Stephen McManus is not your ordinary hero. Soft-spoken, polite and generally unassuming, he reveals few glimpses of the hardcore activist he secretly harbours inside. “I’m not an activist,” he protests. “I just do it.”
Don’t be fooled. In 2005, he just did it when he simultaneously co-founded a community-based coalition to keep St Paul’s Hospital in the West End and convinced Health Canada to cough up $355,000 for the country’s first quit smoking campaign tailored specifically to queers.
No surprise, then, that you chose McManus as your Community Hero of the Year last year, for his quiet determination and commitment to nurturing and strengthening our community’s health and wellbeing.
In true McManus style, his acceptance speech barely paused to acknowledge a well-earned moment of personal glory. Instead he used the opportunity to plug his favourite projects one more time, promising to return to the streets to collect more signatures in his campaign to keep the West End’s sole hospital right where it is.
Unfortunately, that turned out to be a promise he couldn’t keep. Not long after accepting his award, he was diagnosed with viral encephalitis, an opportunistic infection that has made it difficult for him to speak and walk. Healing has been a slow process but he says he’s on the mend.
“I think I’ve turned a corner,” he tells me, noting that he is hoping to walk again soon.
The chair of the Save St Paul’s coalition still misses McManus at meetings. “Steve is an amazing guy,” says Aaron Jasper. “When there are differences of opinion at the table, Steve has a way of cutting through all that.”
McManus’ contribution to the campaign can’t be overstated, Jasper continues. “He’s really a key part of why we have this coalition.”
Now that he’s a regular hospital user himself, McManus says he’s even more determined to keep St Paul’s in the West End. Leaving behind a few token services won’t be enough, he warns.
He’s still waiting for the public consultation both the provincial government and the hospital’s operator, Providence Health Care, halfheartedly promised long ago.
“[Providence] claims to be consulting the community. But it’s been a very deceptive way of consulting,” McManus told Xtra West a year ago. “They’ve just been gathering information on people’s concerns so they can knock them down later.”
Jasper says he’s hoping to know more about Providence’s plans soon. The Save St Paul’s coalition is organizing a public forum of its own Apr 1, and has invited Providence’s CEO to speak.
“We’re right where we were a year ago. So now it’s really time to push hard,” Jasper says.
Of course there are many ways to make heroic contributions to our community’s continued growth and wellbeing, and keeping St Paul’s in the West End is just one of them.
I know I can think of a number of people who have made significant contributions in the last 12 months, carving out new spaces for us to be ourselves, peeling back layers of who we are, demanding gay-friendlier schools and services, and taking a stand against homophobia.
But it’s not about me. I want to know who your heroes are.
Who would you nominate for Community Hero of the Year? Whose contributions made you stand up and cheer? Whose community-building efforts struck you as particularly significant?
Whose live performance left you pondering the nature of queer realities for days? Whose visual art took your breath away? Whose volunteer work warmed your heart? Whose feats of athletic prowess wowed you?
Which straight ally would you most like to thank and why?
There’s a nomination form on page 22 of this issue. You can’t miss it. Fill it out and send it in. Or go to our website (www.xtra.ca), click on Xtra West, and nominate your community heroes there.
I don’t care how you do it–just do it! Nominate your heroes. So we can all acknowledge their contributions, appreciate their efforts and celebrate our community’s growth together.