So we went away, worked like anything for about three months, and trained staff to be gay positive, gay sexual-health habits, “Don’t be surprised where you find piercings, whatever!” and all this stuff. But people wanted to work there, because there were enough gays in the system. We had, let’s see, one, two, three gay doctors who volunteered. And so they said Centertown would extend its hours one night a week, Thursday night, and we could take over the centre, with all the clinical facilities. Plus, the meeting rooms for health promotion activities—that still hasn’t caught on yet, but it’ll soon be ten years that it was opened. And I thought, “This would be good if we could get five people in a night.” Well, they were waiting for us when it opened. Because I had—we were looking for a name, what would we call this? And I said, “It’s gotta be… there has to be a sense of safety there. It has to be bilingual.” And I insisted we had the word “gay” in. And I said, “How about Gay Zone?” And Gay in French is “G-A-I-E” So, ah! Everyone thought it was a bar when it was opening! [laughter] We had these chic little cards, with these images of beguiling them as, “A health centre and more,” “A health clinic and more.” And then we advertised among the chatrooms in town, we said, “We’ve got to put money to where people are going.” It doubled the next night after we put this on. And so we were to capacity, treating fifty people a night.
John Foster on Jon Gates
Well, in part, it was to move our own organizations. And to put AIDS on the agenda of bodies like the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, which, you know, had 100 different organizations who were members. It was to put the international dimension into discussions of the Canadian AIDS Society, and to begin to explore where CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency] and the Canadian government were at, and what needed to be done. Also I would say some self-education. Jonathan Mann came to Ottawa, so there were dinner conversations with Jonathan Mann. Things like that, to advance our own knowledge, because we really, we were neophytes in terms of this exploration. For some of us, this led to other activities, particularly in the policy area through the ‘90s. That became our main thing.
But with Jon [Gates], it was much more gathering the initial information about what to convince people about or to bring more vividly what was the actual situation at village level in developing countries, what were the relative resource possibilities. At the time, a pill might cost the equivalent of a year’s expenditure per capita on health, and so on. Jon was gathering material and becoming equipped to speak and to articulate these things to challenge organizations that obviously had urgent needs at home.
I think because a lot of the groups came out of the kind of gay liberatory ethic, there was this intense emphasis on identity when in many ways in Canada… See, a lot of the work… What the States did was basically kind of the poison well thing, right. “Oh, bath houses. That’s the source of it. Shut them all down.” We didn’t do that. It’s like, the source of the infection… It’s not the source of the infection, but it’s certainly where all these behaviours are happening, so you’ve got to go to the location. In Canada it was much more go and do outreach – and I think too in Australia and in Europe – go to where these behaviours happen. Don’t shut them down, because then they just go and hide somewhere. So, Canada took that approach, but there was also still like this, “Oh, loud and proud gay…”
Also along that line was the work, the AIDS Committee of Ottawa was a leader, in championing anonymous testing. That was not something that was automatic. Of course we supported it, but getting Public Health to accept this. And our Chief MOH [Medical Officer of Health] in Ontario, a guy called Dr. Richard Shabas was opposed to it. He liked to track things. He believed that identifiers were really important. Richard and I had several heated discussions. But ultimately, we got anonymous testing. And he attempted a number of times to reverse that. It still exists today.
And then you’d find out that someone you didn’t really know was dead. And someone would be bawling their eyes out in the bar. And you didn’t really know them and there was no support. But they were dead. And I wasn’t on the phone lines, but the phone lines—GO had phone lines, helplines—and the helplines started ringing. And people out in suburbia, guys out in suburbia, who were closeted, their doctors basically told them to quit work, go home, and die. You know, the most basic of information they couldn’t get. And we also—at Pink Triangle, because I answered the phone, and then answered it before at GO—would get questions from the public. But also, every time there was a story, I remember for the first two years of AIDS, every single story was wrong.