AAHP Blog

From the Video Vault: No Sad Songs (1985)

No Sad Songs (1985) – 60 minutes, colour, english
by Nik Sheehan

The oral history transcripts produced by our project primarily focus on the AIDS activist years of the late 1980s and 1990s when it became clear that HIV/AIDS was not just a medical, but political crisis. However, the early years of the AIDS crisis provide context for the emergence of activist responses to the stigma, medical neglect, government ineptitude, and overt homophobia that marked the early 1980s. Nik Sheehan’s No Sad Songs is groundbreaking in that it provides an early look at AIDS crisis in Canada from within directly affected communities.

The documentary was co-produced by the AIDS Committee of Toronto who had obtained a $20,000 grant for making an educational video. As noted by Tom Waugh, No Sad Songs is the first AIDS documentary in Canada and set the stage for a cascade of AIDS activist media for the next decade. Importantly, the production of this documentary modelled the artist-community organization partnership that would be emulated in many HIV/AIDS alternative media projects, most notably the public access cable series Toronto: Living With AIDS (1990-1991). The video premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1985.

The full video is available for streaming from HotDocs here.

For more on No Sad Songs check out Matt Hays’ article in POV Magazine, Doc Classics: No Sad Songs.

 

AIDS Activist History Project Workshop at Pervers/Cité 2017

L’intervention dans la cérémonie d’ouverture du congrès international sur le sida à Montréal par des militants de AIDS ACTION NOW! (Toronto), ACT UP (New York) et Réaction SIDA (Montreal).

The AIDS Activist History Project (AAHP) is teaming up with the Archives Gaies du Quebec (AGQ) to offer a two-hour workshop during the 2017 edition of Pervers/cité. This hands-on workshop will teach participants how to efficiently use the digital archives that AAHP has been assembling from across Canada, and Montreal in particular. Participants will also have the opportunity to help us create indexes for Montreal oral history transcripts as well as help us digitize and upload Montreal-based AIDS activist ephemera housed at AGQ to our online archive. Participants are encouraged to bring a laptop, but having one is not necessary to one’s participation. Workshop space is limited to 12 participants so please RSVP in advance by emailing the organizers directly at aidsactivisthistory@gmail.com. This workshop will primarily be in English.  You can check out the facebook event page for more details here!

The full Pervers/Cité 2017 schedule can be seen online.

Le AIDS Activist History Project (AAHP) en collaboration avec les Archives Gaies du Québec (AGQ) offriront un atelier de deux heure pendant l’édition de Pervers/cité de 2017. Cet atelier pratique montrera aux participants comment utiliser efficacement les archives numériques que l’AAHP a rassemblées de partout au Canada et de Montréal en particulier. Les participants auront également l’occasion de nous aider à créer des index pour les transcriptions de l’histoire orale de Montréal et nous aider à numériser et télécharger des éphémères militantes du sida de Montréal à l’AGQ dans nos archives en ligne. Les participants sont encouragés à apporter un laptop, mais ce n’est pas nécessaire pour participer. L’espace de l’atelier est limité à 12 personnes, s’il vous plaît inscrivez vous en avance avec les organisateurs directement par courriel à aidsactivisthistory@gmail.com. Cet atelier sera en anglais principalement.

 

 

Pride has always been political

The AIDS Activist History Project is happy to share Gary Kinsman‘s introduction to this amazing poster by Kara Sievewright!


Poster by Kara Sievewright
Introduction by Gary Kinsman

pride has always been POLITICAL

I am delighted to introduce Kara Sievewright’s wonderful poster, “Pride Has Always Been Political,” that vividly captures our movements in history. For those unfamiliar with Pride, it started off as the celebration of the rebellious origins of the queer and trans liberation movements in resistance to police repression in the later 1960s—ranging from the Compton’s cafeteria riot in San Francisco in 1966 to the more celebrated Stonewall riots in June 1969. The police have been a major vehicle for enforcing heterosexual hegemony and the two-gender binary system.

