3 min

Leather community mourns two losses

Barney Hickey and Doug Gault remembered

A well-respected psychiatric mental-health nurse, Barney Hickey holds one of his awards in 2002. "Barney was at heart a nurse," says his friend Reive Doig. Credit: Courtesy of Jan Meyers

Vancouver’s gay leather community lost two prominent members in early July with the passings of Barney Hickey and Doug Gault.

Both are being remembered as men dedicated to their community.

“Two great men who worked hard on behalf of community and even harder still in their personal battle with health issues. Long time members of our community and friends to many of us, they will be sorely missed,” community activist Barb Snelgrove posted on Gault’s Facebook page.

“There’s a sadness in the leather community,” Little Sister’s manager Janine Fuller tells Xtra. “It’s a huge loss.”

Hickey died July 9 at the age of 52. He married Jan Meyers, his partner of 19 years, on June 30.

“He wanted to be a June bride, so I made sure he was,” Meyers tells Xtra. “It turned out not only perfectly but wonderful.”

Meyers says Hickey’s body just gave up. “It was probably the cancer that finally got him,” Meyers says. “A very peaceful death.”

Meyers says the outpouring of affection and respect for Hickey has helped him as he mourns.

“I would define him mostly as an educator, a leader, a person who cared enough to make a difference,” Meyers says. “I’m proud to have known him.”

Hickey, who was named Mr Vancouver Leather in 2003, worked in healthcare as a nurse, having graduated with a master’s degree in nursing in 2002 from the UBC School of Nursing, where he was also an educator.

He specialized in psychiatric mental-health nursing, HIV/AIDS nursing and inner-city health for marginalized populations. It was a vocation that led Hickey to an involvement with the PIVOT Legal Society, advocating for the marginalized, and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Professionally, he held positions with Providence Health Care and St Paul’s Hospital, working with and supervising psychiatric nurses and units. He also taught psychiatric mental-health nursing at Langara College.

His work was recognized in 2001 with an award from the Canadian Association of Nurses in AIDS Care for “exceptional contributions” to the development of HIV/AIDS nursing in Canada. He was also recognized by the College of Registered Nurses of BC in 2002 for excellence in nursing practice.

“Barney demonstrates stewardship and integrity in his practice. He treats patients and colleagues with respect. He is a true patient advocate,” Providence colleague Sandra Grimwood said of Hickey on LinkedIn.

Hickey also ran unsuccessfully for Vancouver city council in 2002 on the vcaTEAM slate. Vancouver’s major problems — from its drug trade to its homelessness rate — are all, fundamentally, health problems, Hickey told Xtra at the time.

Years before the Supreme Court of Canada ruled addiction was a healthcare issue, Hickey said addicts need safe injection sites, access to sterile needles and clean water to mix their drugs, and access to medical practitioners to help them when things go wrong.

Fuller says Hickey was an important advocate on health issues for queers and the disadvantaged. “Any bar we can measure ourselves by is the bar he put up,” she says.

Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert describes Hickey as a man respected throughout the community. “A very generous heart, a very open man who knew what he believed in,” Chandra Herbert says. “He could cut through the crap in a way that was both charming and direct.”

Reive Doig knew Hickey from the leather community and says he brought the same dedication to that as he did to everything else in his life.

“Barney was at heart a nurse,” Doig says. “He had that nurturing nature and he seemed to bring that to every aspect of his life.”

Gault was a primary organizer of Mr BC Leather for seven years and was Calgary’s ninth emperor.

PumpJack Pub co-owner Steve Bauer remembers Gault as an active member of Vancouver Men in Leather, a man who was part of all the community’s events.

Gault died of cancer on July 10. He was 51.

“He had a ton of people around him who were ready to be there for him getting out of the hospital,” Fuller says. “He never got to go home.”

Fuller remembers Gault regularly coming into the bookstore with his dachshund, Sadie. “When he lost Sadie, that was a rough time for him,” she says.

She says Gault was a long-time survivor of HIV and an example to the community. “He was a really important survivor of HIV/AIDS, someone who would talk about those issues when others didn’t.”

Gault was also passionate about the leather community, Fuller says. “He felt it was important to mentor people in the reality of that community and what it was about and with a great sense of pride,” she says.

Gault’s passing sparked an outpouring of emotion on his Facebook page.

“Goodbye, our dear brother-in-law,” wrote Maureen Leskun. “Kevin was so lucky to have you as a partner for 10 years before he passed away. Forever in our hearts you will be. You were a wonderful son, spouse, brother, brother-in-law and uncle.”

“Thank you for being my friend, always being so upbeat, so supportive of me, and always sporting that dirty smile! I will never forget our drunken encounters, your always current, over the top, and bang-on jokes, and your willingness to just live life, truly an inspiration to me.”

Erica St-Asia Divine was Calgary Empress 28. “Douglas Gault was a true gentleman and very caring person,” she posted. “I was fortunate to have shared my stepdown as Empress 28 and have Doug do his double-decade walk as Emperor that night.”