Halifax's north end community was stunned Tuesday after the beating death of a prominent gay activist.

Ryan Raymond Taavel, a former chairman of Gay Pride week events and a well-known editor for Wayves magazine, was killed outside Menz Bar early Tuesday.

Megan Leslie is the area's MP and her office is just down the street from where Taavel was killed.

"We're mourning the loss of a good friend; of a friend, of a community activist," she said. "Raymond Taavel was a friend to the entire community."

Leslie said she will be at Tuesday night's vigil and she expected a big turnout. "People have been coming into my office all day because he was a fixture in the community," she said. "It's really terribly sad news. We miss him."

She said she had worked with him many times on a variety of Pride and social justice issues.

"He was just in and out of the office all the time. He was a fixture in the community, that's for sure," she said.

"It's a huge loss. There's a big hole in our hearts right now. Hopefully coming together tonight, we'll try and close that wound a little bit. I'm looking forward to being with other people from the community who knew and loved Raymond."

'A terrific laugh and smile'

Hugo Dann was a friend of Taavel's. Dann said Taavel was one of the first members of the Halifax gay community he met when he moved to the city.  

dann-take-2_220x124_1

Hugo Dann was friends with Taavel for a long time.

"He was delightful. He was kind," he said. "He was fun — a terrific laugh and smile. A bright light."  

He said Taavel was very involved in Pride and had greatly contributed to the community, but kept himself in the background.

"He had really strong views about being there to serve and not being there to put himself forward," Dann said.

With eyewitnesses reporting that the assailant shouted gay slurs during the attack, Dann said it raised the question of if it was a homophobic crime. Dann said knowing that the suspect is a psychiatric patient got him thinking about the Glen Race case.

Race is a mentally ill man accused of killing two gay man in Halifax and a third man in New York in 2007. Halifax police temporarily issued a warning to gay men in the area. Race was convicted of the New York killing in a U.S. court and is now preparing for trial on the two Halifax deaths.

"I made the point then: How much is that vulnerable mind susceptible to the kind of hatred — the climate of homophobia — that exists in society?" Dann said. "Maybe they had a bad experience that informed them. Maybe they heard some religious fanatic speaking out against gay people."

Krista Snow, chairwoman of Halifax Pride, said she was devastated. She called her friend an "amazing person."

She said fears it was a hate crime had left people numb.

"The loss of Raymond is huge, but if somebody took his life because of who he loves, then our community will be devastated forever," she said.

A vigil for Taavel is being held Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Gottingen Street.