There’s been a lot of talk about community on Gottingen St since Raymond Taavel was found dead there the morning of Tuesday, April 17. Taavel, 49, was many things to many people in many communities. An active member of the gay community, he was also a big supporter of Gottingen St and the North End of Halifax, a community of mostly working-class families, artists and more.
Michelle Strum owns and operates the Halifax Backpackers Hostel on Gottingen St. Her business borders the site where Taavel was found. “It was the first time I ever woke up to yellow police tape,” she says. Strum has lived on Gottingen for years and is the chair of the North End Business Association, the neighbourhood where Gottingen is located.
“A couple of hours later I realized it was someone I knew well who was a vital part of this community,” Strum says. “He was someone we all loved and who has been active in this community and in the gay community for many years. It’s a tragedy for this community today to be dealing with this. I can’t find the words that express the feeling of that loss.”
Halifax MP Megan Leslie says she is really proud of her community for the vigil it held for Taavel last night.
“I’m proud of how everybody has come together in solidarity,” she says. “My office is on this street, about 75 feet from where Raymond was killed, and this morning, everybody on the street said, ‘Look, we need to do this together. The media is coming here, and they’re saying shit about our community and we need to react and we need to be together in solidarity and we need to come together.’”
It’s not only the gay community along Gottingen St remembering Taavel. Merchants on Blowers and Barrington streets have rainbow flags flying outside their businesses as part of an online campaign. There is also a huge response in social media. Local radio host Floyd Blaikie wrote on her Tumblr about how the experience affected her and how Taavel’s death may be one of the few positive examples of how online activism can translate itself into real life.
“Shortly after news broke of Raymond’s death, a Facebook group popped up called ‘Rainbow in Your Window for Raymond Taavel,” Blakie wrote. “The idea was to get people to put up rainbow flags in their homes and businesses. Last night at the vigil, Gottingen St was awash in rainbow colours. I arrived at work this morning to find two rainbow flags up in our windows. The Facebook group did not instruct people to change their profile pictures to rainbows as well, but many of my friends – straight, gay, and otherwise – made the switch.”
Local poet and musician Tanya Davis, who performed a poem about Taavel at last night’s ceremony, also published the piece in the local alt-weekly, The Coast. Another musician, Ryan MacGrath, who knew Taavel, wrote and recorded a song about Taavel, posting it online.
When asked what people should remember about Taavel, his friend and fellow gay advocate Daniel Mackay says, “Raymond’s single focus in life was to make the world a better place. And he never stopped doing that for one moment out of 24 hours-a-day, his entire life. And if he wasn’t doing that by working in the LGBT community and publishing things and writing things and making interesting things happen, he was making the world a better place by being a sweet man and being thoughtful and kind and sticking with people in times of trouble.”
“Raymond was a big part of the Halifax community,” Strum says. “It just takes one look at Facebook to see how many people’s lives he’s impacted. He’s the kind of person that every time I saw him [on the street] or in my café, he brought a ray of sunshine with him, a big smile, and it’s sad to no longer be able to see that.”