AAHP Blog

Activating the History of AIDS Activism in Montréal

A short interview with Alexis and Gary along with video footage from the hour-long AAHP presentation at Concordia University’s Community Lecture Series on HIV/AIDS a year ago is now available online.  Definitely worth checking out if you are interested in learning more about the Montreal collection of oral history interviews we’ve been conducting and the forgotten history of HIV/AIDS activism in Montreal.

During the summer of 2017 AAHP also hosted a workshop during the annual Pervers/Cité festival in collaboration with the Archives Gaies du Quebec to teach people about our work and the history of HIV/AIDS activism in Montreal in particular. We focused on showing participants how we use Omeka to organize our digital ephemera as well as the ongoing indexing process we are doing with our oral history transcripts in order to make them more accessible for future research(ers). Hopefully we will be hosting more workshops like this in the near future in other locations as well!

AAHP workshop at the Archives Gaies du Quebec with Danielle, Gary, and Ryan – August 2017

From the Video Vault: Karate Kids (1990)

Karate Kids (1990) – 21 minutes, colour, english
by Derek Lamb

This short animation film was funded by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in partnership with the non-profit charitable organization Street Kids International (now part of Save the Children), founded by Order of Canada recipients Peter Dalglish (World Health Organization) and Frank O’Dea (Second Cup). It was written and directed by Academy Award winner Derek Lamb, a British transplant whose now ex-wife Janet Perlman helped animate the film. Karate Kids has be translated into more than 25 languages, circulated in over one hundred countries, and was the recipient of the Peter F. Drucker Award for Canadian Nonprofit Innovation in 1993. With such accolades for both the film and its makers, it’s (un)surprising that the film’s content and message was met with anger and hostility from AIDS activists in Canada—notably ACT UP/Montréal.

Karate Kids takes as its premise that there are dangerous men lurking around densely populated markets in the global south who are there to rape your little boys and infect them with AIDS (no, not HIV, but AIDS, because a complex understanding of the disease isn’t relevant here). While the film is utilizing methods of visual instruction for HIV prevention—there’s brief discussion of condoms in the context of “making love” with your opposite-gender partner—the film’s message is muddied by rampant homophobia. Stranger danger is typified in the film by images of a feminine man with a pencil moustache and sun glasses riding around in a dark car with a driver looking for children to entice with money and gifts (ie. rich faggots who want to fuck your children). It just so happens that this “smiling man” in the dark car ensnares a young boy Mario, rapes him, and at the end of the film Mario dies of AIDS. The lesson to be learned: stay away from rich faggots, even if they offer you money or gifts, because they only want to rape you and give you AIDS.

ACT UP/Montréal responded by producing a bilingual pamphlet condemning the film and outlining a number of problems.  ACT UP complains that the animation and the attendant comic book based on the same characters and storyline, peddle bigoted stereotypes and middle class morality. Furthermore they note the film trades action and violence—the “Smiling Man” is killed fleeing a lynch mob—while failing to show the realities of how HIV transmission occurs and is prevented in everyday contexts. You can find the full flyer in english and french in our digital Montréal ephemera archive here.

The film can be watched in full on the NFB website, as it continues to circulate today as an AIDS education video—believe it or not.  You can also check out the factually suspect (“AIDS virus”) study guide meant to be used by community educators to help supply the factual information missing from the short animation. And if you haven’t had enough already, you can continue watching the misadventures of Karate and his street kid friends in the follow up animation Goldtooth (1994) or watch the promotional video Brave Ideas (1993) celebrating the animation short and Street Kids International .

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