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.
On April 8, in honour of Youth and AIDS Day, the AIDS Activist History Project (AAHP) launched its first exhibition, titled “POSITIVE SEX: Eroticizing Safer Sex Practices in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s.”
Hosted by the MacOdrum Library at Carleton University, “POSITIVE SEX” combines powerful excerpts from eight oral history interviews with over thirty pieces of ephemera (including photos, pamphlets, flyers, posters, articles and news clippings) from the AAHP collection. Also on display is a collection of books related to AIDS activism and safer (positive) sex, a selection of erotic, sex-positive and educational materials from CATIE and Venus Envy, and an assortment of condoms (male and female! flavoured and lubricated!) and dental dams donated by the Graduate Students’ Association.
On the video wall, there was a little five minute remake of Death in Venice, but turned into “The ADS Epidemic”, not the AIDS epidemic. So, acquired dread of sex was the new epidemic, and it was of course talking about that culture of fear and hatred that early AIDS discourses in the mainstream media and state policies have produced, demonizing queers, creating a general sense of sex panic, and trying to combat that through humour and music.
– John Greyson (AAHP interview transcript, p. 1)
As someone who dabbles in stand up comedy, I’ve been thinking about the work of making comedy and the work of making change.
So, we did a die-in that actually said, “Dying of denial of drugs” or whatever, right. And I think it was for that conference that we produced this flyer that was headlined, “There can be no consensus without the involvement of people living with AIDS and HIV.” And we leafleted everyone.
– Gary Kinsman (AAHP interview transcript, p. 14)
Like Gary Kinsman quoted above, AIDS activists across Canada have reflected on putting their bodies on the line to extend the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. In his AAHP interview, Kinsman describes engaging in direct action that was “technically against the rules” but that would “have a media impact” (AAHP interview transcript, p. 12). The die-in is a fitting example.
From 1990 to 1993, Toronto-based activists/academics conducted research on the behind-the-scenes work of “hooking up.” They weren’t investigating romantic encounters—nor were they trying to catch people with their pants down.* Instead, they were researching the work that people living with HIV and AIDS do to “hook up” with health and social services. Researchers George W. Smith, Eric Mykhalovskiy and Douglas Weatherbee (who was involved in the early stages of the project) applied for, and secured, funding from Canada’s National Welfare Grants in 1990.
An AIDS vigil at the Citadel in Halifax. A new website shows how people living with HIV/AIDS in Nova Scotia engaged in a long and vigorous battle against prejudice. Photo Anita Martinez KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Less than thirty years ago people living with HIV/AIDS in Canada agitated against widespread prejudice, ignorance and stigmatization in society and government. This was while treatment was in its infancy and people with AIDS were dying at horrific rates.
In Nova Scotia Eric Smith, a South Shore schoolteacher living with HIV, was banned from the classroom after parents threatened to keep their children at home.
Also in Nova Scotia, Simon Thwaites was discharged from the Navy for being HIV-positive. He successfully fought the discharge in a precedent-setting case arguing that discrimination based on disability is a human rights’ violation.