AAHP Blog

AIDS activism has always required Black liberation

Anyone who tells you that AIDS activism was only a bunch of white gay men who got mad because suddenly their community experienced oppression isn’t telling the whole story. It’s understandable that people get history wrong when, as Suraj Madoori recently wrote: “Even after 35 years of HIV/AIDS, the stories of critical Black activism are notably absent in the dominant media and movement narratives.” Consider for example the narrative of the film How to Survive a Plague, which presents the history of AIDS activism in the US as mainly about the interventions made by white gay men involved in treatment activism. There are so many stories that haven’t been told, have been forgotten, or that have been only partially captured. Anti-Back racism impacts on the dominant AIDS narrative, whether it be the racist construction of “African AIDS” or the systematic forgetting and eclipsing of Black AIDS activism and organizing.

While the AIDS crisis is a condensation of many social relations including sexuality, gender, race, class and much more, often when only the ‘sexuality’ part is focused on and separated from the web of relations it is part of a white gay men’s narrative emerges. While in no way denying the devastation that the AIDS crisis inflicted on white gay men and the importance of their activism, this is only a part of the story.

AIDS and Racism - Black Outreach Project
Educational diagram produced by the Black Outreach Project. For more resources like this, see here.

Early on, societal responses to AIDS often cited the so-called “4-H” conception of who was affected (Haitians, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and heroin users). From the beginning in Haitian communities, especially in Canadian cities like Montreal and Toronto, activists had to fight against anti-Black racism not only from the Red Cross, the government, and the medical profession, but also from many of the AIDS Service organizations. Since the emergence of the pandemic, many responses from governments on down to the individual level were racist, ableist, anti-drug-user, as well as being gay-hating. Talking with AIDS activists about the history of their work reminds us over and over again about the ways history—and how we tell it—matters. For World AIDS Day 2017, we’re taking a cue from the New York City-based organization Visual AIDS to reflect on the place of Black activists and cultural workers in the histories of AIDS activism in the Canadian context. This year’s Day With(out) Art commissioned video programming centres Black narratives within the ongoing AIDS epidemic; there are vital threads of connection between this contemporary work and the histories we are documenting in the AIDS Activist History Project.

Black PLWAs Poorly Served
Article on work of Black CAP and the poor servicing of Black PLWAs by the government and service organizations. Written by Mary Louise Adams, published in December 1988/January 1989 issue of Rites. File available here.

Many of our interviewees reflected on the role race and racism played in the Canadian government’s responses to AIDS, and on the important activist work of antiracism and community organizing within racialized communities. In this short post we want to highlight just a few of the key interviews we’ve conducted thus far that speak to the vibrant work people did. This isn’t a comprehensive narrative of this critical, often ignored work, but a snapshot direct from activists who were there. So continue on for a hint of the amazing work they did organizing with the Black Outreach Project, Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), and Community Organizations Mutually Battling AIDS Together (COMBAT). It is also important to note that this work organizing in Black community spaces was often in direct solidarity with other groups organized around racialized subjectivities, including Zami, Khush, Alliance of South Asian AIDS Prevention [ASAAP], Gay Asians Toronto [GAT] (later Asian Community AIDS Services), the AIDS Cultural Network. As Anthony Mohamed told us, many of these groups “are still alive today and still doing wonderful work within the various communities that they’re a part of.”

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Photo of Anthony Mohamed (right) & Kalpesh Oza (left) during Toronto Pride 1992. File available here.

