Thursday, June 6, 1996
Issue No. 303.

Michael Kealy

p. 19.

Taken before their time

Three people whose dreams will never be realized

Brenda Ludgate was not a flamboyant drag queen, she was not twittery and exotic, and she was not a transsexual. Brenda Ludgate was a woman caught in the trap of quick sex for a quick fix.

The first of three prostitutes found dead, Ludgate, drifted from her parents' home in Etobicoke to her street corner in the Queen and Shaw area of Parkdale. Her father told reporters that she wanted to find a good job and to be a mother. She was not lured by the streets, she was addicted to drugs and alcohol. One Parkdale hooker, who declined to give her name, said, "She was no different than a lot of us, she needed money to support her habit."

Ludgate, the only daughter in a family of three children, dropped out of high school in Grade 11, and seems to have been led into street life by a boyfriend who introduced her to drugs and alcohol. But the 25-year-old woman was not resigned to life as an addict and prostitute: she tried many times to kick her habit, and four months ago was evicted from a rehabilitation program for breaking the rules.

Deanna (born Thomas) Wilkinson also broke the rules: He wanted to be a woman. Deanna, 31, described by many as sweet and generous, was taking hormones in preparation for gender reassignment surgery. She was well-known by other Homewood-Avenue prostitutes, but she was, for the most part, a loner. Belinda, a 22-year-old transvestite who makes her dates over the phone, said, "Deanna was a nice girl, but she was hard to get to know."

But Deanna was not a stranger to everyone: "She was comfortable to be around once you got to know her," said Vina, a 22-year-old transvestite. A resident of the Beaches, Deanna had another life that few knew about. "She was a good singer," Vina said, "Good enough to do shows." And Arlana, a prostitute who knew Deanna for the past six years, said, "She wrote poetry and short stories, she even kept a diary." But Arlana was quick to add that Deanna kept that part of her life quiet: "She had her life and her friends out there [in the Beaches.]"

While Deanna was only a familiar face to many, Shawn Keegan, the third prostitute shot to death, left an impression in the gay village. Only 18 years old, Keegan, or "Junior" as he was called, seemed to explode into Toronto as a young teenager. Rick, an ex-drag queen, remembers the first time he met Shawn two years ago: "I was in drag sitting in the Cup, and Shawn came walking right up to me wanting to know if I did my make-up myself." Rick added with a smirk, "I knew this one would be in a pair of heels in no time."

At a press conference held days after the murders, Mike King, a friend of Keegan's, said, "Shawn was a great friend, he would have given you the shirt off his back." But James, a 27-year- old ex-hustler, painted a different picture, saying: "A lot of the regulars at the Cup were avoiding him because they felt he fell into the wrong crowd." James, who used to work in Boystown, remembers when Shawn first started hustling. "About two years ago, he just appeared out of nowhere. And then about a year ago, he figured out he could make more money as a girl."

But everyone says that Keegan was desparate to get off the streets. Nick, a Second Cup regular, said, "He just wanted to settle down with a nice man and get a good job." Tannisha, a 21- year-old pre-operative transsexual, said that Keegan went home to Belleville a few months ago to try and straighten things out with his family.

But a few weeks ago, he returned to Toronto. Homeless and penniless, Keegan was among the 50 or so squatters who were evicted from a vacant Carlton-Street apartment building at the beginning of May, and went on to occupy Nathan Phillips Square demanding proper housing. Police eventually evicted the group, and some moved into a donated house outside the city; others found squats elsewhere in Toronto.

Tannisha added, "He had gotten onto Welfare, but his first cheque was delayed, so he went back to work [on Homewood.]"

Brenda, Deanna, and Shawn had problems -- problems that kept them tied to the streets. But there were other sides to this trio, ones that did not make for splashy headlines: A woman who wanted to earn a decent living and become a mother; a woman who was a good singer, a poet, and a story-teller; and a kid trying to find the man of his dreams. Let them be remembered as three people gunned down before their dreams could be realized.

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Created: May 19, 1997
Last modified: May 19, 1997

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