Yesterday, a shining light was snuffed out in our city. Raymond Taavel, 49, was beaten to death on our oft-maligned but much-loved Gottingen Street. It’s likely the last thing he ever heard was his assailant calling him a “faggot”. Hate crime or not – that’s up to the police to decide – it struck our queer community hard.
I didn’t know Raymond. I met him a handful of times through Halifax Pride and various events we were both a part of. I wish I could say I had a specific memory; something to hold on to, something to recognize as a personal loss while I mourn. We’ve all lost something, whether we knew Raymond or not. Maybe we never had it. How do we feel safe in our space, on our streets, in our city when all the love spilling out of us puts a target on our backs?
Shortly after news broke of Raymond’s death, a Facebook group popped up called “Rainbow in Your Window for Raymond Taavel”. The idea was to get people to put up rainbow flags in their homes and businesses in a show of solidarity and remembrance. Last night at Raymond’s vigil, Gottingen Street was awash in rainbow colours. I arrived at work this morning to find two rainbow flags up in our windows. The Facebook group did not instruct people to change their profile pictures to rainbows as well, but many of my friends – straight, gay, and otherwise – made the switch. I did, too.
In general, Facebook activism is kind of useless. Sorry, KONY 2012 supporters. People will click a lot of links, “like” a lot of pages, and post a lot of pictures to “raise awareness”. Does it do anything? Sometimes, it doesn’t. It might make you feel like you’ve contributed, but unless you’re doing something concrete in the real world, in most cases you might as well be sharing funny cat pictures (I can haz funding for cancer research?).
So, why did I change my profile picture? Why did you? Does it make a difference this time? I think it does. Without a doubt, we need to take real action. Raymond did – he worked tirelessly his whole life in support of equality. Homophobia, and all forms of hate, flourish in fear and silence. We’re afraid of the homophobes. We’re afraid that they’ll make us lose our jobs, our homes, our lives. So we stay silent. We don’t tell our bosses in case we get passed over for the next promotion. We don’t tell prospective landlords that our roommate is actually our girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse, in case they suddenly find a problem with our rental application. We don’t hold hands walking down the street because there are still people who are so enraged by the mere reality of our existence that they attack us. It’s so incredibly fucked up, but we’re scared, so we hide.
The only way we’re going to beat this fear is by shining a light on it. I’m not advocating unsafe behaviour – if you’re 14 and gay and you know your parents are going to kick you out if you come out, it’s not shameful or wrong or cowardly to stay in the closet until you have a plan, an ally, a safe place to go. Often, though, people are better than you think. I live with my partner in an apartment owned by the Orthodox Church. The location is awesome, the rent is cheap, and as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to live there. Except I probably couldn’t, because I had to tell my prospective landlord – a member of the conservative church – that I’d be living there with my girlfriend. I made a decision a long time ago, though, to stop hiding. Too often I found myself carefully choosing my language to hide my identity. Using gender neutral language. Changing the subject. So I told my landlord the truth. And guess what? He was completely cool with it. In fact, he went out of his way to assure me that he had no problem with it and that gay couples were more than welcome in his apartments. He must have read the embarrassment and fear on my face. He didn’t say it outright, but what he was implying was this: “you are safe with me.”
Where are we, the rainbow community, safe in Halifax? Despite Raymond’s tragic and senseless death, we ARE safe on Gottingen Street. Maybe not with everyone, but the people who love us and protect us far outnumber those who would try to harm us. We saw that last night as hundreds of people crowded the street, waving the flag, leaving flowers, and loving each other. When I came to work this morning, I saw the rainbow flag in the window and felt reassured that I am safe here. When I logged on to Facebook, I saw rainbow flag after rainbow flag representing my friends, family, coworkers, professional contacts, and acquaintances.
I turn my nose up at armchair activism as much as the next person, but this feels different, somehow. This doesn’t feel like just another symbolic gesture. This is a reminder that despite our hurt, our fear, and the hopelessness that we might feel after this horrific event, there are still a lot of people out there who love us and don’t want us to be afraid. So go ahead and change your Facebook picture in honour of Raymond, non-armchair-activists. This time, it does something. It says, “you are safe with me.”
Re-blogged from: floyd’n’stuff.