This is another NOLA to Toronto post. While I don’t always miss TO, there is nowhere I would rather be at this moment. My friend, Wendy Babcock, was found dead at her home yesterday; an apparent suicide. Wendy’s loss hurts; all death does but this is the second suicide in my circle in the past 13 months. My ex-wife Tricia killed herself last July. Suicide, post-Katrina is New Orleans; most people I have met know one or more people who have taken their own life.
Wendy had, by all accounts, a horrible childhood. She was abused by her parents, lived in a group home, became a ward of Children’s Aid Society, aged out of care, dropped out of high school, became a child sex trade worker (her client list included a very well-known current Toronto politician, lawyers, doctors, police officers etc). She had a child as a teen who was taken away and whom she never stopped fighting for. Her friend and roommate Lien Pham was murdered in October 2003.
She also had an incredible life. She became an activist for the rights of sex workers. She won the first Public Health Champion award from the City of Toronto in 2008 for her activist worker including “co-initiating a partnership with the Toronto Police Services to ensure that sex workers can report incidents of assault without fear of persecution or prosecution, and being a member of the advisory group to the Special Victims Unit.”
She earned a diploma from George Brown College’s program for counselling and advocacy for assaulted women and children. She worked at Street Health for a number of years as a harm reduction worker. She helped found numerous groups including the Bad Date Coalition, the Safer Stroll Project, Sherbourne Health Bus Sex Workers Stop, Regent Park Community Health Centre’s Sex Worker Drop In, and self defense training for sex workers.
Despite dropping out of high school at 16, in the fall of 2009 she started law school at Osgoode Hall, York University. Osgoode’s building, and the building the Faculty of Environmental Studies is in, are right next door to each other. We often saw each other on campus during her first year. She would sometimes catch a ride downtown with me after school so that I could take advantage of the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes and she could save herself a long bus ride.
In November 2009, her friends threw her a fundraising party at Goodhandy’s. I emceed the event which brought together a host of sex positive performances to help cover the $18,000 she needed for school. The party didn’t raise that much, but it did a great job at raising Wendy’s spirits and publicizing her story.
I heard from Wendy recently, as did many others in our mutual circle. I was shocked to hear the news of her passing last night. I spent a lot of time crying last night and today, thinking about her. She really was a bright light in the world. Someone who fought back against all the crap that was thrown her way and who seemed to be making progress against her demons. I want to talk more about anxiety, depression and suicide – especially the way it manifests in New Orleans – but today I just want to honour Wendy. I am grateful to have known her for the past 6 years or so.
RIP Wendy Babcock – you are loved and already missed. xoxo