Since then, the origin of Pride marches have been largely forgotten with the transformation of Pride in larger urban centres into spectator-centred Parades, with commercialization, corporate and government sponsorships, and what I call the emergence of the white middle-class neoliberal queer who is accommodated with capitalist and racist social relations. This has distanced Pride celebrations from their radical (getting to the roots) political beginnings. Others have described this process as “homonormativity” (Lisa Duggan) or as “homonationalism” (Jasbir Puar). Sievewright’s poster works actively against this class-based and racialized process of the social organization of forgetting through activating the resistance of remembering the political roots of Pride.

Starting at the bottom of the poster, Sievewright depicts the Black Lives Matter contingent in Toronto Pride 2016 that brought the Parade to a halt with its sit-in and demands for funding and space for Black queers and trans people, for other queers of colour, and for Indigenous Two-Spirit people, along with the urgent need for the police to not have an institutional presence within Pride as long as they are attacking Blacks and other people of colour and Indigenous people. This inspiring action reminded all of us of the activist roots of Pride.

Returning to the top, we see the depiction of the Montréal resistance to the Olympic police repression in 1976 and to the raid on the Truxx bar in 1977. It was these revolts in the streets that led to Québec enacting sexual orientation protection in late 1977. This resistance continued in Toronto with the mass response to the 1981 bath raids which at that point were the largest mass arrests since the War Measures Act in 1970. It was this resistance that provided the context for the celebration of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day to mark the Stonewall riot in June 1981 in Toronto which has continued to today. The events that day were both a celebration and very political as we stopped in front of the Headquarters of the 52 Division of the Police (which had carried out the bath raids) chanting “Fuck You 52!”

The banner “We’re Asians Gay and Proud” signals the growing self-organization of queer and trans people of colour in the later 1970s and 1980s who were finding that their needs were not being addressed in the white-dominated gay communities where they faced racism, nor in their own communities of colour where they faced heterosexism and anti-trans discrimination. Black Lives Matter Toronto with its many queer and trans members continues and extends this tradition of organizing.

The bottom half of the poster depicts the major wave of AIDS activism organized by AIDS ACTION NOW! and various ACT UP groups in the later 1980s and early 1990s as people fought for their lives. Silence did literally mean death and direct action meant life. The image of the police arrest is from a demonstration against the police arrests at Sex Garage (a queer warehouse party) in 1990 that catalyzed queer organizing in Montréal.

Then Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in Toronto Pride is depicted. QuAIA built on the spirit of anti-apartheid organizing against the separation and subordination policies of the former South African racist government but this time in opposition to the polices of the Israeli state against Palestinians. In response to this challenge to official Canadian support for and the “pinkwashing” of Israeli policies, QuAIA faced banning and major opposition from homonationalist forces within the Pride Committee and from City politicians.

It is very fitting, as mentioned above, that the powerful 2016 Black Lives Matter protest ends the poster (if you read it from top to bottom that is). This poster provokes actively remembering our histories while providing hope for a future where we can make socially transformative and liberationist queer and trans movements.


Biographies

Gary Kinsman is a queer liberation, anti-poverty, and anti-capitalist activist on Indigenous land. He is the author of books and articles on sexual and gender regulation and is a professor emeritus in the Sociology Department at Laurentian University, Sudbury.

Kara Sievewright is an artist, writer, and designer who has published comics in many magazines and anthologies. She has been a member of the Graphic History Collective since 2015 and is currently working on a graphic novel. She lives in Daajing giids, Haida Gwaii as a settler on Haida territory. You can see more of her work at http://www.makerofnets.ca.

Further Reading

Gentile, Patrizia, Gary Kinsman, and L. Pauline Rankin, eds. We Still Demand! Redefining
Resistance in Sex and Gender Struggles
. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2017.

Kinsman, Gary. The Regulation of Desire: Homo and Hetero Sexualities. Montréal: Black Rose, 1996.

Kinsman, Gary, and Patrizia Gentile. The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual
Regulation
. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.

McCaskell, Tim. Queer Progress: From Homophobia to Homonationalism. Toronto: Between
the Lines, 2016.

