Montreal Interviews



Glenn Betteridge

I think that ACT UP was a particular way of understanding volunteering or giving of oneself … It fit with my personality, my nascent personality, it allowed it to come out, this environment of intellectual-free for-all with respect for the people and their ideas. I’ve had to learn to pay attention to being strategic in the way one communicates in groups, because around the table there was always the understanding that we would arrive at a position, and that was our position, but they were hard fought. And so that’s the experience I’ve had working in legal clinics and other HIV groups … Like, in my paid work as well, but it hasn’t always served me well in more institutional settings and organizations. So, that was really interesting and something I brought with me. Because, there were incredibly bright articulate passionate people, and also people who were very strong who didn’t bring a university education to the table, but brought some really firmly held beliefs and wisdom, and that was super interesting.

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Anne Golden

I’m sure people would argue with me, but I think, because video is so immediate. You can tape something and you can watch it right away. And that sense, that kind of revolutionary feeling about the first generation of video practitioners had where they could actually shoot and watch it immediately which was, you know, instead of developing your super 8 film in your bathtub or sending it away, was I think a huge change. But, I really think that when HIV/AIDS arrived on the scene it’s like, all these people who probably never thought they were going to make some kind of video, so then they turned around and did make them. Thankfully.

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Michael Hendricks and René Leboeuf

Well, you see, our objectives were different than ACT UP New York. We already had a single payer healthcare system in Quebec, different from all other provinces. We have the one that ACT UP NY chose as their model as a matter of fact. It wasn’t called « the Quebec model », but that was the model. It’s the one that Bernie Sanders is supporting now, you know, single payer. It’s really the best, particularly for the poor and for people that are quite ill. In their research, CPAVIH had come across the fact that cancer patients in Quebec got almost free medicine in order to keep them out of the hospitals. Okay, the healthcare system in Quebec and probably in Ontario works the same. The system pays your medicine if you’re incarcerated, in the hospital, or some place, or an institution – you’re inside – but once your outside they don’t pay. So, of course, cancer patients want to get into the hospital so that they don’t have to pay for their treatments, and when they weren’t insured that’s the only way to do it. The Quebec government had come up with something called malades sur pied, the « walking sick », specifically for patients who had cancer. We wanted HIV+ people to be included in malades sur pied. It was great for anybody with a serious disease, a terminal disease – no, a chronic illness. It was to keep them out of the hospital and walking, living at home, and it was particularly effective for the elderly. It was a really good program. You paid two dollars for every prescription, so no matter what it was, you paid 2$. Now, already AZT [zidovudine] had been identified as an actor in treatment and it was declared as an experimental drug and therefore it was free, but it was administered by hospitals with university connections. And then, when Dr. Weinberg and company invented 3TC [lamivudine], it also fell into that category. So, our campaign wasn’t really about AIDS drugs, the only two that existed, it was about treatment for opportunistic infections.

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Karen Herland

But either way people just got up on the escalators, right. And I remember a lot… My friend Sally – one of my dearest friends, who’s five-foot eleven and had long blonde dreads at the time, and was on roller skates – she got up on the escalator on her roller skates and – five foot eleven, with the skates, she’s a tall woman. [laughter] So, I remember her towering going up, and me being, “Oh, I better get up there,” right, following after her, but just the space she took up getting up there. And then we all came in and took over the stage and made so much noise for so long. And I remember that really clearly – unfurling banners and just taking space – really just taking space. And I remember so many of the people, like the doctors and officials and politicians and diplomats and the crowd looking, you know, variously surly and stern and put out and offended and frustrated and confused. But then at one point, we started chanting, “Join us.” And although no one – as I recall – came from the audience up on the stage, hundreds of people got up on their feet and applauded at that point. And that was just amazing. That was wonderful. So, I remember that really clearly. And I remember Tim, and I remember how important it was to actually name that conference on behalf of people living with HIV and how that really was a huge shift. And that’s probably the biggest legacy of ’89 was the insertion of a growing HIV-positive community and identity being recognized at the table.

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Roger Leclerc

En fait on voulait faire financer le Comité sur la violence, d’une part, puis on voulait toujours la revendication, la reconnaissance de nos droits, la reconnaissance des conjoints, etc. C’était global, mais cette fois là, particulièrement, on voulait faire financer le Comité sur la violence et on voulait, qu’il y ait un budget gai, pas un budget sida, ça on l’avait obtenu par le ministère de la Santé, mais on voulait que le gouvernement reconnaisse une case gaie au ministère de la Santé, mais pas en santé mentale, parce qu’on nous disait toujours : « Mais présentez des projets en santé mentale il n’y aura pas de problème. » Ce n’est pas un problème de santé mentale, vous avez des problèmes avec mon homosexualité. Alors, on voulait la création d’une case gaie, alors c’était les trois revendications. Financement du comité sur la violence, création d’une case gaie, et reconnaissance de nos droits. 

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Penny Pattison

It was really exhilarating. It was a giant fancy conference room. It was like being at the UN or something. [laughter] And I’m sure we looked like we did not belong at the World Medical Conference. We definitely stood out from the crowd. I’m sure we all had hair colours from the crayon box, and were wearing combat boots and rags. [laughter] Yeah. But, it was great. And then, I think, everyone was also kind of like, “Wow! That happened! What next? What are we going to do next?” And, like I said, it was really day-to-day. What can we accomplish? What can we do? People finding each other, and different voices emerging; definitely there was a really strong presence from New Zealand. I don’t know if you met any of those people. They were really organized around sex work, around needle exchange. They had functional ongoing needle exchanges that existed. And we were just like, “Wow, you guys are light years ahead of anyone else in North America.” No one, and certainly not with government money, was doing that kind of work here. There was no harm reduction groundwork that was even done yet. So it was really inspiring just to see what was possible, what people were doing in other places, and how really outspoken women in the sex trade were, who were just really resetting ideas. I mean so many working women were really getting scapegoated with as though they were the problem, and for them to be able to focus on the fact that they were doing so much work in sex education and setting the agenda. They were really part of the solution. It was really good for a lot of those voices to emerge and for people to meet each other.

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Karl Small

Well, I remember being really excited about the conference beforehand. I remember making vegan black bean dip for the Toronto anarchists I knew who’d be coming, and I was so happy that they were happy with my black bean dip [laughter] when I showed up at the centre. I remember some people from somewhere else were staying at my place that I was putting up; I forget who. And yeah, I remember there were big meetings at that centre every night, which I’m sure at the time were, you know, long and difficult and all of this. But I just remember it as being exciting. And I guess the… I mean it was all really striking to me. There was the Opening, where we kind of marched in and stormed in – though I mean, we didn’t have to “storm” – and we basically held the room. It was Mulroney, right. And Mulroney delayed and delayed and delayed. Yeah, so, it was really good. I remember he was there with me [motions to his partner] and we were there with our kid who was very, very… What? Ten months old in the stroller, or something like that, or less than ten months old. Jeez. Anyway, that was fun and it was… It just seemed really good. And it was also… I’ve seen it a few times since, but not often, it’s a situation where you’re up against an institution or something like that, that it’s obvious that the institution has decided beforehand that they’re going to back down if there’s a confrontation. And so you just have this feeling of you don’t know they’re going to back down, but you’re pushing, and every time you push you’re slightly surprised but happy. But also, you know, it’s not like you’re having to fight with baseball bats to get in or anything like that either.

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