Rest in power, Jamie Lee Hamilton

Video still from AAHP Interview in 2016 — Transcript #48

Jamie Lee Hamilton (1955 – 2019) was a trans, Two-Spirit, Indigenous woman, and organizer who fiercely advocated against the past and ongoing criminalization of sex work in Canada. Her work propelled people to notice and think critically about anti-sex work sentiment, and liberal discourses that frame sex workers as victims in need of rescue, rather than as empowered organizers who worked together across multiple issues to resist the erasure of vital histories of sex work in Canada, as well as the violence that such erasure makes possible. Drawing on sex worker activism throughout the 70s-80s—what Hamilton referred to as the “golden age of sex work in Vancouver”—Hamilton’s interview with the AAHP documents powerful histories of organizing across multiple issues, and underscores the importance of resisting isolation and erasure through collective action and intergenerational remembrance practices (T48/3).

Hamilton’s activism demonstrated the radical potential of organizing across multiple issues for change-making. Her interview documents many moments in which sex workers in Vancouver came together and worked collectively to resist their attempted erasure by civil society organizations such as Concerned Residents of the West End, and by various levels of government through legislation such as the city’s Street Activities By-Law, and the province’s 1984 injunction against sex workers. Amidst this context of anti-sex

West End Sex Workers Memorial Est. 2016

work sentiment, and the violence it made possible, Hamilton highlighted the formation of sex worker-led organizations that were directed towards their empowerment and safety, such as the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes, the Women’s Information Safe House, and Prostitutes and Other Women for Equal Rights. Amongst many other initiatives, Hamilton helped create various harm reduction strategies for sex workers, such as creating some of the first “bad date sheets”, through which sex workers protected each other by documenting the license plates, vehicle descriptions, and physical descriptions of dangerous clients (T48/7). She also organized a “shoe dump” action at City Hall. Recognizing that many of the sex workers missing were Indigenous, Hamilton reached out to the United Native Nations to join in the dumping of 67 pairs of shoes at City Hall—one pair for each of 67 sex workers noted to be missing at the time (T48/12). In doing so, Hamilton demonstrated that the protection of sex workers required an ongoing commitment to the dismantling of settler colonialism.

Hamilton’s fierce advocacy for organizing across multiple issues shone through in her involvement with AIDS organizing. In response to British Columbia’s 1980s quarantine legislation, sex workers and drag queens came together with lesbians, bisexuals, gay men and others to fight it by forming the Coalition for Responsible Health Legislation, visiting the city’s fourteen gay bars on weekends to do awareness campaigns, mobilize, and to fundraise. Observing that, initially, it was predominantly gay men who were getting sick, Hamilton remembered thinking that “This isn’t right that they can be locked up and quarantined”, and noted that upon remembering sex worker’s “own battle,” having felt “this amazing connection of solidarity” (T48/8). Hamilton recalled thinking, “Like, we’re not going to allow our brothers, and then later women as well, to be treated in this manner. Because we remembered how we were treated, as well” (T48/8).

As a community mobilizer and organizer, Hamilton remained cognizant of the violent impacts of isolation on those for whom mainstream community organizing was inaccessible and unaccountable. In particular, Hamilton’s interview problematized the isolation of trans AIDS patients in Normandy Hospital, away from the broader LGBTQ community, which she observed was a key factor in their mistreatment. Hamilton recalled that

“Then at one point our trans community were – and I don’t know why this happened – they were being placed at, you know if they had AIDS, they were being placed at this private hospital way out in the West side on Arbutus Street called the Normandy Hospital. And it was awful … you know, I’d visit a friend or two in there, and it was just very alien for them, you know.” (T48/9)

She explained further that,

“Still to this day I don’t understand why. I realize there wasn’t much, but we could have worked together, put our heads together. And why Normandy Private Hospital was chosen as a rest home? It didn’t make sense. It was way out of the downtown core where our community is.” (T48/9)

In response to the isolation of members of the trans community, and the mistreatment and violence they were consequently subjected to away from the public eye, Hamilton began raising “awareness around trans issues and AIDS…,” simultaneously educating trans people on the use of condoms, while fighting their isolation by ensuring their inclusion in broader 2SLGBTQ AIDS organizing (T48/9). Her interview reflected her ongoing commitment to fighting isolation, ensuring that those sent to Normandy Hospital were included in the process of documenting AIDS activist histories.