Warner, Tom. Never Going Back: A History of Queer Activism in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002.

* Images in this poster are based on various historical photos. The image of the Sex Garage raid in the middle bottom, is based on photos by Linda Dawn Hammond.

 


**Click here to download a .pdf version of this poster via Graphic History Collective

From the Video Vault: Please Adjust Your Sex (1988) and Another Man (1988)

Please Adjust Your Sex (1988) – 20 minutes, colour, english
Another Man (1988) – 3 minutes, colour, english
by Youth Against Monsterz

Toronto-based anarchist theatre collective Youth Against Monsterz produced at least two tapes in the late 1980s that are now available online thanks to the sleuthing of Andy Sorfleet.

Please Adjust Your Sex is a DIY no-budget videotape by and for young people that encourages viewers to engage in safer sex and safer drug use practices while also encouraging them to embrace their desires and reject the patronizing and moralizing media cacophony bombarding them everyday. While the aesthetics are dated, the editing choppy, and the acting goofy, this tape is an important predecessor to the now much more polished DIY youtube videos being made by young people today.

 

Another Man features many of the same thematics, but smartly wrapped up into a three minute music video featuring the synth sounds of the Mr. Tim Collective and the whip-smart analysis of lesbian activist Chris Bearchell. According to Vtape, Another Man was originally shown on City-TV’s syndicated New Music Show. Gay film scholar Tom Waugh also points out that Another Man was one of three videotapes from Canadian authors included in Canadian John Greyson’s and American Bill Horrigan’s 1990 three VHS compilation package Video Against AIDS (1990).  With hundreds of these three tape packages distributed in the US by Video Data Bank and in Canada by Vtape, Another Man reached significant audiences all over North America before online digital video distribution.

For more on Canadian video artists’ responses to the epidemic see Chapter 9, “Anti-Retroviral: A Test of Who We Are,” in Tom Waugh’s Romance of Transgression in Canada: Queering Sexualities, Nations, Cinemas (2006).

(MORE) PROPOSITIONS FOR THE AIDS MUSEUM

(MORE) PROPOSITIONS FOR THE AIDS MUSEUM
Directed by Philippe Dumaine
Théâtre LaChapelle, Montréal
April 24, 25, 27, 28, 2017

In the opening scene of this Montréal-based production, all the show’s actors stand shoulder to shoulder before the audience. In silence, the first person in the lineup lets a large drop of saliva slide out of their mouth only to be caught in the mouth of the person beside them. The act of sharing and mixing body fluids continues down the line until the final actor catches the last drop of spit and swallows. The gesture, in the context of a theatrical production about HIV/AIDS, needs no explanation. These actors are in it together for the following two hours of fluxus-style HIV/AIDS happenings.

The actors then re-present HIV/AIDS cultural production, activism, and history in a kaleidoscopic collage of scenes. A young woman, excited by the history of AIDS activism and ACT UP exasperatedly struggles to explain how the costume she has designed symbolically references many notable moments of activist resistance. A young man interprets Mathew McConaughey’s Dallas Buyers Club Oscar acceptance speech from English to French, putting into relief the absurdity of Hollywood’s callous relationship to the history of HIV/AIDS. Two actors stand before us side by side telling the most callous and horrendous AIDS jokes from the ‘80s and ‘90s, again changing their meaning by changing the context of their presentation. Another actor invites the audience to cheer and wave pompom’s while delivering a diatribe against HIV criminalization and the lack of safe injection sites, all while the scene is being live streamed on Facebook.

The performance vignettes continue, re-presenting HIV/AIDS cultural production, activism, and history. At times the references may be hard to decipher for those not immersed in HIV/AIDS activism or history. Not everyone will know that that naked actor washing himself in grapefruit juice is making explicit reference to the harmful interaction grapefruit juice has on some HIV medications. Not everyone will get the John Giorno references in lyrics of the Montreal electro-hipster duet that precedes the play’s closing scene. Not everyone will get that the flyer advertising the show is a direct reference to a photo of artist/activist David Wojnarowicz wearing a jacket with text on the back. But knowing all the references isn’t necessary. If anything it entices viewers to ask, “What was that about?” or at least prompt a google query. For me personally, it simply made me want to re-watch the entire production from beginning to end to catch more of the layers I might have missed the first time around.