On the East Coast in Halifax, Kim Bernard was the founding organizer for the Black Outreach Project, which originated from the Halifax-based PWA Coalition. Kim told us “I believe that the Coalition saw that there was nothing being done in the Black community around HIV and AIDS education, awareness, information and that there was no support for people that have identified as being HIV-positive. I do commend them for recognizing that as a problem in our community and a gap.” Kim’s work was funded by a grant, and at the start she was the only person working on the project. She remarked, “Then they got a grant to hire somebody. It’s a typical thing, you only have one person, so when you only have one person trying to cover all of the Atlantic provinces… That can be challenging.” She went on to set up a vibrant board to support the project, to hire students to work with her (one of whom took over the project when Kim moved on), and to make meaningful connections in Black communities across the east coast. Part of that work was a multi-level “needs assessment” to figure out what the situation actually was for Black people in the Atlantic provinces in terms of HIV and AIDS; Kim and her team wrote up a comprehensive report about their findings from that work. In our discussions with her, Kim also highlighted the ways that, although the PWA Coalition recognized the need to do work in Black communities, they didn’t confront the systemic racism that structured all of the responses to HIV and AIDS. As she said, “There are probably individuals in the system that get the point but when the whole system is racist, it becomes an institutional/systemic issue. It is difficult to see change.” Kim had brought some of the material from the Black Outreach Project to our interview with her, which we were able to scan and include in the archival materials files; there is a wealth of amazing material there.

aids-in-the-black-community-black-outreach-project-page-001.jpg
Education diagram produced by the Black Outreach Project. For more resources like this, see here.

In Toronto, Douglas Stewart told us about the rich web of organizations and community formations through which his and other people’s political work around HIV and AIDS arose. He said, “part of the larger context here is trying to identify a space for Black queer people to be able to name and identify our own experience, and to figure out what life can look like beyond that. Let me just say, personally, that’s why I got involved. And then other people came with some of that, but other interests as well in terms of being in those spaces for those conversations. And so I think that part of that was also really figuring out where and when and what that looks like in relation to different kinds of movements that are part of my identities, so being queer, being Black.” Doug was centrally involved with the formation of Black CAP (Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention), a community organization that was celebrating its 25th anniversary the summer we did this interview with Doug. He narrated their beginning, saying, “it was important for, again, some of the reasons I just talked about in terms of the barriers to people even being engaged in HIV and AIDS, where the conversation was situated, where it was seen as coming from, and who was part of that conversation? So, part of it was to partner with a respected Black community organization. At that time it was Hara

mbee, and it was a social service community organization. And so we were based in their offices… So, it’s now a Black community conversation.” Doug also importantly drew lines of connection between early work in these historical contexts and contemporary struggles that groups like Black Lives Matter continue to wage. He reflected on how oppression shapes the conditions of our work, saying, “part of it’s about how we have to always own and acknowledge how white supremacy and racism and heterosexism is still integral in how these systems are set up… And so even when we have these initiatives that are somehow supposed to be pushing against that, we’re always negotiating and making deals with all of that, at all kinds of levels. And so it just feels like we’re in this messy game continually.”

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Article on racist attacks against members of COMBAT. Published in May 1989 issue of Rites. File available here.

Dionne Falconer was involved with Black CAP in those early years. She had been part of the Toronto-based Black Women’s Collective (BWC), which did vital political work including challenging white hegemony in the BWC feminist movement and published their own newspaper. Through her involvement with BWC, Dionne joined the work that Black CAP was doing. She reflected on her experience as a young organizer doing outreach work, saying: “So, you have all of the issues interspersed, intermingled and addressing them, because that’s one of the things that HIV does is that it does bring all the issues together and you can’t always tease them out or pull them apart. You’ve got to address them all at once.” And as Dionne articulated, it was vital to have groups like Black CAP because, as she told us, “I mean there was AIDSphobia and the stigma around living with HIV, but also people didn’t want to go in a place where they didn’t see themselves reflected. And that’s also the reason for a place like Black CAP. Just like the reason for why ASAAP started—or any of the other groups was that, again, people want to see themselves reflected and feel like, ‘Oh, this is a much more welcoming environment.’ … Or, the way that they were treated when they went in, like, i.e. you’re coming in for services and no one’s paying attention to you. It’s like you’re invisible. And so, I think that those kinds of situations happened for people and thus also meant that, ‘You know what? I don’t want to go back.’ Suddenly, you’re also trying to deal with HIV, you’re hearing a lot of things … Because, remember, these are early days, so treatment is not what we see today. People are dealing with all kinds of illnesses and sometimes not fully understanding what exactly is going on in their bodies, struggling with it, not wanting to go to the doctor’s, not connected to an HIV doctor, so for all of those kinds of reasons.”

