Over 100 people trickled into Cawthra Square Park last Thursday evening—older women, sleeping babies in strollers, students, police officers. None had any discernible connection to one another, but all were there to commemorate the life of Toronto transgendered activist Kyle Scanlon, who committed suicide on July 3, at the age of 42. His best friend of 16 years, Athena Brown, kept a close eye on her young son, Maxime, who peered out from the bushes as she approached a podium to address the crowd. “You stay there, baby,” she warned. “They’re all watching you, so don’t run away.”
Scanlon was a longstanding fixture at the 519 Community Centre on Church Street, where he’d worked for over a decade. He was instrumental in implementing programs to provide the local trans community with access to housing, employment, and health care.
But Brown’s memorial was more personal. She remembered Scanlon as “a brother:” how he travelled to Timmins by bus to emcee her wedding, his nervousness holding her children when they were babies, the time he shielded her at the ROM as she tended to one of her son’s diaper emergencies, the way he and Maxime would read stories together. As she spoke, a slideshow depicted Scanlon hugging koalas and swimming with dolphins.
“Kyle was such a positive influence on our boys, for his love of books, for how he embodied masculinity,” Brown said. From the bushes, Maxime extended his chubby arm to the screen at another picture of Scanlon, squinting into the sunlight.
“Of grief or nothing,” Brown concluded, “I will take grief.”