Tag Archives: AIDS Calgary

HIV Community Link at 35

{The Calgary Gay History Project is presenting a series on AIDS history reflecting on how Calgarians and Canadians reacted to this earlier pandemic. This installment was written by Project researcher, Tereasa Maillie.}

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Globe and Mail excerpt from April 20, 1984

HIV Community Link has been active in the Calgary community providing support and education for over 35 years as a registered society. Its roots were in the early 1980s epidemic reaching Calgary, and little information was available to help people combat this deadly virus. Homophobia, prejudice, and discomfort around the ways HIV was transmitted blocked discussion and treatment.

In response, gay and lesbian activists first met in late 1983 to decide on a plan of action, and join together to advocate for infected people. AIDS Calgary Awareness Association was born, and according to activist Doug Young’s personal notes, the first meetings were about the legal fight for people who were HIV positive. They were not alone: Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver had also started their own chapters based on the many groups that had begun in the USA.

Known as AIDS Calgary, the group registered as a society on October 9, 1985. Their first office was at #300, 1021 – 10th Avenue S.W. and staffed by a core group of volunteers under Doug Morin, the first Executive Director. Money was tight, but LGTBQ2 organizations such as the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch donated funds and held community events. In the 1990s, AIDS Calgary began hosting their own signature fundraiser called Calgary Cares. The special event included silent auctions of local fashion designers’ clothes, a stage show, and dinner. The AIDS Walk and Run started 25 years ago; it has raised approximately $1.8 million to fund the agency and its services in Calgary.

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Doug Morin – Executive Director of AIDS Calgary, Dec. 1986. Photo source: University of Calgary Digital Archives

With this help, AIDS Calgary was able to expand their outreach and advocacy, including their hotline and newsletters: Ellipse, 360 degrees, and AIDS Calgary News. Part of their advocacy work was to lobby the government to fund research, promote health programs, and help end the stigma surrounding HIV positive people in Canadian society. In two National AIDS conferences (1985 in Montreal and 1986 in Toronto), AIDS Calgary joined with other organizations to create the Canadian AIDS Society. The goal was to tap into a larger umbrella group’s powers of shared information, advocacy, and support for all members.

In 2013, AIDS Calgary Awareness Association changed their name to HIV Community Link, as they also offered programs and services in Medicine Hat and Brooks. Their focus remains “on health promotion, increasing access to testing, delivering effective harm reduction programs, and reducing the stigma associated with HIV.”

{TM}

AIDS vs. the ’88 Olympics

{The Calgary Gay History Project is writing a series about AIDS history reflecting on how Calgarians and Canadians reacted to this earlier pandemic.}

If you lived in Calgary in 1988, you would remember the heightened sense of reality and esprit de corps that was the Winter Olympics. It was a time of Hidy and Howdy, sun ice jackets, and the frequent repetition of Calgary’s Olympic colour palette: teal, purple, orange, red, and pink. It was also a time of AIDS.

Gay bus driver, Mark Perry-Schaub, was a volunteer driver for the Calgary ’88 Olympics Committee (OCO). For three years, he participated in transportation planning with the OCO but was ousted from his position in December 1987 when he informed them of his then-recent AIDS diagnosis. He fought to be reinstated and, when denied, took up his cause through local media. The 25-year-old Perry-Schaub was told by volunteer manager Paul Taylor that he could no longer work on the transportation committee because in case of a traffic accident, OCO did not want him to either administer first aid or bleed on anyone.

The media pressure worked. The OCO managed to find Perry-Schaub a different volunteer job after a significant amount of public scrutiny. The OCO’s press secretary Bill Payne said: “We have an obligation to minimize the risk at any time. Some might say it’s a slight risk, but at what point do you take action?”

Perry-Schaub told reporters after his closed-door meeting with OCO officials: “I would rather be in transportation where I was trained. In my opinion, I think OCO has over-reacted. I felt I’d been railroaded into a new position.”

AIDS Calgary Executive Director, Doug Morin, was critical of the OCO. He stated: “It’s a decision based on inaccurate and incomplete information. Mark is not a threat to himself, OCO staff, or volunteers. There’s no significant risk that can’t be dealt with through adequate precautions.” Morin also noted that the OCO refused an AIDS Calgary offer to provide educational materials to the organization.

A week after the meeting, the OCO offered Perry-Schaub the choice of a dozen new jobs. He selected a position in the main press centre’s video distribution office. It turned out that the job was the last big project of Perry-Schaub’s life; he died just a few weeks after the games concluded in February 1988.

Despite being weakened by illness, Perry-Schaub put in long hours in the media centre video library, distributing cassettes of Olympic events to journalists. “It was really important to him to be an Olympic volunteer,” said Terry Steward, manager of OCO information services and Perry-Schaub’s boss. He added that OCO officials had reservations about letting Perry-Schaub work in the media centre for fear that visiting journalists might complain – however none did, even after learning about his situation.

By mid-March, Perry-Schaub was admitted to hospital with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (his third bout). He died on April 1st, 1988. More than 200 people attended his memorial service, but his parents stayed away. They had disowned their son because he was gay.

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Mark Perry-Schaub’s panel (left), part of Section 24 from the Canadian Aids Memorial Quilt website.

When the AIDS memorial quilt made its stop in Calgary in July 1989, 14 local panels were added to the 1000 visiting ones. They were hung in layered sections in the Calgary municipal building atrium. One of the new panels was in tribute to Mark Perry-Schaub made by his friend Dave McKeen whom he had met at AIDS Calgary.

Perry-Schaub’s panel is adorned with a huge heraldic lion, draped with a banner bearing his name as well as the symbols of the Calgary Winter Olympics where, according to his friends, he had the time of his life.

{KA}

 

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.

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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}