While Nick Sheehan’s No Sad Songs(1985) is often cited as the first feature documentary about HIV/AIDS in Canada, it was predated by an interesting cable access program based in Vancouver, BC. Running monthly from 1980-1986, Gayblevision was groundbreaking in many ways—most notably its role as Canada’s first television series by and for queer viewers. Its period of operation also overlaps with the emergence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Canada, and HIV/AIDS-related content appears in numerous episodes. From public service announcements, to in-depth analysis of mainstream media coverage, to press conferences, to direct address by PLWAs to other HIV-positive people, Gablevision covered the early years of the epidemic in ways no one else did in Canada. All in all, Gayblevision produced over 3 hours of HIV/AIDS related content for distribution on cable television in Vancouver. The Facts On A.I.D.S., produced as a special by Gayblevision in 1983, is the most concerted effort by this group of queer media activists to produce HIV/AIDS content. Ranging in focus, the special primarily functions pedagogically, educating viewers about medical and societal understandings of the disease at a time when little information was available, let alone non-judgemental. This episode also outlines the need for and emergence of a community response to the health crisis via AIDS Vancouver. A full description of the special with timestamps is available here.
A full list of Gayblevisions episodes are available streaming online thanks to one of Canada’s oldest artist-run centres, VIVO Media Arts Centre. Special thanks to Karen Knights at VIVO for her insight into the Gaybelvision collection!
The Legacy of Jon Gates (1993) – 52 minutes, colour, english
by Peter Davis & Harvey McKinnon
Jon Gates moved from Vancouver to Ottawa in 1989 to push Canadian-based international development agencies to deal with the AIDS crisis in the global south—particularly sub-Saharan Africa. He worked for the International Committee for AIDS and Development (ICAD) where he would interface with the groups like Oxfam, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, and the Red Cross. At the heart of Jon’s international solidarity activism was a call for people in the global north to refuse a therapeutic vaccine or cure for HIV until the pharmaceutical companies, who would no doubt control the supply and prices, made it accessible to the global south. His speech pre-dates the successful triple-combination therapy announced at the World AIDS Conference in Vancouver in 1996, but he had a clear view of the future to come and the challenges that would accompany it. Had Jon survived until triple-combination therapy had become a regular treatment regimen for HIV infection, undoubtedly he would have had much in common with renowned South African treatment activist Zackie Achmat, refusing treatment until it’s available to all.
Gates’ call for international solidarity was most clearly articulated in his keynote speech at the 1992 Canadian AIDS Society meeting shortly before his death and captured in the documentary from Villon Films posted above. To learn more about Jon Gates’ work, check out the video above and/or read our oral history interview with John Foster.
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.
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 tapeAngry 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, theTLWA 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’sThe Colour of Immunity.
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.
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.
6 designated accessible parking spaces
Accessible path of travel from the parking lot to entrance
20 metres from parking space to the door
Wide door for wheelchair passage
Automatic door opener
Direct access to the main floor, lobby, elevator
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.
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.
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!
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 videoBrave Ideas (1993) celebrating the animation short and Street Kids International .
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com. Cet atelier sera en anglais principalement.
Poster by Kara Sievewright
Introduction by Gary Kinsman
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.
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.
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.