Hamilton’s work against the isolation of trans AIDS patients was part of her broader commitment to resisting erasure, systemically as well as at the level of the everyday. She emphasized the importance of intergenerational dialogue and coalitions, underscoring the need for subsequent generations of activists to learn from and build on the work and strengths of their predecessors, stating that “I think you need to respect the elders, and learn from the elders” (T48/18). Hamilton’s resistance to erasure was driven by her deep commitment to maintaining active communities that are ready and mobilized to respond to new and ongoing attempts at all levels of systemic erasure, explaining that “at any time things can change, policies can change. We could have another quarantine legislation. We could be threatened with it. You just never know who the lawmakers are going to be… [sigh]” (T48/18). The urgent task for future generations is to learn from our predecessors—not solely to acquire the skills and tools needed to do anti-oppressive work, but also to learn to think collectively across multiple issues and generations in doing so.

Jamie Lee Hamilton was a vital force in building the sense of collectivity needed to resist so many attempts at the erasure of sex workers, Indigenous peoples, trans people, and broader 2SLGBTQ communities. Towards the end of her interview, Hamilton expressed that “We’ve lost so much of all that history. In a way, I’m happy that I got to be around it in the heyday. I just don’t want to see complete erasure” (T48/19). It is not possible to fully commemorate Hamilton in writing alone. What is possible, however, is her commemoration through action—that is, by learning from the wealth of knowledge she generously gave in words and in action, and using it to build and nurture the “connections of solidarity” that drive and sustain us (T48/8). Rest in power, Jamie Lee Hamilton.

From the Video Vault: Médecins de coeur (1993)

Médecins de coeur (1993) –  112 minutes, colour, french
by Tahani Rached

Médecins de Coeur [Doctors of the Heart] is a National Film Board-funded documentary that focuses largely on Dr. Réjan Thomas, one of the co-founders of the first STI clinic in Canada in 1984. This clinic would become what we know of today as Clinique médicale l’Actuel in Montreal, one of the leading STI and HIV prevention and treatment centres in Canada. While the film builds its central narrative following Dr. Thomas to and from classrooms, clinics, and international conferences where he educates the film’s viewers about HIV/AIDS, activists and protests provide a rowdy backdrop to what is otherwise a somewhat monotonous two hours of talking heads.

The film opens with scenes from numerous ACT UP Montreal actions at what is now an HIV/AIDS memorial park called Parc de l’Espoir (corner of Panet and Ste. Catherine streets). Many interviewees of the AAHP that were involved in ACT UP Montreal recall the fight to establish the AIDS memorial park in some detail.  Check out our interviews with Glenn Betteridge, Michael Hendrick and René Leboeuf, and Earl Pinchuk for the inside scoop.

Two other notable AIDS activist-related scenes in the film include: Douglas Buckley-Couvrette, who is remembered lovingly by many Montreal AAHP interviewees,  leading an ACT UP Montreal demonstration commemorating the murder of Joe Rose; the Amsterdam VIII International AIDS Conference where sex worker activists launched the Global Network of Sex Work Projects—and in fact you can see a young Andy Sorfleet amongst the picketing sex workers in the footage.

Lastly, of note, is the constant discussion of the cost of medications to treat HIV and opportunistic infections. That is because this 1993 documentary precedes the 1997 Quebec national pharmacare program brought in by the recently elected Parti Québécois in late 1994. ACT UP Montreal launched a multi-year campaign to include HIV-related treatments under the maladies sur pieds social welfare program to no success under the then-Liberal Party provincial government. This program was designed to provide funding for treatments in order to keep people with chronic illness medicated so they wouldn’t constantly be at the hospital or in a clinic. The push to add HIV/AIDS to the list of illness treated through the the maladies sur pieds program likely helped in the push for a national pharmacare plan in Quebec, claims Michael Hendricks in his interview with AAHP.

Feature on movement intellectual George W. Smith

Thirty years ago, in February 1988, AIDS ACTION NOW!  convened its first public meeting. Arising out of a fierce and fabulous gay liberation movement that had already consistently confronted police violence and state oppression, their activist work has been absolutely vital in the fight for health justice in the Canadian context. At the AIDS activist history project, we have learned so much from interviews with activists in Toronto about the important early years of their work. George Smith was a vital part of that origin story, and we are delighted to lift up and explore a bit of his work in this feature.

