Some notes on the method we have used in doing interviews

Our project is based on recovering the histories of AIDS activism within the northern part of Turtle Island (what in colonizing terms is ‘Canada’) focussing on the period from 1986 to 1996. This period comes after the formation of the first community based AIDS groups from 1982-1983 on (which come to be called AIDS Service Organizations) and covers the emergence of PWA Coalitions and treatment based AIDS activism, and ends with the development of the new ‘drug cocktails.’ Many of the people we talked with were involved in activism generally and AIDS activism in particular both before and after these dates – this period is by no means the scope of vibrant activist work. AIDS is not over, and AIDS activism is still vibrant, relevant, and needed.

We have defined AIDS activism broadly. This includes the self-organization of people living with AIDS/HIV and treatment based direct action activism in groups like ACT UP and AIDS ACTION NOW! (Toronto). We have not focussed on recovering the history of AIDS Service Organizations, which themselves did and do important work. Since we cannot cover all of ‘Canada’ we decided to focus on AIDS activism in Halifax (and Nova Scotia), Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

In each of these centres we started by identifying AIDS activist groups and/or PWA Coalitions that existed during these years. We then approached people who were involved in these organizations and did interviews with them and moved out from there to see where this led us in terms of activist connections. So for instance in Halifax starting with members of the PWA Coalition and the ACT UP group also led us to the Black and Women’s Outreach Projects of the PWA Coalition, to the work Stepping Stone did with outreach to sex workers, to early harm reduction work, to work among hemophiliacs and infection through the blood supply, and to the ‎Mi’kmaq AIDS Task Force. In Toronto starting with AIDS ACTION NOW! members led us into the histories of Voices of Positive Women, the Prisoners AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN), early harm reduction efforts, BLACK CAP, Combat, the Treatment Information Project and CATIE and more. All of these struggles were interconnected.

When we approached individuals to interview we first informed them of what the project was about and received their informed consent. Each person was asked a series of common questions including:

  • When did you first hear about AIDS and what did you hear?
  • When did you first hear about AIDS as an activist or political question?
  • What political or activist experiences did you bring with you into AIDS organizing?
  • Can you tell us about AIDS activists who have died?
  • Are there other people you think we should talk to about AIDS activism?

We combined this with questions for the particular individual based on what we already knew about the organizations they were involved in and their participation in them that we learned from other interviews and research we did to prepare for interviews. For instance, if people were involved in particular groups we would ask how they were organized and the kinds of activities they organized. We also always provided a space for people to raise other concerns and experiences.

With the permission of the people we were interviewing we both audio-taped and video-taped the interviews and we used the video both for another audio track and also to produce the short video clips that are designed to give people a sense of who the people being interviewed are. Once the interviews were transcribed and checked by our research tem they were sent back to the people we interviewed to make sure they had an opportunity to change anything or to add in new information. With their permission the transcripts were then put on line.