Although we haven’t talked with her directly yet (if anyone knows where she is, contact us!) Jackie Wilson was another vital force in early AIDS activism in Toronto’s Black community. She organized a group called COMBAT (Community Organizations Mutually Battling AIDS Together). Sri, a white activist who supported Jackie’s work, told us, “COMBAT was mainly focused on women and thereby had to focus on straight families. Jackie said, ‘The best access to straight families in the Caribbean communities in Toronto was through the storefront churches, so that’s where we are going to go. Every week, we are going to talk at the storefront churches. You are going to make sure the PA is working for me. You are going to make sure all the logistics are happening. You are going to hand out flyers and things.’ He continued, ‘And basically, she said if you come in, if you approach a Jamaican church as a queer organization, they’re just not going to let you though the door. The message is just never going to reach its target. And that was her position, so she said, ‘I’m going to be the straight lady working with straight people about how they get AIDS and how they are at very, very high risk, and any denialism is going to stand as a barrier to that.’ And she basically said, ‘Look. I can go places Black CAP will never get into.’”

Black Women get AIDS too-page-001
A flyer from Toronto’s Black CAP promoting a talk entitled “Black Women get AIDS too” by Wendi Modeste, a black, heterosexual, HIV+ woman. File available here.

Jackie has also shown up in our interviews as raising key questions about Black community concerns at a pivotal retreat that AIDS ACTION NOW! held at the Hart House Farm in 1989, which sparked a series of conversations about interlocking oppressions as they manifest in people’s experience of HIV and AIDS. Gary Kinsman remembered Jackie’s intervention at the Hart House retreat in his interview for the project: “And Jackie was raising important questions about racism and racialization, but also about how to do AIDS work in communities of people that were not gay-identified at least—how to do that. It was also raising questions then not only about treatment access but about all of the sorts of issues related to AIDS and HIV… So, some sort of notion of broadening this out to include especially issues and areas of concern related to people of colour and to women. I mean that was raised, I think, in some important ways at this retreat and there was some major resistance to that.” At many points in our interviews we heard people reflect on how AIDS organizing pulled them to reflect on the complexity of people’s entangled political identities – that while many of them may have started from one subject position, much of the work really required having a complex, intersectional approach. Activist Renee du Plessis told us, speaking about her inspiration to take leadership from the people most affected by systemic oppression in responding to HIV and AIDS, “I think I would say the challenges were that the group that was the most affected was not exclusively well educated, with a multitude of resources. Gay men also included poor men and First Nations men and immigrant men, you know. And then it started also getting to be where I became more and more aware of criticism that lesbians were holding, and that women in general were holding, both to the organization and what they were doing and their presumptions on who was actually the most affected.”

As we move toward the end of funding for this oral history project, we are continuing to document and remember AIDS activism with a commitment to challenging anti-Black racism and to centering those most affected by the ongoing crisis. As Doug said towards the end of our conversation with him, “You know, as James Baldwin would say, you can’t change anything unless you face it.” On this World AIDS Day, we reflect on what it means to face the ways that racism has shaped and continues to shape people’s experience of HIV and AIDS.

AIDS and the Canadian government’s purge practices

Here at the AIDS activist history project we were glad to have some in-person time this week with project lead Gary Kinsman, who was here in Ottawa as part of the We Demand An Apology Network to receive the Prime Minister’s statement acknowledging some Canada’s egregious treatment of LGBT people who worked in the public service and for the military. We were also happy to be able to interview another member of the network, who was involved in AIDS activism as part of ACT UP Halifax (that interview will be posted as soon as it’s transcribed and checked).

