‘It’s heart­warm­ing’

A small green space in Hal­i­fax will soon of­fer a piece of ‘seren­ity’ and his­tory in the name of LGBTQ ac­tivist Ray­mond Taavel, six years af­ter his death

StarMetro Halifax - - FRONT PAGE - HA­LEY RYAN

A small green space in Hal­i­fax will soon of­fer a piece of “seren­ity” and his­tory in the name of Ray­mond Taavel, more than six years af­ter his death.

The name of the popular LGBTQ ac­tivist, who was killed in 2012, was ap­proved by re­gional coun­cil on Tues­day as one of 14 to be en­shrined on Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity as­sets.

Now the for­mer Inglis Street Park, at the corner of Bar­ring­ton and Inglis streets, will bear Taavel’s name.

“It’s heart­warm­ing, ob­vi­ously ... he’ll al­ways be in my heart and mind, you know — but it’s a phys­i­cal space that I can go by and see, and so can ev­ery­body else,” Dar­ren Lewis, Taavel’s part­ner, said in an in­ter­view.

For Lewis and other mem­bers of the Pub­lic ART for Ray­mond Taavel ini­tia­tive, the fi­nal “rub­ber-stamp­ing” of the park’s re­nam­ing has been a long time com­ing, but it co­in­cided with an­other im­por­tant date.

Nov. 27 marked 40 years since the 1978 as­sas­si­na­tion of ad­vo­cate and po­lit­i­cal leader Har­vey Milk, who was the first openly gay elected of­fi­cial in Cal­i­for­nia through his po­si­tion on the San Fran­cisco Board of Su­per­vi­sors.

“He was ba­si­cally Ray­mond’s hero, an early-on ac­tivist in the move­ment. It’s kind of in­ter­est­ing to me it all kind of panned out to­day,” Lewis said.

Taavel, 49, was beaten to death by An­dre Noel Denny out­side Menz & Mol­lyz Bar, on Got­tin­gen St. in Hal­i­fax, on April 16, 2012, when Taavel tried to break up an early-morn­ing fight.

Denny had failed to re­turn to the Hal­i­fax-area East Coast Foren­sic Hos­pi­tal (ECFH) af­ter re­ceiv­ing a one-hour un­escorted pass ear­lier that day.

In March 2016, Denny was sen­tenced to eight years in prison for man­slaugh­ter in Taavel’s death. With about six years’ credit for time served, Denny has served out his sen­tence and pro­ba­tion at ECFH. As a dual-sta­tus of­fender (he was de­clared crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble in Taavel’s case but not crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble in two previous cases), Denny, who has schizophre­nia, con­tin­ues to live at the fa­cil­ity.

At the time, Taavel’s death shocked the LGBTQ com­mu­nity and en­tire city. More than 1,000 peo­ple closed down Got­tin­gen St. for a vigil, and later there was a march from Grand Pa­rade to St. Matthew’s Church. Lt.-gov J.J. Grant posthu­mously awarded Taavel the QEII Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Medal for his con­tri­bu­tions to Canada, and an en­cased Pride flag bear­ing trib­ute to his ac­tivism hangs in the grand stair­case at city hall, said a staff re­port.

Taavel is re­mem­bered for be­ing a key par­tic­i­pant in the ef­fort to have equal mar­riage and trans­gen­der rights added to the Nova Sco­tia Hu­man Rights Act. He was also a leader of Hal­i­fax Pride, “the driv­ing force” be­hind HRM’S first pub­lic procla­ma­tion of Pride Week and the fly­ing of the rain­bow Pride flag at city hall. He cov­ered LGBTQ is­sues as manag­ing edi­tor and writer for Wayves mag­a­zine from 2002-10.

The jour­ney to have Taavel’s name dis­played in Hal­i­fax has taken some twists and turns, Lewis said. At var­i­ous points, it looked as though an art piece might be cre­ated, while Taavel’s name was also in the run­ning for

the new har­bour fer­ries, but noth­ing worked out.

How­ever, Lewis said, a for­mer col­league of Taavel, Barry Boyce, and Adri­ana Af­ford of Ar­gyle Fine Art pushed to keep the is­sue on the radar of Mayor Mike Sav­age and coun­cil­lors.

About a year ago, Lewis said mu­nic­i­pal staff came to the Pub­lic ART group to present some op­tions about where and when Taavel’s name could go — like the Inglis St. park.

But first there was a nom­i­na­tion process. Lewis said he and the ART group are grate­ful to all the res­i­dents, com­mu­nity lead­ers and politi­cians who wrote let­ters in sup­port of nam­ing a pub­lic space for Taavel.

“HE’LL AL­WAYS BE IN MY HEART AND MIND.” Dar­ren Lewis, Ray­mond Taavel’s part­ner

MIKE DEMBECK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Friends of Ray­mond Taavel par­tic­i­pate in a vigil on April 17, 2012, in Hal­i­fax, the day af­ter the LGBTQ ac­tivist was beaten to death out­side a bar. Taavel’s name will now grace a small park in the city’s south end.

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