Les actions féministes au sein de la communauté haïtienne à Montréal : l’histoire du sida

Nous sommes fières et fiers de vous présenter l’enregistrement d’une présentation de l’histoire du SIDA au sein de la communauté haïtienne à Montréal. En 1983, les personnes d’origine haïtienne ont été associées au SIDA dans les médias et dans les politiques publiques au Québec, notamment par une déclaration de la Croix-Rouge canadienne (10 mars 1983). Cette conférence a présenté cette histoire, pour ensuite documenter la réponse de la communauté haïtienne. Les infirmières d’origine haïtienne ont été centrales à la réponse au SIDA, et ce panel a souligné leur contribution. L’activité avait deux éléments : une présentation plus formelle de cette histoire, suivi d’un échange avec trois infirmières qui ont réalisé ce travail.

Merci à Viviane Namaste, Marlène Rateau, Maud Pierre-Pierre, et Marie-Luce Ambroise pour leur participation.



From the Video Vault: Canadian Women on HIV/AIDS, Then and Now

For the 2018 International Women’s Day we want to highlight the brilliant work of Canadian women who have challenged and informed audiences with their activist films and videos for nearly 30 years. The collection of videos featured below focus on many aspects at the intersection of HIV and women’s experience, from lesbians and sex workers to immigrants and women of colour. The variation in content is matched by variation in form: narratives, animations, documentaries, experimental shorts, public service announcements, featurettes, and features.

While we wish all of these videos were available for streaming online, some are not. All titles are linked to streaming video or information about distributors that carry these titles.

Debbie Douglas & Gabrielle Micallef (1960-2011)  – AnOther Love Story: Women and AIDS (1990)

Beginning with an opening scene that mirrors Lizzie Borden’s Working Girls (1986), a lesbian interracial couple wake up in bed with one rushing to get up and out the door. In AnOther Love Story, the young woman rushing out the door is headed to a doctor’s appointment to do an HIV test. The narrative built around this couple’s relationship structures the video which aims to illustrate the issues facing women and HIV, and lesbians and racialized women in particular. Douglas & Micallef’s video appeared as part of the Toronto: Living With AIDS cable access series along with Glace Lawrence‘s The Colour of Immunity (1991) that we’ve written about previously. AnOther Love Story was also recently featured at an encore screening in Montreal for the 10th edition of Massimadi. Unfortunately, this video is not available streaming online, but it is available from Vtape.

Esther Valiquet (1962-1994) – Le Récit d’A (1990); Le Singe Bleu [The Measure of Your Passage] (1992)

Le Récit d’A, The Story of A, is an experimental travel diary. The video combines medical imaging, desert landscapes, and images from the author’s trip to visit a friend named Andrew in San Francisco. The accompanying voiceover track switches between philosophical musings about mortality and what we leave behind vis-a-vis Susan Sontag and Edmond Jabès, and an interview with Andrew, a gay friend struggling to survive with AIDS. Jumping between English and French, this very Montreal short is credited with reanimating the Quebec art scene to respond to the crisis.
Le Singe Bleu, retitled The Measure of  Your Passage in english, is a philosophical mediation on living in the face of assured death. The film is part historical research on the disappearance of Minoan civilization—similar in style to what one would see on the History Channel today—and part reflection on the mass scale of death from the AIDS crisis. Much like Le Récit d’A, Valiquette’s introspective and autobiographical approach to filmmaking renders the philosophical musings on mortality at the height of the AIDS epidemic all the more visceral. And not to be missed is the video footage from the ACT UP Montreal World AIDS Day Women’s March in 1990 towards the end of the film, as this event was often noted in our project’s oral history transcripts. This beautiful National Film Board funded featurette won a Genie award for best short documentary in 1993 and is available streaming online in french and english.

GwendylonProwling By Night (1990)

This twelve-minute animation film was produced as part of the National Film Board’s Five Feminist Minutes program, a compilation of short films to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Studio D. Prowling By Night animates the true stories of sex workers in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood in the 1980s and highlights instances of police harassment, safe sex education, and sex worker’s rights. This film won the award for Best First Short Film at La Mondiale de films et vidéos réalisés par des femmes in April 1991. Unfortunately, the National Film Board has yet to make this video publicly available on their website.