Talking through the apology made us think about the ways that anti-AIDS practices have been entwined with the purges people experienced (and about the ways that criminalized, undocumented, and non-citizen queer, gay, lesbian, Two-spirit, and trans people are still targeted by harmful government practices in ways not acknowledged by this week’s apology). One of our interviewees was also in town as part of the Network to witness the apology, and we wanted to highlight some of his story and invite you to read more about his remarkable work. Simon Thwaites was a master seaman in the Navy, holding a security clearance for his work. He was diagnosed as HIV positive after he participated in one of regular blood drives on board ship.

And then the weirdness started happening, because the base hospital, for whatever reason, passed the information on to the military police. So, then I was investigated by the military police. First, when they dragged me down to their building that they had downtown, the first words that they asked were, “Are you gay?” And I kind of looked at them and I thought, “Who cares?” Like, I got HIV. I’m going to die in, well, two-and-a-half years now. So, I just said, “Yeah,” I was like, “So?” And they said, “Well, you know, you could be coerced, manipulated or, you know, to reveal secrets and that,” because my trade was secret. And I’m like, “Well, how are they going to do that? You already know. [laughter] I mean, I’m telling you.” It didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t really care because, as far as I was concerned, I was being written off anyway. And so, I was still figuring out if I was going to be alive tomorrow, let alone them worrying about if I was gay or not. That was the last thing on my list of things. So, they said, “Fine.” Anyway, I went back to work. Next thing I know, then I get dragged out of where I was working and started to sweep floors. So, I ended up sweeping floors in the Drill Shed in CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Stadacona, which actually is a punishment. People who do things wrong and get a lot of demerits kind of thing, they end up sweeping floors or they end up cleaning dishes or doing what we call kitchen duties. And that was the other job I did, kitchen duties. So, then my friends are like, “Well, why are you doing that?” because I was senior to a lot of my friends rank-wise.

Simon was demoted and spent the next years doing menial labor. As he told us:

The laugh about it is that on my files with the military, I actually have accelerated recommendations for promotions. I have letters of reference. Whatever job I had done, I had done well. That’s just my work ethic. Just like, get on with it. I don’t BS. I don’t mess around. Do you want me to sweep the floor? Well, fine. I’ll sweep the floor and I’ll do it well. If you want me to clean the pots and pans, I’ll clean them up; I’ll reorganize the whole kitchen. I just go crazy. Especially if I’m trying to work because, obviously, I’m trying to deal with the other issue, so I countered it with work hard and that way your brain doesn’t think so much. The irony was while I was in these odd jobs, I had ships actually applying to have me posted to them to be on them because I was required or needed by them to fill a position because of my rank and the fact that I normally was a supervisor. So, it kind of undermined their argument when the actual lawsuit happened that my services were no longer required. Okay, I have three ships asking for my services.

Having denied Simon his skilled work, the Navy then denied him a medical pension, terminating him in 1989. He remembered, “If they had left me for three more months in the military, I would’ve had a medical pension, but by kicking me out three months previously, I lost that because you had to have ten years. And that would’ve been my ten-year, my magical mini-medical pension they call it, so the ten-year mark. Unfortunately, they let me go.”

Simon was an active and important part of AIDS organizing in the Nova Scotia context, directly supporting many other people living with HIV and AIDS and participating in organizing spaces. The decision about his legal case for wrongful termination is a vital piece of the history of workplace disability law. We are proud to have Simon’s interview included in our oral history work and encourage you to check it out.

