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.


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.

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!”


Noticing and knowing


Looking at the image above, I notice three AIDS activists parading down a Vancouver street – putting their bodies on the line and working for change. I notice they are armed with instruments and with placards. I notice the two people on the left are sporting “EPP = DEATH” shirts while the person on the right is wearing a leather jacket and what looks like a police hat. I notice how they are holding themselves. I notice how they are holding one another. Looking again, I notice two men in conversation behind them. Both are wearing business suits while the guy on the left – the one who looks like Roger Sterling from Mad Men! – is holding a clipboard or an envelope or what I’m assuming is an official piece of correspondence. Zooming in, I notice more activists lining the sidewalk behind them. Buildings, trees, cars. Shadows on the sidewalk. A yellow streetlight. People putting their bodies on the line; people working for change.

Continue reading “Noticing and knowing”

Active History reviews ‘Positive Sex’ exhibition

Image shows a few posters from the “Positive Sex” exhibition at Carleton’s MacOdrum Library

ActiveHistory.ca is a website committed to connecting the work of historians to diverse audiences. From podcasts to blogs and online exhibitions, they have a beautiful way of tracing social history and really going after the story or – I should say – teasing out and attending to different, complicated, past and present stories.

Continue reading “Active History reviews ‘Positive Sex’ exhibition”