Anne GoldenLes Autres/Women and AIDS (1991); Safe Soap (1994)

Les Autres begins with a scene reminiscent of Stuart Marshall’s Bright Eyes (1986), where viewers are schooled in media literacy, examining troubling mainstream media representations of HIV/AIDS. The video continues in vignettes:  women in a lesbian bar discussing condoms and safer sex; two high school girls talking about sex education in schools; a woman sitting on her bed demonstrating safe sex practices while discussing sex amongst women and lesbians; ACT UP Montreal protest footage;  two women from GAP-SIDA (precursor to GAP-VIES) discussing HIV prevention amongst racialized women; documentary footage from an HIV/AIDS art show. In this montage video you can also find a young Karen Herland from Réaction SIDA whose AAHP transcript can be read here.
Safe Soap
  was produced as part of an artist residency hosted by Michael Balser at the Banff Centre and programmed as part of the Second Generation PSA compilation (along with nine other artists).  Two 30-second versions were created, one heterosexual, the other lesbian themed. More can be learned about both these two videos by checking out the AAHP transcript of Golden, available in both english and french here.

Darien Taylor (& Michael Balser) – Voices of Positive Women (1992)

This documentary features the voices of nine women living with HIV from across the globe. Based on her co-edited book with the same title, Taylor presents powerful first-person testimonials about the challenges of being an HIV+ woman in the early ’90s.  Importantly, this video highlights the medical negligence and bureaucratic denial that created such grave challenges for HIV+ women in the first place. Unfortunately, this video is not available streaming online, but you can check out Vtape for more information about getting your hands on a copy.

Alison Duke – The Woman I Have Become (2007); Positive Women: Exposing Injustice (2012); Consent: HIV Non-disclosure and Sexual Assault Law (2015)

One of the most important video makers working on HIV/AIDS today, Duke has produced three community-based documentaries focused on women and HIV over the last decade. Paying close attention to the intricacies of HIV criminalization in Canada, Duke’s two most recent works provide an important overview of the debates over sexual assault law and HIV non-disclosure—particularly as it affects women and people of colour.  Toronto-based Duke’s video collaborations with Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network harken back to the artist-community organization collaborations at the heart of the short-lived Toronto: Living With AIDS cable access series from the early 1990s.

The Canadian AIDS Memorial Quilt: Website Launch!


The Canadian AIDS Memorial Quilt has its roots in San Francisco, where a group of people came together in 1987 to create a living memory for those who have died of AIDS-related causes. In 1989, the U.S. AIDS Memorial Quilt went on tour across the United States and Canada. Many cities in Canada hosted their own displays, where they received hundreds of new panels that were created in memory of those who lost their lives during the HIV/AIDS crisis. These panels formed the basis for what is now the Canadian AIDS Memorial Quilt, which is comprised of more than 640 panels and over 80 sections.

The Quilt Website

Image of person standing in front of the Nova Scotia PWA Panel from May 1989. Image available here.

From the Video Vault: The Facts On A.I.D.S. (1983)

The Facts On A.I.D.S. (1983) – 30 minutes, colour, english
by Gablevision

While Nick Sheehan’s No Sad Songs (1985) is often cited as the first feature documentary about HIV/AIDS in Canada, it was predated by an interesting cable access program based in Vancouver, BC.  Running monthly from 1980-1986, Gayblevision was groundbreaking in many ways—most notably its role as Canada’s first television series by and for queer viewers.  Its period of operation also overlaps with the emergence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Canada, and HIV/AIDS-related content appears in numerous episodes. From public service announcements, to in-depth analysis of mainstream media coverage, to press conferences, to direct address by PLWAs to other HIV-positive people, Gablevision covered the early years of the epidemic in ways no one else did in Canada. All in all, Gayblevision produced over 3 hours of HIV/AIDS related content for distribution on cable television in Vancouver. The Facts On A.I.D.S., produced as a special by Gayblevision in 1983, is the most concerted effort by this group of queer media activists to produce HIV/AIDS content. Ranging in focus, the special primarily functions pedagogically, educating viewers about medical and societal understandings of the disease at a time when little information was available, let alone non-judgemental. This episode also outlines the need for and emergence of a community response to the health crisis via AIDS Vancouver. A full description of the special with timestamps is available here.

A full list of Gayblevisions episodes are available streaming online thanks to one of Canada’s oldest artist-run centres, VIVO Media Arts Centre. Special thanks to Karen Knights at VIVO for her insight into the Gaybelvision collection!