By ANDREW CALEY
April 18, 2012
Miranda Romkey was 15 when she first volunteered during with the Gay Pride Week festivities in Halifax.
She was shy and nervous. She was one of the only teenagers working with loads of adults. She found herself just standing around for the most part. Then she met Raymond Taavel.
He showed up at her site and began to introduce Romkey to all the other volunteers she would be working with and gave her his cell number.
“Call me if you need anything and I’ll make sure you are well taken care of,” Taavel said.
Romkey smiled as Taavel walked away.
He gave Romkey the confidence she needed to feel comfortable without question and made it happen, she said. Something he will no longer be able to do.
Taavel was beaten to death outside Menz & Moolyz Bar on Gottingen Street, in Halifax early Tuesday morning.
He was a prominent member of the Halifax gay community and the coordinator for Halifax’s Gay Pride week for the past 12 years. That is where Romkey met him and he will be thought of fondly by her and so many others, she said.
Selfless, kind and thoughtful is the way Romkey will remember him.
“Gay Pride week was an extremely hectic time for Raymond, but yet he made time to ensure a shy teenage girl was less nervous for an hour our two because that’s just the person he was.”
Losing that person has affected the gay community in Halifax profoundly, said gay rights activist and Halifax resident, Terrance Corbett.
“The murder stunned me,” he said. “It almost raises the question of should we, the gay community, hide who we are to appease the masses, to protect ourselves and our loved ones. The simple answer is no. We are showing the country, in light of this tragic event, we will fight for equal treatment and the ability to love who we choose.”
St. Mary’s student Kathleen Chisholm, attended a vigil for Taavel on Gottingen Street, Tuesday. The incident has affected not only the Halifax gay community, but also the community as a whole, she said.
“Raymond wasn’t just a gay rights activist, he was a human rights activist and I am outraged something so horrible has happened to such a strong and genuine person.”
Chisholm is just not sure who to be mad at, but hopes action will be taken.
“Am I upset with man who committed the act? Or the system that let him out that night. It is truly a shame that it take a violent act – and a life – to motivate change.”
Taavel’s passing has made an impact on P.E.I. as well.
Chris Gallant is a gay rights activist in Charlottetown and when he heard of Taavel’s death it hit close to home since he holds a similar position in the Island’s gay community.
“I had spoken to Raymond a few times over the years about organizing events here and he was just great,” Gallant said.
“He was such a big part of the gay community in Halifax so when I heard about what happened I was shocked and horrified because Halifax is a fairly accepting place.”
Gallant at first like many others was concerned that Taaven’s death might be a hate crime. But as more details were released about the suspect detained attitudes changed.
Andre Denney, 32, was on a day pass from East Coast Forensic Hospital. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1997 and has a history of violence. On Mon. April 16, Denney did not return to the hospital. Six hours later Taavel was found on the street.
This is a real tragedy and something that is a sensitive issue, said Stephen Ayer of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia. But he does not entirely agree that it was a failure in the system.
“What we are looking at is some uncertainty in regards to making the assessment of risk. In the case of this individual there was obviously some uncertainty. It’s not an exact science.”
Ayer added that cases like this are very rare, so we as a community have to be careful about labeling stereotypes on those with mental illness.
But people who suffer from schizophrenia can sometimes be difficult to deal with if they are abusing substances and off their medication, said registered nurse Jessica Upton.
“I’ve only had to deal with a couple people who suffered from it in my experience,” she said. “For the most part they are fine just normal people, but in cases like this it can obviously get pretty bad if they are not treated properly.”
Now, Gallant and others were more disappointed with Capital Health than anyone else.
“This is a major screw up by them and it lead to a tragedy. It just so happens it happened to a beloved member of the gay community. But it’s not a hate crime.”
Capital Health is putting their short-term release policy under-review following the incident and Denney is due to appear in court May 17 after a psychiatric assessment.
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