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Haligonians gather to remember Raymond Taavel

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Haligonians gather to remember Raymond Taavel

Gay activist and editor Raymond Taavel was murdered after leaving a Halifax gay bar on the morning of April 17. IMAGE 1 OF 1
Hundreds hold vigil at scene of gruesome murder
Hundreds of people gathered in Halifax April 17 to hold vigil for Raymond Taavel, the gay activist who was murdered early that morning after leaving a Halifax gay bar.

Read how news of Taavel's murder unfolded here.

Click on the thumbnail below for a picture gallery from the vigil.


Simon Thibault photos

Click the control below to hear a song from the vigil, "When I Went Down," perfomed by Stewart Legere, Tanya Davis, Rose Cousins and Ria Mae.

And another audio clip, this one a poem read by Tanya Davis.


An account of the vigil
By Simon Thibault

Walking down Gottingen St, you can see people getting ready.

They’re getting ready to tell stories, shed tears and pay homage to a friend who passed away this morning.

There are rainbow flags along this block of Gottingen. It’s not unusual to see them here, as there are two gay bars on this street, as well as a bathhouse. But it would be difficult to remember a time when there were as many. They vary in size and shape, from flags that are a few feet across to small pennants. They are put up in windows and draped in front of storefronts. They’re even hanging off small shrubs, flapping in the warm wind.

Across the street from the two gay bars, and just a few steps away from the bathhouse, is a chainlink fence. For years, there was an abandoned building here, derelict and deserted. It was a blight on this block. You could smell the mould inside of it when you walked past. The neighbours and business owners complained and it was finally torn down. The chainlink fence is there to keep people out. 

Today, the fence serves a nobler purpose. It is there to hang wreaths, to hold candles and artwork. It is there where people leave notes for Raymond Taavel. It is here where he was murdered.

Not long before 3am on April 17, Raymond Taavel passed away. He had been beaten to death. Police have a man in custody and according to reports, will be charged with second-degree murder.

The memorial is set to begin at 7. By 6:30, there is already a crowd of about 100 people lining up on the sidewalks of Gottingen St. Some of them are by the makeshift memorial by the fence; others stand by the doors of Menz Bar, where a set of speakers, a microphone and a two-stepped riser is set up. Kevin Kindred, of NSRAP, arrives in front of the bar. He will be the emcee for the evening.

There are red and misted eyes everywhere. People are shaking their heads. Chins and jaws shake as people try not to cry. The vigil hasn’t even begun. People are passing out small candles to light.

People continue to arrive. Conversations are struck and memories are shared. Many people take note of the growing number of mourners who are arriving. Just as many stay silent, nodding to one another; they know why they are there but choose not to discuss it. Not yet. It only happened this morning.

By 7, the crowd is near three hundred people. Journalists are setting up cameras; microphones and portable recorders can be spotted throughout the growing mass of people. Someone asks people to please move. They want to unfurl a large pride flag in the middle of Gottingen St. It is more than 15 feet long and is held aloft by a dozen people. Someone asks for a song. One person, then two, then three begin to sing "Amazing Grace." The crowd picks up the slack and sings along.

Kevin Kindred takes to the microphone and thanks everyone for coming. He introduces Doug Melanson, the owner of Menz and Mollyz Bar. Taavel had closed the bar the previous evening. Melanson tells a story about how Taavel had been playing songs from the jukebox that night. At five in the morning, after Melanson and his staff had told the police their stories, the jukebox turned itself on. It started to play the last songs requested on it. Among them were “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel, and “To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn. Doug and his staff stood there, no one moving or saying a word. They just let the songs play.

More people come up to speak, friends and colleagues. Performer Jason Rose-Spurrell, better known as Rouge Fatale, goes up to the mic, saying that he would rather sing than speak. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” comes out loud through the speakers. No one sings along; they just listen intently. 

The crowd is more than five hundred strong now. People are crying, quietly. Heads are down.

More speakers come. They tell stories of Raymond. How he loves to dance. How he makes people smile. How he pisses them off and how they can never be mad at him for very long. How compassionate he is. How kind he is. None of the speakers use the past tense in talking about him. Not one.

A group of local singers is invited to come and sing. They perform “(As I Went) Down to the River to Pray.” Cameras click and roll, taking in images. People in the crowd begin to sing, ignoring the media. The song ends and a lone voice says, “Thank you.” The crowd applauds.

