I decided to write something different today. I know my posts are usually humorous (at least I think they are) but the last few days have been a little rough to say the least. I’m going to write about my friend, Raymond Taavel who’s life was violently cut short by the product of a failed judicial system (but that’s another story). Outlined below are the bulk of my experiences with Raymond from the day we met until his passing yesterday.
Tuesday Morning, April 17, 6:00 AM
I woke up yesterday morning in the best of moods. My itinerary for the day was to go to work and go on a shopping date that evening with a girlfriend. Spirits were high as I prepared to face the day. Waiting for my car pool companion, I sat in my car listening to the radio and playing a game on my phone. The top story was how the city police had blocked off a section of Gottingen Street while they investigated a potential homicide. Details were still very preliminary but when I heard the section was between Cunard and Cornwallis Streets, my heart sank. It was reported that someone in their 40s had been beaten to death in the early morning hours. I couldn’t help but think it would be someone I knew. Dozens of names and faces shot through my mind since the section of Gottingen was the location of two of my favorite night spots: Menz Bar and The Company House.
I got to work, grabbed a coffee and proceeded to my desk to turn on the radio. Over the next couple hours, update after update kept coming through about two men getting attacked after they left Menz Bar but they still hadn’t announced the name of the victim. I decided to text a friend to see if they heard anything. I went back to work for a couple minutes until I heard the familiar tone from my phone telling me I had a text message. The message read “I’m hearing Raymond Taavel.”
It was October 2007 when I had been struggling with coming out. Not knowing who to talk to for advice, a friend suggested I simply go to the next Wayves meeting and start there. Seeing as I had an illustrating background and some experience with layout and design, they’d certainly benefit from my help. I remember arriving early and sitting nervously on the steps waiting for someone to show up. On this particular day, as luck would have it, Raymond was the first of the Wayves team to arrive. He greeted me with a warm, genuine smile and asked if he could help. If only he knew how loaded a question that was. Having told him I was recently new to the community and that I would like to volunteer my time with the paper, he shook my hand, told me his name and invited me in. Although the atmosphere seemed very hectic to me, Raymond did his best to find something for me to do. I remember him asking me if I could proofread and even though it wasn’t really the task I felt I was best at, he assured me that I would do fine. All I could think was, “I have no fancy degrees to my name but he’s getting me to proof articles I’m certain were written by people much more knowledgeable at putting thoughts into words?” - Well, maybe not exactly that. It was probably more like, “Just wing it. Maybe he won’t notice.“ We took a lunch break and we all went to someone’s house for lunch where I met even more people and really started to feel welcome and at ease. A new chapter of my life was beginning and everything was going to be fine. Even though I felt the Wayves experience wasn’t for me, I have very fond memories of working with Raymond and everyone there.
After that, I continued to make my presence known in the community by volunteering at Pride events and participating in anything and everything I felt capable of doing. Raymond always seemed to be everywhere as well. I was really beginning to think the man didn’t sleep. Over the years, we had many chats about many things (mostly on Karaoke night at Menz Bar). No matter where we were, no matter the circumstance, he always had this calming effect on me whenever we talked. He always made me feel so very safe.
The text message I had received struck me square in the heart. I was quickly overcome with overwhelming grief as I sat at my desk crying and sobbing for about 5 minutes before finally making my way to the restroom to try and compose myself. I texted my girlfriend and canceled our shopping date. I knew there would be a vigil and I had to be there. I worked the remainder of the day in a self induced daze. I think it was my way of keeping it together. I barely remember the rest of the work day; only the outpouring of emotion and shock I was getting from everyone else through Facebook and Twitter.
I drove home, fed my cat and then I was off to the florist. I had seen the numbers on the Facebook page steadily increasing throughout the day for people planning on attending the vigil and I wanted to be early. When I got there, there were maybe a dozen people outside by the memorial. After securing my bouquet to the fence, I hugged a few strangers and went inside Menz bar to possibly drown my sorrows. I kept checking the window every once in a while and it didn’t take long for the crowd to grow. Right around 7 PM, the announcement came that the vigil was going to get underway and we should move outside.
Standing in that huge crowd on Gottingen Street seemed very surreal to me. It was a sea of faces; people I knew and people I didn’t. The mood of the crowd was obviously very sombre. I knew a lot of people, like myself, were feeling anger over what happened but it was clear that no one was going to let it take over. This was Raymond’s vigil and that simply was not Raymond’s way. When the Pride flag was stretched across the road, we took over the street. Traffic stopped. I remember feeling as if the world was stopping to take notice. As people came to the mic to talk about their experiences with Ray, I slowly began to feel my anger fade. Some told funny stories while others expressed a profound devotion to a man who clearly had touched their lives. Jason Rose Spurrell’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow was so very touching as was Tanya Davis’ poetry reading at the end.
I felt nothing but love last night and was thankful to be rid of the anger that had been building inside me all day. After talking with many people at last night’s vigil, I was very pleased to hear them echo the same story back to me how Raymond was also the first person they had met when coming out.
It seems Ray was Halifax’s unofficial Welcome Wagon for the LGBT community.
Goodbye Ray. You will forever be loved and your spirit will only grow stronger in this community you so lovingly fought for.