Two moments in the show stand out in their ability to put the past in dialogue with the present. The first is simply a scene where all the actors slowly carry placards from upstage to downstage, looking directly into the faces of the audience. Some signs carry now well-worn HIV/AIDS slogans like “SILENCE = DEATH” or “ACTION = LIFE”, while others carry new slogans and phrases like “FREE STEVE,” referencing a Quebec City man imprisoned for HIV non-disclosure, and “SILENCE = SEX” referencing the stigma still faced by HIV-positive people who disclose their status in the bedroom. The other interesting present-historical moment comes when well-known Montréal drag queen Peaches LePage, also known locally as activist and performance artist Jordan Arsenault, invites a special guest from the audience to the stage for a Barbara Walters meets Joan Rivers sit-down interview. Special guests included Doctor Jean-Pierre Routy, publicist and playwright Puelo Deir, filmmaker Anne Golden, and performance artist Atif “Trannietronic” Siddiqi. The only addition I longed for in this moment of Montreal historiography was the acknowledgement and presence of the larger Montreal Haitian community that bore the brunt of the epidemic in its early days in that city. This was a missed opportunity and is a trajectory worth pursuing for another (EVEN MORE) PROPOSITIONS FOR THE AIDS MUSEUM in the future.

Following the on-stage interviews, the show crescendos into a Robert Wilson-esque final scene where each actor’s vignettes overlap on stage. A ballet dancer slowly sheds his coat of carnations in an endurance performance on his tippy toes, a young woman now nude and covered in self-applied Kaposi Sarcoma legions stares into the crowd, a young man covered in honey lying in a pile of popcorn slowly emerges to walk across the stage at a glacial pace. And much more.  The final scene is messy and complex and difficult to take in. A fitting end to a show that aims to present historical impressions of a messy and urgent period of crisis that continues in different forms today. While the show’s structure, historical references, and at times uncomfortable re-presentations of history might be difficult for some viewers, I think that might precisely be the point.

To learn more about the show check out project hybris.

All performance photos courtesy of: (MORE) PROPOSITIONS FOR THE AIDS MUSEUM, projets hybris, 2017. Photographer, Claire Renaud.

Posting by Ryan Conrad

AGQ & AAHP Research Guide

As I write this post, on this first day of December, I am again reminded that AIDS remains a condition that still affects so many people and for which there is still no cure. It has left a deep impact on the LGBTQ2S community. Despite all the pain, all the grieving, all the discrimination, AIDS remains to this day a catalyst for activists and champions of human rights. The history of AIDS, even more so of AIDS activism, is incomplete. What I mean is that the written records, the documents, the “evidence” is lacking from our archives. The Archives gaies du Québec – the Quebec Gay Archives or AGQ – does not have, nor does it pretend to have, all that was ever written, made, documented on this topic or any topic for that matter. This is why the word “archives” is always in the plural: not the final, definitive, complete archive – without an s – but the archives that were saved, preserved and documented along those that were lost, destroyed, or forgotten. This is why creating a research guide on the history of AIDS is important and why I accepted to work on this project.

First, I have a confession to make: I have never seen myself as an activist. I am both an archivist and a translator. My work has always happened in the background, away from prying eyes, in the shadow (and yes, often in the basement). I am not the kind of person who grabs a sign and walks in protest of something, with one exception. For years now, my husband and I have raised money and marched in the Farha Foundation AIDS Walk in Montreal, an event that sadly folded after the 2015 edition. I have too much respect for activists and the actions they take to refrain from calling myself that. Of course, one can still be political in other ways: from refusing to grammatically put women in parentheses when translating a text into French, to adapting existing archival standards that turns the focus from “the powerful” to those whose voices are seldom heard; knowing that the status quo is not the true representation of society and that archives are incomplete.

