from where he died. (She reflects more on the tragedy and subsequent vigil in an interview with the Chronicle-Herald). Mary Burnet discusses how we can only make sense of the tragedy when we realize the failings of our society and our institutions, and how we need to work for change. John Williams mentions that Taavel’s death united a fractured local LGBTQ community. By the time I returned to Facebook, a lot of people on my friends list changed their profile pictures to the rainbow flag.
It is my hope the galvanization of the community outlasts the raw grief and sadness experienced in the last week.