More stories are told. A local councillor, Dawn Sloane, takes the stage and jokes that she is a mess. People laugh a little.  She begins to cry, turning away from the mic. She tells the story of how Raymond and she used to dance to Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real.” She begins to cry again. And then she tells the crowd how much Raymond is loved. She jokes, wondering who else could close down Gottingen St on such short notice without city permission.

Tanya Davis, Halifax’s poet laureate, is invited to speak. She reads a poem about the events unfolding. The crowd is quiet and reverent. She recites, “And now a being of this tribe of love is gone, and we are one less strong in a battle we are tired of fighting in the first place. Lay down your arms, peace is your birthright.”

Peace.

Throughout the event, people speak of Raymond’s love of peace and hope. How he had hope for everything and everyone. How he would be pleased to see so many people, here for him. It’s eight o’clock. The vigil is over. The crowd begins to disperse. People leave, hugging one another. 
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Comments

when madness & homophobia mix/meet
This was a very moving account of a spontaneous tribute on the streets of Halifax to a gay activist whose tragic beating death brings ingrained homophobia and violence to the fore again. Andre Denny,the homophobic perpetrator in this case though was known by health professionals as a paranoid schizophrenic with psychotic tendencies. He had committed violent acts in the past and should not have been out on the street let alone be allowed to be outside a gay bar in HAlifax stalking gay men for harassment and fights (and worse as it turned out.) The police have thus far charged the alleged murderer with second degree murder but not with hate crimes but that can be added to the charges as events and the police investigation unfolds. I would suggest that first degree murder might be considered as well since this seems to be a premeditated act to assault gay men. But since the accused certifiably mentally ill are hate crime charges appropriate or necessary? If mental illness is the impetus for this horrible murder, should this be treated as a gay bashing with death as a the result or a tragic manifestation of severe mental illness? I suggest it is both as homophobia is ingrained in society and obviously has penetrated the sick mind of this killer.But in the end the deranged man may very well get off his murder charges by reason of insanity (as he did in earlier charges of a violent assault he did) so the hate crime charges are almost beside the point even though homophobia is certainly in the mix that led to the tragic series of events leading to the horrible murder of Ray Taavel. And I cannot help asking (as Jennifer McReath did) why health professionals who knew of Denny's violent history let him back out on the streets if only for an hour and should they in turn be charged with criminal negligence? One hopes that Taavel's death will not be in vain and that the underlying problems of homophobia and mental illness in our society will somehow definitely be addressed
Thank you Mr Thibault
I was sitting in a cafe today here in Vancouver when I heard the word "Halifax" on the local news station, and turned around to see what the story was about. As soon as I saw Raymond's picture my heart dropped. Being so far away I was unable to attend the vigil which at that point would have been well underway and that made me feel so powerless and frustrated. I cannot be with my community now as we experience this huge loss, but your eloquent way with words and sharing the music and poem that I was unable to experience in person helps me feel at least a little connected, and I thank you for that, Simon.
Blood on their hands
The officials at the mental hospital who released Andre Denny, have blood on their hands.
Thank you, Simon
Far be it for me to be able to cross half a country to be there this evening. I wish I could have been there. Thank you for being there to tell the story.
this hits home in more ways than one
The perpetrator if this crime, Andre Denny, has a history of violent attacks. He was actually deemed not-guilty of a recent assault causing bodily harm due to being 'not criminally responsible' because of a mental illness. Andre was currently being institutionalized for mental-illness issues, but for reasons not yet clear, he was released from custody on a 'one hour pass'. rather than return to the hospital, he committed this murder. This raises serious questions about the health care system and justice system in Nova Scotia. As sad as this crime is, to think it was potentially caused indirectly due to negligence of government employees, makes it an even more bitter pill to swallow.

While I did not know Ray, I have many good friends who knew him, worked with him, and loved him. Many of my friends are hurting tonight, and I hurt for them, and I hurt for my hometown of Halifax, where I literally lived and grew up in during the 1970s. A vigil is planned for tonight in Halifax to remember Ray's amazing life, and to publicly express concern over the inequalities and safety issues the LGBT community still faces in Canada these days.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VX_P6JXHmX4 here is my vlog today, where I discuss this issue, as well as several other hate crimes that have happened in our lovely planet this week.
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