The research guide (available here) summarizes what is held at the AGQ. It presents a list of archival fonds, what us archivists call collections of records – a word that comes from the French fonds d’archives – that primarily focuses on AIDS, a list of fonds where AIDS is documented but not the primary focus, a lists of periodicals, and research techniques or tips for books, posters, audiovisual recordings and other material. While browsing these lists, one quickly notices an overrepresentation of archival material documenting the perspective of gay men or men who have sex with other men. Smaller fonds do focus on the experiences of trans people, lesbians, and bisexuals but the corpus is a lot thinner. If anything, creating this research guide has shown a gap for these other voices, silences, a lack of diversity that happened not because of intent or malice but simply because of the way the material was organically collected. From this gap we can justify rejecting the status quo and actively seeking out those other experiences that will help document the broad and diverse experiences of everyone in the LGBTQ2S community. All of us working on the AIDS Activist History Project and at the AGQ hope that this research guide will promote the discovery and use of this community documentary heritage. As the AGQ continues to acquire more records, and hopefully records that document an even greater diversity and inclusivity of voices, this guide will be augmented accordingly.

I would like to thank Alexis and Gary whose work allowed for the creation of this guide. A special thank you goes to Ross and Jacques, two guardians of memory, who continue to see to the day-to-day activities at the AGQ.

by Jonathan Dorey


Au moment d’écrire ces lignes en ce premier jour de décembre, j’ai la démonstration que le sida continue de frapper tant de gens et pour lequel il n’existe aucun traitement. Le sida a profondément marqué la communauté LGBTQ2S. Malgré la douleur, le deuil, la discrimination, le sida sert toujours de catalyseur pour les activistes et les défendeurs des droits de la personne. L’histoire du sida, et plus encore cette de l’activisme du sida, est incomplète. Je pense aux documents écrits, au matériel produit à toutes ces « preuves » qui manquent dans nos archives. Les Archives gaies du Québec (AGQ) n’a pas ni ne prétend avoir l’ensemble de tout ce qui a été écrit, publié ou produit sur le sujet ou aucun autre sujet d’ailleurs. Voilà pourquoi on utilise le mot « archives » au pluriel : non pas l’archive définitive, exhaustive et complète, sans le s, mais plutôt les archives sauvées, préservées et documentées ainsi que celles perdues, détruites ou oubliées. C’est pour ces raisons que la création d’un guide de recherche sur l’histoire du sida importe tant et que j’ai accepté de participer au projet.

Mais d’abord, une confession : je ne me suis jamais vu comme un activiste. Je suis à la base archiviste et traducteur. Mon travail s’est toujours déroulé en arrière-plan, à l’abri des regards, dans l’ombre (et oui, souvent au sous-sol). Je ne suis pas le genre de personne à prendre une pancarte et à aller manifester, avec une exception. Pendant des années, mon mari et moi avons amassé de l’argent et marché lors de la marche annuelle contre le sida de la Fondation Farha à Montréal, évènement qui a malheureusement cessé après sa dernière édition en 2015. J’ai trop de respect pour les activistes et leurs actions pour m’arroger ce titre. On peut par contre être politique autrement : du refus d’enfermer les femmes entre parenthèses dans un texte français à l’adaptation de normes archivistiques pour donner toute leur place aux sans-voix plutôt qu’uniquement aux « puissants »; reconnaître que le statu quo ne représente pas adéquatement la société et que les archives sont toujours incomplètes.