From the Video Vault: The Colour of Immunity (1991)

The Colour of Immunity (1991) – 22 minutes, colour, english
by Glace W. Lawrence and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention
with original music by David Findlay

The work of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP) in Toronto has been discussed in numerous oral history transcripts we’ve recorded at the AAHP. Douglas Stewart and Dionne Falconer, the first two Executive Directors of the organization, tell the origin and and history of Black CAP’s emergence from the AIDS Committee of Toronto and the Toronto African, Caribbean, and Black (ACB) organizing milieu connected to Zami in the late 1980s. But in this instalment of “From the Video Vault” we have an early prevention video from Black CAP to share with you that was directed by Glace Lawrence with original music from David Findlay. According to its creators, this video was the first HIV/AIDS video produced for and by ACB communities in Canada. The video has been recovered, digitized, and preserved in full above thanks to the work and generosity of director Glace Lawrence, the current Executive Director of Black CAP Shannon Ryan, Wanda vanderStoop at Vtape, and the team at the AIDS Activist History Project. While the educational preview is streaming here at no cost—do consider an institutional purchase of the DVD to continue supporting the important work of both Vtape and Black CAP.

Toronto Living With AIDS promotional poster. Courtesy of David Plant and Trinity Square Video.

The Colour of Immunity was produced for the Toronto Living With AIDS (TLWA) cable access series. TLWA was distributed on Roger’s and MacLean Hunter cable networks in Toronto from 1990-1991. It was produced under the leadership of video artist Michael Balser (1952-2002) and well-known video artist John Greyson. The two worked out of the same artist run centre, Trinity Square Video, and were associated with the artist-run video distribution centre Vtape. Inspired by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ Living with AIDS television series in New York City (1988-1994), TLWA followed up two of Greyson’s previous AIDS video curation projects: the one-hour compilation tape Angry Initiatives, Defiant Strategies produced for Deep Dish TV in 1988 and the three-VHS tape program of over twenty international AIDS videos, Video Against AIDS (1989, co-curated with Bill Horrigan). Interestingly, the  TLWA series was funded, not by the Canada Council for the Arts, but by grants from the City of Toronto Board of Health, Health & Welfare Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Health. The series featured eleven approximately thirty-minute videos created by a diverse array of video artists, activists, and community organizations in Toronto. While the series formally ended in 1991 after being censored by Roger’s Cable, some of the eleven original tapes continued to be shown in film festivals and organizations kept their tapes in circulation for educational purposes, including Glace Lawrence and Black CAP’s The Colour of Immunity.

One page promotional flyer for The Colour of Immunity, courtesy of Glace Lawrence.

Catching up with Glace by email in the fall of 2017, she recounts getting involved with The Colour of Immunity video project as a member of Trinity Square Video (TSV), the artist run centre Michael Balser and John Greyson were launching the TLWA series from. Although she noted her memory was a bit fuzzy, her presence at TSV and the fact that she completed her first film in 1989 made her a natural fit for the project.

In discussing the video’s life beyond the TLWA series and how Black CAP used the tape, she recalls, “Initially when it was made there were a few public screenings. One of them was at Harbourfront Centre, and at the Ontario Black History Society. I suspect that the latter was due to the fact that I used to work at the Society. Then it was used in HIV prevention workshops at Black CAP. It was geared to the ‘MTV’ audience. They wanted content that would engage youth of the MTV generation.”

Elaborating, Glace notes that while The Colour of Immunity was explicitly youth oriented, there was indeed another production that Black CAP was involved with after her video. She recalls, “Survivors (1992), was more family oriented. It was financed through Black CAP via private funding and director/producer Alfons Adetuyi helped develop the proposal. Prior to that time, there weren’t any Canadian based productions that focused on the Black and Caribbean experience locally.”

And while this post largely focuses on preserving and historicizing the critical early work of Glace Lawrence, Black CAP continues to use video to this day in helping promote its work, tell its own story, and fight the ongoing AIDS epidemic. Below, Black CAP’s twentieth anniversary video produced by Alison Duke—another powerhouse Black woman filmmaker whose contemporary work often deals with HIV/AIDS and ACB communities—reflects on twenty years of activism and services provided under the Black CAP banner.

