AAHP Blog

(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.

Premiere of “Our Bodies Our Business”

In commemoration of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (December 17, 2016), the Triple-X Workers’ Solidarity Association partnered with University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health to premiere “Our Bodies Our Business,” a video compiling important, historic footage of prostitutes’ rights activists at the 5th International Conference on AIDS in Montreal (1989.

The video was directed by George Stamos with production help from Andrew Sorfleet, and was produced as part of a national consultation on PrEP and sex work in Toronto and funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The video footage was filmed by ACT UP New York filmmaker Catherine Gund, and showcases the incredible work undertaken by prostitutes’ rights activists at the intersections of sex work, safer sex practices, and HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination.

Whores are safe sex pros!


To learn more about how activists intervened in the 5th International Conference on AIDS in 1989, visit AAHP’s Montreal collection.

New report on HIV criminalization, race, immigration & newspaper coverage

This newly released reportreport shares highlights from the first empirically rigorous study of how Canadian mainstream media represent HIV non-disclosure criminal cases. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the authors demonstrate how Canadian newspapers overwhelmingly focus on cases involving Black men living with HIV, resulting in an account that is highly stigmatizing, stereotypical and demonizing in its representation.

Click here for a copy of the report, titled “Callous, Cold, and Deliberately Duplicitous:” Racialization, Immigration and the Representation of HIB Criminalization in Canadian Mainstream Newspapers. This report was written by Eric Mykhalovskiy, Colin Hastings, Chris Sanders, Michelle Hayman and Laura Bissaillon.

 

John Greyson’s “Wynnetario”

 

In 2016, people in “Canada” continue to be criminalized for not disclosing their HIV status prior to having sex. Ontario is leading the country in the criminalization of HIV, having charged more people with non-disclosure than any other province.

John Greyson’s latest video, “Wynnetario” is a compelling reminder of the intersections of stigma, criminalization, state-sanctioned violence and police brutality. In it, Greyson captures some of the most powerful moments from this year’s Toronto Pride Parade, including AIDS ACTION NOW!’s banner drop over Yonge Street.

wynne aan to

Premier Kathleen Wynne, along with PM Justin Trudeau, were stuck underneath this banner for thirty minutes during the parade. In the words of Darien Taylor of AAN! Toronto, “We call on Premier Wynne to intervene.”

Click here to watch “Wynnetario” on Vimeo

Image of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, raising hand and shouting, with text "Wynntario" above her

“Yes to Safer Sex!
No to Ontario’s HIV witchhunt!”