Sharon Flannigan, who died in Toronto on Feb 15 at the age of 60, touched many lives in her years at the centre of Toronto’s gay scene. Her world revolved around a deep-rooted love of music and her vision of a safe environment to hang out, party, talk, play music, dance . . . and just enjoy our community. At a time when it was dangerous to be gay, lesbian or trans, Sharon helped us all celebrate who we were.
Anyone who met Sharon was struck first by her kindness and generosity, her wicked sense of humour and above all, by her wonderful spirit and seemingly boundless energy. Sharon was fearless in her pursuit of equal rights for all who danced on her floor, but she didn’t just DJ the soundtrack to our revolution, managing Deco’s and opening the Blue Jay Club and Flannigan’s;
she was a tireless fundraiser, hosting benefits for AIDS and other community charities and causes.
She was always willing to acknowledge those who went before, sharing stories and history with her younger friends. For many of us, she was our first role model – we didn’t just want to be around her; we wanted to be just like her.
When Sharon found out that the Misfits, Toronto’s first and, at the time, only female bar pool team, needed a home bar to play from, she stepped up and saved them. Sharon welcomed the whole team – dykes and trans men and women – with strong open arms . . . but there was no pool table at Flannigan’s, the bar she’d opened in the city’s east end.
That didn’t stop her. Sharon found us a pool table: a huge, professional billiards table comprising a massive piece of slate the size of a swimming pool and an equally heavy base. The bar access was straight up an iron staircase with the requisite Victorian twists and turns. Moving that table into our new home showed Sharon’s true colours. None of us could manoeuvre the table up those stairs, so Sharon walked into the downstairs straight bar and announced that she needed help getting her pool table up the stairs. Beers would be on the house. A crew of strong arms appeared. And that table got up those stairs and we won a fair few games on it.
Besides her deep love for her gay community, Sharon was a conduit of love to her family, friends and the wider world. One of a large, loving family, she never missed an event with her parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and great-nieces and -nephews. All the residents at her mom’s seniors’ home looked forward to her visits because she had a smile and a joke for everyone.
The final months of Sharon’s illness were hard, but she was surrounded by a loving community of family and friends and by her lover, Susan Craig, all of whom survive her. Appreciated, loved and missed by so many. Always in our hearts.