Author Archives: calgarygayhistory

Social Distancing in 1985

{As part of a new series, the Calgary Gay History Project is writing about AIDS to explore how Calgarians and Canadians reacted to this earlier pandemic.}

In the early years of the AIDS pandemic, people didn’t know how it spread. The gay community was particularly fearful and reactions varied. In 1985, Brian Chittock of the AIDS Committee of Montreal reported that the friends of one person with AIDS summoned a police car when he fell sick in their house, sent him away and then discarded all his clothes and everything he touched. Social distancing made pariahs of many AIDS victims. A mobilizing fact for journalist June Callwood, who founded the first AIDS hospice in the world, Toronto’s Casey House.

By the mid-80s however, scientists had determined that casual touching was not transmitting the virus; it could only be transmitted by an exchange of bodily fluids.

Nonetheless, some gay and bisexual men were so terrified of contracting AIDS they became celibate and had physical intimacy problems ever after – call it “sexual distancing” or “sexual self-isolation” perhaps. Allan Pletcher, a Vancouver community college teacher who had tested positive, participated in a three-part panel show on CBC television that was watched by more than a million people each day. He declared: “I am chaste, and I will remain so until I am cured or I die. I assume that responsibility.”

The Body Politic, Canada’s gay newspaper founded on gay liberation principles, had an editorial approach to AIDS coverage that was skeptical of scientific and media authority. They wrote about: “the need to resist panic and hysteria both within and beyond the gay community; the need to seek information on which we can make informed judgments about sexual practices; and, most recently, the need to preserve what is best and most distinctive about gay erotic culture in the face of a disease which apparently threatens its very roots.”

A telephone survey of 500 San Francisco gay and bisexual men in June 1985, found that eight out of 10 respondents said they had made dramatic changes in their sexual behaviour. Later that summer, celebrity actor Rock Hudson revealed he had AIDS; he was dead by October. Hudson’s plight had an immediate impact on the public profile of AIDS.

Reagans_with_Rock_Hudson

Rock Hudson with Nancy & Ronald Reagan in 1984: source, Wikipedia.

In Calgary, there was a “social coming together” of people concerned about AIDS and the deaths that were happening in the city. The first meeting for what was to become AIDS Calgary happened in September 1985.

{KA}

A virus-free club in YYCgayhistory?

{The Calgary Gay History Project has hunkered down at home, doing our part for social distancing in Canada. As a distraction, we’re diving deep into local AIDS history over the next few weeks to explore how Calgarians reacted to this earlier pandemic.}

In May 1987, four years after the first case of HIV was diagnosed in Calgary, local entrepreneurs Ross Anderson and Terry Daley attempted to start an AIDS-free private club. An initial advertisement received interest from more than 300 Calgarians who wanted to join.

The club concept included dining and dancing areas, a night club and a gym. To join, people would pay $300 and need to have two tests for the virus, one when they applied and the next one eight weeks later. There was also an ongoing testing schedule proposed, which was never finalized.

Doug Morin, the executive director of AIDS Calgary, disapproved. He explained that people who join the club might be at a higher risk of catching the disease than people who don’t.

“It spreads like wildfire when everyone assumes he’s OK. It’s so scary when people stick their heads in the sand, and don’t worry about it. The test is only good for the day it’s taken,” Morin added.

AIDS Vigil Calgary 1987

Calgary AIDS Vigil, March 22, 1987. Photo: David Lazarowych, Calgary Herald

Anderson, in an interview in the Calgary Herald, said he did not know exactly when the club would open or where it would be.

“The fear of AIDS affects everybody. People like yourself and myself are inhibited about making contact. We want to provide a situation so [people] can act normally,” Anderson clarified. He mused that setting up the club would not be easy, and they would not be able to provide absolute health guarantees to clubgoers.

At the time, 33 people had been diagnosed with AIDS in Calgary.

{KA}

Self-isolating? Free Book!

Dear Calgary Gay History Supporters,

It is distressing to find our world so disrupted by pandemic. With social distancing and closing borders, we will likely find ourselves with much more time at home. Reading has always been a favourite pastime and retreat for me. Now that we may find bookstores and libraries closed, it occurred to us, that we could assist our fellow Calgarians by providing free PDF downloads of Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary.

The book, which was on the Calgary Herald’s local best-seller list in 2019, explores our city’s LGBTQ2 past. In it, you will find stories of resiliency and courage, darkness and light. If reading Our Past Matters would bring you any comfort, distraction, education, or delight, email Kevin at calgarygayhistory@gmail.com with the subject line: “PDF please” and we will send you a copy.

Our Past Matters EBook Cover

Write “PDF Please” for a free copy!

Calgarians have a long tradition of taking care of each other. This was perfectly illustrated a few days ago by Sam Hester’s Pulling Together-Even as We Move Apart in the Sprawl.

Please take care and give support, as you are able, to our self-isolating elders, who often are the keepers of our stories.

To a hopeful future!

{KA}