World AIDS Day 2017: ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS


ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS
December 1, 2017, 7:00 pm (doors open at 6:30)
McNabb Recreation Centre, 180 Percy Street, Community Room
(Toronto [Ryerson], Montreal [McGill], and Calgary [ACAD] event info coming soon!)

Please join the AIDS Activist History Project for a video screening of ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS, the 28th annual iteration of Visual AIDS’ longstanding Day With(out) Art project. Curated by Erin Christovale and Vivian Crockett for Visual AIDS, the video program prioritizes Black narratives within the ongoing AIDS epidemic, commissioning seven new and innovative short videos from artists Mykki Blanco, Cheryl Dunye & Ellen Spiro, Reina Gossett, Thomas Allen Harris, Kia Labeija, Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Brontez Purnell.

In spite of the impact of HIV/AIDS within African, Craibbean, and Black communities, these stories and experiences are constantly excluded from larger artistic and historical narratives. In 2016 African Americans represented 44% of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States. As of 2014, African, Caribbean, and Black communities represented an estimated 16% of people living with HIV in Canada, while representing only 2.5% of the population. Given this context, it is increasingly urgent to feature a myriad of stories that consider and represent the lives of those housed within these statistic. ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS seeks to highlight the voices of those that are marginalized within broader African, Caribbean, and Black communities, including queer and trans people.

Accessibility Info:
*Parking*
6 designated accessible parking spaces
Accessible path of travel from the parking lot to entrance
20 metres from parking space to the door

*Accessibility*
Ramp
Wide door for wheelchair passage
Automatic door opener
Direct access to the main floor, lobby, elevator

*Interior*
Automatic door access to interior areas
All public spaces on accessible path of travel
Ramps or elevators to all levels
Accessible seating available

-Bus tickets will be available for transportation.
-ASL translation and French whisper translation is available. Please email us (aidsactivisthistory<at>gmail.com) if you would like translation by November 17th.
-We request all participants refrain from wearing scents to better allow people with chemical sensitivities to attend.
-If you have any other accessibility questions not answered here, please get in touch.

Kids are welcome to attend; there will not be separate childminding, however.

From the Video Vault: ACT UP Montreal 1990-1993

ACT UP Montreal 1990-1993 (date unknown) – 120 minutes, colour, english
by Earl Pinchuk

This video was recovered from the home video collection of Montreal film studies scholar Thomas Waugh after the AIDS Activist History Project recently interviewed him. While the transcripts are forthcoming, we wanted to preserve and share this compilation tape of ACT UP/MTL news stories and raw event footage today in order to provide better context for AIDS activist organizing in Montreal in the early 1990s. This two hour video compiled by ACT UP/MTL member Earl Pinchuk is primarily an omnibus compilation of english and french broadcast news stories about ACT UP/MTL actions. Michael Hendricks, a founding member of ACT UP/MTL, notes that compilation tapes of news footage—like that of the Sex Garage kiss-in protest footage in front of police station 25 that this omnibus tape begins with—were often put together by members of ACT UP/MTL to share informally with other ACT UP chapters across North America. Hendricks also notes that the Sex Garage kiss-in protest footage in particular was used by an affinity group within ACT UP/MTL while presenting at the Québec Human Rights Commission hearings into discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians that took place in November 1993. Other content included in the video covers: Lesbians and Gays against Violence (LGV); Prisoner Justice Day protest; anti-violence and anti-police violence demonstrations; women and HIV/AIDS World AIDS Day march; the murder of Joe Rose; queer resilience and nightlife; condoms and sex education in schools; gay serial murders in downtown Montreal; Queer Nation Rose; and the fight to establish Parc l’Espoir (an AIDS memorial park).

Karen Herland, who appears in the video numerous times, also co-wrote an article in 2014 for the Journal of Canadian Studies about the events captured on Pinchuk’s video compilation tape. You can check that journal article out here.

 

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