A Faggot On The Alexandra Bridge

I’m not one given to the media fetish of the Ten (or One or Twenty or …) Years Ago Today. We knew, for instance, there would be a gush at the moment Michael Jackson had been dead for precisely three hundred and sixty-five days. It’s an arbitrary and meaningless trope, a cheap hook on which to hang a cheap rag.

However, there are some anniversaries that are with me throughout the year — one of them being the 1989 murder of Alain Brosseau. This then thirty-three year-old man worked in downtown Ottawa and lived in Hull, which necessitated a crossing after each shift of the Alexandra Bridge. On August 21 he was attacked by a group of men, who dropped him head-first from the bridge onto the rocks below, resulting in his death. The piece of information considered essential in this senseless incident is that Mr Brosseau’s attackers killed him because they assumed — wrongly — he was gay.

On the twentieth anniversary of this vile act, civilians and the Ottawa and Gatineau Chiefs of Police met at the middle of the Alexandra bridge at dusk in a symbolic “lighting” of the bridge with flashlights. The idea was to represent a commitment to ensuring “gay-bashing” does not go unreported or unnoticed.

It’s an important commitment, and worth renewing. But of course it won’t and cannot prevent future attacks. Only a three-hundred and sixty-five effort toward discrediting and finally extirpating homophobia will do that. The lesson taken away by many from the murder of Alain Brosseau is that “it can happen to anyone.” I’ve always felt this both hit and missed the target. What if it could only happen to one in ten? Would that make it okay, or less urgent, if your name weren’t on the list of those Not Wanted On The Voyage? In that case you are complicit in the crime — another bystander who allowed it to happen.

I’d prefer to stand in solidarity; and as it happened on my way to work today, crossing the Alexandra Bridge (as I do each day), I was called a faggot by three drunken and menacing-looking men. Apparently it can happen to anyone. But even if it couldn’t happen to “just anyone,” it should never happen. We still have a lot of work to do.

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