Community Impact Statement

Rev. Deane Dudley, Assistant Pastor at MCC Toronto, presented the following Community Impact Statement to the courts on February 4 regarding the sentencing of the killer who stalked the LGBTQ2+ community.

My name is Reverend Deana Dudley, and I am the Assistant Pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, where I have worked since 2009.  Prior to that time, I served other MCC Churches in Canada and the United States since 2000.  MCC Toronto was founded in 1973 as an affiliated congregation of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and has conducted ministry in Toronto continuously from that time.  The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches is a Christian denomination founded in 1968, with an original ministry to and by the LGBTQ2+ community. 

Although, like our parent denomination, we were originally dubbed “the gay church,” and our congregation is heavily LGBTQ2+ or Queer friendly, we have since evolved into a church with a very diverse congregation that includes LGBTQ2+ people, straight people, families of all sorts, refugees, people of many faiths besides Christian, and anyone seeking a vibrant, inclusive, progressive faith community. 

MCC Toronto has an adult congregation of more than 800 members and attendees, as well as a vibrant Children’s Church program. We offer three worship services every Sunday as well as other religious and spiritual programs for people of all ages, and owns its church building located at 115 Simpson Avenue in Toronto.  We house and support the Triangle Program, which is Canada’s first (and North America’s first) alternative high school for at-risk LGBTQ2+ youth. A joint partnership with the Toronto District School Board, it provides a safe space for LGBTQ2+ teenagers to learn and pursue their education, free from the homophobia and bullying experienced in their former school settings. The program has helped more than 700 students since its inception in 1995. 

We also have an LGBTQ2+ Refugee Ministry, which provides hope and help for LGBTQ2+ refugees in Canada who fear, or who’ve experienced, persecution, violence or risk to their lives in their home countries.  To date, we’ve sponsored 29 refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries where it is dangerous to be LGBTQ2+, including some countries that still have the death penalty. As well, over 2,400 refugee claimants have participated in our peer support activities.  MCC Toronto is the only charitable organization in Canada to have a Sponsorship Agreement with the Government of Canada that is specifically focused on LGBTQ2+ refugees.

It is in this context that I offer this Community Impact Statement on behalf of Toronto’s LGBTQ2+ community, as requested by the Toronto Police Services.  Although our community is far too broad and diverse for any one person to represent, I hope to be able to speak to the impact these horrific murders have had on many in our community.

When information surfaced about Bruce McArthur’s arrest broke in January of 2018, we at MCC Toronto knew immediately that the news would have a deep and lasting impact on our community.  In response, on Sunday February 4 of last year, we organized a vigil at MCC Toronto as a way for people to process and express their feelings, find support and comfort, and come together to mourn the loss of their friends.  At the time, only 5 victims had been found and identified; we lit a candle for Majeed Kayhan, Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Dean Lisowick and Soroush Mahmudi to remember the murdered men as members of our community, not just victims.  We lit one more candle in case additional remains were found.  Of course, it turned out that there were three more men; Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi.  Nearly 500 people attended that vigil. 

It was at that vigil that I first became acquainted with the homeowners whose property was the focus of the police investigation that discovered the remains of all of the victims.  Although we had just met, people in the church embraced the homeowners, and parishioners offered their homes to them.  Because, as you can imagine, their concept of home was deeply shaken. We have maintained that relationship in ways I will describe below.

It is
impossible to over-state the impact these murders have had on Toronto’s LGBTQ
community.  Much of the community has
been mourning these senseless and horrific deaths since word began to leak out
about the murders, and even before then, when the men were “merely”
missing.  Obviously, to people who were
friends, co-workers and acquaintances of the victims, that grief is immediate
and deeply painful.

But grief is also a reality for many in the community who may have been only peripherally involved in this case.  There is a concept within the LGBTQ2+ community called “chosen family.”  Many of us, when we came out, were rejected or ostracized by our families of origin, our previous communities, our churches and other faith communities.  Others may have been completely unable to come out, because of fear of such rejection, and were therefore alienated from our prior support systems and marginalized within society.  And for those who are marginalized, whether by sexual orientation, gender identity, or immigrant status, chosen family is hugely important.  Ironically, the killer would have been a part of that family… and then he betrayed us.

