AIDS created both personal and political crises in Canada and our gay communities were irrevocably changed. Now in hindsight we are beginning to see the shape of those changes and understand their impact. For one, it politicized the gay community dramatically – the stakes could not be higher – people were dying in a backdrop of little information and government action. For two, it brought the community closer together after years of division from fractious identity politics (read this interesting article about survivors of the AIDS crisis and the role of lesbians). For three, the public at large could no longer ignore or fail to notice the queers amongst them.
AIDS was first reported in Alberta in 1983: the first death a bisexual Calgary man in early June. On June 30th, Alberta was the second province in Canada to declare AIDS a notifiable disease. Grassroots organizing by Calgary’s gay community began almost immediately. By late July, the city’s gay club owners raised and donated $10,000, to the University of Calgary to become the foundation for an AIDS research and education fund.
One year later (1984) the number of confirmed AIDS cases in Alberta had grown to six with only two men still alive – and every one was a gay or bisexual man. For ten years the stats kept getting darker and bleaker until newly diagnosed cases peaked in 1994 at 134. From then onwards, sex education and cocktail drug therapies started bringing the numbers and the mortality down. Calgary was the hardest hit city in the province.
The first meetings for what was to become AIDS Calgary began in September 1985. Doug Young, a gay activist and community organizer collected papers from those early meetings, which can be found at the Glenbow Archives. Sadly, he himself died of AIDS in 1994.
Nationally, the recently launched AIDS Activist History Project is working to document Canadian AIDS activism in the 1980s and 1990s. The Calgary Gay History Project will work collaboratively with the project to preserve our local stories. As always, if you do have something to share, please contact us: here.