Le guide de recherche ressemble en un document ce que détiennent les AGQ. On y retrouve une liste de fonds d’archives, soit des collections de documents, portant principalement sur le sida, une liste de fonds où le sida est abordé mais de façon secondaire, une liste de périodiques et une série de techniques de recherche et de conseils pour chercher livres, affiches, enregistrements audiovisuels et autre matériel. En parcourant ces listes, on se rend vite compte qu’il y a une surreprésentation de documents d’archives offrant la perspective d’hommes gais ou d’hommes ayant des relations sexuelles avec d’autres hommes. Les AGQ détient également d’autres fonds sur l’expérience des personnes trans, lesbiennes ou bisexuelles, mais ce corpus est beaucoup plus mince. Créer ce guide de recherche a permis de mettre en lumière ce vide, ce silence, ce manque de diversité qui ne s’explique pas par une intention ou par malice, mais plutôt par un mode d’acquisition naturel. Ceci justifie le rejet du statu quo et le désir de rechercher ces autres expériences qui permettront de mieux documenter toute la diversité des expériences de la communauté LGBTQ2S. De nous tous qui travaillons sur le projet d’histoire de l’activisme sur le sida et aux AGQ, nous espérons que ce guide de recherche favorisera la découverte et l’utilisation de ce patrimoine documentaire communautaire. Le guide sera mis à jour et fur et à mesures des nouvelles acquisitions des AGQ, acquisitions qui nous le souhaitons seront encore plus diversifiées et inclusives.

J’aimerais remercier Alexis et Gary sans qui ce guide n’aurait pu être possible. J’aimerais également saluer le travail tout particulier de Ross et Jacques, deux gardiens de la mémoire, qui voient aux activités quotidiennes des AGQ.

Remembering Glen Brown

Members of the AIDS Activist History Project are saddened to hear of the passing of Glen Brown, a remarkable and important figure in the history of AIDS-oriented activism in Canada. We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to interview Glen in 2014 about his experiences with AIDS activism in Toronto during the 1980s and 1990s. What follows is a glimpse into the many memories that Glen shared with us during his interview.

glen

Photo of Glen Brown speaking at AIDS ACTION NOW! demonstration in Toronto


When Glen moved to Toronto in 1988, he described feeling as though he’d arrived at the “epicenter” of the AIDS epidemic in Canada. He recalls spotting posters around the city; images of that “giant Thor-like character” emblazoned with the words “TOO DAMN SLOW” and “IT’S TIME TO ACT.” That poster – which Glen held onto for dethorcades – helped to draw him into the activist scene in Toronto. “I’m not going to do nothing,” he thought to himself. In our interview with Glen, he described that first meeting at Jarvis Collegiate. It was there that he first met many of the activists he’d been reading about in The Body Politic, including Tim McCaskell, Gary Kinsman, George Smith and Michael Lynch. It was a “powerful meeting,” he recalled, and “a nice welcoming place for a sort of lefty queer to arrive.” When the meeting broke up into working groups, Glen found himself joining the Public Action Committee, an arm of AIDS ACTION NOW! that was centered in organizing direct actions and demonstrations.


There were so many demonstrations that stood out in Glen’s memories: carrying mock coffins past the Toronto General Hospital; burning Jake Epp in effigy outside City Hall; the AIDS ACTION NOW! float and die-in during Toronto Pride; hanging effigies “out to dry” in front of Queens Park; and liaising with ACT UP New York and Réaction SIDA for the V International AIDS conference in Montreal. He reminded us of how powerful these demonstrations were, how committed and relentless the activism was at this time, and how he and others felt as though they were actually making a difference in the world.

glen-trillium
Photo of Glen Brown with sign reading: “1994 Won Trillium Drug Plan to cover high drug costs!”

Another particularly significant memory Glen shared with us was the key role that AIDS activists played in establishing what is now known as the Trillium Drug Plan. Glen’s work was central to this effort. By 1990, access to drug treatment had become the “chief issue facing people with HIV,” since many were unable to afford the exorbitant costs of life saving drug treatments. The resulting drug plan, Glen reminded us, was made possible by the activists who relentlessly demanded change and consistently called upon politicians to do better by people living with HIV/AIDS.

Near the end of our interview with Glen, he described his work around AIDS activism as “the most transformative part” of his life. We look forward to learning more about this work from the many stories, images and documents that Glen shared with us. We invite others to learn from these materials, which we’ve made publicly available here on our website.

Rest in power, Glen.


Click here to read through the full transcript from our two-part interview with Glen, and to learn more about his important contributions to AIDS activism.