Activist seeks public honour for Joe Rose, whose murder galvanized Montreal's gay community

Joe Rose was murdered on a city bus at Frontenac Metro station in 1989, an event that helped mobilize Montreal's gay rights movement. Now Matt McLauchlin wants the plaza in front of the Metro station named in Rose's honour.

Matt McLauchlin wants city to name plaza at Frontenac Metro for Rose, who died nearby

Joe Rose was beaten and stabbed to death on a city bus near Frontenac Metro early on the morning of March 19, 1989. (CBC)

Thirty years after his brutal murder, Joe Rose lives on in the hearts of Montreal's queer community — and in the substantial advances made for gay rights in the city and the province.

Matt McLauchlin, a social worker, translator and gay rights activist, wants Rose's memory to have a more physical presence in the city. He says the plaza in front of the Frontenac Metro station is a fitting place to be named in Rose's honour.

"I had the idea of a public place named after him, because our history is not really often commemorated," he said, referring to the gay community. "Certainly the people in our history are not publicly commemorated."

It was at Frontenac Metro that Rose was killed in 1989 — beaten and stabbed by four teenagers on a city bus late at night as he and a friend were riding to the AIDS hospice where Rose lived.

Rose's friend Sylvain Dutil managed to escape with minor injuries.

Rose, 23, was a proud, openly gay man, known for his shock of bright pink hair. He was active in the community and in the struggle for gay rights. 

An 'ordinary' murder

Matt McLauchlin, a social worker, translator and gay rights activist, wants Rose's memory to have a more physical presence in the city. (CBC)

Rose's murder was in some ways ordinary, McLauchlin said — it happened at a time when homophobic violence was all too common, and when AIDS was also ravaging the gay community.

"But in this particular case, it came to take on a symbolic value," he said.

The murder shocked the community but also galvanized gay Montrealers into action, ushering in an era of activism and protest. 

A few months after Rose died, the U.S.-based AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) set up a Montreal chapter. Its first major event was a commemoration of Rose, on the anniversary of his murder.

McLauchlin's idea to name a space after Rose took shape at a memorial event last March to mark 30 years since the young man's murder. Rose's brother, Geoffrey, supports the plan. 

The plaza at Frontenac Metro is currently not named. The Ville-Marie borough is responsible for the space and would need to approve an official designation. 

Matt McLauchlin wants the city to name a plaza after Rose as a memorial. 3:34

McLauchlin will make the request at the next borough council meeting on Nov. 12, and he will argue that the borough has a chance to make a statement. 

"One of the messages they would be sending is that our struggle against the violence and discrimination that we faced is significant," he said, "and it's significant in a way that can be commemorated in the public domain.

"There's an entire history, with many figures and many people we lost and many people fighting very hard for us that I hope would go on to be commemorated more broadly."

With files from Jennifer Yoon


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