“Ask and you shall be told…. Life is too short to spend it blending in.”
This quotation was written by Nigel Gough Jr – scribbled on a piece of scrap paper – only days before he was tragically killed in a cycling accident at Lakeshore Blvd and Colborne Lodge Dr in Toronto’s west end. In my brother’s passing, I now read these inspired words and find profound meaning, for they seem to perfectly encapsulate his beautiful existence and everything for which he stood. Nigel knew life was precious and didn’t waste any time trying to conform to socially prescribed norms. From an early age he dared to be different. The courage that must have taken is still hard for me to comprehend.
An incredible thespian, playwright and teacher, Nigel was also an outspoken advocate for gay rights and a vibrant member of Toronto’s gay community. His political aptitude was displayed at a young age. Nigel was an out and proud teenager who faced homophobic bullying while attending The Student School. Unable to garner support from staff members at the school, Nigel was undeterred in his effort to raise awareness about homophobia in our city’s classrooms.
Nigel, being the incredibly resourceful young man he was, reached out to a future friend and mentor in Sky Gilbert – the co-founder and former artistic director of Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. At the time, Gilbert was working as a columnist for Eye Weekly and used this platform to help Nigel’s story reach the streets.
By sharing his experiences of victimization in an articulate manner, Nigel was able to politicize the issue of homophobic bullying and highlight a problematic culture that existed within Toronto-area high schools at the time; a culture whereby openly gay students were not offered adequate support and counselling from staff, and were consequently discouraged from making their sexual orientation known to peers for fear of the potential repercussions. This was 2002, when Nigel was 19 years old. While these problems still persist today, young activist voices like Nigel’s are paramount in illuminating the hidden dangers facing gay students and are essential in the fight for greater equality.
Over the past decade, Nigel grew into a wonderful, caring, passionate, intelligent and immensely talented young man. He was confident in his skin, self-aware and proud of his many life experiences. He became a citizen of the world, travelling extensively and making friends at every stop along the way with his unparalleled energy and zest for life. Nigel’s world revolved around the theatre. He craved the excitement of being onstage, performing to an audience and making people fall out of their seats in hysterical fits of laughter.
“Nigel was a talented, engaged, intelligent young man with the world at his feet,” says Louise Morris, a drama professor at Deakin University in Australia. “He made a lasting impact at the school in the brief time he was on exchange, lighting up the stage with his beautiful energy and joy for life.”
At home, Nigel graduated from the theatre studies program at the University of Guelph. While there he reconnected with Sky Gilbert and earned the love and adoration of his many professors and peers. Nigel was recently accepted into the prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England, where he planned to complete his master’s degree.
On the night Nigel was killed he was in excellent spirits, having returned home from Hamilton after putting on a production of The Judy Monologues. He was so excited he couldn’t sleep, so, as he often did, he set out – without helmet or lights, his head full of wonder – for a short bike ride. Speaking on behalf of the family, all I can say is that our understanding of what actually transpired on that night is fragmented at best, and many, many questions remain unanswered about my dear brother’s untimely death. He was a beautiful soul, destined for great things, and now, we must ensure his legacy lives on.
Nigel’s family has established a memorial foundation in his name, in which the proceeds will be used to support up-and-coming actors and playwrights in Toronto through the Buddies In Bad Times Theatre Young Creator’s program. Buddies was an integral part of Nigel’s life; as a gay youth, it was a safe haven where Nigel could retreat to engage with like-minded individuals and study his craft. And as a young adult it became his first point of contact for employment when he found himself at home in Toronto.
Just as Nigel was reaching his full potential, let us now help other budding stars reach theirs.