And so, the community around us became our family.  The men who were killed were our brothers.  And for many people within the LGBTQ2+ community, their murders have changed the way we look at the community forever.  Even with the Defendant in custody, it feels less safe.  It feels less trustworthy.  It feels less like home and family.  Home is the place where you can exhale and let your guard down, and for many of his victims, this place was missing in their lives. I imagine that going home with him, with who he falsely presented himself to be, might have initially been held out as the promise of something that felt like home, with someone who felt safe.

Many in our
community have lost the ability to feel that sense of safety even in the places
we used to think of as home. For many of the men who knew the Defendant, there
is no safe place anymore.

Grief has no map and no timeline.  It manifests in many (sometimes seemingly odd) ways and triggers many varied emotions.  It has sparked a great deal of anger, which has been turned in many directions, certainly at the Defendant, and occasionally at the police.  Anger is a normal adaptive response to injustice and unfairness.  We should be angry when we and our friends are subjected to hate and violence.  We should be angry when we are stalked, and our community becomes a hunting ground for a monster.

But these
events have also led many people to be angry at themselves, asking what more
could we have done to prevent these tragedies? 
The answer, of course, is nothing, because the guilt lies squarely and
solely with the Defendant, yet the brutal emotion of anger persists, and
affects our lives and our relationships. 
There is a song, written by lesbian musician Holly Near, that includes
the lyrics “We are a gentle, angry people….” 
It was written during the height of the AIDS epidemic – another killer
that stalked our community – but it aptly describes us in the wake of these
murders, too. We are angry, and that will persist for a long time, and I just
pray that we will not let the anger eat us alive and cause any of us to lash
out in unproductive ways, as so often happens with anger born of grief.

I cannot count the number of people within our community who have come to me to express their anger, and even more who have expressed their fear and loss of trust in humanity.  There are numerous men who have either dated the Defendant, or been “come on to” by him, or even attacked by him and thankfully lived to tell the tale.  I have spoken to people who knew the Defendant through work, or who lived near him. To various degrees, they are all still scared.  Some are terrified. Some have had to take time off from work because they have been haunted by nightmares.  A few, who had close encounters with the Defendant, are virtually unable to leave their homes to this day because of their quite legitimate fears.  Some have been utterly disabled by their fear and depression.  Most of the folks who have encountered him now regard those encounters as “too close for comfort.”  Men who see a big guy with white hair and a beard, still do a double-take and are on guard.  People who knew his van startle when they see a similar one on the road.  No one can now look at a large planter without being reminded of these horrific murders.  

As I mentioned earlier, because of the vigil MCC Toronto held last year, I became acquainted with the homeowners on Mallory Crescent where the Defendant dumped the remains of the men he murdered.  Shortly after that vigil, a couple of volunteers at the church came to me with the idea of offering to help the homeowners to rehabilitate their yard after the police concluded their forensic investigations there.  This is because we regarded that yard as far more than a body dumping ground; it was for a time the resting place of people we cared about.  It is sacred space.

The police
investigations took months, and they unfortunately left the yard in
considerable disarray and destruction. 
Finally, in September we were able to start.  About a dozen volunteers from MCC Toronto
came and leveled the ground again, re-dug a garden plot, reseeded the lawn, and
planted many shrubs and flowers.  When we
were done, we held a ceremony of cleansing and blessing, with music and prayers
from people of various faith traditions, for the homeowners and the community
to come and add their blessing to the reclaimed garden. 

In the Spring, the plants and flowers will emerge again.  There will be hundreds of daffodils.  They are hardy and resilient, and they will survive.  When I go up there in the Spring, and see buds breaking the ground, I will see the beginning of some healing.  I hope they will be the harbingers of growth and healing to come for our community. There will ALWAYS be the dreadful memories, the horrendous grief, the fears, the anger…. Toronto’s LGBTQ2+ community is also strong and resilient, and we too will survive, but has been changed forever.