One night a couple of years ago, Raymond Taavel was on his way home from Menz Bar in Halifax’s north end when a stranger in a pizza place disparaged him for being gay, then whacked him in the head. Mr. Taavel chased the man for several city blocks, determined to collar him, but he got away. When Mr. Taavel told friends about the incident, they were alarmed: If he had caught up to his assailant, he could easily have been beaten.
That relentless desire to fight for LGBT rights was the defining feature of Mr. Taavel’s life, which was cut brutally short in the early hours of Tuesday morning outside Menz Bar. After intervening to stop a dispute, police said, Mr. Taavel was beaten and left to die on the street.
While the motive behind the 49-year-old’s slaying is unclear, it has prompted a country-wide outcry against homophobia as members of the city’s tight-knit gay community remembered Mr. Taavel as a larger-than-life presence.
“He was the type of guy who would stand up to people and he wouldn’t take homophobia from anyone,” his close friend, Randall Perry, said. “If someone was being hassled and he was there, he would jump in and try to use it as a teachable moment. He was stubborn as hell and I admired him for it.”
A passerby found Mr. Taavel lying in the road shortly after 2:30 a.m. and called police. He pointed officers in the direction of a man who had run from the scene. They used dogs to track him to a nearby alley.
Andre Noel Denny, 32, is expected to face a charge of second-degree murder. He will appear before a judge on Wednesday morning. Police said Mr. Denny was a resident of the East Coast Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, in a Halifax suburb, who left on an hour-long pass that evening but didn’t return. Court documents from 2009 indicate Mr. Denny was placed in the hospital after he was arrested for uttering threats and causing injury to a dog. He was found not criminally responsible.
Police said Mr. Denny may have met Mr. Taavel and another man earlier that evening. As they stood outside the bar, Mr. Denny and the other man were involved in a dispute, officers said, and Mr. Taavel intervened.
On Tuesday evening, more than 1,000 people packed Gottingen Street, a gritty strip that has become a Bohemian enclave in recent years, and unfurled a massive rainbow flag outside the bar in tribute to Mr. Taavel.
Friends said he was born June 9, 1962, and grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. After moving to Halifax, he quickly became a leading figure in the local LGBT community, becoming co-chair of Pride and volunteering with several other groups. Mr. Taavel worked for several years at Wayves, an LGBT magazine, as a writer and editor. Most recently, he was the assistant circulation manager of the Buddhist magazine Shambala Sun.
During his time at Pride, he showed up often at city hall and successfully badgered councillors to give the festival grant money.
“Every time there was an issue in the community, Raymond would be there. He was relentless and he let you know what he wanted. He wouldn’t stop until he got it,” said Krista Snow, a former city councillor who now runs Pride.
But Mr. Taavel was also a warm, playful man who liked to greet people with a hug. Mr. Perry recalled hanging out with his friend at a downtown café, reading the newspaper together or going for walks to check out the farmer’s market. On one occasion, he recalled, his friend leaped onto the side of a museum railcar and had him photograph him.
And while Ms. Snow said the attack has left people a little more nervous on the street, the community had to move forward – that’s what Mr. Taavel would have wanted.
“An incident like this would have made him work harder to love people,” she said. “It’s terribly tragic, but we need to make sure we push forward, not in anger, not in hate, but in love.”