AAHP Blog

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.